There are three American holidays that are perhaps my favorites – 4th of July, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. For almost 30 years, I toured America with a special production in tribute to our nation and our veterans – A SALUTE TO AMERICA! And while my thoughts always turn to the many veterans, both the deceased and the living, my thoughts primarily turn to my own son, USMC Captain Justin Dale Peterson, who the morning after his 32nd birthday, was killed in Iraq on Sunday, October 1, 2006.
I had finished preaching that Sunday evening, October 1, 2006, IL, and was sitting with Pastor and Mrs. Bill Herald in a restaurant in Sparta (IL), waiting on our meal to arrive, when my phone vibrated. It was my daughter-in-law Patty, asking where I was, if I was alone, and if I was driving.
Patty said, “Dad, this is going to be a memorable night for you – Justin was killed in Iraq this morning!” Within an hour, I had checked out of my room and was driving back to Michigan – heartbroken – mind racing.
I pondered the possibilities of what had happened in Iraq. I wondered if my youngest son Joshua, also a Marine and in Iraq – was okay. Did he know yet? How quickly could they extract him from harm’s way and head him home to share his tears with our own?
Within a few hours of receiving the worst news of his life, Joshua was transported to Kuwait to Amsterdam to Detroit, where our family met him. Justin’s body arrived only a few hours later in the afternoon. Our extended family spent the evening inter-acting at the funeral home – processing what was happening.
After receiving thousands of families at the visitation, and after a standing-room-only funeral, Justin’s body was laid to rest in the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan – with military honors.
On behalf of the entire Peterson family, I would like to express our gratitude to you as Americans for your concern, prayers, and support of our troops. The personal contacts & many acts of kindness & service have been received with humility, as we realized in a new way the vast volume of friends that are ours!
These expressions have lead us to know beyond description that Justin’s life, military service, and death are not in vain.
While life has always presented challenges, I think we’ve faced the largest one to-date – in the death of our oldest son. However, I must tell you – regardless of the indescribable pain that we feel, it is matched by a justifiable pride in our Marine, as well as an eternal hope.
Our son lived and died that others throughout the world might be free – even in Iraq. He volunteered for a commission as an officer, as a leader, and as an example in the United States Marine Corp – how to live, how to work, how to serve, and even how to die. To have known Captain Justin Dale Peterson, United States Marine – would make even a liberal skeptic proud to be an American.
You see, ladies and gentlemen, America has been a blessed nation since our very inception because of the caliber and character of the men and women who have lead us! Add to that the fact that God has been a part of this nation from before the beginning! Our founding fathers put the name of God on everything they built and acknowledged Him in everything they said.
While there are a comparative few in our nation who seem to resent God being credited for His contribution to America’s greatness, most Americans still understand that respect and reverence for God is essential for maintaining greatness, since “all the nations that forget God shall be turned into hell,” according to the psalmist David.
Another reason that the United States of America has become such a great nation has been the deep commitment of our men and women in uniform.
While the decade of the 60s and the Vietnam era was a tempestuous time for American patriotism, and during which period many of our own citizens showed little respect for Old Glory, the WWII generation was still alive and well. That generation of sailors and soldiers helped this nation keep her bearings and maintain a stabilizing effect on our culture.
For Americans of my parents generation, love of country has been almost second nature. It was passed on to many of us by our parents, our teachers, our civic leaders, and even Hollywood. I mean, you can’t get much more patriotic than John Wayne!
We continue to hold dear the quest of our founding fathers to produce a land where all men can live freely and seek personal satisfaction. We fiercely appreciate the sacrifice of American servicemen and women who bled and died so that we could remain free.
Further, we live in the hope that the fires of American freedom will continue to burn long after we’re gone, don’t we? If 9/11 does nothing else for us as a nation, it should have served as a clarion wake-up call for citizens to appreciate our freedoms that have often been taken for granted, and to renew our vigilance in defending them.
