I am so pleased as I travel the country to see how often folks stop those who they see in uniform and thank them for their service. I have seen folks pay the restaurant or bar tab of a service member as a tangible way of saying thank you. I have even seen folks in first class on airlines give up their seats for service members returning from the war. These simple gestures mean more to our active duty than you will ever know. But it also means a great deal to ALL our veterans.
It is fair to ask what Veterans have done to deserve such recognition. After all, Veterans are a very unique demographic. Less than 1% of our current population is serving or has ever served in the military, so the culture of the Veteran is not always understood by those who have never served. So, after giving it some thought here is how I would best describe the true meaning of what it means to be a Veteran.
The Bible Describes Veterans
I discovered that the Bible offers us a powerful story illustrating just this point.
And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the Lord and said, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did. (2 Samuel 23:13-17)
Let me put that Scripture in context. King David had deployed with his army to defend his kingdom against the marauding troops of the Philistines who had taken the city of Bethlehem, which was David’s hometown. In a moment of homesickness and lack of personal control, King David gets nostalgic and says out loud what is on his mind. Remembering a better time in his life, he reminisces and wishes that he could have a drink of water from the well by the gate of Bethlehem.
At the same time David had over 30 special operations warriors that were called the Mighty (or Chief) Men of God (2 Samuel 23:39). They were called mighty men of God because of their proven valor on the battlefield. The three most STRAC of those elite troops had deliberately come to David’s side at this point in the campaign. It is unclear if they were summoned or if they took the initiative and reported to David because they knew they would be needed. At least two of the three had successful experience drawing on the help of the Lord and defeating the Philistines in combat.
If we look closely, the mighty men of God illustrate for us the ideal attributes of Veterans. Those attributes can be summed up in the seven basic values of the United States Army: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage (LDRSHIP).
Veterans Are Loyal
The Army defines loyalty as, “Bearing true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit and other Soldiers. Bearing true faith and allegiance is a matter of believing in and devoting yourself to something or someone. A loyal Soldier is one who supports the leadership and stands up for fellow Soldiers. By wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army you are expressing your loyalty. And by doing your share, you show your loyalty to your unit.”
When their commander, King David, expressed a desire, the mighty men of God were quick to respond. His need became their need. They were devoted to their commander, wanting him to have whatever he needed to be able to make the best operational and tactical decisions to insure victory.
The mighty men of God were loyal to their commander and to their fellow soldiers.
Likewise, Veterans heard our nation collectively express a desire to remain free. In response, every member of the Armed Forces took an oath which said in part, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me—.” Loyalty is part of the very DNA of Veterans.
Our men and women in the Armed Forces do not serve or did not serve out of a desire to one day take over the nation in a military coup. They do not serve for honors or high pay. Instead, they feel an obligation to preserve the freedom that others earned for them, and they have a desire to give something back to the nation that has been so good to them. They value loyalty to their nation, and to their fellow Veterans.
Veterans Understand Duty
The Army defines Duty as fulfilling your obligations. Doing your duty means more than just carrying out assigned tasks. Duty means being able to accomplish those tasks as part of a team. Duty also involves resisting the temptation to take shortcuts that might undermine the success of a mission.
The three mighty men of God who were serving King David were a team of three. They saw their duty as leveraging the skills and experience of the team members to obtain the water that their commander required. They served as a team and underwent their mission as a team. Their duty was to their commander, to their army, and to each other.
Veterans also see themselves as part of a team, regardless of branch of service, regardless of whether they are currently serving or have served in the past. Most Veterans view their lives and service as being part of a greater good, and therefore are proud to have done their duty for their nation.
Veterans Show Respect
Part of the Soldier’s Code is the pledge to “treat others with dignity and respect while expecting others to do the same.” This is clearly a derivative of what is often called the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Respect is what allows us to appreciate the best in other people.
The mighty men of God showed their respect for David by coming to his side in this campaign to be of assistance. They not only knew of his successes on the battlefield, but that he was beloved of God. They knew that he was key to the success of their military. Their respect for their King drove them to act upon his wishes.
Veterans likewise believe in respect: for our nation, for our flag which represents our nation, and for each other. They stand tall when the American flag passes, because they see in the red stripes a symbol of the blood that was shed by the patriots who came before them, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life. They will also place their hands over their hearts or salute to show their respect for our country.
People who have never served in the military often do not understand the respect that Veterans have for one another, the unspoken promise that we make to each other that no Service Member will ever be forgotten, and no sacrifice taken for granted. Veterans value respect.
Veterans Demonstrate Selfless Service
The Army states that Selfless Service is putting the welfare of the Nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own. Selfless service is larger than just one person. In serving your country, you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain.
