Last weekend, Melanie and I had the honor to visit the National Infantry Museum just outside Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. The entrance exhibit is called “The Last 100 Yards.” It is a ramp 100 yards long on which the stories of ten important U.S infantry battles are depicted in dramatic scenes. The infantry, they say, has to own the last 100 yards of the battle field in order to defeat our enemies. The museum also includes an overwhelming amount of the history of the U.S. Army throughout all our nation’s conflicts. It is a stirring tribute. There is something very emotional about seeing these reminders of all who fought and sacrificed for our country. I had to think about why.
Some would say that there is no room for patriotism for Christians. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven, and there our hearts must be focused. There is no dual allegiance or dual citizenship, they would argue. I disagree, as I have written previously. Yes, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus and His Kingdom, but America, at least in its founding ideals, exemplifies many Christian principles.
Duty, loyalty, personal courage, integrity, honor, respect – these are the ideals carved into the glass columns at the beginning of The Last 100 Yards. These are the traits which mark the best of America’s men and women who gave their lives defending our freedoms and advancing the cause of freedom around the world. It was Americans who turned the tide to end the seemingly endless and useless brutality of World War I. It was America who broke the Nazi stronghold on Europe and liberated the death camps. It was America that fought back Japanese imperialism in Asia and the Pacific. It was America (primarily) who fought back the Communists in Korea, giving South Korea the opportunity for freedom. (Now, South Korea is one of the top three missionary-sending countries in the world.)
But what gets me so emotional when I see the tradition, brotherhood, commitment, and honor of our military throughout our history? At its best, it reflects the ideals of God’s Kingdom and Jesus, Himself. It was Jesus who never swerved from his duty to purchase our pardon from sin. It was Jesus who called us into a community united by a common mission. It was Jesus who walked the last 667 yards (using the Via Dolorosa as an approximation) to Calvary to die on the cross for our sins. It was Jesus whose death and resurrection won the victory over sin, death, and the forces of evil. And it is Jesus whose armor still protects us today as our defeated foe still tries to ambush us (see Ephesians 6:10-17).
So, as Memorial Day approaches, I will remember. I will remember those who gave their lives, so that I might have freedom. I will remember the families who grieve and mourn and, yet, carry on. I will remember there are missions that are worth the cost. And I will remember the Savior who remembered me.