In my family, you’re practically born into an appreciation and love for the the military. Both of my grandfathers were Air Force pilots, one of which was a prisoner of war in World War II. “Papa,” as I called him, lost most of his teeth and, we later found out, endured a heart attack while in prison. As a little kid, I thought it was cool that he could remove his teeth every night.
He was taken prisoner after his plane was shot down over Asia. So, from the other side of the world, while my Grandma watched and waited, my Papa was considered missing for six months. Though his life was spared, he watched many of his comrades suffer and die.
“Grandpa,” my dad’s dad, almost lost his life in a operational mission from Georgia to Germany. He was flying his jet off of Greenland and, due to a malfunction, had a slow decompression in the cockpit. This resulted in something called "the bends," or nitrogen bubbles in the blood and brain. As a result, he temporarily lost his vision. Flying! The first resort would have been to bail out, but the water temperature would've killed him within a minute or so.
His wingman, Tom, was in the right place at the right time. He flew beside my Grandpa and talked to him about direction, altitude, airspeed and probably helped keep him calm all the way back to the runway's final approach. From there, the tower control talked him down to a landing. My dad recently found an article about this incident and got to visit Tom! I have the article printed out and framed in one of my bedrooms as a reminder of my family’s history and God’s protection.
My uncle was also an Air Force pilot with intriguing stories of negative g’s, throwing up and passing out. My dad went the route of the Navy. He attended the Naval Academy and became a P-3 pilot—very Top Gun-esque, aviators and all. Both men continued in civil service as civilian defense contractors after retirement from the military.
None of these men are perfect or without flaws, so I don’t have an idealistic vision of our military as a whole or those who serve. The point is, they were willing to lay down their lives for something greater. So, because of their example, I have a hard time seeing an older man in a “vet” hat or hearing Lee Greenwood’s song without tearing up. And who can handle those videos of military members surprising their loved ones?
I’m often moved to tears because I have seen firsthand and have heard stories about the price that’s paid in the service of our country. Whether it’s a man like my Papa, whose physical and mental health took an untold hit while in a wartime prison, or men and women like my dad who spent months away from their families, it’s not without a sacrifice of some sort—and it’s often thankless or met with very public dissent.
We have witnessed a tumultuous political season that might inflame this dissent. It has exposed disappointing and terrible things about our country. Yet, that shouldn’t diminish the appreciation we have for the good—for this American experiment and the men and women who make it their life’s work to defend and maintain the liberties we have. And in our appreciation, let’s serve them in these small ways:
Pray for our veterans. Pray that they would be healthy—spiritually, physically and emotionally. Ask the Lord to heal any familial wounds. Pray for their encouragement, as many of them disagree with things that are happening in the country they love and wonder if their sacrifice meant anything.
Encourage our veterans. When we see one of those “vet” hats, let’s stop and say, “Thank you.” Let’s shake their hands and pay tribute. At a friend’s direction recently, I was able to donate a wreath at Arlington Cemetery and have it laid on my Papa and Grandma’s grave. He doesn’t know it’s there, but the loved ones who visit the graves and walk the aisles of marble see them and know that someone remembers and care.
Pray for our active duty military. Pray that God would protect them and send godly chaplains to share the good news of Jesus—and that he would be their ultimate Commander. Let’s ask that their families would flourish—that no man would put asunder what God has joined together. Let’s pray that they would have a bigger vision for our country that would compel them when they are discouraged by what’s happening politically.
Encourage our active duty military. There are plenty of programs that allow you to write to a military member, send care packages or adopt a member during the holidays. Say, “Thank you,” when you see men and women in uniform. Shake their hands. We’d probably be surprised by how infrequently this happens.
Pray for our government leaders. Pray that they would give our military members something noble worth defending—and, if necessary, worth laying down their lives for. Let’s ask God to give them wisdom and give us better than we deserve. Let’s pray that human dignity, religious liberty, and stability would be the aim of our government.
Ultimately, as Christians, we know and believe that the government of the whole universe is on perfect shoulders. It seems appropriate, especially now, that our calendar celebration of Christmas is right around the corner. The baby laid in a manger is the one we trust, the one we worship, the one we look to and the one we ask for all of these things. Through him, a day is coming when wars and rumors of wars will cease, when militaries around the world are no more, and when true and lasting peace is the lay of the land forevermore.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.