Under Federal Law, the definition of a veteran is a simple one: any person, who served honorably on active duty in the armed forces of the United States. However, go beyond that to each state’s definition of a veteran, or to state and federal programs offered to veterans, and you have varying qualifications as to time in service, honorable/dishonorable discharge, whether the person served in an active war, etc.
But I like this definition I found from an unknown author: A veteran is someone who, at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount of “up to and including my life.”
That is, indeed, the factor of serving in the military that makes it unique in comparison to any other vocation. You are, in word and deed, for a particular amount of time, signing your life away. You are placing yourself open to the possibility that if this service should require your life or limb, you are predetermined to give it. You don’t join the military and decide that later. “I’ll serve in the military, but don’t put me in harm’s way” is not an option.
For those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, it matters not how they died. Many die from accidents, from friendly fire, from equipment malfunction, from less-than-glamorous combat situations. I was amazed to find out while reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand how many thousands of men in the Air Force during World War II died without ever even engaging the enemy. That makes their deaths no less heroic and their sacrifice no less significant. They entered the service with this possibility in mind. The family can’t sue the country for taking the life of a sibling or a son or daughter because that life was given up at the beginning.
That right there is good enough reason to honor veterans today, or any other day, for that matter. They made that decision when they signed up. If they completed their service with life and limb intact, that is a blessing, not a right. Those who didn’t come back are fortunate too. That’s what they gave themselves to do. They were doing their job.
We should think like this when we sign up to follow Christ. Indeed, for followers of Christ the death of self is not only a possibility; it is a requirement. The scripture teaches that one must die to self in order to be alive to Christ. Of course we are not talking about a physical death here, but in some ways something even harder — the death of my right to myself. Death to my selfish self. Death to my sinful self and its habits, which are powerful forces in anyone’s life.
Go a little out of your way today to thank a neighbor, family member or friend who served or is serving in the military, knowing they were and are willing to make that ultimate sacrifice. And then maybe a little appreciation for what you gave up to follow Christ. And if there isn’t anything that comes to mind when you think about that, perhaps we need to rethink what it means to die to self.
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