Perhaps the highlight of our recent trip to Washington D.C was one day at the World War II, museum, when we met a genuine American hero. We were walking through the memorial, which was very crowded, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted an old man strolling slowly across the central pavement by the Atlantic pavillion, and he looked like he was crying. He wiped his eyes, and my eyes were drawn to him. He looked up at me and through glassy eyes and a choked voice said: “I was there.”
I stopped cold. He was a stranger. I had no reason to stop, but I was drawn to this man, old, slightly bent, moving slowly through memories decades distant, and yet obviously as fresh and acute as yesterday. “You were in the War?” I asked.
He held out a photograph, printed on plain computer paper, of a young American soldier, standing in the snow holding an M1 carbine, and I noticed that it had been signed by President Bush.
“That’s me,” he said, “at Bastogne.”
I was incredulous. “You were at the Bulge?” I queried.
“Yes. Hundred and First.”
“Wow.” That’s all I could muster. I was standing in the presence of a real life hero. A man who had placed his life on the line for his country and his buddies and lived to tell about it.
“Please let me get a picture of you,” I begged. I called my son Will to stand with me, and asked my wife to take the picture.
For the rest of the day, and for the rest of the trip, I could not get this humble, soft-spoken hero out of my mind. Everything we were seeing in D.C. was suddenly given a new perspective.
I thank God every day for the men and women, nearly a million of them since the founding of our great nation, who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. And I thank Him again for the millions more who survived their ordeals to bear witness to the rest of us of the sacrifices we must all be willing to make.
I tried to imagine what those dark days at Bastogne must have been like — surrounded by Nazi divisions, bitter cold cutting through everything one could wear, ammunition and food both critically low, and a general who believed in his men and his country enough to reject the German demand for surrender with a single word: “Nuts!” And I thought of this Psalm, which David wrote after a period of bitter war in Israel.
Psalm 18 “A Psalm of David”
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
5 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.
16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
28 You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.
29 With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.
32 It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.
36 You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.
37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
38 I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet.
39 You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes.
46 The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior!