Commentary: Memorial Day from chaplain's foxhole
May 15, 2009
- A young Army chaplain suggests we think of personnel at war on Memorial Day.
- He talks about one of the sad tasks a chaplain must perform.
- He talks about some of the questions he's gotten from Soldiers at war.
FORT MYER, Va. (May 15, 2009) -- One evening, a casualty officer and I drove down the road on our way to inform a Soldier's spouse that her husband had died in Iraq.
As an Army chaplain, many thoughts entered my mind. I thought about how difficult it would be for this young mother and how empty the two children's lives would be without their dad.
On our way to the house, the casualty officer had assured me that he would be able to deliver the sad news. But when we got to our destination his confidence disappeared.
''Chaplain," he asked, ''will you pray for me'" I placed my hand on his shoulder and began to pray. I asked God to give us the strength to perform our duty. I asked God to control our thoughts and actions and comfort the household we were about to enter.
When I finished we got out of the car and with great pain did the job that we were both called to do.
Memorial Day reminds us of the Soldiers who gave their lives for our country. But often we forget to also honor the families they left behind. They, too, have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Military chaplains guide Soldiers and their families through the ''Circle of Life" from births, baptisms, confirmations, marriage, illness and death. Our role is broader than a typical civilian minister because we have to connect Soldiers to God on a daily basis.
There was a time when I considered leaving the ministry. Then a friend asked me to join the military chaplaincy. It changed my life.
During my deployment I served as chaplain for a 600-Soldier logistics battalion in Baghdad. Whoever said ''there are no atheists in the foxhole" may have been absolutely right.
These Soldiers had to deliver supplies along the most dangerous routes in Iraq, and when bombs exploded, the reality of war forced many Soldiers to do some very serious soul searching.
Countless Soldiers came to talk to me about war, death and faith and they presented me with many perplexing theological questions:
''Is God on our side, and will he protect me from death'"
''Will God forgive me if I kill an innocent person by mistake'"
''Will God be angry with me for participating in this war'"
''Exactly where do we really go when we die'"
Today I am back home in the states, a safe distance away from the death and war that challenges many servicemen and women in ways most people in our country will never fully understand.
This year, as we celebrate Memorial Day, we should pause as a nation from talk about political battles between Republicans and Democrats and the latest celebrity gossip, and instead think about the men and women who continue to fight and die in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is true: war is hell, freedom is expensive, death is painful and faith still matters; especially to those in the foxhole.