The first time I really got to know someone who had served in combat duty was during my college years in a small community in Kansas. An older man in the church had served during WW2 and over a year and a half I got to know him and hear his story. He’d gone off to fight, to serve his country and live up to the expectations placed on the young men of his day. Towards the end of his tour of duty he was on sentry duty with a friend in his unit. The way he described it, they basically marched all night, back and forth along a trench. The trench led to an entryway and it was this entrance that they were really guarding. He would march from one end and his friend the other and they would meet, briefly, somewhere in the middle.
The war ended for him one night when he was at one end of the trench and his friend the other, the furthest point from one another. He heard the whistling of an incoming mortar shell and he hunkered down in the trench. There was a loud explosion and flash that knocked him off of his feet. He got back up and yelled, “That was a close one!” down the trench to his mate.
There was no response.
He ran down the trench to the end where his friend would be to see if he had been injured. It had indeed been close. His friend was gone except for his boots. The scene was uglier than just an empty pair of boots but he blocked everything else away in his memory behind a door he never wanted to open again. His friend never came home from the war and this man, this friend I’d made in Kansas, some of him didn’t make it home from the battlefield either. I think war makes some men hard, others I think it makes brittle. My friend was brittle. He was like a ghost of a man, more a walking, breathing memory of a man who once lived in that little town but lost a big part of his soul in a trench in Europe.
Not everyone who gave their lives or gives their lives today for the sake of the countrymen dies on the field, some come home and today we’re honouring those men and women who have sacrificed for what their hearts believed was the greater good of their country and mankind. Today I’m thinking of my friend who’s about to be sent to the field for a tour of duty in a war torn country and I’m praying for peace, I’m praying for his safety and I’m praying for the safety of those he faces in the effort to be a peacekeeper in a chaotic world.
Today, to those who have served and serve, I offer, humbly, my thanks for the sacrifices made, the pain you carry and for standing in harms way throughout the years. We will remember you.