Tag Archives: sacrifice

Remembering Those Who Served

Hand on wallMy mother’s older brother was in Pearl Harbor the day it was bombed. “I was running along Battleship Row while they [the Japanese] were sinking them,” he wrote in a one-page account I found in my mother’s papers after she died. When the attack started, Uncle Eddie had been sent to shore in a motor launch to fetch the officers for his ship; he had to swim for his life when shrapnel blew a hole in the bow of the launch.

My father, like many young men his age, felt the call to serve and joined the Navy in early 1942. He, two of his brothers, and my mother’s two brothers all served during the war. One fought his way across Europe with the infantry. One was a bombardier over Europe. One served with an Allied force in Russia. My father was accepted in Officers Candidate School and was commissioned an ensign on the day I was born. There is some strange irony, I suppose, in the fact that he saw less combat action than the others, then was killed in a car accident only a few months after coming home to civilian life when the war ended.

I grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s with a stron
g sense of gratitude for what they had sacrificed to make the world safer for my generation.

I knew veterans who served in Korea. I had friends who fought, and in two cases died, in Vietnam. I know others who have fought in wars since then. Many of them don’t get the respect they deserve for their willingness to sacrifice in defense of liberty—their own and that of others. Many who came home from Vietnam were treated cruelly and shamefully by people who should have celebrated their safe return.

Let it be clear that I am not saying we should celebrate war, in victory or loss. War is a terrible failure of the human spirit on the grandest scale. It is a great evil that ought to be eliminated. It is often brought on by evil in the arrogant, grasping hearts of those who crave power. Wars may be justified at times by patriots, but the combat is frequently mismanaged and manipulated by misguided politicians who ought to bear at least some of 3 GIsthe blame for the waste of lives. While others may disagree, I have come to see the war we fought in Vietnam in that light.

But I have deep respect for the veterans who fought it. They served no matter their feelings about the conflict and its causes. Like my father and his generation, they were willing to put everything on the line when their country needed them. Those who have served in the Middle East and Afghanistan have seen their duty clear even when the cause might have been murky.

Let us honor them—all of them—equally for their courage and sacrifice. It does not matter in which conflict they gave “the last full measure of devotion,” to quote Mr. Lincoln at BinghamGettysburg. Whether they laid down their lives on the battlefield or came home to continue contributing in civilian life, we owe them our thanks and respect. No one should question their devotion to freedom. They stepped up when they were called. For that alone, we owe them thanks.

That is what I will be thinking about this Memorial Day.


Mom, Thanks Again

Agua volcano, from Guatemala City, November 3, 2012.

Dear Mom,

I’m back in Guatemala again. I wish you could see me now.

You came here once and enjoyed this place, when you picked me up at the end of my mission in 1966. Because you liked working with people, you enjoyed the people here.

I’m trying to enjoy them too. I think I’ve grown up a lot since my first time here. I enjoy people more, even when they don’t see things my way in discussions about religion and faith. There are so many good people here, all of them sons and daughters of God.

I wish I could tell you thanks again for what you did when you supported me as a missionary. Do we ever really understand when we’re young—15, or 18, or 20—what our parents are doing for us? I see now that it must have been tougher for you, a widow and a single mother, than  I understood at the time. It was years later when I learned that you devoted a third of your income each month to supporting me as a missionary. It was years before I knew that we had been living below the official poverty line for President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. Heavenly Father blessed us so much that we never knew we could officially be considered poor.

Mom, when I wrote you every week, I used to tell you about what I had been doing. I tried to make my time effective. I wanted to do what Heavenly Father wanted me to do, and I tried to respect your sacrifice in supporting me.

Shopping in the central market.

I’m still trying to do the same thing. I’m grateful that my companion of 44 years is here to help me. We’re feeling our way in a new situation. For me, it’s the way it was when I served out in that small Guatemalan town in the fall of 1965, far from official direction. We’re close to official direction now, but in a way no one knows exactly what we’re doing because it hasn’t been done here before. In a way, we’re breaking new ground.

We want to do as a team what our Heavenly Father wants us to do, and we both want to respect the sacrifices that have been made—by ourselves and by others—to allow us to be here. Sunday, November 4, marks exactly 48 years since I arrived in Guatemala the first time to serve as a missionary, and I believe—I hope—that I understand better now what a privilege it is to be here.

Mom, if I could write you a weekly letter, I would tell you I’m still trying to do my best.

I wish you could see me now.

But perhaps you can.

House in Guatemala City where I lived in the spring of 1965.The front patio was open then, with no steel gate, and the street was not paved.