Honoring Our Veterans: Wall of Honor Dedication Service.Posted in Democracy, Sermons
“Honoring our Veterans”
Wall of Honor Dedication Service
Delivered on Veterans Day
November 11, 2012
Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III
It was a very hot summer five years ago when my wife, son and I travelled from Washington D.C to spend the day at the Battlefield at Gettysburg Pennsylvania. As one who has spent some time studying military history and has come to appreciate how critical and creative decision-making are applicable to virtually every field of human endeavor from business to science, and politics to ministry, and as one who has come to understand how strategic thinking particularly in the theater of war has often turned the tide of human history from one nation to the favor of another, I was grateful to have this cherished opportunity to visit this hallowed place in our nation’s history; a sacred battleground memorialized by President Abraham Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg Speech and consecrated by the blood tens of thousands of American soldiers North and South.
It was there on that battlefield on a blistering, glistening July day that we walked those sacred grounds, eyes transfixed on the towering monuments, hearts saluting for the first time those valuted places: the sprawling open field of Pickett’s charge, where thousands of confederate soldiers charged to their deaths under the throes of a relentless Union artillery bombardment; then on over to the Devil’s Den, Cemetery Ridge and to Little Round Top where the Forty Fourth New York and the Sixteenth Michigan and the Twentieth Maine, jaunted the steep hill and took positions among the” boulder strewn outcrop” and where a professor of Rhetoric from Bowdoin College named Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, told his men in the heat of battle to fix bayonets and then had them charge downhill and become a swinging gate, swooping hawk like upon a beleaguered group of Alabamians, who had marched eighteen miles to that battlefield and who in shock and disbelief at the boldness of the maneuver fell exhausted and defeated and tendered surrender. (The Civil War, Dennis Gaffney and Peter Gaffney.)
We drove away in silence from the battlefield that day tearful, hopeful, thankful, savoring the memories of the experience, hearing still it seemed the faint cries of soldiers ghosts whispering from their graves and then poignantly remembering the story of the New York soldier who had died at Gettysburg clutching a faded photograph of his three children.
We headed back South to Washington D.C, and there some days later, we had another blessed foray on to the national mall where stands the Korean War Memorial, and the Vietnam War Memorial and other War memorials. There we stood in open silence as we entered the sacred terraces of those hallowed grounds. And in the bright burnished sunlight of a not so hot day, we remember the hands of a medley of persons of various ages and races, young and old, black and white, Asian and Indian, mothers and fathers and sisters, brothers, friends and distant relatives looking skyward, reaching upward and grasping and clutching at eye level and at knee level the names of loved ones, fallen in battle; names carved with shining splendor in bold relief on that granite wall of the Vietnam Memorial, a wall finally and rightfully erected honoring some fifty thousand gone who fought, bled and died in that war; and those fortunate to survive that war, only to return to the shameful scorn of an ungrateful nation.
It was there that day that we heard the soft speeches, saw the soft tears, felt the soft flowers thrown in a soft summer air for loved ones who had long since shed their mortal coils and taken flight to their celestial home beyond this terrestrial garden called earth. It was there that day that emotions churned inside me, erupting volcanically in a sea of tears amid the other distant wistful whimpers and whispers at various junctures along the wall, calling out the names of loved ones,” We still miss you and we still love you and shall never forget you.”
Thank God that our country and our people have learned from that experience that whatever feelings that we have about war that we never, ever again, dishonor those who have served; that we never ever again mistreat our soldiers, and defile their persons and their uniforms with guttural spittle or disdain their commitment to duty, honor and country which have made our freedoms and Democracy possible. May we never, ever again treat them with contempt but do everything in our power as a nation and as individuals to honor them and care for them and do the things that we must cheerfully do for them to make them and their families well and whole. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, for in war there are no unwounded soldiers.
And we must never forget that it is because of our soldier’s willingness to go the last leg of the journey; to give their all that we might have all, that you and I and our children and their children enjoy the sweet fruits of freedom; the benefits and privileges of American democracy. Without them there is no us. Without them we could not have a present or even a realizable future. Let us never forget them.
We gather this Veterans Day to dedicate our Wall of Honor to the men and women who have served in the various branches of the armed services; men and women who have served our Country.
We are humbly thankful and grateful to Brother Sid Taylor, a man’s man; a real trooper for the Lord, and his wife Donna for bringing a dream to reality; for creating and sponsoring this unique memorial at Hope United Methodist Church.
We gather this day in memorial tribute to those soldiers living and dead who have honored our nation with heroic and dutiful service to our country. We gather this day to remember the soldiers and to honor them without caveats or trite apologies; without hesitation and the usual prevarications that cause us to rationalize ourselves out of such honoring.
We stand here today paying tribute to men and women who also stand in the best of the Judeo-Christian biblical traditions; those exemplifying the warrior spirit; which is a spirit that first cares about family, community and country; a spirit that is willing to sacrifice and give all for the betterment of society and future generations.
First, as we celebrate men and women this veteran’s day, let us not forget the great biblical warriors of the faith and the traditions in which you stand: Moses, Joshua, David, Deborah, Gideon and others. The most well-known of which is Joshua.
I have chosen for your hearing today the well-known story in Joshua 6:1-27 which reveals the storming of the Jericho and how the Israelites were adept enough to employ unusual warfare strategies bequeathed by God in fighting the good fight and in taking the Promised Land.
Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon tell us in their book, Battles of the Bible: A Military History of Ancient Israel that:
“Credit for gaining a foothold in the Judean heartland west of the Jordan goes to Joshua. If his exploits had followed a plan schedule, they would fit into the following grand design; phase one- the establishment of the a bridge head west of the Jordan; phase two– the gaining of a foothold in the mountains; phase three– spreading out from the secured base on the central ridge to widen the area of occupation for permanent settlement. This logical strategy, so alien to purely mythological tales of war and conquests, was a grand master strategy requiring the genius and promise from God, and ready and willing warriors who would carry those plans out, and a dexterity and flexibility that allowed them to implement traditional but nontraditional warfare.”
The principles of warfare were played out that day: Mass, objective, offensive, maneuver, unity of command, security, simplicity, surprise and economy of force.
When the Walls of Jericho fell to the stark astonishment of the city’s inhabitants, and when the priests and trumpeters were deployed to march around the city seven times and then let forth a resounding roaring shout, the people were astounded that those feet thick walls came tumbling down.
That God would have them march around the city seven times symbolized the importance of ritual, discipline and preparation for battle. The fact that Joshua vanquished the city signified the importance of warfare involving a Spartan discipline, obedience, executing a plan, and a willingness to follow in this case, order that had come from God to Joshua and from Joshua to his soldiers.
I use here the word, Spartan Discipline because of their great army. One reason why they were so formidable is “because elders in Sparta tested every new-born for weakness and deformities. Babies deemed unlikely to become strong soldiers were tossed into a gorge. For those who passed the test, training was cruel and relentless. The Greek historian Plutarch wrote that for many Spartan soldiers, marching to battle was a relief; For the Spartans actual war was holiday compared to their tough training.”(Intellectual Devotional, p.15)
Warfare cannot be sustained in a disciplinary fashion with a motley crew of rag-tag, hap hazard soldiers, unship shaped persons. Command strategies require command decisions. Command decisions demand willing cadres of discipline; troops able to carry out the command plans with strategies that can be readily adapted to a variety of conditions.
The celebrated principles of war which are now the patent axioms of modern warfare could be seen in Joshua’s storming of Jericho and the settling of the Promised Land. Those principles are Mass, Objective, Offensive, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Security, Simplicity, Surprise and Economy of Force.
We even observe how God himself is referred to as a Man of Battle in Exodus 15:3 and how David in I Samuel 17:47 tells Goliath that the “Battle is the Lord’s and He will deliver you into our hands.”
As we celebrate our soldiers this day and dedicate the Wall of Honor, we observe how the Bible itself delineates the importance of warriors and the warrior spirit in the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land, in the establishment of Israel as a nation-state with a Warrior king David and a tribal confederacy. We see it in Nehemiah rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem against relentless scorn and opposition but pressed on until the Wall was erected against great odds. We see the warrior spirit in the Street ministry of Jesus who gathered to himself men, and women who were tough-minded and tender-hearted who were prepared to do battle God’s way through nonviolence against those adversarial forces that would stand in their way and thwart their efforts. Do you think that Jesus two most trusted disciples James and John were called the Sons of Thunder because they were wimps and milquetoasts?
We see throughout the bible warfare strategies ranging from the violent and brutal contests to conflicts of largely of a nonviolent nature. The point is that God calls and uses warriors who have the bravest hearts and the strongest faith who are willing to serve their communities and their countries. Civilization could not have progressed this far. Great nations could not have come this far and even the faith community could not have come to the present place without warriors who are tried and tested. You here today, stand in the best of those ancient biblical traditions.
We must understand that there is a long tradition of battle and that every man, woman and child must learn how to do battle in the arena of life. As Christians Paul uses battle metaphors by telling us to put on the whole armor of God and to fight the good fight which means doing battle God’s way, which may require softer or more stringent tactics of warfare. We should know something of that history and its broader sweeps because it impacts us this very day.
The Egyptians who were also great warriors were known for chariot warfare and having the meekest horses. Meekest did not mean weakest. Riders preferred meek horses because they could easily change directions in the heat of battle at the command of their riders. The last thing that a Calvary warrior needs is a dumb horse riding into battle that can’t change directions at the command of his rider when the enemy is on his flank. Are you a Calvary Warrior, A Christ Warrior ready to do battle on Calvary?
The Mongols and Genghis Khan who were extraordinary horsemen learned to ride at an early age and many of the Conquests of Genghis Khan were successful because Mongol warriors took into battle five or six remounts and whenever the enemy saw them from a distance their numbers looked larger than they actually were. One battle had the enemy stating that the Mongols had 700,000 soldiers when in reality the numbers were closer to 150,000, but if that number of men had five or six remounts per man, one could easily see how that image of Mongol warriors riding to battle put the fear of God into their foes long before the warriors reached the battlefield. That’s why many of them scampered for their lives out of fear before the battle began.
We know that Hannibal used war elephants in battle and outwitted his enemies by implementing creative surprise strategies for warfare. Hannibal was Rome’s Public Enemy number one. He invented the tactic of Double Envelopment in the Battle of Cannae that defeated Rome.
History is filled with warriors from different societies and civilizations, and one distinguishing factor of empires and those who have ruled is their military prowess and power. Those who can think strategically and tactically who can adapt and innovate warfare strategies and weaponry and invoke a prudent use of technology are those who rule.
Such strategies range from World War II that had a geographical direction to the Vietnam War which had little or no geographical direction. The carnage and death in the Civil War can be attributed in part to battle strategies that had not adapted to the new weaponry and medical science that had not yet come to the value of antiseptics and the cleansing of wounds. Lining men up the battlefield in straight lines and marching them into the line fire with repeating rifles and revolvers hastened their wholesale slaughter.
And sometimes winning or losing a war can boil down to something as simple as the cartographers or map makers. If you have a faulty map that says the terrain ahead is a valley when the terrain before you is a large reservoir of water you have to adapt, but if your mapmakers ain’t getting right, you are already doomed.
Such weapon innovations range from the invention of riding stirrups to gunpowder; from mobile artilleries to steam-powered Warships; from super siege guns to submachine guns; from the parachute to helicopters.
One paradox of biblical history in terms of battle tactics and technology is David slaying Goliath with a sling shot. The Philistines were master iron smiths who had provided their warriors with iron weapons, which the Israelites almost totally lacked. (Herzog and Gichon) The most formidable weapon was the Philistine long sword that terrified opponents. They had the most advanced weaponry because they had perfected their iron works.
If you know that history you would know that the Philistines had nothing to worry about from the Israelites. That David would approach Goliath with a sling shot was an audacious and laughable act. No one dare would underestimate Philistine power in that manner, but David slew Goliath by employing a strategy, tactics and weaponry that the Philistines miscalculated and underestimated. The Israelites were no match for the Philistines. But they should have known that anybody who could kill a bear could kill a giant as it took the heart of lion to fell Goliath and the rest is history.
Many people have lamented the necessities of war; that so many lives must be lost; but we could not have advanced and come these many centuries without armoring to do battle against known and unknown enemies. A weak defense ultimately makes for a weak nation. A strong defense has always been a strong deterrent to the onslaught of other predatory nations. We enjoy our liberties in part because other folks will think twice before messing with us.
You soldiers who have honorably served your country stand in the best of the Judeao-Christian, Biblical Warrior tradition and you should be proud.
Second, as we celebrate these men and women this veteran’s day, we must also not forget that you stand in the great traditions African Americans who have often have often fought two wars not only abroad but at home.
Yours has often been a double indemnity doing battle against the forces that would prevent your progress at home but have heroically stood and fought for your country and kept your heads ever so high
You stand in the tradition of the Eight Invisible Men: Black Men in the ranks of General George Washington who became well-known in their day as brave soldiers and sailors, fighting in the in the opening battles of the American Revolution, in the villages of Concord and Lexington, one serving as an American minutemen by the name of Peter Salem, whose one shot felled Major John Pitcairn, the British Commander. There was Prince Whipple depicted in the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night, Agrippa Hull, Lemuel Haynes, Primas Black, Epheram Blackman, Joseph Ranger, William Flora and Lambert Latham, all of which were highly honored black soldiers in the American Revolution. (Black Heroes of the American Revolution, Burke Davis.)
You stand the tradition of black soldiers in the Civil War and other American wars including World Wars I and II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Iraqi freedom and the current war in Afghanistan. We know of the Buffalo Soldiers, Patton’s Panthers of the 761st Tank Battalion, the Montford Point Marines and the Tuskegee Airmen. You stand in that tradition of Henry O Flipper who was wrongfully discharged from West Point Military Academy, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. who was given the silent treatment at that same academy for four years while a cadet among its ranks but still graduated.
You have soldiered on many fronts at home and abroad but have shown your mettle and kept the faith and fought the good fight and we honor you today. You also stand in that tradition of other American soldiers such Eisenhower, MacArthur, Nimitz, Audie Murphy, Patton and Bradley and the lesser known heroes of World War II such as William Simpson, Troy Middleton, John S. Wood and Bruce C. Clarke. You stand proudly in the tradition of protesting the Department of Wars concern over Charles Young’s command of the black tenth Calvary Regiment which included white officers.
You stand not only in the great ancient tradition of Benjamin O. Davis Sr, and William Chappie James, and Colin Powell and Colonel Charles Young who was the highest ranking black officer when America entered World War I who became the third African-American to graduate from West Point, who rode on horseback from Xenia Ohio to Washington D.C to prove his physical fitness as a means in the tradition of biblical warriors such as Joshua and David but African-American soldiers in the modern armed services of our beloved country who have served their country dutifully and have heroically with heads high and backs straight fought battles on other fronts for human dignity, equality, justice and freedom.
Thanks to Harry Truman’s Executive order 9981 in 1948 which ended segregation of the Armed Services, many of those battles are no longer as furiously waged.
Third and finally today as you remember your noble heritage, and as you have heard the call to duty to protect democracy and our cherished freedoms as a nation, the Wall that honors you is a wall that will stand for all time. It is a wall that serves as a bridge into the sacred chords of memory in the words of General Douglass MacArthur; a Wall that symbolizes the strength of your caring commitments, your heroic hearts, your call to duty and your service to country. It is the warrior spirit and your willingness to serve that we honor you today, for America would not be America without your commitment, your suffering and your sacrifices.
And for those of you who would lower your heads today, we say raise them up. For those of you still hurting from the experience service, we say let God still do his mending and healing work as only God can. Let the wall that we celebrate today remind you of the strength of character and the determined resolve with which you have served your country.
And when you look out over America, and when you see there are those still embodying and upholding the high ideals for which you have served, may you ever see the shining examples of those resplendent countless lights of America; a city still shining on a hill, and may know that your selfless sacrifices have made this possible.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should have this wall of honor, for it has been through the heroic service of men and women through the ages that the walls of tyranny have fallen, as with Jericho and Berlin and the walls of faith, justice and freedom have been erected as the walls even of Jerusalem. It has been through your service that the walls of despotism have fallen and the walls of freedom have risen!
So keep the faith. Keep standing tall. Keep looking up. Keep fighting the good fight. Keep running the race. Keep your full armor on. Keep giving God glory! Keep telling your story! Keep your strength of character and principles and purposes. Keep your hand in God’s hand. Keep moving on up to higher ground! Keep stepping up as God gives you the might.
God bless you! God bless your families! Thank you for serving and God bless America!