This Just In: There's More to Veterans Day

By Katie Hill
U.S. flags flown at their highest, parades down Main Street, a wreath laid at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s November 11 and these are just a few of the traditional rites we observe to commemorate Veterans Day.

But you know. . .this is not just another federal holiday where you get a day off from school or work. Notice that even though it's a holiday I did not say we are "celebrating." Reality check: Today is a day of reflection, rather than festivities. Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans--living or dead--but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime. It's distinguished from Armed Forces Day, when we honor those still serving and Memorial Day, when we pay our respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

So most of you are in the category of civilian (non-military). You might enlist some day or you may have family members or friends who are serving or have served. No matter what your vocation or status, it's so very important to see that Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect and gain some perspective. This awareness can lay the groundwork for developing and fostering some meaningful relationships with veterans in your life and a greater appreciation for our country.

We here at Higher Things have people near and dear to us who are veterans, active service members, or have loved ones who fit into those categories. We'd like to share some of their insights to help make this day a bit less abstract and a lot more meaningful.

Offering Thanks Judiciously

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, nearly 42 million Americans have fought in wars from the American Revolution in 1775 to Desert Storm in 1991. It's hard to wrap our brains around that number. Another 3.3 million veterans have served since the terror attacks against the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

One such veteran is Bill Winter, a 4th-year seminary student at Concordia Theological Seminary-Ft. Wayne, who served as a Higher Things summer vicar during the 2017 Here We Stand conference season. The devastating events of September 11, 2001 spurred him on to enlist. He was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army for four years, which included three tours in Iraq. He then went on to serve nearly four years in the National Guard.

Winter believes one of the most practical ways to connect with veterans--to take Veterans Day out of the abstract--is to engage in conversations with veterans, especially those in your family or circle of friends. "Combat veterans have a grittiness that can be off-putting because they’ve seen the best and worst that humanity is capable of. It alters your worldview," Winter said, but added, "I have yet to meet a veteran who gets offended when you approach them in the context of a good conversation." That said, not everyone will be comfortable talking about their experiences and that's okay.

Lt. Steffan Maiwald (HT conference attendee) is a station pilot at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He asserts that "a lot of veterans get embarrassed when people make a big deal about thanking them or bringing attention to the fact that they served. Sometimes it's best to show your thanks in more subtle ways."

His brother, Joel (another conference alum), who served four years as a U.S. Marine, cautioned against letting Veterans Day create in you "the feeling or sentiment that as a citizen you must thank every veteran you meet (that has saturated our society), and the impression that you must feel ungrateful if you do not talk to the old man with the Vietnam veteran hat on in
Home Depot."  He advises you to "take some time to get to know [veterans] before you thank them for their service, because it means so much more coming from a friend than it does a stranger."

Kay Maiwald, HT Reflections editor and conference housing extraordinaire, is gratified by her two sons' service.

"As a mom, I've of course been proud of their choices, mainly because they've always worked really hard at whatever they chose to do. The military was simply the vocation that was right for them. They were both pretty young when they became interested in the military, and they never wavered from that." She explained that when it comes down to it, "no matter what happens to them in this world, they are baptized and we know the end of the story."

Being Purposeful with Prayer

Heidi Baker, who has been a great resource for Higher Things over the years (including CCV manager and entertainment director), is married to an active serviceman. As you can imagine, it can be very challenging for spouses and children of those in military service. "Don't thank me on Veteran's Day," she said. "I get enough thanks for just doing what I have been called to do, for fulfilling my vocation as a wife and mother. Thank the veterans. This day is about them." But then here is her key takeaway: "Don't just thank them on this day only, or say 'Thank you for your service' without truly meaning it. Thank them, talk to them, listen to their stories, pray for them."

Rev. Stephen Hokana, who has written articles and taught conference breakout sessions for HT, is the assistant director of the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces. He is a retired U.S. Army chaplain, having provided 26 years of pastoral care on many fronts. He encourages us to be active on the prayer front, not only praying in gratitude for veterans and those in active service but also for their safety.  

