Archives For memorial day

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? 

I confess that I am  a war movie junkie.  I understand why many of you are not.

It is brutal.  It frightening.  It complex. It’s definitely not a date movie.  It usually is not going to make you laugh.

When I was 8, all I wanted to be was a soldier.  Until I watched Oliver Stone’s Platoon.  God bless my parents in a way for letting me watch that movie. As a parent now, I’m not sure if I’d let my children watch it but if they expressed interest in wanting to know about what real combat is like, at the right time I’d show them movies like The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Hamburger Hill, The Hurt Locker, Gettysburg, Glory, Black Hawk Down, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Memphis Belle, Gallipoli , Enemy at the Gates, yes even Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  I acknowledge that some of these movies could be argued as propaganda or that they over-sensationalize war but they do teach us something to the core about our own lives.  And if you think your life isn’t interesting, open your eyes.

We are at war. We always are. We always will be.

In life, if we pay close enough attention to the details, it isn’t that much different.  There may not be actual bullets flying over your head but the metaphoric ones can still cripple or kill us from living life the way it’s mean to be lived.

We must stand and fight together.

The Thin Red Line, painted in 1881 by Robert Gibb. Painting showing the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in battle with Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava 1854.

Here is what I’ve learned in my years of closely observing what most war movies best communicate.  I recently read an article in PASTE Magazine  reviewing Sebastian Junger’s latest, WAR that got me pretty fired up.  I have not read the book yet but the journalist in his review challenged a core piece in the book; glorifying brotherhood in the midst of battle.  What if brotherhood in battle is reality?  Most people I know in the military who have seen combat do not talk about it much.  I can only understand why.  But from what I’ve read about war and the movies I’ve seen, there is a theme that exists in all.  I’ll explain further.

In the movie Black Hawk Down, Eric Bana’s character “Hoot” shared his perspective on why he does what he does: “When I go home people’ll ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?’ You know what I’ll say? I won’t say a god**** word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.” -Hoot, played by Eric Bana.  What a simple way to put it.  I highly recommend this movie and how it represents brotherhood as well as the depiction of modern combat.  The book was incredibly detailed and written by the talented Mark Bowden, from Webster Groves, MO where I spent my high school years.

If you also saw the recent HBO Miniseries “The Pacific” produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, you witnessed one of the most honest and horrific portrayals of the war in the Pacific in World War II through the eyes of 3 Marines.

Eat your heart out, John Wayne, you won’t see many other movies portray war reality so well. The series predecessor, Band of Brothers, emphasized the role of brotherhood so well in combat but this one was different.  There is a critical episode when a core character, Leckie, was taken away from battle to “rest.”  In reality, he was placed with other soldiers dealing with what we now know as “post-traumatic stress.”   During WWII, my maternal  grandfather “Papa Jack” Martin had a difficult assignment at Fort Lee re-training these types of soldiers.  I can only imagine what the men he encountered went through.  Leckie and the other Marines in the film quickly recognized that the war’s idealism of fighting off imperial Japan was forgotten and it became more about fighting to protect the man next to him.

Memorial Day approaches. We are losing WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Gulf War & Iraq War veterans everyday so if you see one, honor them well.  Listen to them.  Ask them if they want to share their story.  Try to understand what they have experienced.  You will appreciate this wonderful nation more.  If they don’t want to talk about it, honor that and ask what you can do for them.  My father spends a lot of his time volunteering with the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge in St. Louis, Missouri.  His father (my grandfather) received a purple heart while fighting in Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.  My dad sees this as his part of honoring “Grandpa Branch” and those many others who fought for us.   My father shared a story with me today from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about some WWII veterans in their 90’s recently honored in St. Louis.  There are so many still serving today.  My cousin Shane and his wife Tiffany have together served 4 tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They have given much of their 20’s and 30’s to the military.  There are so many more like them still protecting us. Honor those who went before us this Memorial Day.

Thoughout life I’ve had several people whom I’ve felt are “the person next to me.”  Whether it was my best friends in high school and college when I was in Young Life or today’s amazing men’s small group I’m in, I recognize that we are all never alone if we fight together.

Brooke and I are celebrating our 6th anniversary on this weekend.  She is that person next to me when there is calm but also when the bullets start flying. We’ve been reading John and Stasi Eldredge’s Love and War this month. It has helped confirm that especially in marriage, we must rely on each other in this complicated life.

When the bullets of life start flying, who will be by your side? Who is the person next to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you would also like to share a story about a loved one currently serving in the military or is a veteran, please do so in the comments.