When Johnny Comes Marching Home

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When Johnny comes marching home again,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
We'll give him a hearty welcome then
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The men will cheer and the boys will shout
The ladies they will all turn out
And we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

It is hard to believe, but America has been at war for fourteen years. The War on Terrorism, which began with the September 11, 2001 attacks, has been the longest war in America’s history, and it is unlikely that it will end anytime soon. However, the impact of this war on the lives of the average American has been minimal. There has been no draft, no rationing, and no war tax. Unless we have a son, daughter, or other loved one serving in the military, it has been life as usual. The economic downturn of the last decade has been a much greater influence on the lives of 99% of American than the War on Terrorism.   

This blog is about the other 1% of Americans, the ones who have fought the war and for whom the War on Terrorism is very real. Many of these 2.6 million Americans have returned home to the communities that sent them to battle. Unlike Johnny in Patrick Gilmore’s civil war song, they did not march home in medal decked uniforms with their fellow warriors to cheers of the entire community. They are reservists and active duty service members, men and women who have made military service a career and single enlistment soldiers, returning warriors who have stepped off the plane at the local airport, usually in civilian clothes, to receive the loving hugs and embrace 0f their families, boyfriends, girlfriends, and other loved ones. Their homecoming was as invisible to the nation at war as the war itself was.  As one Veteran powerfully put it, “”We’ve been at war while the whole country has been at the mall.”  

The old church bell will peal with joy
Hurrah! Hurrah!
To welcome home our darling boy,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The village lads and lassies say
With roses they will strew the way,
And we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

Veterans from America’s Longest War have now joined the veterans of America’s earlier wars in the streets of our communities and the pews of our churches. They bring with them a perspective that has been shaped by their military or war experience. Like everyone else in our congregations, they have spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:7-8) that are vital for the full functioning of the Body of Christ. They also have needs, the same needs as every other member of the congregation. They need the church to embrace them, to love them, to hear their stories, to offer grace and forgiveness where necessary, and to provide them opportunities to use their gifts to serve.   

Much of what we hear about returning veterans is negative.  They have higher rates of unemployment, suicide, and homelessness than the general population.  Many suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), alcoholism, and other mental disorders.  Our churches can often play an important role in the healing of these deep wounds.  But we need to understand that the returning veteran has much to offer the church as well.  They have leadership skills and experience working with people from a variety of backgrounds that are greatly needed in our churches.  More importantly, they have experiences and stories that both challenge and enrich our Biblical and theological perspective.  We need to understand these brave men and women who have been to hell and back.  We need to hear their heart, and incorporate them into our faith communities.  That is what this blog is all about. 

Get ready for the Jubilee,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
We'll give the hero three times three,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The laurel wreath is ready now
To place upon his loyal brow
And we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day,
Hurrah, hurrah!
Their choicest pleasures then display,
Hurrah, hurrah!
And let each one perform some part,
To fill with joy the warrior's heart,
And we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home

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Amen! Well articulated and a necessary reminder.