Last Sunday afternoon, I was looking forward to writing my usual FSM column about Veterans Day. There were lots of urgent national security questions to think about as well as more troubling bedrock issues.
Like when the reigning Pharisees at Christ Church Alexandria (VA) recently removed plaques honoring two former members who were also distinguished veterans: Robert E. Lee and George Washington. Or when standing for the National Anthem at NFL games suddenly became controversial. If we disrespect those touchstones of history, when less than one percent of Americans are willing to serve in uniform, do we even deserve to remain a free country?
I was weighing those heavy thoughts over dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant here in San Antonio when the ladies behind us began receiving what were obviously alarming cell phone texts and calls. They began weeping, whispering in hushed tones about Sutherland Springs, a small rural community thirty miles east of us. Shortly thereafter, the televised images of Mexican League soccer games gave way to CNN reports about the new horror. Had more than twenty people just been killed while attending Sunday services?
Surely those first reports were wrong, another prime example of fake news or media hype? Such things could never happen in God-fearing Texas – or could they? Our appetites suddenly gone, we quickly left the restaurant after offering some hurried words of reassurance to those bereaved ladies. The confirmations came later in the afternoon, the horror deepening with every hour and each new report – children and elderly worshippers gunned down as Evil incarnate invaded a spiritual sanctuary.
Everything in South Texas came to a sudden halt. More distant tragedies – like Las Vegas and New York City again last week – had remained faraway misfortunes. But the impact now was far more personal because we have strong family and religious ties to those neighboring counties. My brother-in-law was a deputy county sheriff and my wife was brought up in a rural Baptist church very much like the one that was attacked. To have such things happen here and to people worshiping just as they do each week has been a continuing affront to decency. One teary-eyed teenager from Sutherland Springs said it most poignantly: “This church was my family and now most of them are dead.”
Painful as they were, those deaths in our extended family would have ached even more had it not been for Frank Pomeroy, pastor of that Baptist church and father of a teen-aged girl killed in the massacre. On Monday, he somehow found the courage to appear before a phalanx of TV cameras, remembering his daughter but careful not to trespass on the grief overwhelming every member of his small community. His words were an unforgettable testimony of a deep personal faith: “We are leaning into our Father who knows the answers we do not.” If you read the Psalms of King David or the epistles of Saint Paul, you will see where such faith arises, always expressed with similar courage and grace.
Even in Texas, the nay-sayers had quick rejoinders. Within hours of the massacre, Josh Baugh, reporter for the left-leaning San Antonio Express News, spawned a series of profane tweets: “So sick of seeing tweets offering prayers. They’re obviously not working” and calling for more regulations. But Texas Governor Greg Abbott led the charge of state, local and federal officials who stood as one in supporting the grieving families. Other area churches of all denominations rallied their members to give blood, to provide financial donations or simply to pray for their fellow Texans. Audrey Louis, District Attorney for the county surrounding Sutherland Springs, promised to form a charitable foundation to help care for the long-term needs of the affected families.
Coming so soon after Hurricane Harvey’s devastation – which thoroughly trashed nearby Gulf Coast communities – there is an easily perceptible donor fatigue in Texas and elsewhere. We prefer to think about the upcoming Holidays rather than the looming prospects for conflict in North Korea, the Persian Gulf or other places most high-schoolers can’t find on the map.
But maybe we can find the time to address some thoughtful questions posed by Justice Clarence Thomas during his recent interview with Laura Ingraham. As reported by Town Hall, he asked: “…what binds us? What do we all have in common anymore? I think we have to think about that…(We) always talk about e pluribus unum: what’s our unum now?”
I suggest that Veterans Day is an excellent opportunity to begin that discussion, inquiring as well about those American values once held dear by all of us. And not merely by the one percent we now send to fight America’s wars.
This article first appeared in Family Security Matters, November 9, 2017
Colonel Ken Allard is a widely known commentator on foreign policy and security issues. For more than a decade, he was a featured military analyst on NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC. That experience provided the backdrop for his most recent book, Warheads: Cable News and the Fog of War.