When a young man or woman, around the age of 18 or 19, joins the military, sometimes the reasons are not quite clear in their own minds.
If pressed for a reason, they may say, “to serve my country,” or “to travel and see the world,” or “to have a career.”
Often, however, the answer might be much less ambitious, such as, “I don’t know yet what I want to do with my life,” or, “I need a job and don’t want to go to college,” or “for the educational benefits.”
After 9/11/2001, a number of young people said, “To avenge our losses and strike back at those responsible.”
My own reasoning was much simpler — I was flunking out of college and I didn’t want to face my parents when I did. I discovered that, if I withdrew and enlisted and could produce military orders, the university would let me “withdraw passing,” without my GPA taking a hit. In fact, I would get a tuition refund.
And then there was the matter of being drafted, which I did not wish to be. So, I enlisted in the Marine Corps on a Tuesday, withdrew on a Wednesday, and shipped out to Parris Island on the next day, a Thursday.
I never did tell my parents that I was in serious danger of flunking out.
But, as we grow older, issues sometimes become much clearer. I have always been grateful for my service and am honored to be among the 7 percent of the U.S. population, alive today, that has ever served in the military. I am blessed to be counted among the fraternity brothers and sisters known as “veterans.”
Last Friday, at the invitation of my 4th-grade granddaughter, Bekah, I attended a function at Moreland Elementary School that was designed to honor veterans. Having 12 grandchildren, I have been to several of these over the years and was quite happy to attend.
The school provided breakfast for the veterans and the children who invited them. As we ate, the rest of the school children and staff filed into the gym.
After breakfast, we lined up and, accompanied by marching music, headed to our seats on the gym floor while the kids rejoined their classmates.
As soon as the first veteran came through the door, the entire student body jumped to their feet and gave a standing ovation. The thunderous applause continued abated until the last veteran came to his or her seat.
Then we were all led in the Pledge of Allegiance. Every child and staff member stood. Each one faced the flag and placed his or her hand over her heart, and each enthusiastically recited the pledge.
A Presidential Proclamation was read, the children sang patriotic songs, there was a time of silence for those who had fallen, and the anthem of each service was played and the veterans stood when their service anthem was sounded.
Then the name of each veteran was called, their branch of service was named, and the number of years served was announced.
As I looked at the children, so excited to be honoring their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and other veterans present, all I could see were beautiful children with their lives just beginning. The respect they demonstrated was palpable. As I looked at the scores of fellow veterans, I was not surprised at all to see tears in the eyes of quite a number of them.
Standing there, surrounded by veterans and hundreds of children, I thought, “This is why we did this. This is why we served. We did it for children who were yet to be born so that, someday, those children would live in a great and free society.”
We did it for the teachers too, some who had not been born, so that they would grow up, go to college, become teachers, and help to train the sweet faces that stood all around us.
As I stood there I knew, finally, why I had served, whatever reasons I had back then.
I did it for the future. And I would do it again. And so would every man and woman in that room who stood in front of those children last Friday. We would all do it again.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at email@example.com.]