On Veterans Day, November 11, 2015, as I reflect upon the celebration of this particular national holiday, I am re-posting a devotional from last year, focusing on Veteran’s Day, a day of special significance to me in a number of ways.
What began as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, marking the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I on the 11th Day of 11th Month of 1918, was later renamed Veterans Day which commemorates all veterans. In 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the recognition of November 11 as Veterans Day.
November 11 is also a memorable occasion for me because it is the birthday of my sister, Cheryl Thompson Williams, who was born November 11, 1946. At that time it was called Armistice Day, as I well remember. Also November 11, 2000 was the day that her husband, Elliott Thompson, who was also a Veteran, was buried. She has since remarried, and her husband, Thomas, is also a veteran.
Veterans Day is also special to me for another reason. I am a Veteran, having served two years in the US Army, from 1967 to the end of 1968 during the Vietnam era. Most providentially that experience is directly related to my being in Fayetteville, NC, where I serve as an adjunct professor at Carolina College of Biblical Studies and at Fayetteville State University.
I was born and reared in Gary, Indiana, and when I was about 13 or 14, I visited Purdue University, the first college campus I ever set foot on, and I decided at that time that I would attend Purdue and major in Pharmacy. When I graduated from high school in 1960, I enrolled at Purdue and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy in 1965, and subsequently became a registered pharmacist, working as a staff pharmacist at Methodist Hospital in Gary. I was enjoying the “good life” when I received my “greetings from Uncle Sam.” In 1967 I was drafted into the US Army. At the time I thought this was the worst thing that could have happened to me. Being drafted into the Army in the late 60s was not an ideal situation for a young African American male in light of the disproportionate number of black men sent to Vietnam, many of whom did not return and others who were forever changed by that experience.
Today I recognize more clearly than ever that what Satan meant for evil, God in His providence, transforms into something great and glorious. While I was in the Army, I rode the crest of the Jesus Movement and experienced a powerful conversion that introduced me to the transforming power of God through receiving the Holy Spirit and studying the Bible.
In January of 1967 after a tearful farewell with my parents, I boarded the bus that took me to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Upon completing of my basic training, I was sent to Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, where I was given the option of working in a dispensary filling prescriptions, as I had done previously, or I could choose to become a pharmacy instructor and teach pharmacy technicians. The second option sounded intriguing since I had not done that before, and so I opted to become a pharmacy instructor, which turned out to be ideally suited to me and opened up a new world of classroom teaching which ignited a passion to teach. This passion eventually motivated me to pursue a Master’s degree in English from Emporia State University in Kansas and a Ph.D. in English from Indiana University. This passion continues to burn, even as I am teaching here at CCBS and FSU and at Indiana Wesleyan University where I teach classes online.
As I reflect upon Veterans Day, I pay tribute to one particular veteran from Kentucky whom I knew briefly while serving as a pharmacy instructor at Fort Sam Houston. He and I had a number of things in common: we were both drafted as pharmacists who opted to become pharmacy instructors so we went through the training at the Medical Field Service School together. But there was one notable difference. I had not signed up for an additional year of service, despite the Army’s indication that I might not get a pharmacy position if I didn’t. My fellow serviceman had signed up for the additional year, but we both received pharmacy positions. The additional year increased the likelihood that you might have to go to Vietnam if there were a pharmacy position that needed to be filled.
About 9 months after we completed our training as instructors, my fellow instructor received orders for Vietnam, and by the end of the year, he was shipped overseas. In the early part of the next year, we received the news that he had been killed. The impact of that experience did not fully resonate with me until about three years ago when I again looked up the name of this individual on the website for the Vietnam Memorial and recognized that he was from a small town in Kentucky. I was teaching a class at the IWU Louisville Center of Indiana Wesleyan when I saw my colleague’s sacrifice in a totally different light.
In literature there is term called a Christological figure or Christ Figure. The term refers to an object, person, or figure that represents Christ allegorically or symbolically, or any similar object, person, or figure with qualities generally reminiscent of Christ, one of whose most notable qualities is “self sacrifice.” I was overwhelmed by the reality that my fellow instructor went in my place. What transpired while I was in the Army culminated in an awareness of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ who took my place and gave his life that I might live.
My whole experience in the military brings to mind my favorite Bible verse: Romans 8:28
And we know that all things work together for the good, to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.
We conclude by listening to Major Jason Billington singing “The Eagle Cried,” a moving tribute to Vietnam Veterans: