At 11 o’clock, on November 11th in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighteen thankful people around the world commemorated the end of World War One, a war given the nickname “The war to end all wars.” Of course, we know now that nickname proved to be meaningless because the evil residing deep in the heart of the human race screams for power, possessions, and property and blood fuels its hunger.
Back in the day, the celebration of this historic 11-11-11 came to be called “Armistice Day” but after the long bloody years of World War Two and the Korean War, Americans changed the name to “Veterans Day.” Sadly, much like Memorial Day, this national holiday has lost most of its significance and meaning, especially since the vast majority of Americans have forgotten we still have young men and women on the battle field even at this late hour.
Today the American G.I. answers the call to duty, not in response to a draft number but he or she volunteers. Few, I fear, ever expect to be deployed time af-ter time to foreign fields like Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the average career soldier has served in a war zone at least twice if not three to four times over the past ten years. Deployment means waking up every morning, staring the “dragon” of war in his fiery red eyes, and trying to sleep at night with his hot breath on your neck.
I learned the imagery of a “dragon” from COL Mark Landes, who joined our church right before deploying with over three thousand young men and women under his command in the Bulldog Bri-gade of the First Armored Division. Mark taught me a great deal about courage, leadership, and the psychic of the modern citizen soldier.
On his last Sunday before deployment, he shared with me that he was confident that he would bring back practically all of his soldiers from Afghanistan, but he said, “Pastor, pray for their souls. I fear I am going to lose their souls over there.” With the ignorance of a man who has never served “downrange” in battle, I inquired, “What do you mean?”
With kindness, and thoughtfulness Mark replied, “A soldier must learn to live with his dragon. The dragon never goes away. He must learn to make peace with it.”
I believe I am beginning to understand a portion of what this warrior leader meant. As the old adage goes, “War is hell.” In war men and women witness, and often at times have to do the unthinkable in response to the call of duty. As Paul noted, staring evil in the face, the soldier and the law enforce-ment officer do not “carry the sword in vain–for he is a servant of God, and aven-ger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrong doer.”
This cancer of war continues to eat away at the souls of warriors. Many suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or many men and women of conscience have suffered “moral injury” because on the field of battle they had their conscience seared by the struggle with the green eyed monster of evil, hatred, and inhumanity that spurs the dragon of war on.
The warrior king and poet David knew all too well this struggle with the “dragon.” Without doubt, nightmares woke him from a fretful night of sleep in a cold sweat with fear in his eyes. Read Psalm 56 through the eyes of a warrior and I suspect the follow-ing phrase will come into full color in your heart and mind, when David wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3 NIV).
As we end this week of reflection on our veterans, I was handed this quote:
“Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American G.I.—One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.”
Whisper a prayer for a veteran today, I can assure you, he or she needs it.