I’m not sure how you think about that American symbol that is known throughout the globe as the epitome of freedom, but my heart still swells with pride at the slightest glimpse of the Stars and Stripes – Old Glory! While a growing number of people throughout the world may hold those colors – the red, white, and blue – in contempt, they must do so in sheer ignorance of the benefits they derive from America’s positive influence upon the world.
With the unprecedented rash of global terrorism – terrorism that has now come to American soil – I think it is high time that we had a revival of old-fashioned patriotism again, as well as a renewal of our commitment to the principles and precepts that have made this nation great from her inception!
Contrary to the incessant rhetoric of our detractors, Americans still enjoy the greatest freedoms of any nation on earth. Compare what we enjoy in abundance with the pitiful existence of many nations who have not retained God in their knowledge, and you can understand that many of them are angry because we revel in that which they themselves cannot attain.
When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they mutually pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, to each other and to America. During the course of the seven-year war that followed, nine of the signers died of wounds or hardships, 17 lost everything they owned, and five were captured or imprisoned. They risked all they had, sacrificing everything for freedom. They all kept their honor.
Today, our nation is at war – a very different and non-traditional war against a very dangerous and elusive enemy from without. We also must awaken to another reality – our greatest enemy may be from within our own ranks. This enemy threatens the principles and values that freedom-loving people hold dear – equality, self-governance, and the rule of law.
President John F. Kennedy, in the midst of another struggle, once observed, “When there is a visible enemy to fight in open combat, many serve, all applaud, and the tide of patriotism runs high. But when there is a long, slow struggle, with no immediate visible foe, your choice will seem hard indeed.”
Today, our enemy is not always visible, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood alone, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6:12 KJV) We must have patience and perseverance in this conflict to preserve our freedoms.
That will require that we as Americans, moreover as Christian Americans, that we rise to the occasion and the great need of America, and become once again a people of great character. The good character of the founding fathers will not suffice. We must boldly arise as men and women of faith and become internally what the Book instructs us to be. Character is what I really am at the core of my being.
We must also become people of great conviction once again. It is high time that the people who profess to know God determine to live like we know Him. Like David of old, facing the giant Goliath, we must remind each other, “Is there not a cause?!” Conviction is the bottom line of all my thinking – it’s what I have concluded as vitally important – important enough for which to die if necessary.
We must also become a nation of people with great courage. Political correctness is no replacement for the combination of good character, great conviction, and great courage. Without character, we become dishonest and self-centered, which unfortunately and increasingly describes our country, including many of our national leaders.
Without conviction, we lose our bearings, our moral compass, again descriptive of our nation – a country adrift morally. Without courage, we fail to act on that which we profess to be and to believe. America has gone from a president who could courageously say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” to one who apologizes for America to rouge nations wherever he travels! And that makes those of us with good character, convictions and courage nauseous!
(Jos 1:6 KJV) Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.
Men like our first president George Washington, our first chief justice John Jay, and many others exhibited character, conviction, and courage from the beginning, as they secured for us a more perfect union. The legions of courageous men of women of scripture and of our own national history are just that – history – and will not suffice for today. Through the centuries they have all run their legs of the relay-race of life and today the baton has been placed into our hands. We, like those who have run before us, must be strong and of good courage.
(Jos 1:9 KJV) Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
Viewing the landscape of modern culture, I must admit, there is cause for grave concern on every hand. However, the visible ills of America’s political and financial dilemmas are only symptomatic of the invisible and increasing immorality of character that robs us of conviction and renders us shivering cowards, void of courage, before the world that needs the Savior that we claim to own.
On this Veterans Day, let’s concentrate on and honor our forefathers and the fighting men and women of this nation for their courage, their vision, and their sacrifices. Let’s remember how precious our rights and freedoms and those who have secured them for us!
And veterans, we honor your service, your courage, your countless sacrifices at sea, in the air, and on distant fields of battle. May God continue to bless this great nation, and the past, present, and future members of our Armed Forces and their families.