Mr. Stambaugh Visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.Bruce Stambaugh’s father, a World War II veteran, visits the National WWII Memorial as part of the Honor Flight project. (photo: Bruce Stambaugh)

Forty years ago, the very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church was on non-resistance. It was exactly what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.

Four decades later, I accompanied my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of their physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all-day roundtrip. In his situation, Dad needed extra care.

Given my non-resistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. I needed to go with him, regardless of my personal convictions.

As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon landing at Reagan National Airport, fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner — a ritual usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played the patriotic music of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America.” Dozens of bouquets of red, white, and blue balloons tied to posts and chairs bobbed in the air. Hundreds of volunteers young and old vigorously greeted us.

The entourage visited several war monuments in the U.S. capital that day. At the circular, granite National World War II Memorial, strangers approached the vets with reverence and emotionally shared their gratefulness. Mr. Stambaugh at the World War II MemorialThey shook the vets’ hands and thanked them for their service. I quietly took it all in, tears streaming, emotions and thoughts mentally whirling. Still, I tried to focus my attention on caring for my elderly father.

Returning to the airport later that same day, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said his experience ranked right behind his marriage of 67 years. With that comment, I was glad that I had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored and glad he was able to go. Dad died three months later.

Despite all the hoopla of the day — or perhaps because of it — the futility of war became all the more obvious to me. The events reinforced my non-resistance stance. In listening to the vets on the plane and buses that transported us throughout the day, I heard them all say that they hated what they had to do. I also remembered the words of Jesus, who said to turn the other cheek and go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.

For a day, I had one foot on the foundation of God and country and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world. Because of this experience, I bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. Yet, I knew I could not have done what they had — not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.

I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my Father in heaven. In that paradox, I found no conflict whatsoever.


brucestambaughBruce Stambaugh is a retired educator and a freelance writer living in Millersburg, Ohio. You can read more of his writing on his blog at Roadkill Crossing, and Other Tales from Amish Country.

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Touching story, while I do not share your stance on non-resistance, I appreciate you being true to your convictions.  My father was a vet as well, I know he would have loved to travel to DC, I am so glad you got to experience that with your father!   

Found this blog via a link from Facebook and I'm glad I did.
Thanks for sharing this Bruce. My family is all Mennonite (actually very strict traditional Mennonite, almost Amish) so they are all against war and I don't have any relatives that were in a war, but this story touched me.While I'm not Mennonite anymore, I'm still against war.

I'm a writer and speaker... sharing my story of overcoming incredible odds and returning to running after suffering horrific injuries in an accident. I've found that many veterans identify with my story, because I share about the emotional trauma that followed my physical injuries and how I overcome both to return to living life fully alive. At first, I wondered if I'd be able to connect with veterans, but living with physical and emotional pain is a similar experience for most, no matter where the source of pain comes from.

So when they share their stories with me, my heart breaks for all they've been through and continue to live with. Like you, I respect veterans and have found that connecting with them has actually strengthen my conviction to live a life of peace... so that others don't have to deal with physical and emotional pain that could have been avoided.

Janet,

Thanks for sharing your story. You should submit it to the onBeing blog.

Blessings,

Bruce

Thanks Bruce for a thoughtful reflection.  It affirms your way of approaching life...in a peace mindful way.

From one Ohio Mennonite to another, I thank you, Bruce. May many more of us raise our voices. I encourage you to watch the film _Every War Has Two Losers_ and to seek out WWII Civilian Public Servicemenin living in your area. Their stories of are amazing!

Really appreciated the thoughts you shared,Bruce. Thank you for your many words of wisdom you share with your fellow man in various columns . God bless you with health and spiritual wealth in 2012!

Thanks, Frieda.

Bruce

Bruce- Thanks for your comments. Back in October, 1969 as the first major moratorium against the Vietnam War was organizing, I called my father, a WWII Marine Corps vet to tell him about my plans to march. We had a long and agonizing conversation. I was determined to march to demonstrate my beliefs against the war. My father was adamant that I not march, especially anywhere near the Arlington Cemetery where a number of his friends were interred. We went back and forth, and towards the end of our conversation my father began to cry. It was the first and only time I ever experienced him cry. Out of my respect for him and his strong feelings about his fallen comrades, I relented and did not march. I did work against the war in my community and later I declared my status as a conscientious objector to my draft board. In 1972, when I brought my case to my draft board, my father joined me and testified before the board as to the sincerity of my beliefs. Five months later, at my wedding, my father spoke and in the course of his speech he quoted Shakespeare's "To thine own self be true." The following summer, in 1973, he died. 

Swiftste,

Thanks so much for sharing your personal story, too. I had a similar encounter with my father after the Kent State shootings in 1970. I'm glad you and your father were able to share and accept each other's beliefs. I am sorry you lost him at such a young age.

Blessings,

Bruce