The retired serviceman’s sincere, straightforward approach to his time in the military intrigued me. And the more I thought on his words, the more I realized the depth and intensity of what he was saying.
“When I’ve been in uniform throughout my career, random people have walked up to thank me for my service or buy my lunch,” he said. “There also have been times when applause broke out as I walked through a restaurant or an airport.
‘A life worthy of living’
“While I appreciate their appreciation, what I really wanted to say was, ‘Don’t thank me. Don’t buy me lunch. Don’t applaud me. Just live a life worthy of living so my service and the sacrifices I made for you were not in vain.’”
The U.S. military was officially established by Congress at the urging of President George Washington in 1789.
With hundreds of thousands of people serving in the early days and more than 2.5 million combined active and reserves serving today, my mind can’t quite grasp exactly how many individual people have dedicated their lives during these past 200-plus years.
Each of those men and women served sacrificially. Many saw and experienced horrific events they carried or will carry for their entire lives. Most choose to protect the rest of us from the worst of the details and are hesitant to even admit how heavy the load really is.
Quiet battles, internal demons
In many cases, those who served are now sentenced to a life of attempting to manage post-traumatic stress disorder, continual nightmares and/or difficulty assimilating back into civilian life.
Alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide rates among former military personnel continue to climb. Family relationships and friendships will never be the same for them.
Some find a way to push through and quietly battle internal demons while balancing a loving and caring relationship with family who could never understand. Some do better in isolation or at least by keeping a defined distance from others.
Millions of our fellow Americans stood in the gap for us in past years. Millions more are serving right now or are within days, weeks or months of taking their turn to serve. They have protected and continue to protect the freedoms and way of life we enjoy as U.S. citizens.
Honoring those who have served
But how often do we really think about the sacrifices so many have made for us?
Military families are typically the best at honoring those in service, caring for those returning and being sensitive to the reality of the situations. And most of us likely have a family member, at least an extended family member, who has served.
It is good to honor those who have served on Veterans Day. We also remember those who died in service on Memorial Day. The Fourth of July also includes a shoutout to our current military.
But other than those three holidays, how often do we remember the men and women who fought and in some cases died for our freedom? Do we actually grasp and respect the concept of true freedom?
Are we living lives worthy of all those who sacrificed for us? Are we making the United States better because we are citizens?
And for those of us who are believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, do we fully grasp the sacrifice He made for us?
Are we living lives worthy of Him? Do we allow His love and grace to shine through us as He describes in Matthew 5:14–16?
Does our faith journey showcase the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22–23 — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?
Being an eternal citizen of heaven and a current citizen in the U.S. brings great privileges and blessings as well as great responsibilities.