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Remembering the price they paid and the freedom they protected

Honoring our veterans means expressing gratitude

VFW color guard members prepare to fire a 21-gun salute from atop the state Capitol steps during Veterans Day observances in Olympia, Wash., in 2010. Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson

Remembering the price they paid and the freedom they protected
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“We are grateful. We are thankful. We know freedom isn’t free.” So sings Steven Curtis Chapman in his tribute to America’s military veterans. On this Veteran’s Day, how can we express our gratitude, in our homes and in our communities? More importantly, why should we?

America rightly pays tribute to those who, as Chapman sings, “heard the fight for freedom calling” and responded, “I’ll do what I can.” We have three separate military holidays: Armed Forces Day for those currently serving, Memorial Day venerating our valiant departed, and in November we honor our nation’s military veterans. Thus, on Veterans Day, it is the warriors living among us, old and young alike, who are the recipients of our esteem.

Each of these individuals sacrificed their personal liberties to secure the peace for the rest of us. Whether or not they made it to fields of battle including Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan, each and every one of them could have been sent there. They did something that only a fraction of the citizenry does—they trained and served in a vocation that easily could have demanded the ultimate sacrifice.

The U.S. military is extraordinarily professional, but always lurking in the background is real danger. Particularly in the last 20 years, every military member has faced the prospect of serving under extreme conditions in Central Asia, the Middle East, or elsewhere. With such a low percentage of the general public volunteering for service, our active duty, Reserve, and National Guard forces have been deployed again and again, at great cost to individuals and their families.

America’s military families live in two worlds at once. At home we have a peaceful and prosperous society, but America exists in a dangerous world where a number of potential conflicts seem ready to explode at any moment. These hot spots of tension include India vs. Pakistan, China vs. Taiwan, Vladimir Putin vs. Ukraine, and the ever-turbulent Middle East. At any given time, the United States may have to protect NATO allies under the NATO Charter, stop a genocide as we did in Kosovo in 1999, respond to violent Islamist terrorism, or deal with rogue states like North Korea.

Our veterans lived, trained, and deployed under these conditions of uncertainty day after day, year after year. They make us proud. Every single veteran has in some sense stood on the frontlines of our nation’s defense. Thus, we thank our veterans for their vigilance.

We thank our veterans because they, and their families, experienced a disproportionate amount of sacrifice in our increasingly hedonistic and pampered culture.

We thank our veterans because they, and their families, experienced a disproportionate amount of sacrifice in our increasingly hedonistic and pampered culture. Only a very small percentage of the U.S. population meets the basic mental and physical standards needed just to make it through boot camp. Our veterans are among those most likely in our society to have suffered the loss of comrades, to have worked for years at jobs that paid less than their private-sector counterparts, to endure danger and stress, and to undergo separation from loved ones.

Steven Curtis Chapman affirms that our veterans have protected our fundamental rights: “remember every time we chase our dreams or pray out loud, speak our minds, and even when we disagree … we’re still the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

How should we thank our veterans? The first thing we can do is to make sure that in our own households we communicate to our children the dignity of military service and point to veterans in our own family tree, community, and churches. Second, we need to restore American civic programs that honor our veterans. There are fewer and fewer public ceremonies, parades, concerts, and other commemorative tributes to honor veterans. True, there are still some great Veteran’s Day parades such as those in Dallas, Texas, and Santa Barbara, Calif., but they are increasingly few and far between. Think about your own celebration of Veteran’s Day. Are you taking your children to see a parade or military band concert, or maybe visiting a Veterans Administration home?

How do our churches honor our veterans? Evangelicals have targeted programming for almost every segment of our society but it is extremely rare to hear of a church that has a specific outreach to the local VA hospital, convalescent home, or post of the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Authentic gratitude inspires action, from what we talk about at the dinner table to how we serve our neighbors. As Chapman sings, may we “remember the gift you gave, the price you paid is not in vain and it will never be forgotten. We remember!” We do remember, so the nation thanks America’s veterans!

Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.

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