The mighty men of God were not thinking of their own safety and welfare when they undertook to secure water for David from the well in Bethlehem. David was essential if Israel hoped to defeat the Philistines. So, the mighty men of God put the welfare of their nation above their own needs or safety.
Our Veterans have or are doing the same. It has been said that a Veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount up to and including their life. They put the welfare of our nation above their own, making countless sacrifices and enduring numerous hardships to secure our freedom. Many Veterans bear the physical, psychological, and spiritual scars of their service. But if you ask, most say they would do it again, because freedom is worth defending.
Veterans Show Honor
The Army describes honor as living up to the Army values. Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in every aspect of life.
The mighty men of God got their title because of their epic heroism in battle. They lived up to their name by undertaking a dangerous mission to retrieve some water, not for glory or reward, but because they saw it as necessary at this point in their nation’s history. They were driven by what we now call the Army values. The same can be said of our Veterans.
In his famous speech at West Point in 1962, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur said this:
“Duty, honor, country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to
be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage
when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith,
to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.— They build your basic character.”
Honor is, at the very least, the linchpin that holds Veterans together, collectively and personally.
Veterans Have Integrity
Integrity is doing what is right legally and morally. Integrity is a quality developed by adhering to moral principles. It has been noted that as your integrity grows, so does the trust others place in you. People of integrity do the right thing not because it is convenient or because they have no choice. They choose the right thing because their character permits nothing less.
David trusted the mighty men of God in his command. Historically they had proven their loyalty to him and to the nation many times. He trusted they would always do the right thing when called upon to act. In our text, the mighty men of God heard David’s expressed desire for well water as being a lawful request, so they acted. They were trustworthy agents for the King. In that time and place, doing the right thing for David was also seen as doing the right thing for God. Therefore, the mighty men of God did not hesitate. Their character permitted nothing less.
Veterans also place a high value on integrity. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionable integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
The Air Force lists integrity as one of their core values. They say that “Integrity is the willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking. It is the moral compass, the inner voice, the voice of self-control and the basis for the trust imperative in today’s military. Integrity is the ability to hold together and properly regulate all of the elements of a personality.”
Veterans with integrity strive to do the right thing, even when the right thing is not popular.
Veterans Demonstrate Personal Courage
Personal courage is defined by the Army as the willingness to face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral). With physical courage, it is a matter of enduring physical duress and at times risking personal safety. Facing moral fear or adversity may be a long, slow process of continuing forward on the right path, especially if taking those actions is not popular with others. It is standing up for those things that are known to be honorable.
The mighty men of God showed personal courage. It was not enough to just talk the talk; they were willing to walk the walk. They were willing to put feet to their convictions. They infiltrated the enemy position at great personal risk, obtained the water, and returned safely to present the water to David. They refused to let fear or difficulty hold them back from doing their duty.
Our Veterans are no different. A number of years ago, a 3-star Army general shared with me a remarkable story. He was at an airport, not in uniform, and saw some young privates in desert camouflage who had just graduated from their basic and advanced training and were clearly headed to war. The general thanked them for their service, and asked them, just out of curiosity, why they would be willing to join the military knowing they would have to go to war and to its inherent danger. One of the troops, who appeared to be about 19, looked the General in the eye and said, “Sir, I would rather die FOR something than OF something.” That is the personal courage of those protecting this nation as we speak.
Few would argue that personal courage is a badge highly prized by every Veteran.
We Salute Our Veterans
We see that the mighty men of God epitomized the Army LDRSHIP Values. Because of that, they were successful in their mission.
But in an unexpected twist, David is convicted by the incredible actions of his mighty men. He is humbled by their gift and, as an offering to God, pours out the water his soldiers successfully brought to him. Although grateful, he saw himself as unworthy of the dangerous risks taken to provide him with this simple luxury.
Today, many Americans are tempted to take for granted all that it took, and all that it takes, to enjoy our everyday lives. We drink to our fill from the cup of freedom delivered to us daily by the mighty men and women of our armed forces, both past and present. All too often, we fail to fully appreciate all that it took and all that it takes to bring us that cup. In spite of that, our Military presses on.
As a proud third generation Army Veteran, I appreciated this comment in an article by the Coalition of Veterans Organizations on September 10, 2019:
Being a U.S. military Veteran means you were willing to fight and die in service to this country. It meant being separated from friends, family and loved ones. It meant giving up control of your life to others and having to trust your well-being to them. It meant risking life and limb and potential (permanent) injury, either to complete a mission, help your buddies fighting alongside you or just in doing what you were supposed to do. It meant you took an oath to ‘Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States’… and lived up to your part of the bargain.