Veteran’s Day 2017 – A Special Ceremony

Veteran’s Day this year was a special one. Your Uncle Perry and I had the privilege of escorting Opa to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. Opa participated in a ceremony with his 1956 West Point classmates. Each year they gather at the wall to honor one of their classmates who perished during the war. They read the names of the fallen, share the story of one in detail, and then walk down to where the name of that person is etched on the wall to place a wreath. Family members of the fallen participate. It is a simple ceremony – nothing fancy. No long speeches, no politicians, no fanfare. Just a small group of veterans honoring one of their own. Below are some pictures from the ceremony.

West Point Class of 1956 Veteran's Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial
West Point Class of 1956 Veteran’s Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial

Visiting the wall is difficult for my dad

I am really glad that Opa was brave this year and decided to participate in the ceremony. He usually does not. As you know Opa is a Vietnam veteran. He served three tours there. He lost a lot of friends in the war. Visiting the wall is a draining event for him. It is an emotional one. The wall reminds him of the war, battles fought, lives lost, and the complicated aftermath. I need to let you know that Opa was able to return to the states and live a healthy and productive life after the war. Perry and I are the direct beneficiaries of Opa’s ability to put the war behind him and fulfill the American dream – to provide for your children so that they have an even better life than the one you lived. I have the same dream for both of you and will do all that I can to make that happen.

Visiting the Vietnam Memorial with Opa
Visiting the Vietnam Memorial with Opa

Veteran’s Day is for telling stories

Opa is a generous person, and always willing to help others in need. I have experienced this first hand as his son and witnessed it as he interacts with others. I saw another example of it during this ceremony. After we walked down to the wall Opa called over one of the family members who was there. He was the grown son of a fallen classmate. He is probably my age, or maybe even a little bit older. Opa let this family member know that he was good friends with his father many years ago. Opa shared a funny story that the man had never heard before. Then Opa proceeded to tell this son of his fallen classmate about his father. What his father was like as a man. How he was strong, smart, and a brave soldier. Opa thought the world of his classmate and was very sad when he learned about the untimely death of his good friend. Opa was emotional – his eyes welled up with tears. Fond memories mixed with painful memories from the past. It was a difficult thing for Opa to do, but he did it anyway. Opa gave this man a special gift that morning. The gift of knowing that his own father was a great man. Afterwards, the man thanked Opa for his service, and more importantly for letting him know what his own father was like.

Opa talking to son of fallen classmate
Opa telling story to son of fallen classmate – the gift of memories

Thank you to all the veterans

It is impossible to calculate the toll a war takes on a nation, especially its veterans. So it is important that we honor those who have served. The brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. They deserve our respect and gratitude. Opa is from a generation that fought an unpopular war, in an unknown part of the world, for reasons that are still somewhat of a mystery to this day. It was tough, but he and his generation did their part. Nowadays our country remains entangled in a long war that has cost our nation dearly. Today’s veterans face many of the same challenges that Opa and his classmates did many years ago. One day many years from now they too will gather together and talk about the wars they fought. As for you – do your part. If you see a veteran – thank them for their service. They deserve it, just like Opa.

Opa in Vietnam - Big Ranger
Opa in Vietnam – Big Ranger

Dunkirk Reveals Human Nature

War is hell. We all know that – at least I hope we all know that. We are reminded on a regular basis about both the horrors and heroics of war. Bottom line – it brings out the best and the worst in mankind. We have many books, movies, television shows, videos and monuments all aimed at giving all of us insights about war, and what it is like. As you know, I served in the military, but I never deployed into combat. I did spend many years preparing for it, studying it, and learning about it. Based on what I know and have learned from others – we get unique insights into human nature by learning from previous wars.

Occasionally a movie comes along that reminds us how awful war can be. Dunkirk is one of those movies. It is a grim reminder that WWII did not start well for the Allies. In fact, it was a military disaster on all fronts. The Germans were able to conquer much of Europe quickly. I watched Dunkirk last night, and really enjoyed it. The director lets history tell the story and attempts to personalize it by focusing on a small group of individuals who are caught in the action – soldiers and civilians. The movie is intense, and I think it points out three things about human nature that are worth reflecting on after watching the film.

We are all selfish

The battle of Dunkirk focuses on the fact that a large part of the British Army was surrounded by the Nazis early in the war and needed to be evacuated back to England before it is annihilated. It is a dire situation. The movie does an excellent job portraying how bad things were for the British. The enemy is closing in. All the British are trying to get out of France, and the only way out is via the English Channel. There are not enough ships for everyone. Time is running out, so various characters in the movie start to take matters into their own hands. It is an “only the strong survive” type situation which leads to selfish behavior. It should not be surprising that people get selfish. It is in all of us – the will to survive. It comes out especially when the stakes are high. Putting other first is a difficult choice to make, and does not happen naturally. Usually our basic instinct is to take care of ourselves first. Something to think about anytime you are in a tough situation. Look for this behavior in others, and monitor it in yourself.

We can all be heroes

The evacuation of Dunkirk ended up being successful because of the extraordinary deeds of many average people. The British government send out a call for help, and many answered. The film focuses on one family who joins in the action and plays their part in the evacuation despite many challenges. The director does a nice job keeping these everyday participants anonymous during the action. He does not treat them like superheroes. They don’t have superpowers or any special abilities. They simply do what is necessary to get the job done. The same holds true for many other participants to include the Air Force pilots who fought bravely to keep the evacuation ships safe. Remember – heroes come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. Don’t be fooled by Marvel and DC comics – there is no real Superman or Wonder Woman. They are not coming to rescue us. Rather it is up to normal people like you and me to be heroic when called upon.

David Bowie was right - we can all be heroes.
David Bowie was right – we can all be heroes, if just for one day.

We can fight another day

When WWII begins – the Nazis are prepared. No other country really is ready and it shows. Dunkirk is a pivotal point in the war. The French are defeated, and England evacuates in order to prepare for a potential invasion. British leadership is forced to make some really tough decisions. They are outmatched, and they know it. They need a new strategy. They decide to do something a little different than normal – they celebrate their retreat from Dunkirk. Normally in military operations, any retreat is seen as a loss and should not be celebrated. But, British leadership realizes that the evacuation allows them to fight another day, and fight they will. The movie ends with Winston Churchill’s stirring speech that finishes with “we will never surrender”. Anytime I hear this speech – it inspires me. Also, it reminds me that some days you will lose. In fact, you may need to retreat, regroup, refit, and prepare to fight another day. Notice that I did not say quit, but live to fight another day. It is a perfectly suitable strategy in some situations.

If you have not seen Dunkirk – I suggest that you do. Below is a link to the trailer for the film. Hopefully, you get a lot out of the film like I did.

Remember the fallen on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. It is the day that we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the US military. Many of them were not much older than you are right now when they died. Like you – they had plans for the future, and dreams about what they wanted to do in their lifetime. But, those plans did not happen, their dreams were not fulfilled. Instead they departed this world too soon, and left an empty chair at the table. It is important that we remember the fallen. They paid for our freedom with their lives. You come from a military family so it is important that you understand what this holiday means. Take a few moments today to ponder their sacrifice, thank God that you live in a free country, and remember the fallen.

John 15:13.┬áThere is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.