In 1987 the National Guard unit in which I served as a Chaplain was sent to Camp A.P. Hill in Virginia for training. My unit was an Army Aviation Battalion--helicopters. Many of the pilots were Vietnam veterans who had thousands of hours of flight time.
A.P. Hill was only about an hour and a half drive from Washington D.C. One day a group of us decided to make the drive to see the Vietnam Memorial. It had only been open a few years and none of our pilots had seen it.
That memorial wall is impressive. Black Marble inscribed with name after name of soldiers who died there in combat. 58,200 soldiers' names are on that wall. The first thing I noticed was people searching the wall for the name of their relative or friend and then taking a piece of paper and pen and etching their name on the paper from the inscription on the wall.
I wasn’t prepared for the reaction of our pilots. In no time they were all in tears as they found the names of comrades--fellow pilots--who had been shot down. At first it was just tears, but in a little while came the stories of many of the dead. It was a truly powerful experience.
Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to remember and be grateful for the ones who gave their lives in service to the country or their communities such as law enforcement or firefighters.
Back in the 70s and 80s it was not a popular thing to serve in the military. The backlash from the misadventure in Vietnam was heavy. Returning soldiers were mistreated by their own citizens. There was at one time a sort of “standing order” that we should avoid wearing our uniforms in public if at all possible in order to prevent any potential conflicts.
Today, those who serve in the military or in their communities are held in high esteem. We have come to recognize the sacrifices made by these people and their families. We have come to recognize the danger associated with what they do.
You will not see this until a few days after Memorial Day has passed, but please take a moment to offer your prayer of gratitude for the ones that have died on our behalf. I like to think that there is a special place in Heaven for them.