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West Virginia - Western Maryland Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Military Ministry
(20 October 2020)

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Veterans Day

Veterans Day Resources

Veterans Day is a civil observance. Like many other civil observances that are not on the ecclesiastical calendar, it is observed in some congregations. Without defined liturgical or other ecclesiastical norms, a wide variety of practices have developed among us, some salutary, some benign, and some more than a little problematic. It is proper, within the Lutheran tradition, to thank, assist, and pray for those who have rendered military service. Augustana XVI states, "Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers,...." Framing, then, military service in terms of vocation in the political estate (status politicus), we should honor military service in the same way as we honor any vocation proper to the the civil estate. We can do this well, or we can do this poorly. We should prefer to do it well, but doing it well is not without its challenges.

Veterans Day has a complicated history as a civil holiday. Veterans Day was established as a Federal holiday in 1954, replacing the previously observed Armistice Day. Originally using the November 11th date, Congress, under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, moved it to the fourth Monday in October upon which it was observed 1971-1977. Under pressure from veterans' organizations, Congress then moved it back to November 11th, but, should the 11th fall on a weekend, Federal offices close on the closest Monday, making a three-day weekend. There are some states that always observe it on a Monday with respect to office closure.

It should also be noted that even the presence (or lack thereof) of an apostrophe is part of its complexity. The Department of Veterans Affairs has clarified that an apostrophe, indicating a possessive construction, is not to be used because the day does not belong to veterans. The day is a day to honor veterans.

Another common confusion surrounds Veterans Day as it relates to Memorial Day. Memorial Day is observed in remembrance of those who died in military service. As a matter of civil protocol, therefore, it is appropriate to honor those who served but did not die in military service. Veterans Day, as a matter of civil observance, honors all those who have rendered military service. While we're at it, Memorial Day, as a matter civil protocol, is not an appropriate day to remember civilians who have died. Historically, the Lutheran Church observed All Souls' Day (later called "Commemoration of the Faithful Departed") on November 2, but it must be admitted that this practice has nearly vanished among us.

The relationship between American Lutherans and Veterans Day is more complex and has its roots in Veterans Day's predecessor observance, Armistice Day. The first Armistice Day was observed by presidential proclamation in 1919, one year after the cessation of fighting in the Great War. The Great War years and those that followed were hard on German-speaking Americans. Anti-German sentiment, especially in the Mid-West, is well documented. While this was not strictly a form religious persecution, churches and their leaders were considered suspect and suffered vandalism and arson. Lutheran parochial schools were ordered to stop using German in instruction, and, in Michigan, the state legislature attempted to outlaw them altogether after the war was over. Pastors and councilors were forced to demonstrate their loyalty and, failing that, became targets of direct attack. Scandinavians also suffered at the hands of the superpatriots, who could not always tell the difference between German, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish.

In our part of the nation, it wasn't as bad as in the Mid-West. With some of our congregations pre-dating the American Revolution, the process of Americanization had muted most identification with Germany, but that doesn't mean that our congregations were not entirely free from the effects of Anti-German sentiment. Grace Lutheran Church, Fairmont, thought it wise to change its name in newspaper advertising to "Grace English Lutheran Church" despite there being no record that Grace was ever officially named "Grace English." It also held a special patriotic service, to which it invited the press, to install an American flag in the church. Only a few weeks later it installed a larger American flag.

For Lutherans taken as a whole in America, we were, at that time, a quilt of recent immigrants and people who had been here since the 17th century. We were a quilt of English, German (and, in our region, also its Pennsilfaanisch-Deitsch dialect), Danish, Swedish, Finnish, and Slovak. We were also a quilt of those who supported the American War effort gladly, begrudgingly, and not at all. We had congregants with sons and daughters over there. We had congregants with grandparents, parents, siblings, and cousins in Germany. We had congregants with both at the same time. Could the reaction of American Lutherans to the first Armistice Day be anything but complex? It would be a good project for a historian to dig into the reactions of the different strains in American Lutheranism to Armistice Day.

Of course, we are far removed from that first Armistice Day. A second world war profoundly changed the way American Lutherans interacted with the state and American society writ large just as the earlier "war to end all wars" had two decades before. Since then, the Vietnam War, the Gulf Wars, and the Afghan War have each influenced the American Lutheran relationship with the state, the military, and American society. Veterans Day is just one piece of that puzzle.

Riegel fb articleNone of this is to suggest that Veterans Day has no proper place in the life of Lutheran churches in America. The challenge is to make sure that it is proper as opposed to improper. Bishop Riegel wrote at length on observing Veterans Day (and other civil holidays) in the church in 2015. That article is commended to you. There you will find reference to the actual act of Congress establishing Armistice Day. Upon inspection, you will find that churches are asked to mark the day "with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples" and the day "be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations." This should be taken in conjunction with President Eisenhower's 1954 Veterans Day Proclamation, the first Veterans Day, in which he not only asked us to remember the sacrifices of veterans but also "reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain." Even as we honor our veterans, to do so, without marking the whole of President Eisenhower's proclamation, would be to dishonor their sacrifices. On the other hand, to speak only of peace without recognizing the brokenness of the world and proper place of military service in that context would be to disavow the Lutheran theological tradition. Most importantly, we should avoid any idolatrous language or exercise which would seek to depose God, the ultimate and proper object of our loyalty and affections, or make God the servant of any temporal authority.

In addition to Bishop Riegel's article, you will want to peruse a 2018 article in Living Lutheran, "Five Ways To Honor Veterans." This article provides some helpful advice related to Veterans Day and its relationship to our liturgical and service ministries.

COVID-19 Response

A 2 April 2020 communication from Brandon L. Gregory, Veterans Outreach Specialist,...
Dear Community Partners,

The VA Vet Center Program continues to provide counseling and referral services for veterans, service members, and their families during this time. For those Veterans that wish to continue to receive services face to face, our doors remain open with some additional safety precautions to protect everyone. We are advocating for Veterans to take advantage of social distancing while continuing to receive counseling via VA Video Connect (VVC), available for iOS and Android devices. Please share the attached VVC flyer and my contact information with your circles of influence and anyone you know that may benefit from our services. I can be reached at the Morgantown Vet Center at (304) 291-4303 or toll free (877) WAR-VETS.

Below are additional resources regarding mental health and COVID-19.
More can be learned through the following CDC sites, about:
Brandon L. Gregory
Veterans Outreach Specialist
Morgantown Vet Center
Readjustment Counseling Service (Vet Center Program)
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
34 Commerce Drive, Suite 101, Morgantown, WV 26501
Office: 304.291.4303 | Mobile: 304.476.9008

To locate a Vet Center near you call 1-877-WAR-VETS or visit: "Keeping the Promise" (

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West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, ℅ St. Paul Lutheran Church, 309 Baldwin Street, Morgantown, WV 26505
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