Category Archives: Military Service


Robert Dole served America well. A politician who achieved the status of statesman with his governmental service to the nation. He supported legislation to assist disabled people and others who needed assistance through no fault of their own.

He was also a grievously wounded veteran of World War II. Dole’s bodily wounds were significant. But they did not have a serious impact on his emotions or mental capacity. He redirected his energies in ways that overcame depression and ongoing anxiety.

People who have never served in the military can only imagine why veterans are suicidal or despondent to the point of being dysfunctional. They do not understand why veterans so often turn to alcohol and drugs. They do not understand why some cannot hold jobs, succeed in marriages, or become alienated from their own children. Nonveterans are puzzled over the anger they often encounter. Why those who served our nation honorably are homeless or in some other way dependent.

Nonveterans today feel gratitude toward veterans and thank them for their service on a regular basis. One reason is because the draft was eliminated in 1973. Our military now depends on volunteers.

A large military is no longer necessary in this era in which nations have such a technological advantage. Less than 8% of Americans are now veterans.

Why do we thank veterans? What do we really know about their sacrifices? Why do so many suffer?

Certainly, combat experiences such as Dole’s cause suffering. Sure, combat experiences play a major role for those in live fire action. Especially if they were wounded. Viewed others being killed or grievously hurt. Experienced battle-related deprivations.

Only a small percentage of veterans have been directly involved in a shooting war. Most veterans were in support roles of some kind. Intensely trained to be in a conflict that never happened. That was my experience. Trained as a tank platoon leader and company commander for possible deployment to fight the USSR during the Berlin Wall or Cuban Missile crises.

Why do so many veterans suffer?  Let’s start with some basics:

  1. Most veterans were in their late teens or early twenties when they joined the military. Their reasons for joining may have patriotic underpinnings. Their motivation to join may have been for personal reasons. To start their adult lives personally or vocationally. An alternative to attending college or an entry level civilian job.
  • The military culture, while very demanding, is orderly and sustaining. Rules must be obeyed. Work processes are prescribed. Lodging, meals, and clothing are provided at subsistence levels. Medical services are provided. Other support systems are in place.
  • The military offers opportunities for travel and other exciting or enjoyable experiences. Until the assignment becomes stressful and frightening.

Conflicting aspects of the military:

  1. The military is quite hidebound when it comes to personal behavior. On the surface it seems extremely moralistic. Those rules of behavior, while frequently winked at, give the military a righteous look and feel. However, its fundamental mission is the exercise of violence for the purpose of dominating or killing an enemy. In psychological terms, this mission creates a high level of “cognitive dissonance.” Especially among those raised with religious admonitions related to sustaining life and providing care for others.
  • Various kinds of fear are prevalent in the military. Obviously, the fear associated with being in harm’s way is the most powerful. But fear can also be associated with the kind of work being done: dangerous equipment, weapons, and substances. The fear of making a mistake or a bad decision. The injury or death of fellow service members.
  • The military is like a big family. Its members are well taken care of so long as they follow the rules and make good contributions. It feels like something bigger than we are. It makes us feel more important than most civilians.
  • The military gives its members a sense of purpose rarely experienced in civilian life. Dole had a well-defined purpose before he joined the Army and stuck with it. Many honorably discharged soldiers do not have a contingent purpose in life. They do not know how to create one with dedicated follow-through.
  • Because the military can have a family feel, the sense of camaraderie can be intense, even in peacetime. During combat or rigorous preparation for an expected conflict, the emotional connections become even more powerful. Civilian life offers nothing like it unless a veteran joins the police or first responders.

The Veteran’s Administration and those who counsel men and women leaving the military try to help veterans overcome their problems. Typically, fellow veterans make the best counselors and helpmates.

Fellow church members may help the veteran with day-to-day struggles. Help the veteran work through emotional and practical problems.

Most of all, a church can replicate the sense of family and purpose a veteran once felt. Dedication to a worthy purpose. A sense of goal-directed camaraderie. Comfort associated with close human contact and community. And mutual emotional bulwarks as one faces the certainty of physical decline and death.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved


My service in the Army was not from an interest in conquering, destroying, or killing. Not because of a fascination with weapons and the machinery of war.

