The Introduction to the Book by Edgar S. Welty Jr.
Thanks: Giving and Receiving Gratitude for America’s Troops;
A Soldier’s Stories
A Veteran’s Confessions and
A Pastor’s Reflections
I tried to get away but I was swept up by the mob. The crowd surged when Roman soldiers marched out the gate leading from the courtyard of their barracks onto the street. They were leading a man crowned with thorns, who had been flogged almost to death. He was carrying the crossbeam on which he was to be crucified. To my horror, this hapless prisoner fell down in front of me into the filth of the street.
Suddenly I felt the flat of a spear point settle onto my shoulder. I looked around and up the shaft of the spear into the disdainful face of a Roman soldier. He sneered and said,
“Hey slimy ‘Black Man’, Pick up that cross beam”. The soldier shouted at me over the din of the crowd “This man’s half dead we don’t want him to die before we can hang him on this cross. Get a move on. We can’t wait all day.”
To those of you who are reading these words image you are hearing Simon of Cyrene speak. …
As a Jew from a distant Roman community, Simon had arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover at “The” temple. Simon’s faith required him to celebrate its great festival each year and at least once, in his life, in “The” temple. His city of Cyrene, in Rome’s Libya was distant from Judea.
Simon had traveled this distance at great effort and expense. His pilgrimage to “The” temple promised to be his only chance to fulfill both a holy obligation and a lifelong dream.
Simon also knew the family portion of Passover would start as that Friday’s daylight faded. He needed to finish at the temple, walk back through crowded streets, through a small gate in Jerusalem’s walls, then back across the fields to his relatives’ farm, all before sundown.
Simon had found himself on the street next to the Roman barracks. Suddenly Pilate’s soldiers had appeared leading out a man to be crucified.
Another Simon, who had been renamed Peter, remembered Jesus’ teaching about soldiers pressing men into service. Peter had heard Jesus say, “And whoever presses you into service to go one mile, go with him two.” This term of to press into service is the same as in Simon’ (the cross carrier’s) required service
This teaching of Jesus is known as “Going the Extra or Second Mile”. Compulsory service demanded by conquering armies had started with the Persians, continued with the Greeks then the Romans.
In the first century, its most common form involved the demand that residents carry the baggage of Roman soldiers for one mile. Jesus asks his hearers not only to do this resented task, the one mile, but also to carry the enemy warriors’ baggage for a second or extra mile.
Christians are called by Jesus to carry the burden of our enemies for an extra mile. (And I do not buy the idea that this was merely a ploy to get enemy soldiers in trouble with their commanders. This was, in my view, an actual command of Jesus and should be understood as such.)
As Americans we are called by common decency, to walk with our warriors in active service, and with our veterans, for that extra mile.
But it is hard for most Americans to even start walking that second mile. Many people, particularly politicians, say they support the troops. But can we support the troops if we are disconnected from them?
Today, in Afganistan, we have been involved in America’s longest war.
Our engagement in Iraq was also drawn out. Yet only one percent of Americans are involved in military service.
What kind of support is America giving her troops? Sacrifice in the form of increased taxes? Of course not! Politicians’ children sent into harm’s way? Very Few! Lip service? Yes!
Each year as America celebrates Memorial Day, each of us, all of us, need to ask ourselves what kind of support we and our fellow Americans give our troops. Each year, as we the electorate go to the polls; we need to confront politicians, those, who would serve us, the question of real support of our troops. Each time civilians and those who have never served come into contact with a member of our armed forces or a veteran, it is appropriate to say, “Thank you for your service”.
Most Americans say they support our troops. But is that true? Recently there has been an attempt to balance the federal budget by: decreasing retirement for future military retirees, and by increasing the co-pays at medical facilities for military related patients.
Many American politicians and their supporters aren’t walking the first mile with our troops. The mile called for by common decency. But for those who aren’t Christian: Why should they heed the call of Jesus to walk an extra mile for troops with whom 99 percent of the public has no direct connection?
First our lifestyle depends on the world’s sea-lanes, which our navy keeps open. Form the time of our nation’s founding, our army has fought to secure our freedom.
As we took our place among nations, our Marines were established as a rapid strike force. As the cold war began, our Air Force separated from our army, to guard our skies against Soviet missiles and fighters. In the ongoing war on drugs, the Coast Guard has been key. And yes members of the Coast Guard have been serving overseas in recent wars. Americans need to walk at least a mile for the vital role the military plays in our lives.
And we must not forget veterans. I am a veteran, a disabled veteran. I fell 36 feet off the cargo nets in basic training. When I regained consciousness, I saw a drill sergeant and snapped to attention. He ordered me to take the “At ease” position and sent me to Fort Dix’s hospital for evaluation.
Three hours later a medic found me where I had been shoved into a side room and forgotten about. He jerked my little finger into place, as he asked me what had happened.
Then he told me to walk down to X-ray to see if my back was broken!
But my lifelong pain is nothing compared to the service-people who get stuffed into a body-bag, shipped home in a box, and lay beneath the sod in our national cemeteries or active duty troops one of whom each day blows their brains out or jumps to their death, or veterans who are three times as likely to kill themselves, as the general population and twice as likely to be homeless.
For troops and veterans, yes, I believe we are called on to walk a mile or two. As a veteran, I confess I‘d sure like to be thanked that way.
As a pastor, I started this introduction with a reflection on scripture. I have related the story of Simon’ service. I have shown how it relates to Jesus’ teaching about the “Second or Extra Mile”. I proclaim, as a Christian preacher that the God incarnate, Jesus Christ, calls for us to walk the extra mile for enemy troops. I call for all Americans to do the same for our troops.
Rev. & Chaplain (Captain) Edgar S Welty, Jr.
United Church of Christ
31st Regiment of the United States Volunteers
aka Specialist Five Welty, MOS Construction Draftsman
HQ Company, 18th.Engineer Brigade
United States Army
Posted at “Smiley Barracks” Karlsruhe, West Germany
Serving from 1976 through 1980
Member of: Disabled American Veterans
Scottish-American Military Society
Vets to Vets