"We thank the Almighty for those citizens, people like you and me, who set aside their freedom.  They put on a uniform and willingly follow the orders of those above them. The main purpose of which is to preserve our rights as citizens in the greatest country in the world," Hokana said.  "Some served on a lonely outpost on an isolated hillside. Others were on submarines patrolling the ocean depths. Some were on flight lines making sure the USAF flies to intercept any enemy trying to take away our freedom. Again, they set aside their freedom to protect yours. You should sleep safely in your bed at night knowing that the frontlines of freedom are guarded by American citizens in uniform."

Hokana also says that we honor veterans by making sure we keep up with the news of the day, know our rights as citizens, and pray for them as they return from service and reintegrate into civilian life.

So the lesson here is to thank veterans with a view towards truly loving them as your neighbor, as well as to take the gratitude for their service and petitions for their safety to our Father in heaven. If you’re not quite sure what to pray, your friendly neighborhood Lutheran Book of Prayer has a specific prayer ("On Veterans Day") just for that purpose!

Becoming Hands-on 

Without a doubt, gratitude and prayer are essential. It's amazing, however, when those grow feet and move you toward something tangibly positive.

Bob Myers, former Higher Things board member, served 23 distinguished years in the U.S. Navy. His fellow veterans have always meant a great deal to him. A few years ago, he investigated a new hobby with his wife, Cyndi--fly fishing--and inadvertently stumbled upon a unique way to reach out. While participating in the Fly Fishers of Northwest Florida club, he learned they are sponsors for a national nonprofit organization, Project Healing Waters, whose sole mission is to bring healing to wounded veterans through fly fishing. "I saw first-hand the positive ways veterans were responding," Myers said.

Two and a half years later he's still involved, even accompanying three participants to east Tennessee for a 3-day fishing trip. They haven't been able to meet in person since March but have been keeping in touch via Zoom meetings. "I know that the true healing waters are the water and God's Word in Holy Baptism," Myers said, "but these First Article gifts we share have helped these veterans do something outside themselves."  

Myers advises that no matter what way you decide to get involved in the lives of veterans, it's important to see them as people for whom Christ has died and listen to them. He reminds us that sometimes they will have experienced things from our broken world that they won't be ready to talk about. "Let them determine when they will open up," Myers added.

As Myers relayed, the healing we are all desperate for is forgiveness of sins. And we rejoice that in our Baptism, we have that! In that sense, the veteran is no different than anyone else in your life--he or she needs the Good News just as much as you do!

That's a lot to take in, right? The thing to remember is that God has placed you in a unique circle of people already. You may know a veteran, or might find them part of your life in the future. It's possible you'll have a chance to get to know them better, learn from them, and share your faith with them as well. Until then. . .

"Use this Veterans Day to learn from history, learn about where this country came from, how it was built, and who keeps it going," Joel Maiwald stressed. "And remember a few things: Those young men and women do not go off to service for some political idea or because they so heavily support the government, most of them go because they believe so deeply in this country's building blocks of ideas that they would literally kill and die for it with no regret."

For Steffan Maiwald, it comes down to this: "At the end of the day, nobody joins the military for the thanks. They join it because they love their country and what it stands for. They join because this is the greatest country on earth and they want to ensure that all present and future Americans can experience it as well. They join because instead of thinking 'If I don't do it somebody else will,' their mindset is 'I will do it so somebody else doesn't have to.'"

Ultimately your home is the Kingdom of God, of which you are a citizen through Christ's perfect life, death, and resurrection for you, delivered in your Baptism. But Scripture also reminds us that while we are here in this world, "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). Therefore, may our "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-3). We can be grateful to the veterans who work under such God-given authority towards the peaceful and quiet life we all pray for. Thanks be to God for our veterans!

Katie Hill is the managing editor of Higher Things. When she's not silently correcting everyone's grammar, she enjoys fostering and fine-tuning the writing of authors who deliver the sweetness of the Gospel to Higher Things readers and beyond. A Lutheran convert for 15 years now, Katie has been working for HT in some capacity for nearly that same amount of time. She relishes life in a small town in northern Arizona with her husband, Jeff, and five children.

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