This morning I watched a color guard of ROTC high school students raise the flag on our campus. A small group of us pledged our allegiance to it and to the republic for which it stands … then listened as it was lowered to half-mast, and the names and destinies of U.S. submarines were read by a retired sub commander, punctuated by the tolling of the bell.
Veteran’s Day began 86 years ago as a celebration of the end of World War I and, though it was called ‘Armistice Day’ for 16 years, it regained its current name 50 years ago.
But it was 140 years ago that President Abraham Lincoln captured the spirit of this day and its meaning at the close of a fair in Washington DC, with more than a year to go before the close of the Civil War.
On that occasion he spoke these words, which continue to resonate to this day:
“This extraordinary war in which we are engaged falls heavily upon all classes of people, but the most heavily upon the soldier.
“For it has been said, all that a man hath will he give for his life; and while all contribute of their substance, the soldier puts his life at stake, and often yields it up in his country’s cause.
“The highest merit, then, is due to the soldier.”
Today, as in Lincoln’s day, our nation seems deeply divided. Our President faces the task of seeking to heal wounds and reunite citizens.
Perhaps there is no better place to begin than with the recognition that President Bush put into words a week ago: “We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us.”
I think we all agree that this is still one nation, indivisible, and above it flies one flag which many soldiers and sailors defend and have defended – some giving, as Lincoln noted in his Gettysburg Address, their “last full measure of devotion.”
As the bell tolled, my thoughts were not so much for the submariners whose histories often closed with the frequently-repeated phrase “all hands lost” as it was for the few servicemen I know from church who are serving in Iraq. They daily face the horror of war. They resist its temptations. They rebuild schools. They restore power grids and plumbing.
And many of them, when asked what they would like us to send them for another Christmas over there, ask for school supplies and crayons that they can give to the children in the places they’re stationed.
Father God, please bring them home safe and soon.
And bless them for showing Your generosity while they’re there.