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Commentary: Remembering our brave soldiers


U.S. flags grace the gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. A UMNS photo by Kathleen T. Rhem.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This "letter home" was written by Chaplain Paul Kauffman for a Memorial Day service at Christ United Methodist Church, Selinsgrove, Pa.

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Paul C. Kauffman*
July 3, 2007


The Rev. Paul C. Kauffman

I was asked to write this as a letter home from a soldier. I thought I might write from the viewpoint of a young infantry soldier in the war zone, but I couldn’t.

I have never actually heard the sounds of combat. The noise of battle in Iraq or Afghanistan is the boom of an IED (improvised explosive device) exploding or the crack of a sniper rifle. Sometimes it is the cry of the wounded and dying. Sometimes it is even the "thank you" of the rescued.

The sound of battle where I fight the war here—at the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center, Alexandria, Va.—is mostly the click of the computer keyboard or the ringing of a phone.

The more wrenching sounds are in the background. It is the sound of the anguished cry of a wife or parent or child when told their "soldier" has died or is seriously wounded.

We don’t often hear those sounds ourselves here where I serve. I hear them indirectly through the accounts of those who break the terrible news to family. Sometimes the sound I hear is a chaplain on the phone choking back tears after having attended his eighth notification.

I send a message of support to all of them—all of the chaplains, all of the NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and officers who actually have to say the words: "The Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your ..."—changing forever the world of a military family.

Whether they recognize it or not, in that moment, they are forever joined to that family by an unshakeable bond of grief. I have noted how often they respond to my message of support with declarations of their faith that God was and is with them.

One part of our battle here is to help the families of the wounded be at their bedside. The victories may seem very small—like when we arranged for a mother to say goodbye over the phone to a son still breathing but unable to make it home from the ICU in Germany.

It is a very small victory, but any victory is still a victory in the battles we fight here.

"Our greatest victories come when we honor a soldier by ensuring his or her family is provided for-as best as the United States can provide."

It is absolutely appropriate for America to remember and honor military men and women who have sacrificed their lives to preserve America’s values and way of life. They are all heroes. But every day is Memorial Day for those who fight the war on the battlefield where I am. Everything we do is to honor those heroes.

Our greatest victories come when we honor a soldier by ensuring his or her family is provided for—as best as the United States can provide.

Here, the "only" danger is to the emotions and the spirit. One can get too emotionally involved and end up breaking down. More likely, one gradually turns off emotions and becomes mechanical, affecting not only the work but all relationships.

It is hard to keep everything in balance. Oftentimes I think I’d rather be over there where the danger is tangible. But I am glad to be here. I wish this battleground did not exist but, as long as it does, I am proud to be a part of those who fight this quiet battle.

Keep us in your prayers.

*Kauffman is operations center chaplain at the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Center, Alexandria, Va.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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