Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
I had never noticed it before. A couple of weeks ago my wife Judy and I visited the national battlefield at Dover, Tennessee. I was so impressed. Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a Civil War battle site sandwiched between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. The South had built two forts there for the purpose of controlling those two rivers. It was a major supply line for the South. Many of the original earthworks are still there. You can imagine the Union and Southern soldiers huddling down rising only to fire at one another.
One spot on the tour showed where the big Southern guns were mounted. In fact, many of them were still there. There were three on one side and seven on the other. The guns could hurl a 30 pound shell over a mile and were some of the deadliest weapons of the war. At that spot, an American Bald Eagle was perched in a large oak tree right on the bluff. It was as if he was watching over the sacredness of this hallowed ground. Men—both Union and Southern, shed their blood on these grounds. One side dying to preserve the Union and the other dying to tear it apart. After more than a few minutes the eagle took his leave and so did we.
The car tour then took us out of the park and down the road a mile or so. There we found more earthworks, more cannon and more ground stained with blood. Leaving there we headed down the road to the National Cemetery established after the battle. The Union soldiers won the day but the cost was high on both sides. Judy and I parked the car and walked around the cemetery. There were hundreds of graves…all men who had fought for the Union. Sadly, the Confederate dead where dumped into mass graves and covered over. They remain that way today.
At the cemetery, there were many graves from the Civil War era but since it is still an active military cemetery, warriors from virtually all the wars are buried there. Judy and I saw graves from the World War I, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars. We even saw one grave from what was called the Second Seminole War or the Florida War. Row upon row of graves, some older ones with only a last name and their assigned unit, lay silently giving testimony to their last full measure of devotion to their country. There was one more thing.
We noticed that laying on top of many of the headstones there were coins. They were mostly pennies with a sprinkling of silver coins also. I didn’t really know what they meant but I had an idea and I was right. There is a tradition that honors men and women who served their country. You mainly see it in national cemeteries but also at others scattered throughout our Land. When you see a penny on top of the headstone of a veteran, it means that someone stopped and reflected on the soldier’s life and service. It is a form of remembrance. And, when a family member returns to the grave, they have the assurance that someone remembered and honored their loved one’s sacrifice and service.
If there was a silver coin, and back in the old days a nickel in particular, it meant the person who stopped by had a special relationship with the fallen soldier. They may have gone through basic training together or were assigned to the same unit. There has always been a special bond with men and women who fought together…who perhaps died together. It is a bond that lives on beyond death and those silver coins honored that bond.
The Bible is full of renowned, well known, verses but one that stands out is where Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That is what those silver coins were saying. It was a silent testimony of loyalty one for another. This band of brothers were willing to die for the other…and many did. What an amazing story of love and commitment.
Today we honor the men and women of our great country who served or are actively serving in it’s armed forces. For 244 years brave soldiers have put their lives on the line. As the saying goes, “All who served gave some but some gave all.” We should be incredibly grateful for both. As you journey through life today and you recognize a man or woman who was or is member of the armed forces, take the time to thank them for their service. The freedoms we enjoy came at great cost whether it was the ultimate sacrifice or the daily sacrifice of hardship or separation from family. Be sure and let them know you appreciate it. It is just the right thing to do. Oh, and don’t forget to thank the One who provides the ultimate freedom…Jesus Christ. Because of Him, we can rest…because of Him we can have the peace of knowing…He’s got this.