It’s Veteran’s Day 2013, when we remember men and women who fight and those who gave up their lives in wars — wars fought largely to maintain democracy and take stands against extreme hate and cruelty. Each year, I think about my Uncle Sherman, because while he did not die fighting, he made an ultimate sacrifice — forever losing any quality of life after he suffered extreme shell shock (now called post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) in World War II. Sherman was a B-24 tail gunner.
These days, as various groups make life complex by telling people what to believe, how to worship best, and who they should and shouldn’t love, I remember Uncle Sherman, precisely because of how a kid from a poor family told his mother that he had made a complex decision with understated simplicity. He told her he wanted to fight Hitler because of what he learned in Sunday School about freedom, evil dictators, persecution, and even a bit about world religions. Not many people were talking about religious persecution back then, but somehow in American Baptist Sunday school in Terre Haute, Indiana they were.
Uncle Sherman told his mother that he understood that we were fighting evil — and that he could lose his life — but that he wanted to join up. His mom, my grandmother, who was a short order cook with a fifth grade education, made a deal with him. She would sign the papers as soon as he graduated from Gerstmeyer Technical High School. He graduated, she signed, and he was still 17 when he went to war.