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When I was a student in Scotland nearly 40 years ago, I went to a church near where I lived in Edinburgh. It was called Hope Park/Buccleuch Methodist Church and was located on George IV Bridge Street in the center of the city. It was a beautiful old Victorian church, that looked plain from the street, but inside was magnificent.  To be honest, I think I decided to go that particular church because it was the closest to where I lived and being all of 20 I wanted to sleep in as late as possible on Sundays.

But it was a good choice and the minister, the Rev. McPherson was friendly, and in spite of seemingly advanced age (at that time I thought someone in their late 50’s was extremely old), had an excellent ability to connect with young people.  

He wore his clerical collar as a man of God should, but it fit a little tightly. He had consumed, as he frequently admitted, more than his fair share of cookies and pastries.  However, the one thing I couldn’t have imagined, at least in the mind of a 20-year-old, was that this happy, jovial and wonderfully empathetic Scottish minister had once been a soldier. Even more than that, an undisputed hero.

The Sunday nearest Nov. 11, Armistice Day in the United Kingdom, our Veteran’s Day, is for many churches “Remembrance Sunday.” Church services are often focused on remembering not only those who died in defense of the nation’s freedom but also on living veterans.  It’s also not uncommon for veterans to wear their service medals to church.

It was on a Remembrance Sunday after church when talking to the Rev. McPherson while he was delighting in a cup of tea and a very large chocolate croissant, that I asked him about the medal he was wearing. The idea of this somewhat hefty good natured man being a soldier surprised me.

The reverend didn’t have what the armed services call a “military bearing” and that’s why I wasn’t prepared for his answer.

He smiled at my somewhat brash question, fingered the medal for a moment — it was on a ribbon around his neck — and then quietly said, “This is the Victoria Cross, David.” I don’t quite recall what I said after that. Perhaps not much. Though my knowledge of British medals for valor may be limited, I knew what the Victoria Cross was.  It’s much like our Congressional Medal of Honor and is given only for the most remarkable deeds of heroism. And just like our Medal of Honor, many of those who receive it, do so posthumously.

I found out later that McPherson received his medal for his heroism in North Africa in 1941. I don’t know the precise details, but I was told later that it involved his leading an action that cleared a German position. One that had been raking British troops with machine gun fire.

I don’t know if he was wounded, but he probably was. And like many veterans — particularly the British, who tend to be more reserved about such things – he didn’t talk about it much. But he did wear his medal that one Sunday and it changed my view of what a veteran was ever after. Namely, that those who serve their country, whether doing heroic deeds or just the often unglamorous things that needed doing during wartime and peacetime, can be anybody.

Appearances, as they were in this case, are deceiving.  A veteran can be an old man in a nursing home. Your child’s teacher. Perhaps a granddad, a father, mother, uncle, brother or a sister. Your mechanic, a bank manager, a coworker and the list goes on.  I have veterans in my classes at Virginia Commonwealth University who are still under 25.

But they all have one thing in common and that is that for some period of their life they served their country in the armed forces. They will often say, and it’s a common quote among veterans, that they were just “doing their jobs” or “doing what they were told to do.” Fair enough. But whether they choose to frame their service in these words or not, they were protecting us, our freedom and our way of our life.  This Veterans Day, and indeed every day, they deserve our thanks.

David Kerr, a former member of the Stafford School Board, is an instructor in political science at VCU. He can be reached at staffordnews@insidenova.com.

(5) comments

CCW

According to the United States of America Department of Veterans Affairs there are around 389,292 World War II American Veterans still alive in September 2019. During Word War II there were 464 United States military members that received the Medal of Honor, 266 of them posthumously.

Is it unreasonable to think that out of those 389,846 surviving American Veterans that a political science instructor in an American College or University could find one nice, old American soldier to explain the meaning of real meaning of Veterans Day which is an American holiday with?

Apparently not. This article uses the right church but chooses to sit in the wrong pew. Americans know what an American Veteran is. This article does not surprise them at all. It exemplifies perfectly why traditional American citizens are disgusted and fed up with the mainstream media as are they the same with our colleges and universities.

EdP

Sorry but I don't understand your beef with this article. Veterans day was piggy-backed on armistice day. It always sounds wrong to hear "happy veterans day" as there was nothing happy about the first world war.

My grandfather was at the Somme. Happiest man you'd ever meet; somehow he put the horror behind him. We should respect and honor veterans; as I read it, this article did that.

CCW

If you're going to explain who a veteran is as part and parcel illustrating America's Veterans Day then choose an American hero to do it with. It is almost impossible for the liberal mainstream media in our country to force themselves to say anything decent about America. This article accomplished that using a hero from Scotland instead of finding an American veteran perhaps like your grandfather to write about. I don't like that kind of journalism and I will call them out for it every opportunity they provide me with.

EdP

I disagree; I think he's just retelling a personal story of unexpected heros. I don't think he's dissing American veterens; we were all in it together. I know several veterans that were in Vietnam but I don't know them well enough to tell their stories; I think you're reading to much into this.

CCW

EdP you're missing my point. I understand that the author isn't dissing Americans. His story would be just fine for publication on most any day of the year. The choice to use it as an integrated part of our nations Veterans Day celebrations is the kind of sophistry practiced by the mainstream media and our educational institutions that removed prayer from our schools in the mid 1950s.

Americans trusted those institutions then. They were blind to where they were being lead. I served 4½ years airborne in direct combat support of Vietnam and another 6 years of worldwide deployment. I returned home to a nation that spit into the faces of our nation's soldiers. The reason this happened is because the mainstream media pumped that kind of garbage down America's throat until our elected politicians finally gave up and threw in the towel. No other nation on Earth acts like this. I cut the liberal mainstream media no slack for any reason because I know the kind of damage they continue to cause.

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