|Mildred and Ircel Harrison|
with Ircel, Jr., in November 1944
As you might expect on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the worship leader invited all of the veterans and currently serving military personnel in the morning service to stand. I did not think much about this until my wife mentioned the next day that there weren’t many people standing.
My grandfather was on a ship heading to Europe when the Armistice was declared in World War One. My Dad served in the Pacific during World War Two. My Army service included a tour in Vietnam. My son was planning on military service but an accident prevented him from serving. Although none of us wanted to go to war, we were not averse to serving our country in the military and even considered it an honor.
War is not what it used to be. We no longer have a draft. Those who serve in the military do so voluntarily. The two World Wars in the last century had a major impact on our country. In the First World War, Americans took a major role in providing men and materiel for the war in Europe. In the Second World War, American military forces, industrial production, and economy were totally behind the war effort and played the decisive role in victory. Many Americans were disenchanted by the Korean War (which some did not even consider a war) and even more reacted adversely in our involvement in Vietnam.
Everyone in America was impacted by the Second World War due to the drafting of their sons, redirected production efforts, and wartime rationing. Unless your draft number came up or you knew someone who was drafted, you probably were not really impacted by the war in Vietnam. At most it was an inconvenience.
Although we have been involved in at least three wars in the last 25 years, life has gone on normally for most Americans. Volunteers—both in the regular military and in reserve units—and their families have shouldered the heavy burden of military conflict. We have been on a war footing for two and a half decades and most people have not been impacted. Those most affected are those who serve in the regular armed forces, the reserves, and their friends and families. They are being subjected to repeated overseas deployments and then thrust back into society with little or no help in adjusting. This is taking a mental and emotional toll on all involved.
Churches must be better prepared to offer support for veterans and their families. While the service member is deployed, churches can provide spiritual, emotional, and (sometimes) financial support for families. When the service member returns, the church can provide a unique form of pastoral care to returning military, their spouses, and their children. Unfortunately, we have not done a good job of this up to now.
My father and grandfather accepted their call to serve. I actually chose to serve since I was in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in college but largely avoided the trauma of combat. We adjusted back to civilian life in our own ways. Our experiences were all different and unlike those who serve today. In some ways the veterans and active military of today face stresses that are unique to our time and culture. As Christians, we can no longer ignore those needs.