Some thoughts from Dr. Jerry Montgomery
Nov. 10, 2012 – Last December when our 160 Battle Company soldier/sons deployed for their year of duty in Afghanistan, I saw an amazing thing.
Like many of us, I suspect, I had been looking at these young men as just that, “young men.” They were embarking on what probably would be the great adventure of their lives. Some of them would probably die because they faced the real danger of fighting a war. Two of them died.
These young men are infantry soldiers who actually are the boots on the ground, proud of their skills, confident that they are the best trained infantry soldiers in the world and like most young folks, fearless.
Yes, I expected to see some hints that fear was present when they left. It probably was, I suspect, but it wasn’t apparent.
Instead, as I read their many Facebook postings, the main fear among them – always expressed by these proud young men in discreet language that required careful reading – was that they would be forgotten. In fact, they expected to be forgotten by Americans long before their year in battle was even over.
Since they left, I’ve wondered why these young warriors would be afraid of being forgotten. They are the embodiment of Isaiah’s description of a warrior:
“The Lord goes out to fight like a warrior: he is ready and eager for battle. He gives a war cry, a battle shout: he shows his power against his enemies.” (Isaiah 42:3)
Why should they be afraid of being forgotten?
It’s a fear I intend to vanquish from their hearts … and with the help of many folks, like the our volunteer partners who sit in the pews of University Congregational UCC and in many other communities across these United States, that is indeed coming true. They will NOT be forgotten.
They will never be forgotten by their family or friends and maybe a few acquaintances from their hometowns, of course.
But sadly I fear that the rest of America will soon forget them and all the others who have fought America’s wars in this 21st century. These soldiers remember their dads, uncles and grandfathers coming home from Vietnam and being dishonored for doing their duty … and then immediately being forgotten by America.
I doubt that anyone had ever said something so clear to these Battle Company soldiers but nevertheless to them the message of forgotten soldiers was clear.
All of that suggests to me that our greater community has nearly forgotten what Veteran’s Day actually represents.
When I was a young man in the Navy in the 1960s, as a nation we remembered November 11th as “Veterans Day” as a day to remember fallen American soldiers in World War I and eventually it was expanded to include the service men and women who died in World War II. In the years following the Vietnam War, remembering things military wasn’t very popular and Nov. 11th received scant attention. Until recent times, this particular holiday has been one of the few ‘holidays’ to be unsullied by commercialism. Newspaper ads this weekend show another new low in advertising and retailing standards.
World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people. – U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs
Restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserved the historical significance of the date, but focused attention on the main purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
At least the folks of University Congregational UCC and others who have shared the Battle Company Project with Ruth and me for the past year won’t forget today’s soldiers quickly or easily.
Why? Because our soldiers are not anonymous figures without names or families or hopes or dreams or all those other things we find to be good.
They are real men who did hard, dangerous work in a faraway place. Their boots have Afghan dirt in the soles. Their Multicam uniforms which were so fresh and new last December have come home faded. They enjoyed our notes and care packages. They connected with us in new ways service members of my generation can hardly imagine. They were far from home but constantly in touch with us via that new-fangled thing called the Internet. And, most importantly, all but two of them came home alive.
The only thing Ruth and I have done – other than be willing to care for them, or about them, without reservation or limit; and to love them as our sons – is learn their names. These young men are real; they have families, spouses, children, friends, hopes and dreams, histories and hometowns, and a lot of all the stuff we find in our own sons and daughters.
The Battle Company soldiers left as a single group. They came back a year later in four small groups. It’s was a long year.
The youngsters who left us a year ago have come home as buff, mature and changed men. Yes, there still is a bit of ‘boy’ in each of them and for that detail, I’m grateful.
To illustrate, let me tell you about Spc.Justin Walker. We stored his car and a lot of stuff from his barracks room for the past year. During the late winter here, I spent a few days cleaning out his car, packing Justin’s ‘stuff’ into plastic storage containers. A flat tire from the final hours before deployment was replaced for him; gas was in the tank and it was ready to roll.
Within a few hours of arriving at McChord Airfield, he and another soldier, Pfc, Uriel Velazquez, were in our home grinning from ear to ear.
We talked and shared stories, of course, but the part of that afternoon that gives me pause and hope was the fact that Justin just couldn’t stop hugging me. He was really glad to be back and for me it felt so good to be bear-hugged many times.
Justin was a sort-of scrawny teenager with a perpetual grin when he left. When he returned, I was hugged by a real man, a real man who had spent a year running UP mountains carrying a weapon and wearing 70 pounds of body armor. He had been hiking (the Army calls that foot patrol) many miles each week and fighting a war FOR ME. And his grin was just as bright and wide as ever.
Just to make sure he kept his head squarely on his shoulders during his down time in the middle of a war, Justin had fun with his buddies. They had a mustache-growing contest. Like many of his buddies, Justin many days spent a couple of hours working out in the ‘gym’ at their forward operating base.
So what comes next for him and the other soldiers of Battle Company, for me and Ruth, for wonderful folks who have participated in the Battle Company Project with us, for the folks of University Congregational UCC, and for all Americans?
I can confidently assure Justin and the rest of the Battle Company soldiers that we will NEVER FORGET them, nor anyone who preceded them in military service. Nor will we ever again be so trite as to trivialize the deaths of those service members who have died in service to their nation over the years.
The media of today will treat November 11th with appropriate politeness but with little passion and almost no military experience among reporters and editors.
But for me – and I hope for all who may read this – Veterans Day always will be a day of remembering all veterans and honoring those who died in service to their nation. It is, for me, a very important day, especially for our Battle Company soldier/sons who are veterans-in-training.
We will remember, in particular, the lives of two Battle Company soldiers who lost their lives in service to their nation this past year: Sgt. Michael A. Ristau and Pfc. Jon R. Townsend.