I recall a time, not too long ago, when the word "veterans" in my mind conjured up images of people much older than I. No longer. Today's veterans include people from a generation younger than me, including my own nephew.
So I find myself on this Veterans Day doing something that all of us ought to get used to doing as we age a bit (I'm 39). I'm looking DOWN (age-wise) with respect as well as up. As of Veterans Day 2009, in addition to a laudable generation who saved us from the Kaiser, a generation that saved us from Hitler, and a generation that held back Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, we have a generation who all volunteered, and most of them during an ongoing war. For each of those generations I am thankful.
In the 19th century, armies tended to hemorrhage soldiers as conflicts lingered and languished. Desertions were numerous in both armies during the later years of the Civil War. I think it says something admirable about the younger generation of soldiers that so many of them have volunteered to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It has been my job on some past occasions to teach about Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, Isaac Backus, John Leland, and all of the other theological heroes of religious liberty. This is a worthy and important calling, and if you find yourself unable to identify any of those names, I recommend that you engage in some edifying study. Nevertheless, I confess that my teaching about religious liberty has not in the past accorded enough credit to the non-theological heroes of religious liberty—the many common men and women who have sacrificed so much in wars that, whatever else they were about, safeguarded my freedom to worship without governmental interference.
Today, this Veterans Day, I correct that oversight and offer my thanks to those legions who are equally the heroes of the struggle for religious liberty—even those who fight today in the region most notorious for withholding from people the basic faith freedom that is the foundation of all other freedoms.