By Chaplain (Major General) Douglas Carver, U.S. Army, Retired
The Bible commands us in Romans 13:7 to “give honor to whom honor is due.” Ultimately, all honor and glory and power belongs to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. But it’s also appropriate, as we celebrate our nation’s independence, to remember and honor a special group of people — our veterans — who for 243 years have protected and preserved our freedom.
Whenever the nation has called — in times of distress or danger, chaos and confusion, peace and prosperity — our veterans have always been there, faithfully answering the call to duty. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen and veterans — men and women, active, guard and reserve — have done one of the noblest things a person can do with their life, which is to support and defend our great country with their lives and make a better world for our children and for generations.
Since leaving their bloody footprints at Valley Forge, making disease-infested trenches their homes during World War I, charging the beaches of Normandy, suffering crippling frostbite from three cold Korean winters, wading through booby-trapped rice paddies of Vietnam and traversing dangerous roads and terrain in southwest Asia, our troops have always been counted on to defend the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to worship Almighty God freely in peace.
Looking back through our nation’s history:
We honor our post-9/11 veterans for their patriotic response after the terrorist attacks on our nation 17 years ago. Since then, 2.77 million men and women have served in the armed services on 5.4 million combat deployments. Their average age is less than 30. Half of them are married with children. Over 225,000 of our troops have three combat deployments or more.
We honor our Vietnam veterans who served during one of the longest wars in our nation’s history. Fifty years ago, in 1968, they experienced the bloodiest year of the war with nearly 17,000 killed in action beginning with the Tet Offensive in January 1968. Our Vietnam veterans never gave up, gave in, never quit, in spite of our country giving up on them.
We honor our Korean War veterans who fought and died in extremely difficult conditions, where the country’s mountainous terrain and the unrelenting cold of winter were bitter enemies in themselves. As one veteran put it, “on the other side of every mountain was another mountain.” At times the winter cold froze the oil in GIs weapons so they couldn’t fire, and thousands suffered from crippling frostbite. After the war, our troops spearheaded the effort in rescuing over 100,000 Korean orphans whose parents were killed in the war. Let’s remember our Korean War veterans today as we’re on the verge of declaring an end to the Korean War after 65 long years.
We honor the undaunted courage of our World War II veterans who stormed the beaches of Guadalcanal and Normandy, fought valiantly against unrelenting kamikaze attacks and torpedo strikes in the Coral Sea, and liberated the world from the grip of tyranny in Europe and the Pacific Rim. The Greatest Generation of Americans paid a staggering price for war, suffering more than 400,000 killed in action while advancing the cause of freedom throughout the world.
Finally, we honor the courage of our World War I veterans who were drafted to fight “the war to end all wars”. They fought from cold, muddy trenches while for the first time facing machine gun fire, deadly bombs and poisonous gas, enduring all this “to make the world safe for democracy.” This year the nation is commemorating the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.
One hundred years ago, 6,105 Southern Baptist messengers gathered for the 63rd session of the Southern Baptist Convention, May 15-20 in Hot Springs, Ark. Senior leaders felt that the denomination was at a critical point in its 70-year history. Evangelism efforts were at an all-time low, baptisms were down, seminaries were struggling with student population levels due to the war, and fewer men were answering the call to pastoral ministry.
At the same time, the War Department was almost begging churches and denominations for military chaplains. One man who answered the call was George W. Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who, at the personal request of President Woodrow Wilson, left his pulpit for six months to serve as a chaplain with our troops in England and France.
Rev. Truett said he “would have gladly crossed the ocean and braved all the dangers and hardships for the privilege of preaching to vast multitudes of soldiers who came to the side of our great Saviour and King.”
At that same convention 100 years ago, Southern Baptists made a vow, “pledging their lives, their resources, and their sacred honor to the nation for the war effort, [to] press the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ into the hearts of young men in the flower of their youth.” Southern Baptists agreed that, regardless of how bad things looked in the denomination and the world, their primary focus in supporting our troops and the war effort was to ensure we kept the freedom to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
E.Y. Mullins, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that the best way we could support our troops was to strengthen their moral and spiritual life, making every effort to preach the Gospel, especially to those from Baptist homes and Baptist churches who were laying their lives on the altar of their country.
A.T. Robertson, professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary in his book, “The New Citizenship: The Christian Facing a New World Order,” said, “If we truly want to honor our troops and the Nation, we must clean up our house and keep it clean if we are to lead the nations of the earth in the path of peace to God and righteousness. We must make Christ king in our homes, schools, stores, factories, railroads, ships, military, city halls, state capitols, and national capitol. We must have men and women who live under the authority of Jesus as Lord and follow His teachings. The world has yet to see a Nation where Christ reigns with honor in the hearts of his people.”
As we honor our veterans and the nation, let us begin by honoring the Lord with our lives and giving thanks to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty, especially the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus. Let us give thanks to and pray for our veterans and their families who have given so much for the earthly freedoms we enjoy. And may we be faithful stewards of the freedom we’ve been granted by the men and women who have, through their selfless and sacrificial service, kept America the land of the free and the brave.
Chaplain (MG) Doug Carver, USA-Retired, is executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board. This article is adapted from his address honoring veterans on the opening day of the June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas.