Though I did not serve in the military, I am very appreciative of those who have.
I'm very proud of my son, who is a Marine who spent time in Japan and Thailand. He has a master's degree and served with Homeland Security and is now working as a police officer at a veterans hospital.
Neither my father or his dad were soldiers, but on my mother's side of the family, it is quite a different story. My maternal grandfather fought in World War I and was in France. He was injured in the war and, according to my mom, he was never the same.
I can barely remember him as a child but do recall a few details. Like when we would visit, he would greet us at the door making meow sounds like a cat, and then he would always peel and slice apples and set them on the coffee table. I ate the apples and laughed at his meows.
His wife, my grandmother, passed away when I was even younger. They had seven children — three boys and four girls (my mother was the baby). Like many families during that time period, all three sons eventually enlisted in the military. What I always found interesting was that the father and each son served in a different war. The dad was in World War I; the oldest son was in Japan during World War II; the second son was killed in Korea; and the youngest son served in the Vietnam era. I vaguely remember two of these uncles and now realize they both suffered terribly from PTSD. My uncle who was killed in action died in 1950, eight years before I was born.
I wish I had been old enough to speak with these family members about their military experiences. Recently I contacted the Department of Military Affairs and requested some of their official documents. I received a few things, but much of it was difficult to read, and unfortunately some were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center Archives in 1973.
My mother can recall a few memories. She was very close to her brother who never returned and was convinced that he was her mother's favorite child. His nickname was Kenny, and he worked a little part-time job before he went to the war. She remembers he would give her 10 cents every Saturday to buy some candy, which she really looked forward to. He would also buy his mother flowers every week, and she would set them on the kitchen table.
My mom also remembers the day when military representatives knocked on their door and told her mother that they were sorry to inform her that her son had been killed. She ran through the house wailing and screaming, "no please no," over and over. My mother said it was a terrible time, and she can recall her mother going to bed and staying there for weeks.
I currently have the privilege to volunteer as a chaplain at a veterans health-care facility, and it's truly an honor to spend quality time with the many fine men and women who have served our nation's armed forces. I teach Bible studies and lead worship services with the old hymns, which they really enjoy. I'm on call whenever a resident becomes seriously ill and present with the family whenever someone passes away.
I've come to accept that many veterans who need constant medical care do not have family or friends to visit them. Many of the older ones have outlived everyone, but it's still sad to walk into a room and not see any pictures or greeting cards. I've asked the staff on numerous occasions if a certain resident has had any visitors, and they cannot remember the last time someone was there.
I'm also a chaplain for a small honor guard that presents memorial services for military veterans. I open and close in prayer and have been known to sing the national anthem on occasion.
I encourage you to set aside some time and visit a veteran. They would appreciate it very much, and I promise you will also be blessed beyond words. Veterans Day not only remembers those who served our country in the past but also recognizes those who continue to serve today. We share a sincere gratitude to all who gave some and to some who gave all to preserve our freedom.
William F. Holland Jr. is a minister and chaplain based in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Read more at billyhollandministries.com.