Indiana’s Veterans Home is located in West Lafayette on a hilly bluff overlooking the Wabash River and the surrounding valley. It contains a military cemetery with the graves of numerous Indiana veterans. My first visits to this facility were in the late 1960s and early 1970s when my parents brought my brother and I to visit my paternal grandmother Stella Chapman (1891-1973). She stayed here out of medical necessity and because she was the wife of my paternal grandfather Albert Chapman (1887-1953). Grandfather had served in World War I in France in the Army where my father said he was not the same man when he returned. Last year when Becky and I were in France , we visited the armistice/surrender site of Compiegne and I thought of the grandfather I never knew and what he experienced in the cauldron of World War I’s western trenches. Grandmother Stella died in 1973, she is buried next to my grandfather, and eventually my father (Albert T. Chapman, Jr. (1920-2010)) a World War II Army veteran who served in Chemical Warfare in locales such as Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan) in Marion, IN’s Estates of Serenity Cemetery, popularly known as the IOOF Cemetery.
It is wise that we remember our war dead this long holiday weekend. The historian George Santayana once said “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” While we can become to obsessed by history, it is wise to pay attention to its multifaceted and frequently contradictory lessons. As Americans we sometimes think we are immune to history. This is not the case. Exceptional though our nation is, we are not immune to tyranny, incompetence, governmental corruption, mass societal failure, and moral breakdown. Americans, regrettably, also tend to become to exclusive and parochial in thinking we are the only country which has sent its men and women to fight and die for freedom. At various times though out the year, democratic allies of ours including Australia, Canada, France, Israel, South Korea, and the United Kingdom commemorate their war dead. I’ve been fortunate to see some of these locales such as Canada’s War Memorial in Ottawa, the Dieppe Memorial in Windsor, Ontario, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Cenotaph and Westminster Abbey in London, and the Anzac Memorial in Sydney. A good example of an ally who paid the ultimate price for freedom is Australian Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird who was killed in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province on June 22, 2013 and was awarded the Victoria Cross which is the highest military award granted by many British Commonwealth countries.
I’ve also been fortunate to see many of America’s many military cemeteries and memorials including Arlington National Cemetery, the Marion, IN military cemetery, cemeteries at various Civil War battlefields, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu’s Punch Bowl national military cemetery, Ground Zero, and the American military cemetery in Luxembourg. These sites are all moving and contemplative in so many ways. This Saturday, I visited the Indiana Veterans Home cemetery for the first time in the two decades I have lived here in Tippecanoe County. I saw the graves of many soldiers who served in World War I including their wives. Most of these soldiers died long after the “War to End All Wars.” Some may have emerged from this conflict relatively unshaken, but others, undoubtedly, experienced significant physical, mental, and spiritual scars which may have haunted them the rest of their lives. There’s no telling whether they told their spouses, families, and friends about their non-physical wounds and whether they sought treatment for them.
My career path would bring me to the Lafayette/West Lafayette area just over two decades after Grandma died. A couple miles west of the Indiana Veterans home there is an apartment complex. A young woman living at the complex whom I met at church, is now my wife and I share the joy and challenges of life with her every day. Little did I know when, I first came to visit my grandmother in her final years that God was opening a door which would eventually lead me to Becky and her wonderful love.
We will hear a lot of rhetoric this weekend about not needing to fight wars anymore. This is patent nonsense! Given the inherently sinful depravity of human nature and the weakness of our present national administration, war will again affect of us no matter how much we cling to the utopian folly of peace on earth. We face threats from sources as varied as China, North Korea, international piracy, Iran, international drug traffickers, Islamist terrorism, and other sources which cannot be resolved through peaceful means or the quaint idealism of western legal jurisprudence. Sadly, war is the eternal lot of humanity as long as it rejects Christian normative behavior. We need to teach our children to cherish peace as the ephemeral historical aberration it is and candidly inform them that that the way to maintain the sliver of peace is to always be prepared for war. The Romans said it best: “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” If you want peace, prepare for war. Our education about Memorial Day must be grounded in unflinching historical reality instead of sentimental delusion. That is how we can best honor our American military personnel and those of allied countries and build on the legacy they have left us.