I recently took a trip to the VA hospital with my dad, a man who served his country for twenty-three years of his life and sixteen years of mine. At the hospital I saw a lot of men his age, but even more who made me think of my grandfather. Elderly men with ball-caps detailing which war they helped put to rest. They smiled at each other, because they knew. Once a solider, always a soldier.
While their smiles were bright, my heart was heavy. Not every soldier was sitting in this waiting room. Not every soldier came home from their battle. The ones who did return, came back changed. Changed by the fighting, hatred, and death they lived amongst.
As Christians and caring humans we want to understand the pain of others. We want to wrap our arms around them, comfort them, make them feel safe. When it comes to veterans, that isn’t always something you can do.
You don’t understand their pain. Physical, emotional, or mental.
Despite your best efforts, you may not be able to make them feel safe. You can’t heal them.
What you can do is respect all they’ve given up for your freedom.
Return their sweet smiles and say thank you. Remind them how valuable their service was and still is.
You can mourn the loss of soldiers you’ll never meet. As you stand before memorials or with friends at a funeral service, say a prayer for healing. For the nation and the families who lost loved ones.
When you see a service member at the airport, stop them. They’re leaving people behind. Mothers. Fathers. Husbands. Wives. Sons. Daughters. They’re giving up time with their family to fight for your freedom. Clap for them. Smile at them. Make sure they know you care.
Don’t just stand for the national anthem. Put your hand over your heart and sing. To you it may just be a song, but it means something for our country. It means unity, courage, and peace. It means victory.
Say the pledge of allegiance even though you’re given the choice to stay quiet. Remind those around you why we’re one nation under God.
Above all, the best thing you can do for veterans, active duty members, and their families, is pray.
Pray for safety.
Pray for joy.
Pray for love.
Pray for peace.
Next time you see an elderly man with a Desert Storm ball-cap, don’t dismiss him. Smile. Shake his hand. Remind him that we’re still thankful for his service. Remind him that we haven’t forgotten.
Once a soldier, always a soldier.
Once a hero, always a hero.