As Ed read out the names of Veterans at Sunday service, he left out the rank but affixed to each name a branch of service and the war in which each had served. With every name that echoed within the grey concrete walls of the gothic-style cathedral of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, a Veteran was supposed to stand to be recognized. Not all names had a Veteran present, but enough were there that America’s legacy of twentieth-century wars came to life:
World War II…
It is a legacy that has faces, a history that has history.
I sat watching this unfold: names being called one-by-one and Veterans standing – one here, one there – among people seated in pews watching on. Even if there was no face to be matched with a name, that person was still in the room. Once their name was announced, it became illuminated, a vocal marker that someone should be given attention, worth being noticed, even if they weren’t currently among people seated in pews watching on.
It can sometimes be easy in this world of books and films and video games to forget that we are in wars overseas, to forget that this country has been in wars in the past, to forget that freedom while glorious is often won in dirt and grit and toil and sometimes in the memory of not winning at all. As I sat there, I thought about all these things that make us forget, make us less sensitive to the past, the distracting stuff of a digital age and shrinking attention span where day-to-day life hurls us into a future we expect to be better than the past.
As I sat there watching those recognized, I understood how Veterans across timeframes and wars in yesterdays and today have given the rest of us our anchor – our freedom – to be where we are, to be able to have hopes for a future.
When Ed finished recognizing all the Veterans – his name among the many had not gone unnoticed by me – the cathedral filled with applause. The Veterans sat down and Sunday service went on as usual, but I think that’s not exactly true. I think we were all a little bit changed having seen the Veterans among us.
To Veterans and those still serving: thank you.