It changed him.
He went from being a confused, mixed up kid to being a seasoned and mature man.
It was a formative experience. He grew up.
The military can have that effect on a young person. It can be relentlessly focusing.
For Casey Morgan, it was the Marines. It was Iraq in the early years of our involvement. It was Afghanistan.
It was the sights and sounds he’d never forget.
Unlike many of his less fortunate comrades, Casey did not emerge from Iraq broken but strengthened. Still, as for all who go, there were the scars and the memories. Those he carries. They are part of him and they will remain.
They are the costs of bearing freedom’s torch.
This week, America saluted Casey Morgan and nearly 22 million of his fellow American veterans. These are the men and women who gave, sacrificed and served. They did so not because they like war but because they cherish liberty and love their country.
And because they know, as all free people must, that freedom is never free.
America was born in strife. It was a costly and difficult war against a distant oppressor that “brought forth on this continent a new nation.”
While our country’s history is hardly unblemished, it may be said that the United States has fought its wars in defense of freedom and justice – not for ourselves alone but for all those who have suffered as victims of tyranny. Ours have not been wars of subjugation but of liberation.
Historians and politicians have always debated the causes and justifications of war but few have questioned the motives or the patriotism of those who have served. Those who wave the anti-war banners, shout the slogans, sing the songs and make the arguments seldom stop to ponder the price that was paid to secure their right to dissent.
There’s nothing about America that’s ever been easy or automatic.
The values, the ideals, the rights and the liberties that most of us are tempted to take for granted were bought with the blood and sacrifice of American soldiers – the living and the dead, the wounded and the whole.
It is only fitting that we celebrate Veterans Day and Thanksgiving during the same month.
When we gather as family and friends around a table of bounty in the greatest and freest nation on earth, we’ll have God to thank. And we can also thank God for the men and women who have served and fought and struggled to make it so; those “who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.”
As we once again engage more of our military in fighting terror in the Middle East, it’s easy to lose sight of the enormous toll this conflict – and the war in Afghanistan – have had on our American servicemen and women.
These wars have been waged for many years now – far removed from our immediate danger or deep concern. Our daily lives go untouched by the suffering of so many of our soldiers and their families.
There are not many ticker tape parades for our returning veterans. Instead they often face an anguished adjustment to civilian life. The recent scandal at the Veterans Administration exposed the poor and shabby care our veterans too often receive.
At the end of America’s bloodiest war, Abraham Lincoln underscored our continuing moral obligation “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”
We can do no less for those to whom we owe so much.
Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall crumbled into history. Thanks to the resolve and courage of statesmen named Reagan, Thatcher and Pope Paul II, Soviet Communism was defeated and America won the Cold War. These were seminal achievements in the history of the world. But none of this would have been possible without the American military – and the faithful and brave soldiers who comprise it.
Those who proudly wear the uniform of the American armed services are the unsung heroes of American strength and greatness.
The Old Testament is largely the story of military courage and conquest. King David solidified and united the nation of Israel through a strong and loyal army. His men loved him and fought for him and many died for him. David understood and appreciated their sacrifice.
When the King was given animals and materials for burnt offerings to God, he refused the gift. Knowing the true value of those things which matter most, David replied, “I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing”(II Samuel 24:24, NLT).
So David, who had seen men die on the field of battle, paid a price.
Important things are seldom free. They are seldom easy.
Casey Morgan is a hero of mine.
I would be proud to have him as my son. I am proud to have him as my son-in-law. I’m honored that his blood flows with mine through the veins of my grandchildren. I’m thankful to him for serving our country so bravely and so well.
To all those who joined him – and to the millions who serve today – we salute you.
May God bless you and your family.