Thanks for serving us so well

Published 10:01 pm Friday, May 22, 2015

This past week I had the honor of being able to sit with a Vietnam veteran as he shared about his experiences during the war and after.

Through tears, he shared about the band of brothers he had served alongside, and about how many of them did not make it home. He also shared about how he kept his grief and trauma bottled up for many years, not even understanding how it continued to affect him.

It was a privilege to hear about the journey of this American patriot and warrior.

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Monday is Memorial Day. Most of us will be flipping burgers, relaxing and enjoying our families and our freedom. But as you do, remember something: You only get to enjoy the benefits of American life because others have stood in the line of fire for you, and many did not make it home.

One who did make it home (from World War II) was my father. Recently I retrieved his carefully preserved service memorabilia and sat down and looked at it with my son.

The physical resemblance between three generations of Hayes men is remarkable, but the last two generations had young adult experiences very different from those of my father, who was part of what has been called “The Greatest Generation.”

My son is getting ready to graduate from high school and head to college. I did the same at his age. When my father was that age, he was not headed to class, but to war.

One of the precious items I took out of storage that day was my dad’s Navy logbook. It is a diary he kept during his trips in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of the war. Many of the experiences he recorded are harrowing, and, as he once confided to me, other experiences were simply too difficult to talk about.

My father-in-law is also a Navy veteran, who served in Vietnam, on the type of gunboat depicted in the film “Apocalypse Now.” When my wife was born in 1967, her dad was thousands of miles away, patrolling those rivers in Southeast Asia, engaged in heavy fighting.

Like my dad, he only talks about this when asked. Like my dad, most of the people he passed on the streets of America when he got home had no idea what he had gone through.

I’m not sure how we expect young men and women to go through the trauma of combat experiences and then just step back into normal life like nothing ever happened. They are carrying loads most of us know nothing about. Always remember that.

And always remember the ones who didn’t come back, and pray for the families they left behind. That’s what Memorial Day is all about.

One day the Prince of Peace will return, evil will be destroyed, and there will be no need for a military. But in a fallen world, it is necessary for some to bear the sword. And, as Romans 13:4 puts it, they “do not bear the sword in vain.”

The man or woman who bears the sword in the American military does it because he or she is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4).

To our military: Thank you for serving us so well.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.