Yesterday was a big day for WWII vets. It was the official 60th Anniversary of the raising of the flags on Iwo Jima. In Tampa, the Department of Defense held a 60th Anniversary Commemoration in Tampa for the Allied victories in both theatres.
Even though, I am closely aligned with pacifistic interests, I take these events with great seriousness. Why? My father was at Iwo Jima. He was not on the beach or island. He did not help raise a flag, but as a 20 year old medic on a battleship tender, his job was to tend to injured young Marines brought to his boat and help supply the battleships protecting the American troops on the island from Japanese planes and ships.
Everytime I look at this war to liberate the Iraqi oil (I mean people... Iraqi people), I look back to my father's example as an enlisted man serving his country in WWII, Korea and the beginning of Vietnam before retiring at the tender age of 39. I think of the time I have spent on military bases and hospitals, at VFW and American Legion halls, turkey shoots and reunions. I remember wanting to attend the Naval Academy, but not having the necessary connections, the time spent with recruiters, the close call with recruiters after college (I wanted them to pay my way through Law School and eventually become an FBI agent- life has its twists), the attempt to join the Navy as a Chaplain (but they did not want me- too many Southern Baptist Chaplains in the Armed Forces at the time- they needed some diversity- if I became Methodist, I could join) and my protests during the Gulf War (the only person at Southwestern Seminary). I think of the present situation of supporting my father in his fight with the Department of Defense and the Office of Veteran's Affairs because the military does not feel responsible for my father's hearing loss (not combat related, even though he spent his war years on a ship with an office between the main guns).
Some days, I wish I had joined up. Only so I could have a stronger voice than I do now to speak against the War in Iraq. My father and many of his friends have powerful voices when they oppose this war because we want to (as opposed to a war because we had to like WWII). I would love to have a uniform in my closet when I speak to my Christian friends who are gung-ho supporters of this war and any other started by a Republican president, who have never considered the military an option for themselves or anyone in their families (as children of privilege, they would rather attend seminary or grad school and leave the army for the poor). Of course military service means nothing presently in our country. Look at McCain, Cleland and Kerry depicted as weak on defense, while Rove, Cheney and Bush are great military leaders.
I thought about this on Saturday night as my family sat outside at a pizza joint in downtown St. Pete. A 71 year old man in a wheelchair kept telling me how beautiful my children were. He asked if he could come over and we invited him. He told us of going to fight in Korea and losing both legs in 1953 (do the math- 19 years old, no legs). He was lonely. He lost his family, children and future life along with his legs. He needed some kindness. Sensing this (I can think of nothing else to explain it), my toddler children (who are frightened of strangers) offered him a piece of pizza, flirted with him and hugged him (better hugs than they give me). Maybe he reminded them of their granddad. Maybe they just decided to support the troops.
It takes more than an American Flag bumper sticker or lapel pin and a yellow ribbon on one's car to support troops. Because a person is against a war does not mean one does not support troops (if one of you right-wingers that have not touched the stench of a family member's death or lesser existence due to war tells me I do not support troops, I would like you to quit your job and join the Army- they are looking). To support the troops is not to support a corporate industrial military complex and its wars of convenience or a President and Vice President who CHOSE to stay home. To support the troops is to pray for them (not just their safety but the safety of their/ our enemies- I think Jesus said something about it), especially their mental and spiritual condition. To support the troops is to stand beside them when they come home and end up lost in a system with no job, no home or no family (or are too injured to have a job). It is to listen to their stories. It is to take a homeless vet at the exit ramp home. It is to advocate for these men and women. It is to hold their hands when they are tired and sick (and the government has turned its back on them because they are no longer useful). It is to invite them to sit with your family at dinner.
Now, I am not a particularly patriotic person. I love this country because God chose to have me live here. I love it because it is the only home I have known. I love it because my family and my friends are here. I love the beaches, mountains, rivers, countryside, towns, cities and trees. I do not love it because it is the best country in the world or has the best military or is always right. I do not own an American flag. I do not wear a flag pendant and have no ribbons on my car. But, in my support for a singular troop, I will one day be honored by the presentation of an American flag that will drape my father's coffin. I will keep that flag and proudly find a place of honor for it. Not for America. But, for my dad.
Don't support the troops this year. Support a troop this year.