Did your morning ever start off with a phone call that defined your day? Lately, I’ve had some of these phone calls.
The calls come from the California Air National Guard headquarters — usually from someone identifying himself or herself as Sgt. Maj. So-and-So.
I don’t like these phone calls. I don’t like them because the caller is usually calling to enlist me on a Casualty Assistance Team. In other words, I’m being invited to become the worst nightmare of every spouse or parent of a military member.
These phone calls come to me at home, at work and while I’m away on business. The calls have sent me into the California back streets and darkened farmland of places such as Brentwood, Antioch, Stockton, Modesto and Tracy. And like most nightmares, these visits usually take place in darkest hours of the night.
All these trips have taken place in the past 18 months, but no matter how much time passes, they will always be trips I will never forget. There was the soldier’s mom who offered us ice tea hoping to delay the news. There were the children who immediately started screaming as the porch light exposed our dress uniforms. And then there was the time we drove to three separate houses individually telling each family member.
On many of these visits, our initial request to come inside was rebuffed, but there was never anything that could be said that would compel us to depart without first speaking the words our team had rehearsed: “Ma’am (or Sir), the Secretary of the Army regrets to inform you . . . .”
These trips have made me think a lot about the words I’ve recently read attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley, commander of American Forces in the D-Day invasion.
“We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
Gen. Bradley was a warrior, but his thoughts reflect the best side of the warrior — the peacemaker. It is a moral conundrum that there is perhaps no person more subjectively interested in peace than is the sane person willing to give his life in war.
Friday, we celebrated Veterans Day. On that day we honored our veterans in various ways: private prayers, prominent parades and, yes, even peaceful protests.
But, I suspect none of these methods will ever exceed the sentiment best expressed in our upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving. For it is this day, which reminds us that the best way to say thank you is often to simply say it. Say it by pulling the veteran or their loved ones aside and saying “Thank you for serving our country.”
“Thank you for helping keep the peace.”
Blessed are the peacemakers!