I spent 28 years pursuing service in the military: 17.5 years as a Navy Chaplain representing The United Church of Christ. I then spent 11.5 years serving as an Army Medical Service Corps Officer working as a Clinical Social Worker.
My father Earl Bauer served as a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force during World War II. He participated in Operation Torch which was the campaign in North Africa that went after the German General Erwin Rommel. He died in 1966 at the age of 52 due to medical complications involving his heart.
My cousin Richard Gullixson Jr. was an Army Soldier during the Vietnam War. He died in November 1968 at the age of 20 during his first parachute jump in enemy territory. They found his body hanging in a tree.
My military career was not spent serving in combat. Rather, I worked with those military personnel who suffered combat trauma and other psychological conditions as a result of their military service. I also worked with a lot of family members coping with their service members being in harm’s way or dealing with family matters involving marriage and parenting of children.
Over the years, I have heard and felt much pain, sadness and loss from service members. I have been constantly amazed at the internal strength of the people with whom I have served. On more than one occasion, I have secretly wished that a Senator or President would have to sit in my office while I am working diligently with a service member regarding their combat trauma.
I believe in many ways, during the past eighteen years with the war on terrorism, that there has been somewhat of a disconnect between the general population and the military. Yes, we now recognize that service members, especially those who have served in combat, are heroes. But do we really know who they are and what their hopes and dreams are for their lives ?
A number of years ago, some Marines were interviewed about a sign that was posted outside the south gate of Camp Pendleton. The sign read:
“ We fight so that you can go shopping.”
During this same period of time, I remember there were a lot of television commercials about buying luxury cars or taking vacations to the Caribbean to celebrate one’s patriotism.
I am grateful when I hear people thank military service members when they see them in uniform. Yet, I think that yellow ribbon stickers on cars that read Support Our Troops or the expression “ Thank You for your service “ doesn’t really capture the appreciation that the country should express regarding the sacrifices that service members have made on behalf of the country.
I must admit that I experience some limited patience when I hear some people suggest regarding service members:
“ Well, they should have expected that when they signed up. “
Somehow, I don’t think you can ever expect to be ready to handle a fellow service member dying in your arms, to see women and children be killed either as a result of live fire or due to mortars and improvised explosive devices ( IEDS).
I hope that as we remember, this year and in the future, those who have died and those who have been injured, both physically and mentally, that we have the resolve as a country to truly help those who have served. There are any numbers of ways to assist: contacting and making financial donations to organizations like Operation Homefront, or Team Rubicon. Offering to help a military spouse of a deployed service member go grocery shopping, helping to mow the yard of a family member who service member is away.
Years ago, I met an Army Reservist, Major who was a Chaplain. He went and served in Iraq. While he was away, the people in his community got together, helped his spouse with making improvements on the house i.e. fixing wiring, tending to the yard, etc. When the service member returned safely, his spouse replied :
“ I wouldn’t mind if you went again because our friends helped us out so much while you were away. ‘
I know that this is an outlier, it is not the typical experience for the service member and family of someone who is deployed.
But I do know that we can continue to find new ways regarding how we can support those who serve and fight on our behalf.
Who and what will you remember on Memorial Day ?
Our country needs to remember.
We need to remember.
May it be so.