Early last semester as we were planning for GCF, we asked Sylvan Gerritsma to come to share parts of his story on Thursday, November 11, 2010. Since Remembrance Day fell on a Thursday, we wanted to intentionally observe it at GCF, and Sylvan was looking forward to sharing a bit about his reflections on war, peace, and faith from his perspective as a veteran of the Vietnam War.
As regulars at GCF know, Sylvan wasn’t able to make it that night because he was hospitalized for a heart condition the week before his was scheduled to join us.
However, Sylvan has now been home from the hospital for a month, is feeling much better, and is ready to join us this Thursday, January 20th for an evening of sharing his reflections and engaging in dialogue with us about his experiences as a soldier and as a veteran.
Sylvan was essentially drafted into military service by his country after he graduated with a BA in English and German from a Christian liberal arts college in 1968, at the height of the conflict in Vietnam. After basic training, and advanced infantry training he successfully completed the gruelling requirements to become an officer, excelling intellectually and physically to enable him to receive his commission in Military intelligence. After a year of doing research in the intelligence centre of the Army, he was selected for an elite airborne division – paratrooping – and would have gone on to Green Beret training if an injured ankle hadn’t interfered with his training. He served in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam before giving up offers for a military career and returning to civilian life in 1971.
Since that time, Sylvan has spent much time and energy reflecting on his experiences during these few years of his life, and the ways that these experiences have affected him and other soldiers. Like many veterans, Sylvan has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, and has sought to make sense of the many nonsensical situations one is subjected to during war and while training for war. As a life-long learner with a keen interest in philosophy, Sylvan continues to ask questions:
What really is the nature of war?
What is the effect of war on people-not only on civilians, but also on soldiers?
Is it possible to create and abide by “rules” for war?
As Christians, how ought we to respond to international injustice and war?
As you can imagine, there are not many communities where it is possible for a veteran to ask these questions. Among fellow veterans, especially of controversial wars like Vietnam, there is reluctance to be self-critical about the goals soldiers are commanded to pursue. Among philosophers or other academics, there is often an absence of understanding about the realities soldiers face ‘on the ground,’ and even less desire to think about these issues from a perspective of faith.
We know that GCF is a place where we can hear difficult stories and ask difficult questions. So we invited Sylvan Gerritsma to share some of his reflections with a community that will listen, think deeply, and ask honestly. And, we also happen to have a very personal connection to Sylvan; he’s my (Sara’s) Dad.
Please join us this Thursday for an evening of conversation, questioning, and prayer.
Sara (Gerritsma) DeMoor