Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA, Veteran's Day, wisdom

A Penny and a Nickel

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.

Posted in Grace, Memorial Day, Military memories, Scripture, travel

Heroes

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13

I’m not sure how I found my way there, but I was grateful.  During my assignment in Sembach, Germany we had the opportunity to see so much.  From Hitler’s hideaway called “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden to the windmills of Holland to the Alps of Switzerland we were constantly amazed at what was all around us.  But nothing prepared me for Luxembourg.

We had some friends that we had known in our days at Moody Air Force Base in South Georgia.  They received orders to Germany several months before we did.  They were only a couple of hours from us so we saw each other pretty frequently.  It must have been during one of our forays that we came to it—Luxembourg American Cemetery.  It was one of the most hollowed sights I have ever seen.

There, in the cemetery, are 5,075 white Lasa marble crosses and stars of David.  Row after row of headstones that mark the final resting place of American heroes.  Each one made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for you and me, that we can live in freedom.  General George Patton is buried there. Two Medal of Honor recipients are also buried there: David G. Turner and William D. McGee. Twenty-two sets of brothers lay buried side by side throughout the cemetery. Some, 371 in fact, were never found.  They are simply listed as missing in action.  102 are just unknown.

This place of honor was established on December 29, 1944.  Many of the soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge…Hitler’s last push to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor.  It failed but it came at great cost to the Allied forces. It was a harsh winter and because of the urgency of the times many were sent to fight with little or no winter gear. The desperate Germans showed little mercy to those taken prisoner.  And, all this occurred just nine months, nine months, before the war ended.  So many had survived D-Day and countless days of combat only to make the ultimate sacrifice months before the grand reunion with family.

Heroes.  It is a word we throw around lightly these days.  In a world where everyone gets a trophy we are in danger of losing the value of this incredible word.  Hero. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person noted for courageous acts.” Oxford says it is a person who is admired or idealized for courage. Webster defines it as an illustrious warrior or one who shows great courage.  Another place said it is a person who at great danger to themselves puts others first.

I went to Toys-R-Us one time and there they had several aisles of super hero stuff.  As I turned the corner a sign caught my eye.  It simply said, “Real Heroes.”  Along that aisle were the soldiers and sailor figures as well as police, firemen, and other emergency responders.  If I went to that aisle today it would have to include doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.  Real heroes…real people putting others first at peril to themselves.

But there would be one missing.  Jesus Christ, the Hero of Heaven, who willingly, who bravely, gave Himself to a Roman cross that men, women and children could be free. The cross was so horrible it was called the death of deaths.  It was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen.  And yet…He went.  Why?  He loved me. He loved you.

Amazingly it was not for some of us but all of us. Skin color, economic station, language, nationality, capacity to be bad or good doesn’t matter.  The Bible simply says, “He came to seek and save that which was lost.”  It simply says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It simply says He is not willing for any to perish but all to come home. Anyone—I like anyone. Anyone who acknowledges their need for a rescue will find one in Jesus. And this Hero not only does a meet and greet, He invites you to join His family.  How about that! So when you hear the national anthem, place your hand over your heart as a salute to those who paid the price for our freedom.  When you see a veteran, thank them for his or her service and sacrifice.  When you walk through a cemetery with your kids, point out the graves of the men and women who served and tell them why they are so special.  And when you talk to the Hero of Heaven next time, thank Him for forgiving your sin.  Thank Him for always being there.  Thank Him for giving you a place to rest.  And, thank Him for having this….because He does.

Posted in life, Scripture

War of 1812

“Dear friends, don’t overlook this one fact: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Peter 3:8)

Warning. Thought provoking story ahead. It was the strangest library you could imagine.  A friend told me about a cemetery that had some very old graves. Now I know you are wondering, “What does a cemetery have to do with a library?”  And the answer is volumes and volumes.  First, lest you think me strange, I love history and especially American and local history.  Second, I love stories. This particular cemetery had some of both.

So over the river and through the woods Judy and I went till we came to Lavender Cemetery Lane.  A quick right off of Highway 34 and about half a mile down the lane and there it was—Lavender Cemetery.  There were two sections.  The first section was much older than the second but both were filled with stories.  And, like I said, I love stories.

First was my friend’s grandfather.  I had already learned that he was quite the character.  He actually ran with the infamous Charlie Berger gang.  He did some time in the big house and died when he was only 48—though not from a bank heist or anything like that. I was fascinated.  Then we started looking around and it was amazing.  We found the grave of a veteran from the War of 1812.  Can you believe that?  Then we found families who had lost not one, not two but three children.  It was in the days before there were antibiotics.  Can you imagine how difficult that was?

There were many other veterans buried there.  There was a Vietnam veteran who had obtained the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant and had earned a Bronze Star for Valor in the war.  Next to him was a veteran of the Korean War.  He had died aboard the USS Saris.  During a typhoon in Korean waters a naval mine broke loose and hit the ship and it sank in 20 minutes.  Four men died and one of them found his way back home to Lavender cemetery.  But wait, there is more.  World War II veterans were scattered throughout as well as World War I. There were even civil war veterans buried there.  Almost side by side, a young soldier from Mississippi was laid to rest by a soldier from the north.  On and on, old, barely readable stones told stories of valor and courage.

There were headstones with beautiful etchings of home places and poems about life and death.  Scratched into a large rock, one read, “My friends, here lies my body beneath the sod but my soul has gone home to God.”  In this obscure country cemetery I saw a headstone for two people I know.  The dates of the death yet to be filled in—their stories still being written. Many of the headstones have been worn smooth by time.  Like their headstones, so many of their stories have faded into obscurity. But each one…each one…wrote a story that touched people and perhaps changed lives.

Yesterday afternoon at about 5:30 pm I found myself face to face with my own mortality.  My time, your time is limited.  The story will come to an end one day for each of us.  The question is this, “What kind of story are we writing?”  What story will be told at the service given to remember us? What story will be told when we stand before our creator either as His child or one who said no?  What kind of story?

Well, the good news is, there is still time to write.  There is still time to make sure your story is a story worth celebrating.  Peter tells us in the Bible that a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years.  That is a big truth.  We get the first part easily but don’t miss the second. A day is like a thousand years. That seems to say that even if we are in the second half of our life, or later, there is time. If there’s more in the rearview mirror than the windshield, it’s not too late. God can take those limited days and make it like a thousand years—plenty of time to start writing a new story.  So why not start now.  Right now.

Forget the regrets.  Forget the unwise choices. Forgive the broken promises just like God forgave you.  It’s in the Book.  Learn from each one but then leave the past in the past.  Paul did…check out Philippians 4:13…forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to the future in Christ, I press on.  Good, good advice. I don’t know how this virus thing is going to finish playing out.  I know I am not afraid.  I know my Father is in control.  I know that the foreseeable future is going to be different. But I also know I want the story about  how I handled it all… to be that I trusted Him to handle it.  I want the story to say I trusted Him during the pandemic.  We can do that you know.  He’s trustworthy.  I can lay my head on my pillow tonight and rest in Him.  So, pleasant dreams. He’s got this.