My step-father turns 91 in a week. He is a veteran of the Second World War. Most every time we are together I ask questions about his military service. I try to pull out more information about his time in Europe in 1944. Sometimes he will say something about it. Often times he redirects the conversation; he changes the subject. My attempts to hear his great war stories are in vain.
In my experience, he is, like many from The Greatest Generation, strangely quiet about his service to our country. I don’t know why.
Is it the 70+ years of life that separate him from those harrowing experiences? Do memories really fade away that much? I know that some of his reluctance to share is about the hell of war itself. He has told me that much. “Don’t glamorize”, he said a few years ago. “It was an awful experience.”
Last year he told me this: “It is not like movies that are filled with non-stop action. There are long periods of boredom, tedium, and waiting.”
But last month when I saw him I again asked him questions. This time he spoke about his military service in terms of a four-letter word that is not often heard today: Duty.
Winston Churchill said, “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” My step-father would agree. It was his duty, plain and simple. It was something you just did for the country.
Many of his generation did not grow up thinking that their country owed them anything. Their families worked hard…scraped through a depression…sent kids to school…and tried to rebuild their lives. They had plans of their own for their lives in future years. But then the war happened…and they felt a call to serve.
Again, they did not feel they were owed anything…but instead they were owned by a call to duty. And they went. Jesus spoke about this in terms of being a disciple of his. Do it NOT for glory or position or honor or fame, but for duty. He said,“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
This Memorial Day Weekend let’s remember this too. Let us remember not only their sacrifices for the freedoms we have and enjoy. But let’s also remember that for most, they were not intending to be heroes. They were not looking for glory. They were not collecting stories to tell inquisitive children. They were compelled by a high call to serve. They were protecting their country, our freedoms, and their fellow soldiers in arms. They were doing their duty.
And so we should ask, “What is ours in our time?”
Posted early today by the author at his website/blog: LeaderWorks
Canon David has over 35 years of local congregational ministry, diocesan and national involvement, leadership, and ministry experience and is the founder of Leaderworks. He was the founding Rector/Pastor, Christ Church, Plano and currently serves as the Strategic Leader and Dean, Diocese of C4SO.