By Therese Marszalek
“Wasn’t he just born?” I whispered to my husband, Tom. My heart swelled with motherly pride watching our son, James, graduate from basic training at Fort Knox, soon to be headed for his tour of duty in Iraq. Feeling melancholy, I realized how the years had flown by, and I didn’t feel ready to let our son go so he could fulfill his military mission.
After tearful good-byes at the Louisville, Kentucky, airport, we went in different directions, Tom and I headed home to Spokane, Washington, and James to his Army military station in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he would serve as a Cavalry Scout. We were delighted when the airlines upgraded James to first class to honor and thank him for his service to our country.
Tom and I huffed it to our concourse, lugging James’ Army duffle bag, which was full of the belongings he had asked us to store while he was overseas. As we chatted at the gate while waiting for our flight to depart, my husband’s patriotic fatherly chest puffed out with pride, donning his new T-shirt that bore our son’s Army unit insignia.
“Excuse me, sir,” a woman said, tapping Tom on the shoulder. “I want to thank you for serving our country, sir.” Her tearful gratitude tugged on my emotions and brought sudden tears as I suspected she carried a tender, untold military story in her heart. Smiling through her watering eyes, she thanked him again and then dashed away, disappearing down the concourse before Tom had a chance to let her know that our son, not Tom, was serving in the Army.
Tears brimmed Tom’s eyes. The stranger’s unexpected words soaked his heart as he watched her blend into the sea of travelers. Seeing Tom’s T-shirt and the Army duffle bag at his side, the woman had assumed that he was military personnel. She appeared and disappeared so fast that we weren’t able to correct her mistake.
It wasn’t, however, a mistake.
Returning Home from War
In February of 1973, Tom and an aircraft full of fellow comrades were en route to the United States after serving in the Vietnam War. The pilot announced that although they were initially scheduled to fly into Travis Air Force Base in California, they would instead land at San Francisco International Airport. At the time, San Francisco was the epicenter of radical, dope smoking, anti-war, free love, tie-dyed long hairs.
Dressed in their crisp khaki Class A uniforms that proudly displayed shining brass, ribbons, and combat patches, the returning vets were excited to be heading back to the good ole USA after their tour in Vietnam. They weren’t anticipating the reception they were about to encounter.
As the young servicemen deplaned, a barrage of hostile men and women dressed in headbands, sandals, barefoot and raggedy clothes, shook their fists while screaming obscenities. “War mongers! Baby killers!” they yelled while spitting in their faces. One spit glob hit Tom in the temple and another hit smack dab on his left breast, covering the ribbons he had displayed so proudly only moments ago.
After hustling through the gauntlet of protestors, Tom headed to the restroom so he could change out of his uniform to be less conspicuous. The only hip clothes he was able to buy in the PX on Tan Son Nhut Air Base back in Saigon were a purple long sleeve shirt, bellbottom jeans, and sandals. Tom entered the men’s room a soldier and exited a hippie.
The emotional war wounds inflicted on the returning soldiers at the San Francisco airport were so deep they still needed healing. “I realized that God had sent this woman on a heavenly mission to speak healing words to Tom, one of countless emotionally wounded soldiers. “Tom,” I said, tearing up, “You did serve our country. That woman’s words were meant for you.”
Overcome with emotion that had been locked up in his soldier heart, Tom couldn’t speak. God had used this woman’s words to bind up wounds inflicted 35 years earlier by those who made false accusations and didn’t recognize the price that countless young men and women had paid to gain freedom for others.
Jesus Wasn’t Recognized
Jesus understood what Tom and his fellow comrades experienced as they deplaned in San Francisco. Jesus, fully God yet fully man, came to serve humanity, willingly leaving his heavenly dwelling to come to earth to save us from our sin. When he arrived however, the world he came to save did not recognize his true identity. “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him” (John 1:10).
Jesus knew his earthly mission and willingly faced suffering and rejection while fulfilling that mission. Predicting the intense trials that awaited him, he told his disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again” (Luke 18:31-33).
Jesus’ words came to pass just as he had said. Instead of receiving gratitude for the sacrifice he was making for them, those he came to serve and save yelled, “Crucify him!” Those for whom he died beat him, spit in his face, blindfolded him, mocked and insulted him, flogged him, struck him with their fists, struck him on the head again and again, and finally killed him (Matthew 26:67, 68; 27:30; Mark 10:33, 34; Luke 18:32). Yet his unfailing love enabled him to say, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (23:34).
Jesus fulfilled the mission on which his father sent him to serve, healing the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds so they could find ultimate freedom. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Christ paid the ultimate price for that freedom.
Do as the Heaven-sent stranger did for Tom—say to Jesus, “Thank you for serving. Thank you, Jesus, for fulfilling your mission. Thank you for the price you paid for my freedom.” And when you spot veterans, consider delivering a message of gratitude and thanks to honor them for the countless sacrifices they have made serving our country to gain freedom for others.
Therese Marszalek writes, speaks, and ministers in Spokane, Washington (theresemarszalek.com).
Ideas for Honoring Veterans
1. Send a note of thanks. This can make a great impact, especially if they received a negative reception upon returning home after war.
2. Invite them to lunch. Your genuine interest in their service can provide a platform for processing and healing memories.
3. Invite them to speak. Providing opportunities for veterans to share their stories will affirm their personal value and service.
4. Host a celebration. This allows friends and family to honor men and women who have served.
5. Visit a VA facility. Ask administration which veterans rarely have visitors and spend time with them.
6. Pray. Pray for veterans in your life, asking God to heal their emotional and physical wounds.
7. Offer a helping hand. Examples: shopping, shoveling snow, running errands, walking their dog.