“Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
As daylight broke upon the Normandy coast, thousands upon thousands of soldiers stuffed in landing craft made their way out of the lowered doors into several feet of surf, in some cases seven to eight feet of water, and toward the beaches with a hail of bullets and artillery projectiles raining down on them. Few of the initial soldiers even made it to dry sand; far too many died in the surf. A unit of 235 Army Rangers made it to a small strip of beach at the foot of a hundred foot vertical cliff, the top of which was Point du Hoc, the location of very lethal enemy guns aimed in defilade down the landing beaches both east and west. Taking the big guns out was critical to the success of the landings on Omaha Beach as well as Utah to the west. 235 Rangers began the assault, and only 90 survived; but the big guns did not, destroyed by the intrepid soldiers who scaled the cliff under fire from machine gun nests above, firing straight down upon them.
These valiant men were unknown friends to hundreds of millions of the citizens of free countries, including America and Britain, but also the oppressed people of France and the nations of Europe; the battle for freedom was being fought this day on French soil. These valiant soldiers died as a vital cog in the biggest invasion of history, intent on freeing an entire continent from a scourge of enemy forces aimed at the forced oppression of the world. They laid down their lives for their friends. Veterans Day commemorates those who cast their lot even for a brief time with fellow military men and women, many of whom gave the last full measure of devotion for the cause of precious freedom.
The further the free are removed from the blessings of freedom by years, succeeding generations, or keeping a comfortable distance from the ravages of the battlefield, the less they appreciate what they have been given in trust for future generations to enjoy. Veterans Day will pass with little to no recognition by those who see it as just another day like any other, with nary a thought of thanksgiving to God for those who gave their lives for their liberty. It is a sad thing to forgo the joy and significance of being thankful for the things that matter most. On the other hand, it is a mark of lasting character to render thanksgiving for the sacrifices made by even unknown friends for your life’s blessing and magnanimous good, without which you would be most miserable.
A thankful spirit begins with a sense of gratitude to the One who makes all things possible, the One through whom we move, and live, and have our being; but it also always manifests itself in thanksgiving to other fellow friends and companions who work, serve, and contribute within the military to making your life a life of peace and not war or oppression. Thanksgiving to God always overflows into thanksgiving to others. Veterans Day is a thanksgiving day for the gift of liberty.
Though Veterans Day is now history by one day, there is still time to give thanks for the veterans who served, who made up a part of the whole, who together give our nation a bulwark against evil forces seeking to destroy the peace of America. A spirit of genuine thanksgiving leavens the whole and sets a tone desperately needed within our society – a society fractured by ostracizing and divisive personal grievances. Surviving veterans still suffer from battlefield wounds, both physical and psychological. They need the assistance of citizens who enjoy the freedoms their service makes possible. Unfortunately, because of other political choices, veterans’ assistance is not what it ought or needs to be.
Let a veteran with whom you are acquainted, or even a stranger, know you appreciate their service. Taking the time to express your thanks impacts for good both them and you. It is a simple gesture, but it accomplishes far more than you realize. The expression of thanksgiving rises as a sweet savor into the presence of God, and He takes note of the peace and liberty for which you continually express your gratitude. It shows this is not something you take for granted.
“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife. Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine till all success be nobleness and every gain divine.”
(3rd verse of Katherine Lee Bates’ song, “America the Beautiful”, 1895)
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