This past week, I watched the high school band march down College Avenue and then back again. They are preparing for the Memorial Day Parade. It took me back to my days in high school marching band. Worthington, where I grew up, always had a large, long Memorial Day Parade. The parade started at the north end of town and traveled down Rt. 23 south of town with the street lined on both sides with onlookers. The parade wound its way into and around the town cemetery. Once in the cemetery, a ceremony honoring those who had given their lives for our freedom took place.
I was always intrigued by the different speakers at that ceremony. The men and women who spoke were from different eras of the military and usually gave a good history lesson about the time they were in the service. I am a history nerd so these firsthand accounts of what I had only read about fascinated me. I learned a lot of US history standing there in that cemetery.
My journey in ministry has given me a lot of opportunities to minister to veterans. My first church was in Chillicothe, OH, where there is a large VA facility. My first Memorial Day as a parish minister, was spent in my office listening to young veterans talk about their experiences in the war in Iraq and how those experiences impacted their faith. Many were dealing with mental/emotional wounds, the kind of wounds easily dismissed for not being visible, from their time in the service. I learned a lot from these young men and women about the realities of war from those who fought. A different perspective from the one conveyed by politicians and news reporters.
I have been honored to work with countless different honor guards at the burial of veterans. I am in awe of their commitment to this duty regardless of the weather. Since many of these funerals were during the week, the honor guard was mostly older, retired folks. They stood there in blistering heat or near blizzard conditions or pouring rain or a beautiful sunny day. They stood there to honor someone they most likely did not know. But their pride in all who have served led them to be there. The honor guard portion of the service has always been the most moving part for me.
I have sat with veterans and spouses of veterans and learned more about the realities of their service to our country and the history of different eras of our history than any movie or history class could ever teach. We have so much to be thankful for as these brave men and women and their families make sacrifices so that we can live with the freedoms and liberties that we have. God bless each and every one of them.