Monday is the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation of “Armistice Day,” memorializing the end of hostilities one year earlier at the conclusion of World War I. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, to honor all who are serving and all who previously served in the United States armed services.
When persons are enlisted into the United States military (any of the five service groups), the following oath (or affirmation) is taken:
“I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
During terms of service, military personnel sometimes are engaged in combat, sometimes not. When in combat, some are injured physically, even fatally; some are injured emotionally. Each is serving with others for a cause larger than self. Those who cannot “figure this out” are discharged before their term has run its course.
In the days leading to Nov. 11, I have had reason to remember two of my public school teachers who “came of age” for military service just after World War I and before World War II. Neither, to my knowledge, served in the armed services, yet both embodied and shared service in ways upholding the highest standards of a cause larger than self. That cause is “being human in community with others” — others who are accorded dignity and who are served from gratitude.
My eighth grade earth science teacher was Martin Clary (born in 1900). When I was 13 years old, he was 66 years old. My 11th grade United States history teacher was Lloyd Mitchell (born in 1907). When I was 16 years old, he was 62 years old. They both taught subject content. They also taught critical application of content related to science and to citizenship, respectively, for the present and for the future.
Additionally, they taught and exemplified “method” and “character” — how one studies and thinks for positive results, and how one acts and relates for positive results. Both had a sense of irony and a healthy sense of humor. They encouraged laughter at life’s strangeness. They did not tolerate laughter that might bruise or demean any person. Thinking back, I realize they each encouraged the recognition of human dignity and the awareness of gratitude.
Like these two teachers 50-plus years ago, so many veterans have shared, taught and exemplified both careful method in their specializations and positive character. They have recognized the dignity of citizens, immigrants and refugees under the U.S. Constitution, which they have sworn to support and defend — including beyond this nation’s shores. The cause is “larger than self” to which they have devoted themselves sacrificially, with time, energy and talent, including serving “in harm’s way.”
Fifty years ago, on Nov. 11, 1969, the Rev. Edward Elson, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, prayed: “O God of the nations, we thank you for the peace which came into the world in 1918, and for those who have bravely lived and nobly died serving this nation across generations. Lead us continually beyond mere armistice to lasting peace for the good of all people.”
How appropriate that we say to veterans and others: “Thank you for your service.”
Ted V. Foote Jr. has been pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bryan since 2007.