Another Vietnam story: It was Easter Sunday 1968. I was a Marine machine gun team leader in Viet Nam. Our idea of celebrating Easter was to retake hill 881 for the fourth time. I remember it was a cold, wet morning as we moved into place at the bottom of the hill. As we traversed up the side of the hill mortar fire was directed toward us. I was about fifteenth in the column. The mortars hit about fifty feet in front of our point man. The next one hit our point man. The next one hit about seven men back in the column. The fourth one would have been in my lap. It didn’t come. Why? I have no idea. There were bullets whizzing through the grass next to our heads as we hugged the ground.
That afternoon, after the battle was over, we were all counting the cost. All around us were the dead NVA soldiers uncovered and disrespected. Back down the hill, in a neat row, respectfully covered were our men who had been killed.
I remember praying: “God, I have seen enough, I am ready to go home.” What an uneducated and presumptuous prayer. However, the next week I was wounded and airlifted to Japan. After a month in the 106 General Army Hospital and two months on Okinawa, I was sent back to the states. I later learned that many in my platoon were killed in a battle at “Happy Valley.” Why was I spared? I am sure those other guys were praying just like me. Some who died were within days of going home. It bothered me for years. I tried to put it out of my mind. It kept coming back. Even at Hinshaw Memorial UMC, in Greensboro back in the 90’s, there was a lady, Ruby Wall, who lost her son in that war. I could never be around her without having feelings of guilt. I came home but her son did not.
I wish I could tell you that the clouds opened up and God gave me the answer. Even to this day I still do not know why I was spared. However, in my prayer and devotional life, in seeing people live lives of faith and courage, I have come to know that there are some things I will never know…. Some things will remain a mystery. I have concluded that since I have been given this second, even a third life to use it the way God would have me use it – to give myself to God daily, that through me God may uplift the lives of those who need the touch of our heavenly Father. In the movie “Saving Private Ryan” Captain Miller was fatally wounded. Most of Miller’s men had also been killed. As Reiben sought aid for his dying captain, Miller’s last words to Ryan were, “James, earn this. Earn it.” I know I cannot earn God’s love, mercy and grace, but I can live in that grace in a grateful manner… realizing that I am still here and because I am, I should live in a more intentional and grace-filled way.
Dear God, help me to know that I will not know all the mysteries of faith. There will always be questions. Rather, help me to not let those questions keep me from being your disciple today and sharing your love and grace with those I meet. Help me to live by faith. Amen