John Livingston News

Memorial Day Service Before Self

On this Memorial Day weekend, it is important to reflect on the almost 1million Americans who have given their lives for their country. I was honored to have been on active duty for 12 years as a Navy Medical Officer and Surgeon and 4 more years in the reserves. I was called up briefly to Desert Shield and was deployed regionally during the Grenada Invasion. I served two years at Camp Lejeune with the Fleet Service Support group and my billet was with Marine Recon. We never were deployed.

I have personally been in harm’s way only twice—each time for less than 15 minutes so I have never been “outside the wire”—a valor claimed by the likes of Pete Buttigieg and John Kerry, but rightly claimed by hundreds of Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers that I was privileged to attend to as a medical officer and Navy Surgeon. Like me, millions of others have served in the military supporting those at the tip of the spear. We all have been honored and in our hearts, we know the courage that young men and women demonstrate daily not only having live bullets shot at them, but the dangerous training that they go through prior to being in real combat.

As we enjoy this Memorial Day Holiday with cookouts and fireworks I pray each American takes the time to reflect on what motivated and will motivate those who died and will die in service, and very early on make them willing to put themselves in harm’s way. Only about 7%—down from 22% in 1980—of our population have ever served and today there are around 1.8 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen. Patriotism, a desire to serve others, and in the most difficult environments those at the tip of the spear never want to let their “buddy” down, are the primary and exclusive motivators of why people serve.

The invitation to embrace service is not an invitation for suffering. Very few look to be heroes and if they do this motivation is soon extinguished by the reality of the mission. There are certainly those who see military service as a means to an end—politics, and their fellow service members soon see through them like teammates see through a star player who plays only for themselves and future accolades. But in addition to serving our nation those in the armed forces are also mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives. In their roles “inside the wire” they share with the rest of us the most important mission—PROTECTOR OF FAMILY.

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This is the common bond between all of us—whatever our vocation. To give up what you want for others is the essence of selflessness and self-sacrifice. One doesn’t have to serve or have served in the military to be a true hero. Without a meaning in life beyond oneself, life will become empty, lonely and meaningless. I know of two military families who have children with disabilities. In both families both parents are service members—all pilots. In one family the mother resigned her commission to take care of her son, and now flies for United. In the other family both parents took other billets and no longer are flying—sacrificing their own dreams to create a best life for their children. I know of a civilian physician locally who gave up her practice for 5 years to take care of her disabled son.

When I left active duty in 1988, my first patient that I attended to on call at St. Al’s was a 65-year-old man with Down’s syndrome who had a large bowel perforation with intraabdominal sepsis. His mother had taken care of him at home in Emmett for 65 years with help from members of her church who gave her two mornings off a week so she could attend to her chores needed to run her home. HEROES ALL. Today the temptation to outsource the care of my patient and proceed with a career may be the norm.

To choose to be a mother or a father is a choice to embrace radical generosity. 60 years after the great society programs and 50 years after the sexual revolution are we as a society more committed to the service to others—as parents, in the military, making our careers a vocation in the service to God and our fellow citizens, are we just as “radically committed” to each other as our parents and our ancestors were?

Morality defines and determines a culture. Honor, integrity, courage, faith, being grateful for our many blessings, are virtues that need to be taught and learned. Are these priorities in our culture today?

On Memorial Day let’s honor all Americans who have served and died and who will serve and die for liberty. But let us remember the heroes who made them heroes—Mothers and Fathers and Families, teachers and coaches, and ministers. If we don’t again take up the cultural battle against faith and families, if we for one moment believe that we as humans have the ultimate power over creation, we will before we know it have no more heroes. There will be no liberty in this new world because we will have no one to protect it.

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