We saw them as they were being helped off the bus. It was several years ago in Arlington National Cemetery. Our church was there as part of a three-day trip, seeing the sights in DC, taking in the history. We could not help but notice the group of very old men, most of them being helped into wheelchairs. They all had on hats with the same insignia on them. Our schedule was tight, we had much to see and not much lag time in between each stop, but I had a hunch about those old men and went to find out.

I walked to where they were being assembled and spoke to one of the men. “Excuse me, sir, are you men by chance World War II veterans?”

The old man smiled, and said, “We sure are, young man!” He just beamed, seemingly aware that he was a very special man visiting a very special place.

I said, “Sir, thank you for what you and your men here did. And if you don’t mind, could you take just a few minutes and tell me what it was like? People from my generation have no idea.”

The next few moments were precious, amazing, priceless. That dear old man spent a few minutes telling me what it was like, and I drank it in like a sponge. If he had had the time, if I had had the time, I could have sat at his feet all day long listening breathlessly, begging God to never let me forget a word of it.

But time was short for everyone, the moments passed, his group had to go, and mine did too. But I will never forget the feeling that I had entered the presence of greatness. But why should it be regarded like that? After all, that old man was not a king, a president, a senator, a congressman, a movie star, a famous singer, or a sports hero. He was just a common man, with no royal blood, no elected office, no fame, and likely no fortune.

But that, friends, is not what greatness is about. Who you were born to means nothing as far as your own greatness. What office you convinced people to elect you to means just as little. How many likes or shares or retweets you get is irrelevant. Here is a good measure for greatness:

Mark 10:43-45 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Simply put, serving others makes a person great. That old man and all of his companions left mothers, fathers, wives, children, and crossed the sea and risked their lives so that my generation could be free. Later on, men would travel to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan for the same purpose. Some would call these men villains, cursing their name and even spitting on them when they returned home. And, sadly, that type of behavior did not go extinct decades ago. In February of 2018, Gregory Salcido, a high school teacher in California, was caught on video in class speaking of the military, saying, “They’re not like high-level thinkers, they’re not academic people, they’re not intellectual people; they’re the frickin’ lowest of our low. I don’t understand why we let the military guys come over here and recruit you at school. We don’t let pimps come in the school.” (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/02/14/california-teacher-who-slammed-military-refuses-to-quit-but-is-condemned-by-city-council.html)

People who spew venom like that at the heroes who risk their lives to keep them free are among the most ungrateful life-forms on the planet. Those old vets are the ones who by their service have ensured all of our freedoms against tyranny. And, as a preacher, I am grateful that that includes our religious freedoms.

Heroes still walk among us. As many of them return from present day conflicts around the world, remember that they deserve our respect, they deserve our honor, they deserve our prayers.

They deserve to have people like me, and all the rest of us, approaching them to ask, “Excuse me, could you please tell me what it was like?”

Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Mooresboro, N.C. He is a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books. He can be reached by email at 2knowhim@cbc-web.org.

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