It's that time of year: The time when I go around quoting from my favorite holiday movies, especially It's A Wonderful Life, the 1946 classic starring Jimmy Stewart.
One particular line from the Frank Capra film embodies a truth of military family life. It's a voice-over spoken by an angel, narrating the WWII experiences of the protagonist, George Bailey.
Describing the heroics performed by George's brother and friends in various battles overseas while George remained unwillingly at home, the angel says:
"George fought the Battle of Bedford Falls."
Bedford Falls is the small hometown he cannot escape. Unable to serve in the military because of hearing loss, George is left behind to carry out the often thankless tasks of the homefront.
During deployment and during seasons at home, military families can relate to the Battle of Bedford Falls. Someone in the family is always waging it, even when the uniformed member is away. When the active duty member is at home, this battle has a different significance because of the dichotomy of deployment emotions.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines long for home when they are deployed, but they also feel the tug of the battle front when they are home. Though they don't want to be away from us on a holiday or any day, their sense of duty tells them they should be with troops who may be in harm's way.
Minds geared for action rebel against meetings, paperwork and cubicles, but important duties take place there too. Not every wartime duty is on the warfront. Someone has to take care of the homefront, supporting both those who are overseas and their families at home. Someone has to fight the "Battle of Bedford Falls."
I know a military chaplain who just returned from deployment. One of his sad duties since his return -- as a father more than a chaplain -- was to attend a funeral on behalf of his military son, who lost a brother in arms to an improvised explosive device a few weeks ago.
The chaplain and his wife attended the fallen soldier's stateside funeral for their son, who couldn't be there because he is still on duty in a war zone. The chaplain's wife presented the bereaved mother with a gold star flag, signifying her loss, and spoke what words of comfort she could muster.
"I told her my son was with her son when he died," she said. "That was the most painful part."
Manning the home front may not be dangerous. That doesn't make it easy.
Some tasks are less emotional but still essential. During one of my husband's deployments, my three children and I played strep-throat tag for several weeks. I was thankful for the men and women in uniform at our local military clinic, who saw the backs of our throats more than they or we wanted, and those who dispensed antibiotics when the cultures came back positive. What would I have done without friends who provided meals and comfort?
Just as there's no comparison between sore throats and broken hearts, there's no comparison between serving at home and being in a combat zone. That's what makes transitioning from one to the other so difficult. Each front carries its own significance, its own duties and its own enemies. Discouragement, fatigue, loneliness and grief stalk us at home too. Those who remain at home, whether wearing the uniform or laundering it -- or both -- are tasked with keeping these enemies at bay.
Without those who fight the wars, there would be no homefront. Without a homefront, there would be no reason to fight. The story of George Bailey reveals that his mundane duties at home were essential during the war years and beyond. Dispensing medicine, delivering casseroles, speaking words of comfort to the bereaved may not be heroic, but these are some of the necessities of military life. Courage is required at home too.
Lift a cup of Christmas cheer to honor the heroes of battlefronts, past and present: Ypres, Iwo Jima, Chosin, Saigon, Fallujah, Helmand Province. And then remember those back home in Clarksville, Altus, Twentynine Palms, Watertown and hundred other hometowns, bravely waging the Battle of Bedford Falls.