This highly decorated hero was the age of my boy.

Journal entry from January 10, 2020

Sometime just before the Army Times publishing this article, an ordinary unmarked vehicle, with federal license plates, came to a halt in front of the home.  It was the home of this solder’s mother and father or his wife or whomever he listed as his primary and secondary next of kin.  Two strac-soldiers exited the automobile, without one word, they proceeded to the front door and rang the doorbell. They have come to do one of the most challenging things they will ever do. They will deliver the news of this boy’s honorable death while in service of his country to his loved one(s).   All-the-while knowing that whoever saw the vehicle outside with them or answered the door already knew what had happened, simply because they were there.


I cannot imagine the pain this boy’s mother and father and his wife and four children are feeling.   I have never met him or heard of him.   Yet, hot and salty tears are rolling down my face.  As I sit here and try to reason, “Why am I crying?” Yes, I should be saddened, but why am I crying.  Why is my throat hurting as I try to fight back the tears?  Why do I have that horrible hallow and empty pang in my chest?  I do not know this boy or his family.  I realized that I am shedding tears for two polar reasons.  


Aside from old soldiers and veterans in general, being patriotic and emotionally moved by the death of a brother or sister in arms and, most notably, a young man with a family.  This man died too soon. His parents, wife, children, and entire family along with his cohort of friends and brothers and sisters in arms have lost him forever.   The authentic way the notification personnel handled themselves.  The crisp salutes. The perfectly folded flags.  The polished rifles firing the three-volley salute.  The beautiful horse-drawn caisson. The bugler and taps.   The box with his personal effects.   His medals, certificates, and award citations.   A letter from his commander.  His SGLI (military death payment).  And everything that will be heaped upon his loved ones; it all will mean very little for a long while.  In time, yes, it will help them; but I know it cannot possibly help with their grief or finding a purpose now. 


The second thing I was crying for is, “He was not my boy.” Today, I saw my boy and his wife on the pulpit sharing their gift of music during praise and worship.  I held my granddaughter on my lap while they ministered.  I did not have to try to be strong, so I could explain where her daddy was or support my daughter-in-law and wife as they grieved. Nor did I have to deal with my own grief.   After church, my son came over and grilled, we ate and laughed together, and next weekend we will do the same as we celebrate his 30th birthday.   


Tonight, I cried because soldiers had to knock on the door of this hero’s family.  And I cried because soldiers did not have to knock on my door.   Or my daughter-in-law’s door and tell her and my granddaughter about my own son’s death.  This solder understood the just cause behind this war.   He realized he was fighting and noble cause. 


How do I know this?  Because as an old soldier, I remember the reason I served.  When I enlisted at seventeen-years-old, I wasn’t old enough, experienced enough, or wise enough to understand.  It was a way off the farm, a way to earn and way to afford college.  I never came under fire or found myself in great peril.  My awards may say for meritorious service, but they do not read for gallantry or valor.  But when I reenlisted at 21, I understood; and when I reenlisted at 24, I had a greater understanding.  Today, many people just cannot wrap their minds around military service.  Many cannot understand the ramifications of the Cold War, the demise of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union or 9/11 and the threat of terror and tyrants and their desire for total dominance. 


Staff Sergeant Ian Paul McLaughlin was some mother’s and father’s boy.  He was a wife’s husband and the father of four children, and he gave all.  I promise you, he fully understood what he was doing.  He understood that if this war is not fought there, it would be fought here.  He understood that if he did not take it to them, they would bring it to us,  to his wife and children, to his parents and other family members.  He may not have known my name or your name. Still, he knew that we, along with his loved ones, would be experiencing everything that the women and children and elderly are experiencing in those war-torn regions.  Yes, the “Big Business” within the United States has particular interests in the region.  Yes, the oil in that region the lifeblood of families, communities, and governments around the world.   But I promise you that this hero was keenly aware that if we did not fight this battle there, it would make its way across Europe and into our yards.  


Once a Soldier, Sailor, Marine, or Airman understands this, it doesn’t matter if anyone else does or not.  They know that it is now their sacred responsibility to volunteer to take a just war to an unjust enemy before the enemy brings it to us.  They fully grasp that by having this insight, it means that they are called to serve.  Our warriors are not seeking fame, nobility, or accolades; their commitment already makes them noble men and women.   These highly principled warriors understand that their service enables people, like my family and your’s to worship freely without fear of tyranny, persecution, or oppression.    To chose a faith of our choice.  As a volunteer soldier, they understand that I want to be with my son and his family without fear of radical intrusion.   They understand that we need a free and just nation.  A country where we can live in peace and pursue happiness.  Our military personnel fully grasp that the good people, over there, are caught in a tyrannical web.  Our men and women are keenly aware that marginalized there are victims of an oppressive and deadly regime.  Our young men and women believe these poor people deserve freedom as much as their own families and countrymen.  They fully understand that some of our fellow citizens will not comprehend why they do what they do.  They also accept many will protest their actions, hate them, and revile their decision and actions.  But they do it so that you and I can have the liberty to live gratefully or protest the very action they are taking.  They serve so that we do not have to place ourselves at risk and never have to know or experience the horrors they have endured.


Why did I choose to share this excerpt from my journal?  After I finished my entry, in the wee hours of the morning, last week, I went to bed.   I thought writing out my feelings would help me work them out.  Each morning I keep waking  up still thinking about this boy and my boy.  As I pray to start my days, I realized that I am angry, and I want to quarrel with someone.   Especially, those that I feel climb onto their pulpits and soapboxes of self-righteousness.   Or those who take to social media from the authority of their own smugness. I feel like they peddle their contempt and disgust for those involved and those that make decisions in what I consider a just war.  I have been thinking, “If I can see this and understand this, why can’t those that so vehemently disagree?”


Once again, I realize, when I pray about those with whom I am frustrated, God usually does not change themHe always changes me.   Before my friends, with whom I disagree, become too excited.  I have not changed my belief concerning just war and the threat we face from terrorists and tyrants that wish to impose their way of life upon the world, including the USA.  What I am saying is, I want to change the way I think about those with whom  I disagree and those that disagree with me.   


You are entitled to your opinion and to share it.  Just like me, or others with whom you disagree.  I am not above being wrong; I have been wrong too many times to believe that . . .  Our freedom to be mistaken, to think differently, and share our opinions is given to us by God and guaranteed by our constitution.  I also believe this was the way Staff Sergeant McLaughlin’s thought also.  When he volunteered to go into harm’s way, it was to defend the rights of people like you and me.  It was for all those who disagree as much as it was for those who agree.


Please do not be like I have been with your own thinking and reactions, “If what I believe is not right, then I would not consider it to be correct.“  Young people,  please learn before I did; critical thinking is best used to challenge our own thoughts and understanding.  To always argue against those with whom we disagree means we are stubborn, arrogant, and proud.   We will stand in our own way and will never sharpen or broaden our own understanding. Whether you learn from my failures or not.  I still have to practice what scripture teaches.    I will not stand before God for what you do or don’t do, how you behave or don’t behave, or how you act toward me.  I will have to answer for what I do and don’t do and how I behave.  What I believe is essential to my faith. But the way I go about what I believe is equally as important to God.


With that in mind, this morning, after I prayed for Sergeant McLaughlin’s family and our men and women in harm’s way.  And after I paused to thank God for my family and my son, I did not pray ‘about’ those that disagree with me like I usually do.  But today, I prayed ‘for’ them.  Not that they would see things the way I do, but that they would be blessed in their faith, families, and lives and even in our differences.  Especially the ones with whom I become so frustrated.  


Today, I believe Sergeant McLaughlin appreciated that everyone will not agree with his actions, and that is their God-given and their constitutionally guaranteed right.  I believe he thought this is a just war; I beleive he died defending our right to be wrong, to disagree, and to share our beliefs; and I believe that he fought and died for these liberties.  I owe a debt that I am incapable of paying to the memory of Sergeant McLaughlin and to his family.  I respect his memory, his family, his brothers and sisters in arms, and those making decisions about this war.  It is my hope that those who disagree with me, about a just war theory or our enemies bringing the fight to us, can agree to consider a critical evaluation of their own worldview.  And if they cannot agree, they can respect our military, the institution, and the individual.


Today, I think the Holy Spirit reminded me that people have a right to disagree with me.   Further,  I am not above deception, error, or stubborn pride.   I must depend upon God’s grace to keep me aware of the beams within my own eyes and not become focused on the specks in the eyes of others.  Because of the Way, the Truth, and the Light, I still respect them because, like me, they are created in the image of God.  Hopefully, my friends that disagree with me about my faith or my ideology can critically review their own theology and ideology in light of the Bible.  Whether they do or don’t, it is my belief that my first priority is to ensure that my own beliefs and behaviors align with Biblical orthodoxy.   It is my prayer, if they don’t, I will surrender our differences  to the Holy Spirit.   It is my desire that my conduct follows scripture and is evidence of the power of the Word and that no one can ever question God, because of my behavior.


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