Monday, November 11, 2013

A Tale of Two Soldiers

I'm here today because two young soldiers, against all odds, returned home from World War II sixty-eight years ago. 

The one with the slight build barely looked old enough to man a tractor, much less a machine gun that reached out the back of a plane. 

But his small frame was the ideal size for that of a tail-gunner. I'm told that the "life expectancy" of tail-gunners was less than three minutes. Yet the small-framed shooter with big blue eyes survived countless missions and two plane crashes. We have pictures of him standing beside the wreckage, arms crossed and an all-in-a-day's-work expression on his face. 

When he left for the European front, he said goodbye to a young wife who carried fear and hope and their unborn child. Miraculously, the young gunner returned home to hope-realized and a two-year-old son. The soldier and his lovely bride would have six more children across the years. Their second child is my mother. 

The other soldier was eighteen and also newly married. He spent twenty-one days on a boat from his base in California to the war-front in the Philippines. By God's grace he survived hell on earth in the damp jungles of the Pacific and his wife survived days turned weeks turned sometimes months without knowing whether her young husband was dead or alive. 

Underground and in the rain, the soldier read his Bible aloud to fellow comrades and I've no doubt they needed every word of that good news. Trapped in foxholes with disease-ridden feet, perpetually wet and starving, they dug graves in the damp jungle floor for dead Japanese soldiers and for their own fallen brothers. Day in and day out, they suffered and stared death in the face and prayed for home. 

You've probably guessed that the Bible-reading soldier made it back too. He spent months in several hospitals, recovering from cholera and putting on weight and shaking horror from his thoughts. 

But he finally came home. 

He and his beautiful bride had three children across the years. The oldest child is my dad.

The tail-gunner and his wife are with Jesus now. I miss them terribly. 

But the infantryman who fought in the Philippines joined my boys and me for an early lunch today at their elementary school. 

At 89 years old, he's one of the youngest World War II vets. There are few left now. His war bride is now 90, but still beautiful and resilient. 

Even though I taught American history and am the granddaughter of two veterans, I tend to forget their sacrifice. I tend to forget that I'm here because even though they were terrified, they chose courage and love and God chose to bring them back. They left behind all that was dear to secure freedom for the rest of us. We'll never be able to fully appreciate the remarkable lives of the "greatest generation."

All morning I've been thinking on these things. I've considered all of the variables and what ifs and knowing that one misfire 70 years ago could have written a different story, one without me in it. 

Considering the sacrifice of those who have gone before us and the mysteries of God's plans have a way of getting my attention. Running through crunchy leaves and crisp air this morning, I thought to myself, There are a million reasons I shouldn't be here. But I am. There's purpose to my life. Honestly, I was surprised by gratitude. Sometimes it's that simple. I'm supposed to be here.

I've also considered the connection between sacrifice and freedom. I realized that they're opposites. {Yes, I'm a genius.} Sacrifice implies restraint and restriction and going without. Freedom implies boundlessness and peace and fullness. 

Sacrifice giving birth to freedom is a completely upside-down thing.

And because I'm a Christian, this thought took me to the cross. The more I consider the overwhelming sacrifice of a perfect Savior on my behalf, the more passionate I am about the freedom He secured for me. There's a direct correlation between our appreciation of the sacrifices that came before us and our appreciation of the freedom we now enjoy as a result. 

I've never done a Veteran's Day post. I'm not a military wife or a "God and country" sort of writer. But spending the morning with my grandfather, hearing him share parts of his story with my boys and me, looking at his photographs and medals, I'm struck by his sacrifice and service. I felt proud and honored and grateful to have him with me.

This Veteran's Day, might we consider the sacrifice of those who went before us and cherish anew the freedom we enjoy? 

And for those who are in Christ, it's a reminder to think upon an even greater sacrifice, his sacrifice for us in order that we can fully dance in the grace-filled, life-changing, joy-giving freedom that is ours.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
{Galatians 5:1a} 


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  1. All day I have thought of them. What to say? How to say it?

    You did, in a way I never could have. We are all indebted to them . . . and I am indebted to you.


  2. oh Marian! Thanks for sharing.....I met a WWII vet yesterday at our race...he was 89! My grandma's first husband (my aunts father)died at Normandy, and she later married my grandpa who made it home safely from the war....and they had my dad. Your post brought tears to my eyes. What a special lunch for your boys today!!


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