Although I can’t ask you all to hug a vet this Veterans Day, I sincerely appreciate the special day, the thanks, the free meals all over town, the free taxi service door-to-door for medical appointments, the monthly stipend for combat related maladies, and the free cemetery plot up the road in Dayton where I will one day await Jesus’ return with other vets from the Civil War on.  

I’m undeserving of all this. I joined the USAF not for altruistic reasons, not because I was a nobler patriot than you, but because I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I wanted to slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the sky on laughter-silvered wings, to reach out my hand and touch the face of God. It was all I dreamed it would be. But when I got to Vietnam and saw the faces of those poor harried peasants who wanted nothing more in life than to farm their little rice paddies and raise their families in peace and harmony, I understood why some things are worth fighting and dying for. Eight of my friends did.

Tragically, it was America’s only losing war—we abandoned an ally on the battlefield and went home. It was not for want of brave patriots who risked their all and came home to shame and ridicule, or 50,000+ in body bags, or not at all, like my wingman. Our political leadership horribly mismanaged a noble cause. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara admitted a quarter of a century after the war, “We….were wrong, terribly wrong.” Those of us at the point of the spear knew it real-time. I recall an insubordinate radio call I made one night in the heat of battle, when I was given a choice as flight leader to attack a particularly hot target or not. I replied, “Some of us are still trying the win this war,” and proceeded to attack. That probably strikes some as foolhardy, but there is a special manifestation of God’s grace in combat, called adrenalin, which allows the body to react and function at a high level when the mind is paralyzed with fear. God is merciful to fools and patriots, and we as free Americans can be very grateful that He is. It is by His grace that the USA remains a nation of free people in spite of our best efforts to mess it up. And perhaps there’ll be a special place in the Mansions of the Lord for Vietnam vets, and our POW’s will have the penthouse.

“Whate’er my God ordains is right…” (Samuel Rodigast)

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