Veterans Day: “Age Shall Not Weary Them Nor Years Condemn Them”


Image from themoderatevoice.com

Image from themoderatevoice.com

November 11th: Veterans Day. Originally called Armistice Day, it was renamed in 1954 to include veterans who had fought in all wars. On October 8th of that year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” which stated: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.” Today, we continue that tradition with the same spirit of honor and gratitude that was dictated all those many years ago. We engage in a celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

I am not a soldier. Most of us aren’t. Many of us do not understand the physical and psychological battles and battle scars our veterans have had to endure. Anything I could possibly say would fall woefully short of the tribute these brave and chosen few deserve. And that’s why I’m leaving it to a couple of experts to tell the stories of all veterans past and present, to give them their proper respect and honor.

The following words from Edward Guest’s poem “The Things that Make a Soldier Great” should help us to truly remember and understand the motivations that are ingrained in every man and woman who has chosen to fight for this great nation.

The things that make a soldier great and send him out to die,
To face the flaming cannon’s mouth nor ever question why,
Are lilacs by a little porch, the row of tulips red,
The peonies and pansies, too, the old petunia bed,
The grass plot where his children play, the roses on the wall:

‘Tis these that make a soldier great.
He’s fighting for them all.
‘Tis not the pomp and pride of kings that make a soldier brave;
‘Tis not allegiance to the flag that over him may wave;
For soldiers never fight so well on land or on the foam

As when behind the cause they see the little place called home.
Endanger but that humble street whereon his children run,
You make a soldier of the man who never bore a gun.
What is it through the battle smoke the valiant soldier sees?

The little garden far away, the budding apple trees,
The little patch of ground back there, the children at their play,
Perhaps a tiny mound behind the simple church of gray.
The golden thread of courage isn’t linked to castle dome
But to the spot, where’er it be — the humblest spot called home.
And now the lilacs bud again and all is lovely there
And homesick soldiers far away know spring is in the air;
The tulips come to bloom again, the grass once more is green,
And every man can see the spot where all his joys have been.

He sees his children smile at him, he hears the bugle call,
And only death can stop him now — he’s fighting for them all.

Our veterans fight for us all, and as the old adage proclaims, “All gave some and some gave all.” What better way to honor these brave men and women who have selflessly fought for our freedoms than by saying a prayer for them (today and every day), perhaps keeping in mind the following words from Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Prayers of a Soldier in France” to remind you of their struggles and their many crosses.

My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).

I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.

(Then shall my fickle soul forget
Thy Agony of Bloody Sweat?)

My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift.

Amen.

Let us not forget or take for granted the sacrifice of those in uniform and also the struggles and sacrifices made by their families here at home. Let us thank God for the freedoms with which he blessed us and the men and women he created to safeguard those freedoms when they have fallen under attack.

Every year since 1921, the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s “For the Fallen” has been read aloud at Remembrance Sunday services in Britain and across the British Commonwealth countries. The Remembrance Sunday memorial services are akin to America’s Veterans Day, serving to commemorate the contribution of military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and all later conflicts. I think Binyon’s verse contains the perfect concluding sentiments for this Veterans Day 2013.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

We will. God bless them all – past, present, and those to come.

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