[SLIDESHOW=40481,40482,40483]COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting attendee Joel Helms — a veteran of the U.S. Army Infantry Special Forces — remembers the mid-1960s as years when he was afraid to wear his uniform in public.
“There was a time when people would spit on you when you wore your uniform. It was very depressing,” he said. Helms was one of the many Vietnam veterans honored in Tuesday’s (June 16) opening session of the SBC.
This year marks the culmination of a three-year, nationwide effort endorsed by President Barack Obama to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Vietnam War — a conflict that is often remembered more for its home-front protests than hometown heroes. Of the 3 million who served “in country,” an estimated 1 million were Southern Baptist.
“Sadly, our Vietnam veterans didn’t come home to a hero’s welcome,” SBC President Ronnie Floyd said. “They were too often greeted with anger, confusion and resentment from their fellow citizens who blamed them for a war that consumed America for over 10 years.” Floyd then introduced retired Chaplain Major General Doug Carver, the current executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board.
“One of the most commonly used phrases during the Vietnam conflict were the words, ‘It don’t mean nothin’,'” Carver said. “It was an expression of emotionless grief — the carnage and destruction of the combat zone. The truth is all of life’s events mean something. All of our times are in God’s hands … The truth is God makes all things beautiful in His time. The truth is God works all things together for good to them that are called according to His purposes in Christ Jesus.
“I would like to take this time in this open place to render honor, according to the apostle Paul, where honor and respect are due … We are here to honor our veterans of the Vietnam War who have ensured that we remain a nation free and strong and brave,” Carver said. “We resolve to never allow our Vietnam veterans, or any veterans for that matter, and their families to be forgotten or forsaken to be left homeless or hopeless in our nation any longer. We resolve to forever be grateful for the price our Vietnam veterans and all veterans have paid so that we might enjoy our precious freedom.”
After Carver’s remarks, President Floyd invited first the Vietnam veterans, then all veterans to come to the front of the hall. The group — several soldiers deep stretching across the front of the platform and down the aisles of the auditorium — joined Carver in leading the convention in the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag.
Away from the stage, Carver said it should serve as a reminder for messengers to intentionally reach out to current and former service members in their communities and look for innovative ways to involve and honor them beyond the major patriotic holidays.
“My hope would be that this event sensitizes our pastors and our laypeople to the fact that one of the largest unreached people groups in the United States is our military communities,” he said. “Since 1775, we’ve had 43 million Americans who have worn the uniform. Twenty-three million of those 43 million veterans are alive today. We have to do something with that.”
For more about the national observance through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Vietnam Veterans Commemoration Program, visit www.vietnamwar50th.com. Learn more about SBC chaplaincy at www.namb.net/chaplaincy.