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Stories for Memorial Day

In the jungles of Vietnam, while keeping guard at night, a young soldier saw a grenade land nearby. He screamed a warning to his buddies and threw himself on the grenade.  His body absorbed the shock of the grenade and saved his three friends. The young soldier earned the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Struggling through the jungles of Okinawa, a teenage American soldier came face-to-face with a teenage Japanese soldier. They were both shocked to see each other. It was a shoot or be shot situation. The young American pulled his trigger first. He would be haunted by it for the rest of his life. The absolutions of a minister, of a life well-lived, and of over a half century of time never dimmed his view that, “I’ll have to meet my Maker with that on my slate.”

On Memorial Day I will tell these stories to my children. They have heard these stories many, many times, but some stories bear repeating.

I have known the story of David “Paulie” Nash since I was very young. Our families went to the same church. At St. Mary’s Elementary School in Whitesville, KY, his story was often told to illustrate Jesus’ words, “No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends.” I use his story the same way with my children. We also discuss the fact that brave and noble things can happen even in terrible situations. Even in wars that should never have been fought.

Gordon Gardner was dear neighbor.  We lost him at age 85 last year. He joined the Marines at age 17 and was assigned to the Pacific theatre. In his younger days, Mr. Gardner’s idea of a good time was a bar fight and riding his Harley. He was tougher than nails. The fact that he would be haunted over six decades later by the young Japanese soldier he had killed shows how deep the psychic wounds of war can be. I tell my children his story to illustrate that taking another’s life is a hard and terrible thing, even in a “justified” war, even in an impossible situation. Killing another is a serious, horrible thing, not a game for entertainment or a fist pumping moment from a movie.

Tomorrow we will visit cemeteries. I will tell these stories. We will remember brave men and women who did their best in impossible, horrible situations. We will pray for those who are still in harm’s way, both on current battlefields and in personal battles for healing they must fight when they return home. I will tell my children that I expect them to always honor and support those who gave and give so much. That means more than wrapping yourself in flag and saying patriotic things once or twice a year. It means helping people living on the streets (many of whom are former vets) and supporting legislation that provides greater financial and medical assistance to soldiers and veterans. And I will tell my children I expect them to work always for peace, so someday such sacrifices will not be necessary.