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Servicemen reflect on Veterans Day observances

EDITOR’S NOTE: Veterans Day is Tuesday, Nov. 11. The following four stories honor their service to our country.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in the United States, marking the end of World War I that occurred at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice. In 1954, Congress changed the name to Veterans Day in order to honor American veterans of all wars.

“It is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations,” Congress said in a resolution passed in 1926.

Those who have served in the American military have a unique perspective on the meaning of the day, and three combat veterans shared their thoughts with Baptist Press.

Scott O’Grady, a former U.S. Air Force captain, was helping enforce the NATO no-fly zone over Bosnia in 1995 when his F-16 was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile. He survived for six days in Serb-held territory by eating leaves, grass and ants until he was rescued by U.S. Marines.

“I hope American citizens will always, every day, be mindful that there have been many who have sacrificed and even given their lives and have not done so in a manner that we should take lightly,” said O’Grady, a member of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. “We should be cognizant of how grave and how costly their sacrifices were for us to live in this country.”

O’Grady mentioned the men who, at the birth of the country, fought to live in a place where they could freely express their God-given rights without persecution. Because of their sacrifices, he said, “We’ve been allowed to prosper into a nation that we know today that gives us many rights and privileges and conveniences.

“None of this should be just taken for granted or thought that we deserve it as individuals,” said O’Grady, a recent graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. “It has all been provided for us only because there have been many who have come before us or who are today serving the nation to allow us to have the right and the privilege to live in this country.”

Johnnie Caldwell, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, is stationed in the Middle East on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, flying missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He left Norfolk, Va., in September for a six-month deployment.

“The flights are long but I am honored to be able to provide close air support for our men and women on the ground who are getting shot at every day and unable to take hot showers or eat hot meals,” Caldwell wrote in an e-mail to Baptist Press. “Those guys and gals out in the field with sand in their teeth and all the soldiers, sailors and marines who have gone before them are the true veterans.

“I think of all the men and women who signed up in years past to serve a higher purpose than themselves,” Caldwell added. “Leaving families and friends at home to set foot on foreign soil, veterans have fought for the freedoms and liberties all Americans enjoy, and they have also spread these priceless privileges to other lands where dictators once ruled.”

Caldwell said every day is Veterans Day for him because there is always a soldier standing post in a far away land, fighting for the freedom Caldwell has to worship God and pray wherever and whenever he desires.

“As a veteran, I also serve a higher purpose,” said Caldwell, a member of London Bridge Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Va. “I serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My heart swells knowing that God has put me here to spread His Word by giving testimony to all those who will listen and to my family who reads my letters. God has given me compassion for sailors who need a kind word or simply someone who is willing to listen to their concerns.

“Although I help fight terrorists and lead men and women in the skies over hostile territory, the real battlefield exists in our hearts as we struggle with sin,” he said. “I pray to be a leader among men for Christ.”

Pete Mosley was drafted for the Vietnam War weeks after he graduated from college and was sworn into the military on the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968. He served as a combat rifleman with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Pleiku in the Central Highlands of Vietnam before he was injured in an attack that took his arm and left him with other serious injuries.

“We were giving security to a convoy, and the lead truck was ambushed and hit with an armor-piercing round,” Mosley recounted to Baptist Press. “It was exploding, and they called my truck up for security. We pulled up beside it, and we were hit in the round. The driver’s legs had been shot off, and we were trying to get him out. We took another round. That’s when my injuries occurred.”

Mosley, who attends church regularly near Nashville, Tenn., was unconscious for about three weeks after the attack and woke up at a hospital in Fort Gordon, Ga.

“When I woke up, the news in the hospital was ‘murderers, rapists, dope heads, drug addicts,'” he said, referring to the sentiments expressed by some toward the U.S. military during Vietnam. “You don’t forget first impressions. I’ve got a hard feeling about it and will always have.”

Instead of celebrating Veterans Day once a year, Mosley urges people to treat veterans with respect year-round and to commemorate service members’ sacrifices by living honorable lives. Because men and women throughout history have died to secure freedom for the United States, Mosley said, Americans would do well to use that freedom for good.

“I’ve had to hold people’s heads while they were dying and pick up body parts and put in bags and shoot a machine gun and try to take people’s lives,” Mosley said. “But possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was 15 years ago they got me to lead a Fourth of July parade and carry the flag. Everybody was cheering and hollering and all, and I got to thinking, ‘Why am I here?’

“All these other guys were dead, and they were cheering because I was there. But I had nothing to do with it,” he said. “Walking that half-mile was more than likely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because really the veterans that are alive are not the ones that need to be cheered. It’s those that give it all. As the Bible says, ‘Greater love has no man than to give his life for his fellow man.’ These things just make me very aware of how precious life is and how lucky we are to have it.”

O’Grady, the Air Force pilot, planned to participate in a Veterans Day event this year, and he expected for it to be a day to put things in perspective.

“I will remind myself that now I’m very grateful to those who are out there protecting me, and I’m on the receiving end of their service to our country,” he said.

All Americans, meanwhile, can have a role in protecting the future of the United States.

“I would like more Americans to be aware of our history as a country so that we can understand how our country came to be where it is today and so that we can know what our constitutional rights are,” O’Grady said. “I’m leery that when we fail to study history, we can repeat mistakes. Also, if we don’t understand what our basic freedoms are, we then can place ourselves in a position to lose them.”

O’Grady said nations and empires in the course of human history have risen and fallen, and their deterioration too often was caused by citizens with lackadaisical mindsets and attitudes of entitlement.

“We’re still a very young country, and there’s no guarantee that the United States of America as we know it today will be the same country even 20 years from now, let alone later on in our lifetimes,” he said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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