Each year, high school baseball players across the country who are homeschooled compete for a few coveted spots in the Homeschool World Series. Our son’s team made it all the way to the national championship game last year-his senior year-in Pensacola, Florida. It was a special end to a wonderful season in our life as a family.
With the incredible growth of homeschooling, commensurate athletic programs have followed, providing homeschooled students an even richer educational experience. This is no “powder puff” program. The Homeschool World Series, which began in 2000, boasts an impressive alumni. Many former players have gone on to play at the collegiate level and some have even gone on to play in the Majors. However, there is one young man in particular, who stands above them all: Ryan Adam Miller from Pearland, Texas, a suburb of Houston.
Ryan played in the 2004 Homeschool World Series with the Houston Eagles. Unlike many former players, Ryan was unable to continue his baseball career because on his eighteenth 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.
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 Homeschool World Series Web site 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 extraordinary young men like Ryan Miller (and yes, some women) who have answered the call to defend freedom. Some, like Ryan, have paid the ultimate price. It is these that we honor on Memorial Day as we celebrate those loftier virtues that have secured some measure of peace and liberty in a fallen world.
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 and women like Ryan. They predominantly come from small towns and middle– to lower–working class families. In general, they have not been to college (yet), although they average higher scores than their civilian counterparts in both intelligence and aptitude tests. They average twenty years of age and remain generally idealistic about such things as duty, honor, and country. In many ways, they represent the very best of this nation.
I myself served alongside them in the United States Navy some twenty-six years ago. I remember, even as a very young man, being deeply impressed by the dedication and character that was common to so many in the military. It was the first environment (and one of the few) in which I encountered genuine idealism of a noble and selfless nature.
It is astounding to 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 that 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 risk the ultimate sacrifice in defense of anything so abstract as “ideals.” They will not care about such things because they weren't taught to; and as a society we will lose something essential to our preservation, without which this nation will not endure.
I am awed by the conduct and character of our young people serving in the U.S. military today and especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sure there have been a few “bad apples”-but this is inevitable given the hundreds of thousands of people represented, drawn from a society suffering moral decay. However, the overall conduct of American military forces is remarkable. The juxtaposition of America's overwhelming military might with her compassionate aid and the empathy of American servicemen is astonishing. 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 exists to deliver brute lethal force. This remains one of the more obvious (yet often unrecognized) 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 operate under “rules of engagement.” Other cultures care little about such things and some intentionally target noncombatants as an acceptable tactic in warfare.)
This Memorial Day I encourage us all to pay homage to those who have given all they have for the unmerited benefit of so many. To give honor to whom honor is due. To Ryan Miller and so many others, we owe a great debt, a debt we can only pay in remembrance. One of the ways we remember them is to preserve the ideals and values they fought to defend and pass them along to our children. Secondly, we must teach our children to remember and honor those who have given so much for their benefit.
In the same way we also remember the One who gave of himself for the unmerited benefit of so many. We cannot pay our debt to him-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!