It was inevitable. With two career Air Force grandfathers, at least one of our children was bound to inherit the military gene. Our first clue should have been David’s penchant for drab green and all-things-camouflage. Hands down, his happiest Halloween he dressed as an army soldier.
Over the years, as his collection of little green men grew into battalions and his interests graduated to books about wars, war heroes, and battle strategies, it became clear. David’s interest in the military was going to be a serious one, a trait so very typical of those with ASD. And as his mother, I worried not just about following in the dangerous footsteps of his grandfathers, but worried more about his heartache if a diagnosis might not allow him to pursue his dream.
Now 18, my son will graduate from high school this year with the help of a school for kids with ASD, and his dream for a military career is no less powerful, but after speaking to marine recruiters and others, his diagnosis is problematic. It is doubtful he can serve. But even if God chooses to show him a different path, there is one aspect of his military passion that will always be a blessing.
David’s interest has been a special bond in his relationship with his grandfather. Getting on in years, my father-in-law is a retired full bird Colonel with over 40 years of service as an anesthetist and military chaplain. A committed Christian and loyal patriot, his life has been, and continues to be, an example of faith in action and self-sacrifice to my son. Stubborn to a fault (some might call it perseverance), he still donates his time in the hope of sharing Christ: serving as hospital chaplain for families in crisis, as prison chaplain to disciple prisoners and lead worship, and he is often on call to hospice to comfort the dying, and to pray with their families.
Last week, on a visit to my in-laws (while David and his sister were on a missions trip), my father-in-law showed my husband and me a closet in which hung all his uniforms dating back to the Korean War, culminating in the urban camouflage pattern of Dessert Storm. Uniforms that tell the story of a 17-year-old private promoted over time to honored retiree. He took them from their hangers, one by one, and handed them to us to give to our son when he got home.
Several days later, when David saw his grandfather’s uniforms, his eyes teared as he ran his hands over the rank insignia, chaplain’s cross and symbols of achievement. His gratitude was evident.
We all need heroes. People we look up to and aspire to emulate: sports figures and comic book characters for some, for others an 83-year-old veteran. David’s grandfather may have served in uniform for many years, but more importantly, he has always been and continues to be a servant of Christ, a man after God’s own heart. That, I believe, is his true legacy to my son and our country.
–Kelli Ra Anderson, author of Divine Duct Tape , devotional and blog and soon published, Life on the Spectrum
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