His eyes reddened as he continued the story.
Joe (name changed) was 87 years old as I, his newly minted from Seminary-pastor, was paying an every member visit on him. Me, 26. Him, 87. As we were talking I was quickly coming to the conclusion that I had nothing to teach him about life and that he had everything to teach me.
In the first three years of WWII, Joe served in the Aleutian Islands. Staring at the Japanese (only 30 miles away) across the water and bored out of their skulls, the joke among the GIs was that “there was a girl behind every tree.” (The Aleutian Islands have no trees).
Of course, D-Day changed all this. It changed a lot of things. Joe was redeployed; this time in the European theater. He commanded a platoon. He and his men crossed a river where the bridge was under heavy fire. They had to go through the water. He was one of only four men in his platoon who came through the water alive. No more jokes about girls behind trees. What was behind him was a bloody mess…and he never forgot it. Hence the tears.
Isn’t it amazing what men will do for their country? Can we ever say enough thanks to them and for them and their sacrifices?
Many years later Joe and his brother, a communications officer in the Air Force in WWII, bought an old warehouse to collect donations for a Synod mission. These donations, clothing and everyday items, would be sent overseas to where our missionaries are for the people they are privileged to serve. Whenever the warehouse was full, volunteers (myself included) would show up at the warehouse for what was nothing short of a “loading party.” Occasionally, I would pick Joe up in my car and take him to the warehouse. He would literally perch himself on a stool with his cane between his legs and an ear-to-ear grin as he watched us strapping young men whip boxes around like they were full of feathers and would see how fast we could load an entire container. We called him “the supervisor.” He would laugh and laugh.
I came up to him once, full of endorphins after a loading, and exclaimed loudly, “Joe, I would happily be in your platoon.”
And I caught myself as his smile slipped and his eyes again started to moisten. Thinking I had stuck my foot very deeply in my mouth, what came next was truly not to my own glory.
“I would always be happy to be in your platoon.” And I reached down and gave him a hug…and then a salute.
Indeed, I would die in that platoon if it was necessary.
Joe is with His Lord now, a warrior wounded by the full assault of the devil, now awaiting resurrection with his fallen comrades. I think it’s safe to say that this old man, when he probably most wanted to die, truly learned how to live.
The world doesn’t need Christians who are eager to die and get out of here. It needs Christians who are ready to live.
God be praised for our men in uniform, past and present, and what they teach us about service.
Join us this Sunday in thanking our God and giving thanks to Him for these men.