I’ve never met a perfect soldier. Let’s get that out of the way up front. Veteran’s and Memorial Days tend to bring out the worst in those of us prone to purple prose about our heroes, so it’s important to be clear that the men (sorry, I don’t know any female soldiers) I’m about to recognize were regular guys with all of the problems and faults of all the regular guys you’ve ever known. What sets them apart are the values they espoused and aspired to, values they passed on to me and that I hope to pass on to you.
I was born fifteen years after the end of WW II. As I was growing up and going to technical school, college, and seminary, the men who fought that war and the ones that followed were living through mid-life and beyond, serving as leaders, teachers and mentors to those of us who were to inherit what The Greatest Generation had fought to preserve, nothing less than Western Civilization.
Their names won’t mean much to you, but the dross was burned off the values they held by the battles they fought. So here are their names and the things they taught me.
Lewis Askew, who flew Corsairs from the deck of the Benjamin Franklin in 1944 and shared his story about the bombing that took 750 of his shipmates, taught me that men can persevere through the deepest tragedies if they know why they fight. John Durden, who repaired tanks in General Patton’s Third Army and taught me transmissions and drivelines, showed me that honor lost was hard to reclaim. Phi McClain who drove a Jeep across booby-trapped roads in France and became my spiritual mentor taught me the importance of knowing and being who you are, and that fun can be found just about anywhere. Mark Walters, who built bridges and runways from Normandy to Berlin and on through Korea, taught me leadership under pressure and the value of listening. B. Gray Allison, who flew the B 24 bomber over Western Europe with the 8th Air Force and founded the seminary I attended, demonstrated the power of faith and a positive attitude as well as scholarship coupled to a passion for souls. L. R. Barnard, chaplain to his majesty’s armies and master of theology to me, taught me the value of history and the wisdom of a wider perspective. Master Chief Bob Bennett, whose friendship, loyalty and encouragement taught me to believe in others, even when they don’t believe in themselves. Paul Steube, who flew Huey gunships with the Sea Wolves in Vietnam, demonstrated duty, and the power of sheer determination. These and so many others who are passing from this earth, and many thousands more coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and dozens of unnamed battlefields in the war against Islamo-facism, knew things about duty, and honor, and sacrifice, which can only be learned in combat.
It is a beautiful and majestic thing to see a man take up a commission, a role, a service, to become an agent of a higher, nobler purpose than self and persevere in that mission to the absolute end of endurance or even life itself, for the sake of others. That’s what men and women like these have done for us as they serve in our nation’s military. Let’s remember not just to honor them, but to honor the values for which they stand.
2 Timothy 2:1-4