Archives For honoring veterans

The human race has never had access to more information at our fingertips than ever before. There is no practical reason to visit any of the places we learn about in life. But, I am reminded again of the conversation between Robin Williams’ and Matt Damon’s characters in Good Will Hunting.

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.”

Williams’ character is pointing out how important it is to live and breathe places and experiences as opposed to being on the sideline to comment about it.

Since the earliest days of time, man embarked on pilgrimages.

A pilgrimage is defined as a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.

There are many types of pilgrimages.

  • Pilgrimages to see where we grew up
  • Pilgrimages to visit world history events
  • Pilgrimages to see the last live show the Beatles ever played
  • Pilgrimages to see old friends
  • Pilgrimages to remind you of your faith (and strengthen it)

History is a mere textbook without visiting in person because humans were meant for pilgrimages. 

My mother and father are about to embark on their own pilgrimage. My dad spends much of his time in St. Louis serving with a group of veterans whom are part of an organization called Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Although my father served during the Vietnam era in the Army, he does this for those who served before him, especially his now deceased father, my grandfather Branch . It is a miracle that my grandfather even survived The Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 since he was severely wounded from shrapnel during one of the early days of the battle. My father has realized that their story is worth telling and more importantly to him, it is necessary in order to more fully understand our family and human history, to visit these hallowed grounds.

In 1999 while I was in college I had embarked on a similar pilgrimage to visit Normandy with my friend Heath Hildebrandt. Normandy is only an hour train ride from Paris and an essential visit for any American. I remember the how beautiful it was there but learned how it wasn’t then and how dire the circumstance were for the Allies attempting a foothold in Europe to repel Nazi Germany. This invasion was so critical and risky that Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a letter in advance to acknowledge defeat if needed they failed to secure the beach. Thankfully the allies did secure the beach. You’d be surprised to learn that securing the beach was a first step of many and it took another month to actually push-off of the beach. I wrote about it in an earlier post called After D-Day.

By visiting these vast beaches of Normandy stretching dozens of miles, I learned more about D-Day and its importance than decades of history classes and World War II shows on HIstory channel.

It was a pilgrimage that I’ll never forget. 

Sadly, in 2001 I also visited Bastogne in Belgium and sites where The Battle of the Bulge occurred but my camera was stolen with the precious photographs. I am excited my dad can complete that pilgrimage with photographs to share. Perhaps the pilgrimage will be complete with him?

 

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In the middle of the Normandy National Cemetery and Memorial.

 

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Omaha Beach, Normandy

What has been your most meaningful pilgrimage? What did you learn about yourself and the place you visited/ 

What pilgrimage to yearn to go on and what do you hope to learn?

If you have not seen the movie, Taking Chance (2009), it is a must for any American to get a unique perspective on how to treat military who are lost through the eyes of a funeral escort. Based on the true story, Kevin Bacon plays a Marine Colonel who served in Desert Storm in 1991 but for several reasons, mainly having a young family and served so long in the military, decided to focus on serving  in 2003-4 in the mainland. He felt guilty not going over to Iraq or Afghanistan and made the decision to escort this young man who perished, Chance Phelps, to his family. It was highly uncommon for a high-ranking officer like him to escort a PFC. Along the way he witnesses many things that helped him understand why he needed to do this and honor those who fought in his place. It was as if a parade of honor opened up on the week-long trip to take Chance home. Kevin Bacon’s character was the escort of a hero.

Today I am 34 and amazed at the drive and sacrifice of friends and so many others younger than me who have fought and in some cases died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regardless of your political thoughts on war, there is something special about serving your country, especially the military. I come from a long line of family that have served in the military and as a writer I am always interested in listening to them and helping tell their story.

Previously, I have written my thoughts on the military and why I did not serve. I recognize that I’m not off the hook. Neither are you if you did not serve.

The need us and we need them. Even though we don’t serve, how should we act? Here are seven helpful ways we all can make a difference for those who served:

  1. Help give them purpose. A job is just a job but a purpose in a job can have eternal impact. The group,The Mission Continues is focused on that and I’d love to find ways to help them more. If you are an employer, give each resume or meeting with a veteran a second look. Their skills may not look standard but they most likely understand hard work and leadership better than anyone else.
  2. Listen. I can only imagine what these young men and women have gone through and plenty suffer from PTSD. Engage them and listen to their stories. They may not want to tell you much but give them your all. It is therapy sometimes for them to share and we also show respect by hearing them out.
  3. Donate: Donate to your local VFW, USOWounded Warrior Project, Operation Stand Down, or Operation Homefront. It’s easy and enables you to fund those who are already making a difference.
  4. Plant flags: Plant flags with Boy Scouts during Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Veteran’s Day at National Cemeteries. My father helps The Veterans of The Battle of the Bulge do this and other things to help.
  5. Give up your seat: If you are a traveling businessperson and have a great seat on a plane, especially in 1st Class, give up your seat for a veteran or uniformed soldier.
  6. Give a Homecoming Party: If you aren’t disgusted by the way some Vietnam veterans were treated when coming home, then we have an opportunity as this generation to show what we’re made of and honor them properly. To my knowledge, The Mission Continues was the first major entity to organize an Iraq homecoming parade for soldiers in St. Louis in 2012 and it drew in the hundreds of thousands. Wow.
  7. Teach your kids: If you have children, encourage your kids to find a unique way to help troops. When she was around 10 years old, my cousin Ryan and Mandy’s daughter Victoria asked friends to come to her birthday and instead of bringing presents, give money to supporting troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan with presents and supplies. She raised almost $2,000. What an example and what legacy go give our children.

Last, never stop praying for them.

The victory in serving them well comes with action.

Stand up and serve them as they have served you.

What are some other great ways you see to help veterans?