Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11) is a way to honor those who have served in United States Armed Forces. They rightly deserve honor as Romans 13:7 says, “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” My wife and I recently went back through some papers we have in which our grandfathers told of their military service. They both served in the WWII era. I think their experiences probably reflect many other veterans’ of their time.
My grandfather, John Ashbrook, while a seventeen-year-old freshman at Wheaton College in 1944, knew that he would be drafted when he turned 18. He decided to go ahead and enlist in the Navy before being drafted. He went to Chicago along with his college roommate to enlist together. The Navy asked both of them if they ever walked in their sleep. His roommate said he had and he was rejected immediately. Apparently sleep-walking was not an approved activity on ship! He also applied for the Navy V-12 officer training program. My grandfather was accepted into the V-12 program at Northwestern University and reported there July 1, 1944. The academics were tough with three semesters per year and 20 to 22 hours each semester. In the mess hall one day he spotted a man bow his head and pray before the meal. He rushed over to meet him. That man was Wally Norling, a Christian from St. Paul, Minnesota. Together he and Wally started a prayer meeting and Bible study just before taps. The group grew to around 25 men. Later half of those men would enter the ministry. The war with Japan ended in September 1945 and the Navy agreed to graduate and commission the V-12 trainees with 120 credit hours. He graduated and was commissioned on February 28, 1946. He had a college degree in chemical engineering and an officer’s commission at age 19. He then served on a cruiser for several months and was discharged in July 1946 from Great Lakes Naval Base. Later he attended seminary in Philadelphia on the GI Bill. He said that serving in the military was not something he wanted to do again, but he was glad for it. It gave him discipline. He grew spiritually and learned experience for life.
My wife’s grandfather, Dean Gibson, was drafted into the Army in 1943 at age 18. He reported to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and took his basic training at Fort Wolters near Fort Worth, Texas. There he was selected to be in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), an effort to produce technically trained personnel and officers. He along with 600 others from across the country came to study at Ball State University in the ASTP program. He took one semester of engineering, but then the Army needed infantrymen more than engineers. He was shipped out to France in September 1944. As a combat infantryman, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans’ last major push in WWII. He fought in foxholes, and had to learn to tell the difference between US artillery going out and German artillery coming in. He said it was all about knowing “when to duck.” His commanding officer asked him to write up citations for those killed in action. He said he usually recommended a medal of honor and the Silver Star for the fallen soldiers to make their families’ proud. Marching through Germany, he witnessed the fresh evidence of German mass murder atrocities. The Germans had loaded basements with displaced people and threw grenades in. They had boarded people up in houses and set them on fire. His company came upon these houses with the fires still burning. They had to unload the bodies and bury them. Dean said he made changes in rank by being the person still there when the opening came about. It was earning rank by not getting hurt. The Purple Heart is awarded to those wounded or killed while serving. He used to say that there were 240 men in his rifle company; 238 got the Purple Heart. He was one of the two that did not. He returned home safely to his fiancé in March 1946.
Our grandfathers are gone, and so are many of their fellow soldiers. We are thankful for their service to our country. But we also want to honor today’s veterans. They too deserve our respect and support.
Today’s veterans especially need our prayers as recent reports from the Veteran’s Administration show. The VA reports that, on average, 20 veterans a day die from suicide. The rate of suicide is higher among younger veterans (ages 18-34) than older (age 55 and older), although older veterans accounted for 58 percent of veteran suicide deaths in 2016. Many different factors contribute to veteran suicide including PTSD, combat guilt, and financial and personal problems at home.
In spite of these problems, no one, including veterans, should give up on life. There is help and hope in knowing God through Jesus Christ. Pray that our veterans come to have this hope — “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God: For I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 43:5).