An Open Letter to an Unknown Soldier

I came across a WWII helmet at a local shop here in San Francisco, and I bought it.

Then I gave it to someone I love. 

And today it’s July 4th, 2017, the United States’ 241st birthday. It seemed like a good time to write you.

Was this helmet yours?

[I know that would be wild, right? What are the chances?].

If not, does it at least bring back memories?  

Where did you fight? 

Did you live a post-war life filled with the painful memories that went unprocessed?

Did you struggle to reconnect with the civilian world when you go home from war?

Are you hispanic?

Are you descended from one of the people groups already living in this patch of land when Europeans showed up out east?

Are you descend from African parentage?

Are you white like me?


Now I need to be honest for a minute.

I’m not the most patriotic American. For a long time I have been pretty critical of the United States. In fact, I have gone so far as to write, at length, on how I actually disapprove of a huge portion of our this nation-state’s decisions. I agree with some, sure, but I’m outraged by others. I have boldly critiqued the president, and spoken out using the rights and privileges that became my own when I was born into a American family in South Bend, Indiana.

And, getting honest, I’m a situational pacifist.

[There. I said it].

I grew up with guns, then sold my 12 gauge hunting piece a few years ago to buy baby gear.

[We have two tiny boys in our house whom we love dearly].

Actually, WWII is the only war I have found to be historically necessary amidst the many wars America has fought over the centuries. With the history I have studied, I can’t figure out another way around it.

If I had been forced to serve, I would have hoped to have served as a chaplain or medic. My training is within the world of Christianity; I went to a Christian college and completed a Master of Divinity program at an Evangelical seminary. During those years, I learned that my allegiance is not primarily to a nation, but to Jesus. And the call of Jesus is all-inclusive! It goes beyond the internal life of a person.

But that doesn’t mean at all that I don’t appreciate you, and I hope you understand that. You gave up so much. And it might not have been your idea at all to serve! You may have been just like me-a pacifist forced to do something they would never have wanted to do.

So… are you a pacifist?

Were you drafted?

Or did you sign up willingly?

And what did you do, sir, if I might ask?

Were you in the Pacific theatre, or Europe?

I guess if you’re still around you were probably in the Pacific.

Did you drive an amphibious tank?

Did you storm a beach and duck bullets?

Are you one of my two grandfathers?

I have so many mixed feelings about our country, I do; we have a deep history of oppression and segregation, of displacement and exclusion. Goodness, African Americans couldn’t even vote until my parents’ lifetimes, in the mid-20th century! And women only gained the right at the beginning of your lifetime.

Progress is slow!

And yes, other countries have plenty of maladies, and every nation-state has evils to renounce and genocides of their own to confess. The world is full of evil. Comparing the sins of the United States to other nations may have its place, but for now I guess we can conclude that we can critique our own because of the kind of democracy we set up in the beginning.

We can speak freely because we set up our system that way.

We can critique and protest because this is how our Constitution was designed.

A couple more questions for you, if I might.

Did you have to pull a trigger?

If so, did you regret it?

Are the memories painful?

[I’m so sorry if I’m digging too deep, I just want to know what you went through].

Did you wonder if God would forgive?

[My answer is a big *yes* to this one, even though I would never want to kill].

Did your kids suffer from post-war difficulties?

If so, was it hard to see that?

I’m sorry, I’m done. I know this is tough stuff to talk about.

You gave up a lot, and you may not have even signed up to be in the military. That’s wild. You sacrificed your time, energy, family [did you have a wife at home? kids? I do, and I’d never want to leave them].

Even more so, you sacrificed your God-given instinct that told you it isn’t right to kill. You set aside that intrinsic sense to preserve life because the world is a messed up place to be. Forces much bigger than you or I had joined hands, and you were part of an enormous resistance to the united Axis powers.

Was there another way? Maybe. Maybe not. It can’t be changed now, I guess.

Regardless, you still sacrificed-or were forced to sacrifice-a LOT.

I hate that the 20th century was soaked in blood, genocide, exclusion.

I hate that this new century contains the same.

I pray for a world that is different.

I am trying to be a part of that.

It’s often difficult.

Ok, anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. I know it’s a round-about way to say it, and I felt like I had to get honest about where I’m coming from. Again, please know that I’m not thankful that people died. I lament all of the loss. But from me to you, for all that happened that was or wasn’t right or good, you objectively gave up a lot.

I pray you find rest and contentment in your old age, that you find hope in the resurrection of Jesus and how God’s making all things new.

Jesus said there’s no great love than when someone lays down their life for a friend. Did another solider do that for you? Did they take a bullet for you-or shrapnel? I’m sorry, I’m doing it again-it’s a lot of questions. Forgive me. War is so absolutely hellish, yet you endured it, not knowing what would come in the years that would follow.

I’m done with my questions, and I’ve tried to make sure you know how it is that I’m saying this [as a pacifist Christian who isn’t super supportive of US policy and who is fairly critical of our history].

But all of that aside. Please hear me.

From me to you,



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