Ryan played in the 2004 Home School World Series with the Houston Eagles. Unlike many former players, Ryan opted not to continue his baseball career because on his 18th birthday he entered the United States Marine Corps. Despite the fact that Ryan was eligible to play another year of High School baseball, he felt a strong need to graduate early so he could enlist in the Marines like his father and grandfather before him. (This is especially poignant to me as my own son, having turned down a scholarship to Ouachita Baptist University, has also enlisted in the Marine Corps and will leave August 10th for Boot Camp).
Tragically, on September 14, 2006, Lance Corporal Ryan Adam Miller, age 19, was killed in action while serving near Barwanah, Iraq. The son of two retired Houston police officers, Ryan had planned on following his parents into police work upon discharge from the Marine Corps—another indication of Ryan’s sense of selfless duty and commitment. The brief memorial on the Home School World Series website reports that “Ryan and his squad were returning to base when an insurgent detonated an explosive device. Ryan was hit by shrapnel. He never cried out or said a word but continued to walk for another 5 meters, then collapsed, as he was already in the presence of the Lord.” While I did not know this young man personally, every report indicates that he was a man of sincere faith, strong convictions, and gallant courage.
For more than two centuries America has produced generation after generation of young men like Ryan Miller (and yes, some women) who have responded to the call to give their lives in the cause of liberty.
Despite the growing number of their contemporaries, who are so often narcissistic and careless in the cultivation of any virtue, we continue to produce remarkable young men like Ryan. They predominantly come from small towns and middle to lower working class families. They, in general, have not been to college [yet] although they average higher scores than their civilian counterparts in both intelligence and aptitude tests. They average nineteen years of age and remain idealistic about such things as duty, honor, and country. In the grand scheme of things they represent the very best of America.
I myself served alongside them in the U.S. Navy some twenty-five years ago. I remember, even as a very young man myself, being deeply impressed by the dedication and character that was common to so many. It was the first environment where I encountered genuine idealism of a noble and selfless nature.
It is an amazing fact when you consider that the most powerful military force in the history of the world is comprised entirely of volunteers! These are men and women, who have, by their own free choice, set aside their personal freedom and dedicated themselves to serving a higher purpose: justice and liberty.
It is this attitude of self-sacrifice for the greater good or “other-centeredness” that is absolutely essential to the strength and longevity of any society. If we as a nation continue to neglect the cultivation of true virtue among young people and instead immerse them in a culture which only encourages their most sensate and base desires, we will, in time, see such noble men and women disappear. Simply put, there will be none willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of “ideals” for they will not care about such things because they were not taught too.
I have watched with amazement and awe how our young people have conducted themselves most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sure there have been some “bad apples” but this is inevitable among the hundreds of thousands of people represented. However, the overall conduct of American military forces is both admirable and impressive. The juxtaposition of overwhelming military power with compassionate aid and caring is inspiring. This is not typical of military institutions throughout history or even those operating in the world today. This compassion is personal and individual within an institution that by its very definition represents brute lethal force. This remains one of the more obvious residual effects of the historical Christian influence on Western civilization.
(Military establishments outside the West do not invest billions of dollars creating “smart bombs” in order to minimize civilian casualties or have “rules of engagement.” Other cultures care little about such things and some even target non-combatants as an “acceptable” tactic in warfare. But I digress.)
This Memorial Day I encourage us all to pay homage to those who have given all they have for the un-merited benefit of so many. To Ryan Miller and so many others, we owe a great debt, which we can only pay in remembrance. One of the ways we remember them is to preserve the ideals and values which they fought to defend and pass them along to our children. Secondly, we teach them to remember those who have given so much for their benefit.
In the same way we also remember the One who gave of Himself for the “un-merited benefit of so many.” To Him our debt we cannot pay so instead we surrender the entirety of our being to Him and cast ourselves upon His redeeming work and amazing grace. If we truly honor Christ as Lord then we will pass His “ideals and values” on to our children and teach them to remember His great sacrifice for them. The responsibility for transmitting truth and virtue from one generation to the next lies in the hands of the passing generation. May we be faithful in both instances!
© 2009 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009).
Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the
culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on
the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S.
Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.