Not to demonstrate superficial patriotism or allegiance to an American manifest destiny. Or a need to assert our cultural or political beliefs for the purpose of dominating others.

I served to assure our freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The “Four Freedoms” often mentioned as rationale for our involvement in World War II.

For a Christian, war is antithetical to everything we hold sacred. Yet, to preserve those sacred values we must sometimes do what is necessary to stand firm. Then strive even more diligently to serve humanity in ways taught us by Jesus Christ.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day. Created in 1868, it commemorated those who died in the American Civil War. Flags were placed at the graves of soldiers killed in that awful conflict.

The word freedom had diverse meanings in that era. The nation was finally free of overt and organized military conflict. Most citizens lived their lives free from the possibility of violence promulgated by bands of marauders. Or other groups inspired by hatred and narrow belief systems.

Slaves were freed from bondage.

Americans freely expressed opinions and found ways to rebuild a broken nation. Just as Abraham Lincoln said in his famous Gettysburg Address:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln’s phrases, “under God” and “new birth of freedom” connected to his reference to “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”  Those aspirations were linked to the American Constitution. The glue that preserves the union under a watchful and caring God.

The word freedom, then, does not mean unfettered license to do whatever we want. Nor does it give those with personal ambitions mixed with rhetorical skills, charisma, and a perceived sensitivity to populist inclinations the right to marshal followers for the purpose of domination.

Our American system, with its effective “government of the people,” controls the ambitions of those who would convert the people’s freedom into an opportunity to exercise their own will.

Unfortunately, the 20th Century experienced too many ambitious leaders who dominated their own countries. They attempted to spread their ambitions and power beyond their borders: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Hideki Tojo, Mao Tse-tung, and a multitude of others.

God has given human beings free will. But its unrestrained application can bring misery to many. Unrestrained free will, if allowed to work against God’s will, destroys us.

Jesus said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:34-36 KJV).

Freedom, therefore, is not easy or unrestrained behavior. For the Christian, it is abiding by the teachings of Jesus. For an American, it is exercised within the limits of our Constitution and the body of laws emanating from it.

World War II was probably the greatest example of how we human beings can destroy ourselves. Especially if we allow those who assert their own sense of freedom as being more important than the freedom of others.  World War II directly or indirectly killed 85 million people. They died from violence and diseases caused by war-caused deprivations.

Americans have long held mixed emotions about all things military. We hesitated three years before finally seeing the need to enter World War I. Anti-war sentiment, led by famous people such as Charles Lindbergh, kept us out of World War II until the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Those experiences changed our political outlook and behavior. One important outcome was the emphasis on continuing readiness. An intense ongoing interaction with the world community. Our intervention into the Korean War was based on containing the spread of Communism. Its results are still unclear. Even dubious.

In 1961 and 1962 I was an army officer participating in one of our country’s readiness efforts. Preparing to fight the USSR over the Berlin Wall and the Cuban missile build-up. Later in that decade we moved beyond readiness and again tried to contain Communism in Vietnam. Armor could not be used effectively in the terrain of Vietnam, so I was not deployed.

As a Christian, I held deep reservations about serving as a combat officer. Fortunately, my service ended before deployment to a shooting war.

What sustained me during my years in the military were four phrases published during World War II. Later, these phrases were graphically depicted by artist Norman Rockwell:

The Four Freedoms:

  • The freedom from fear.
  • The freedom from want.
  • The freedom of speech.
  • The freedom of religion.

Those phrases aligned with the words of Jesus, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

The current Russian government and its military attack on Ukraine uses fear and deprivation to conquer another nation. Restricting free speech. Using the Russian Orthodox Church to make religion the tool of national pride. 

Memorial Day is more than honoring those who suffered and died. Rather, it is a time to acknowledge the values for which they sacrificed themselves. Values taught us by Jesus Christ Our Lord, who makes us free indeed.

Through Jesus we have no need to fear or feel deprived. Through Jesus we can speak our truth. Worship with the love and conviction we have in our hearts. Follow his commandment recorded in John 15:12, ”Love one another, just as I have loved you.”

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved