Haunted by Death

I wasn’t going to write a thought today – it is a legitimate day off, and I have a lot to do. Potato salad to be made – grass to be cut – burgers and dogs to be grilled – so much to do on this day off. But just for a couple of minutes, I hope you will read this and remember those who died in the service of this country. They won’t be making salads or cutting grass or eating burgers and dogs – but their loved ones will.

I did not serve in the armed forces. I grew up during the Vietnam War, at a time when America was down on the military and embarrassed by what was happening in those jungles. I do remember those soldiers coming home, and facing so much criticism when all they did was answer their country’s call to serve. The embarrassment of Vietnam was not our soldiers – it was the way we treated them.

I never knew anyone, personally, who died in a war, but I have known their families, and a lot of them who came back. Their wounds were not often physical, but always emotional, spiritual, and psychological. The WW II gunner saw the faces of every German he killed when he closed his eyes to try to sleep. The Vietnam medic became a psychologist to help those who faced the same demons he did, but his own memories wouldn’t leave him alone. The Gulf War infantry soldier who came to me for spiritual help, but flinched every time the door outside my office opened and closed. They saw their friends – their fellow warriors – fall in battle. And each one of them asked the same questions: Why did I make it? What did I do to deserve life, while my platoon members didn’t?

Their questions are real, but not answerable. We are all haunted by the deaths of those we have known, but soldiers see the reality of violence far more graphicly than most of us do. Their memories are not just about death, but about life-breath – leaving and leading to those deaths. They wonder what they could have done to save those lives. They wonder if they were to blame. They often have survivor’s remorse, and have difficulty shaking the nightmares that haunt them.

I don’t need a 21 gun salute to remember – I don’t need a parade – I don’t need someone misusing Jesus’s words about the love one has when they lay down their lives for another – I just need to be reminded about this: no matter what I think about a particular war or invasion – no matter how moral or immoral I might think war to be, I must always remember that people far braver than I chose to go somewhere thousands of miles away to fight against what they believed was a threat to humanity. So many deaths – so many nightmares – so many regrets – so many people struggling with life after war. They did something I never did or had to do. They served.

I can go and make my potato salad and cut my grass and prep my burgers and dogs now. We can go for picnics and swim in the pool and take a nap. We can live in a world that will always be on the edge of war, knowing that there are people who are willing to stand up for us, even when we don’t want them to. They will leave their families and friends with the knowledge that they might never see them again. And all I have to do is say, “Thank you.” That isn’t a lot to ask, is it?

Prayer – None of us like war, God, and You don’t either. Help us to keep balance, so that war is our last option. And keep us mindful of the families and friends and communities who are remembering real people they have lost. Amen.