Memorial Day is designated to remember those who have died in the military service of our country. In worship this weekend, one of our church members reported that 1.3 million Americans have died in all of the wars this nation has fought from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan. I believe that this is also a good time to remember others as well—not only the honored dead, but all those who have worn the uniform and those who have stood with them.
In most of the conflicts of the 20th century in which the United States was involved, there was a common sense of sacrifice. My grandfather was drafted to fight in World War I and was in a troop ship ready to put out to sea when the Armistice was signed. My father was drafted and served in World War II in the Pacific. Both men answered the call to service. During both of these wars, especially WW II, there was significant personal sacrifice at home as well, not only among the families of those serving but everyone. Many goods were rationed, industries were on a war footing, and women went into the workforce leaving children at home to be tended by others. Everyone was part of the effort.
Things changed with the Korean War and even more so with Vietnam. Certainly there was a draft, but there were also many exemptions. I chose to enroll in the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in college before I even knew where Vietnam was located. By the time I received my commission, it was the primary destination for draftees and enlistees, whether Reserve, National Guard, or Regular Army. In many ways, life went on as usual in the US while our military was engaged in Vietnam, that is, until the protests began.
Today, we technically have an all volunteer military. These are men and women who have chosen to serve. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on with little or no disruption to the lives of average Americans. There is no sense of mission or shared sacrifice involved. The sole exceptions are the families and friends of military personnel. They pay the price in separation, anxiety, and sometimes loss.
On this Memorial Day, I would like to remember not only those who have worn the uniform and are serving now, but their families. When I went to Vietnam, it was not only a sacrifice on my part, it was a sacrifice on the part of my wife and my parents. Their anxiety and uncertainty were tempered by their faith but these concerns were daily companions. The same is true of the loved ones who pray for their soldiers, sailors, air men and women, and Marines today. They all deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.