I grew up in a family which honored my father’s overseas military service. He had taken part in the occupation of Germany after World War II. Memorial Day parades and Veterans’ Day observances were a regular part of my childhood. I was proud to have memorized the lyrics to songs representing every branch of military service.
I also grew up in a time when the country’s relationship to those who served was ambivalent, at best. The most important events of my junior and senior years of high school were not proms or football games, but rather the draft lottery day, when we found out which of the boys we had grown up with were “safe” and which were likely headed for Vietnam.
I held in my heart those experiences and my own mixed feelings when, as a new DRE many years ago, I asked three mentors and friends to speak at a lay-led Memorial Day service. One speaker was a veteran of WW II. One had served in the early days of Vietnam, and one during the later Vietnam years. Each of them told me how difficult it would be to speak about their experiences, and each of them agreed to do it. The resulting service had people in tears. In that congregation, it opened a place for stories that would otherwise have stayed locked behind the doors of people’s hearts.
The national Veterans Day observance began as Armistice Day because it marked the end of World War I, “the war to end all wars.” For years, I marked the day with my own prayers for peace. Only in recent years did I come to understand another dimension to honoring the veteran, when I remembered what I learned on that Memorial Day decades ago: that each soldier, each veteran, and each military family member has a story to tell, a story about how military service helps to make them who they are today.
Our congregations can provide the loving spaces to hold the veteran’s story. In our faith communities, we can engage with the complexities of the life-altering decisions and experiences bound up with military service. We can express collective gratitude for the service of those who have served in our name.
And so on Monday, I will be in Groveland, Massachusetts, to bear witness and offer thanks to my Dad and those vets of subsequent wars who will once again proudly don their uniforms and take part in local Veterans Day observances. What is happening in your congregation and community to mark this day?
Visit the web pages of the extensive military ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF).
Watch for a free, online resource from the UUA Faith Development Office to help congregations reach out to military personnel, veterans and families, publication anticipated in spring 2014. Originally written by Rev. Seanan Holland for CLF, these materials are being adapted for congregational use.