(this post has been brought to you without spell check, please ignore the stuff I didn’t catch!)
There is one thing that all veterans share. Its something they share regardless of rank, branch of service, rating (the Navy term for military job field), background and upbringing, religion, race, socioeconomic status, gender, political opinion, and even view of the military and of their service. And that one thing is a reconciliation, internalization, and intimate awareness of the meaning of Delphic Maxim #132.
I’m not sure how this particular maxim actually played out in ancient Greek society, nor do I think that it matters in a modern context. In all actuallity, I think its probably a maxim that needs to be revised a bit–perhaps be willing to die for your country, or maybe even be willing to die for anything that you consider dear to you or important to your survival, or (in my more cynical moments) be willing to just do something that requires some effort and makes you a little bit uncomfortable in the defense of something larger than yourself.
I don’t pretend to be some self-sacrificing type looking to be a hero. And I don’t pretend to know what it is like to be in a war zone either in this conflict, or in preceeding ones, risking my life on a daily basis just to do my job and having to make inchomprehensible decisions in order to make it home to my family. Aside from deploying on a very large, rather well defended vessle, nearly all of my six years in the military were spent stateside. Two of those years were spent on sea duty, not quite a year was spent in training, and the rest were spent on shore duty (mostly while my husband was on sea duty). But, like every veteran (whether they had the opportunity to test their personal hypothesis out or not), I accepted the possibility of dying in the line of duty.
By the measure of a certain sort of person, I’m no great patriot. I don’t believe in an inherent (or, for that matter, acquired) superiority of the United States of America–one of my favorite songs in the Unitarian Unversalist hymnal (Hymn #159, This Is My Song) contains the line “My countries skies are blue than the ocean, and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine, but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.”, which sums up my feelings pretty succinctily. I love my country–loving my country does not mean hating other countries, nor does it mean whitewashing its history or ignoring its inconsistencies and inadequacies. I love the ideals that it was founded upon–the right of life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness as provided for in the Constitution are my values. While I have never had a desire to die, when I took the Oath of Enlistment, I made the conscious decision that these values were worthy of my life.
I know that there are those (both within and without Pagan and UU communities) that harbor huge amounts of antagonism for military members. I know because I’ve been the recipient. I’ve actually dealt with more prejudice from Pagans for being military than I ever revieved from military members for being Pagan. And I can understand that antagonism. The military is the offensive and defensive enforcement arm of our political system, and our political system is made up of the people we vote for (or fail to vote for). Its easier to hate on the military than it is to hate our own apathy to the system. Its easier to hate an institution for the actions of a minority than it is to hold ourselves accountable for creating the societal conditions that created the situation in the first place. But the decision to join the military is not a tacit approval of the political status quo, and holding all military members accountable for the actions of a few, or for the conditions that have developed as a result of political apathy is ultimately unfair and incredibly prejudicial.
I am damn proud to have worn the uniform of the United States Navy, and I am damned happy to have left this Delphic Maxim unfulfilled. Yet…if I had died doing my duty, even in a war I questioned the wisdom and justness of, I would not have considered my death a waste. Because a society that considers life too sacred to risk is a society that has lost the ability to hold any deep seated values at all–if you aren’t willing to die for anything, you aren’t living for it very well either. And in the end, the society that has nothing to live for will die with nothing worth remembering it for.
In thanks we lift our hearts this day,
for those at home and far away
Who heard the call to love’s high goals
and answered with their very souls.
Bless all who serve where e’re they be,
on land, in flight, or on the sea.
(an alternate UU lyric to the Navy Hymn for all service memebers, by Andrew Millard)
I was a United States Sailor.
I still support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America though I no longer obey the orders of those once appointed over me.
Following the legacy of my grandfather, I represented the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who had gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world.
I proudly served my country’s Navy combat team with Honor, Courage and Commitment.
I was (and still am) committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.
~rewritten from the Sailor’s Creed, based on the idea from an similar re-write on a former shipmate’s FB status
In 2003 I left college just before the start of my senior year to join the United States Navy. I enlisted as an E-3 deck seaman with a guaranteed “A” school to become a hospital corpsman as part of an enlistment program that no longer exists. I joined the military because of a burgeoning sort of general discontent with the prospect of “settling” for a middle class, middle American, middle of the road existence. I joined the Navy because I love the beach and my grandfather’s sea stories. The enlistment bonus and the GI Bill didn’t hurt…but the desire to do something *else* and something *more*, something *different* and *better*, something *life changing and important* was the strongest impetus. For six years I served my country, first as a deck seaman and then as a hospital corpsman.
Like any halfway introspective current or former military member, I can say that I didn’t always agree with the decisions that my country has made, or what was told to do or how to do it. I can say that I have bled, sweat and cried for my country. That I have carried out many a long, caffeinated night, standing watch overseas, on the sea and at home on shore. And I have been blessed in my service–to meet a wonderful man that would become my husband and have two children with, to meet interesting people from around the globe (yes, globe–I have personally served in the United States Navy with persons from places as varied as the Philippines, Peru, Nigeria, Liberia, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Equador, Russia and even China), to travel the world (75% of the world is water) and live by the sea (and sometimes on it), and to serve not only my country but the men and women that serve and have served our country (as a hospital corpsman, my job was to provide medical care for active duty, veterans and retirees and their families).
Our family celebrates Veteran’s Day–not just on the 11th of November, but every day…and not just because we happen to be veterans. We celebrate this day every day to remember the men and women that have given up a portion of their lives up to and including their life for this country and its citizens to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. We do this because less people today truly understand the sacrifice of military service than at any other time in our nation’s history. We remember and honor that sacrifice…sometimes with five simple words, and sometimes with our time and our pocketbooks. And we pray…that our service and that of our brothers and sisters in uniform is remembered, that it has meaning and that it has made a difference.
Spirit of Life
whom we have called by many names
in thanksgiving and in anguish–
Bless the poets and those who mourn
Send peace for the soldiers who did not make the wars
but whose lives were consumed by them
Let strong trees grow above graves far from home
Breathe through the arms of their branches
The earth will swallow your tears while the dead singe
“No more, never again, remember me.”
For the wounded ones and those who received them back,
let there be someone ready when the memories come
when the scars pull and the buried metal moves
and forgiveness for those of use who were not there
for our ignorance
And in us, veterans in a forest of a thousand fallen promises,
let new leaves of protest grow on our stumps
Give us courage to answer the cry of humanitity’s pain
And with our bare hands, out of full hearts,
with all our intelligence
let us create peace.
~a Memorial Day prayer by Barbara Pescan, from the UUA’s booklet “Bless All Who Serve”