Every Veterans Day brings a wonderful admixture of emotions and reminiscences involving my parents. Both of my parents are veterans. My dad is a veteran of the Korean
conflict War. My mom’s service was just afterward and stateside in the Women’s Army Corps. Yes, my mom was a WAC, but not in the Philippines. Even at twelve years old, and being a huge KISS and Cheap Trick fan, that line always cracked me up. Most of my mom’s memorabilia such as uniforms and photographs are now in the Women in Military Service to America Memorial museum at Arlington National Cemetery.
My parents were not the type of folks usually portrayed in song and story as United States military veterans. This does a disservice both to them (and others like them) and to our military. My dad was a football player, swimmer and boxer who became an painter, art teacher, and tennis player. My mom was a chearleader and dancer who became a medical secretary and single mom (they divorced when I was ten). Neither my mom or dad ever downplayed their military service. Neither ever glamorized it. My dad dropped out of Ohio State University to enlist in the Marines because he didn’t know what to do with his life and says getting shot at by the Chinese was enough to teach him what he did not want to do with the rest of his life should he get to have a rest of his life. My mom was trained as a dental hygenist in the WACs and relates stories of her service that make M*A*S*H seem all too plausible. My parents learned lessons about race, poverty and justice in the service that they passed on to my brother and me. I don’t think it’s any accident that my brother and I are both passionate advocates for social and economic justice. We may not have had a perfect upbringing (who does) but equity, justice, fairness, and peace were always part of what both our parents taught us. I know that their views on these things were shaped by their service. So was there commitment to voting and democracy. My dad returned from Korea to work on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign – in San Francisco, and later worked on the campaigns of Representative Father Robert F. Drinan in Massachusetts. He worked on the Drinan campaigns because he was teaching at a state college and saw too many of his students being sent to Vietnam and remembers while being shot at by Chinese thinking the Chinese guys were probably wondering why they were shooting at him too.
Today, as I wake to Veterans Day in 2011, I am struck by how often in my life I have been impacted and influenced by people who exhibit, demonstrate and live out the values taught by my veteran parents: justice, peace, equality, fairness, compassion, humanitarianism and loving your enemies. Over the last couple of months I have been doing my best to help two people who remind me of these lessons over and over. They humble me with their courageous service to our country and their patriotism and they remind me over and over the lessons of a lifetime my parents taught me. They serve in vastly different contexts, but the fact that I can see their service in the same light and mutually connected is, I think, again testimony to what my veteran parents taught me, and ultimately, part of what their service taught them.
Chaplain (Captain) George Tyger is a Unitarian Universalist serving with a unit in Afghanistan. Chap Tyger is a remarkable, humble, brave servant. He ministers in a war zone, a place of life and death where easy answers to life’s most difficult questions confront him every day and he offers no easy answers. This goes against the grain of not only most religious practice, but against the grain of the religious answers offered by other chaplains. In a place and in a situation that calls for courage just for showing up, Chap Tyger goes an extra step and offers a spiritual and emotional courage. He walks and talks and journeys with men and women who travel a road most of us never have to imagine. The most difficult days of ministry for peace-bound ministers, days of death and trauma, are his every day working conditions. In the midst of this, he offers acceptance and grace and presence. He also shows how it is possible to love one’s enemies even when they are trying to kill you. He has demonstrated to me how to make the difficult journey to seeing the common humanity that binds us together even across the most difficult of chasms. Chap Tyger promotes what he calls “Cigar Ministry” and collects cigars, candy, toiletries, magazines, and most importantly, cards and letters for the men and women in his care. He distributes these and hangs out with the troops engaging a ministry of presence that he and they find invaluable. Chap Tyger also collects supplies to help the children in Afghanistan. Right now he is collecting shoes. The winter raining season is fast upon them there and most of the children there are in need of shoes. Any children’s shoes of any size in wearable condition will help. (If you or your church would like to send supplies to Cigar Ministry, contact me.)
Paula Smith is one of the founding organizers (there are no leaders but someone had to get the word out first) of Occupy Fort Worth. She’ll be the first one to tell you no one is in charge at Occupy, but she has been there since day one. She took a vacation week from her job at a local university and spent the first week of the occupation in residence. Since then she is there just about all the time she doesn’t have to be at work. Since she does have to work, she goes home at night to sleep. She respects the City of Fort Worth, the police, and all the people of her home town. She is proud of her two sons who are also heavily involved in the movement. She will go anywhere and talk to anyone about Occupy. She cares for the people who come to the encampment as much as she cares about the issues involved. Occupy is about basic American values: fairness, justice, equality, humanitarianism, and loving your enemies. There is no talk of violence or harming anyone at Occupy Fort Worth, it is about changing hearts.
Veterans Day is one of many opportunities we have to recognize men and women who have served our country in the military. It is fitting and appropriate to do so. It is also fitting and appropriate to recognize those who serve in other, but related ways, such as non-violently calling our attention to the values men and women in the armed services are pledged to defend.
Both Chap Tyger and Paula Smith protect and defend the values and ideals of this country and its Constitution and the values my veteran parents taught me. I salute them both for their service. Both gave their permission to be spotlighted in this post.
Chap and Paula, You are both patriots, each of you a profile in courage. Blessings on you both. And much Love.