John Fuller: It’s a special Memorial Day edition of Focus on the Family, and today we’re taking our hats off and raising the flag in honor of those families who have sacrificed so that we can celebrate freedom. Your host is Focus President Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and today’s program is gonna be captivating and compelling, but this note to parents: it’ll also be a little graphic at times, due to the nature of the content we’re covering.
Jim Daly: And John, what we want to do today is reflect for a few moments on the true price of freedom that has been paid for us to enjoy living in a free country, where we have the privilege to worship God, to vote in elections, to raise a family according to our own conscience, and to enjoy even recreational activities, and all the other things that come with living in a free country.
The generations of men and women who have committed a good portion of their life to military service are heroes in my book. And today, we honor and remember those who have given their lives so that we can be free. And just as the Scripture says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And on this Memorial Day weekend, our thanks to the hundreds of thousands of military personnel, and their families, who have endured some of the most incredible situations through wars and battles in our nation’s history, so that we could be free.
John: Let’s go ahead and begin now our special tribute on Focus on the Family to honor those who have given so much.
Narrator: The unmistakable sounds of war. Though universally disdained by peace-loving nations, the United States has often found itself in the midst of conflict, hoping to liberate those who have never tasted the sweetness of freedom. Throughout the past century, our troops have battled tyranny and oppression around the globe, allowing others to enjoy the liberties we often take for granted.
Here in this young land we call America, our very freedoms were birthed in war. Since declaring our independence from Britain more than 200 years ago, generations of warriors have denied their selfish instincts and given their blood to defend this land. Today, we remain a free country. But when did you last consider the price paid for your freedom? We owe a debt of gratitude to families like these.
Gerald Gray: I’m old enough that I can remember what the effect of even the Second World War was upon our family. And I can remember Keith’s father’s family getting a telegram from the War Department, stating that Addison was severely wounded. I can remember my Uncle Luther getting a telegram from the War Department, saying that his son, Elmo, was shot down over Japan – was killed. I can remember my Uncle Lawrence got a telegram, stating that Avery was killed in Belgium. They were ground fighting. I can remember both of my brothers was drafted into the Second World War Then for some reason, I got old enough that I was drafted.
And I can remember a 19-year-old farm boy that landed on a troop ship in the Pusan Harbor, South Korea. We was put on an old steam engine train with wooden boxcars. We was given live ammunition and told that we would probably need this before we got to where we was going. We rode on the train to just south of Seoul, Korea. And that’s as far as we go, because all the railroad tracks was bombed out.
We was put on trucks and taken another 10 miles. I kept watching in front of us and I thought there was a severe storm, because I could see lightning and I could hear the roar. And the farther we went, the brighter it got and I knew that it wasn’t the storm of what I knew.
Trucks picked us up and took us within about two miles behind where the fighting was at and we spent two days there until we was dispersed to units that was really been hit and needed us the most. Two o’clock in the morning we walked into the storm that I’d watched. And I remember the next day that I had time enough to start a letter home. And I remember writing in that letter that last night we walked through the gates of hell.
I can still see the faces of the 19-year-olds that wasn’t as lucky as I, that came home in pine boxes. I can still see the faces of the ones that came home not a whole body as they went.
Narrator: In the Armed Forces, the cruel reality of war dictates that those you serve with can be ripped from your lives without mercy. The respected lieutenant or a captain, the private you sat with at breakfast just a few hours earlier or a Marine, like Shane Childers.
Carey Cash: As Alpha Company came across the border the night of March the 20th, within a few hours, March the 20th became March 21st, because we went across around 9 or 10 o’clock at night. And Shane, being a platoon commander, was out in the very front of his men. One of the things that uh, you – you glean pretty quickly if you read military history, is platoon commanders, which are usually your youngest officers – they’re usually 22, 24, 25 years old – uh, platoon commanders are – are often in the most dangerous position. Because unlike a – a battalion commander, who is more in the rear, a platoon commander is literally out there directing where his men will go and often asking them to follow him. In fact, one of the great uh, phrases in Marine Corps history is simply the words, “Follow me.” And that’s exactly what Shane was doing on – on the morning of March 21st.
He was leading his men in – in an assault on a gas oil separation plant. They had just about secured the area for – for the most part. All they could see were, uh, you know, burning hulks of tanks and bunkers. Most of the Iraqis had surrendered. There was some sporadic gunfire. But as he was assembling his men to get back in their armored vehicle to continue to go and reconnaissance the area, a truck load of Iraqi soldiers came barreling out of, sort of a hidden bunker and you know, essentially just opened fire on that clustered group of marines.
Now, the miracle – and what we often don’t hear about – is that countless bullets were fired into that group of Marines, and Shane was the only one to be hit. Uh, which is a miracle in and of itself. And – and the Marines who were in his platoon said, “Chaplain, I was standing right next to him, and it was a hail of bullets, and – and we weren’t – we weren’t injured or killed. But as the – as the truck went by and fired, as I said, one – one shot did get Shane. And uh, it hit him below his – his bulletproof flak jacket, such that within, I think, five or 10 minutes, Shane had died. And he died there with his – his platoon sergeant right at his side, with his men.
You know, Shane, a young man, who all his life wanted to be a Marine, but a young man, who as – as a young boy, saw a Marine standing guard in Iran at an embassy and said to himself, “That’s exactly what I want to be. I want to be a U.S. Marine.” And what a story uh, Shane Childers is. He went to the Citadel, which is also the school that I went to, so we hit it off right from the bat when he got to battalion, earlier that summer, uh, being fellow alumnus together. But loved his men dearly, led them heroically, a man that, his Marines loved. In fact, many of them said, “He was really like a coach to us, because it – the way he loved us.”
He was frequently in my office, just to ask advice on how he could best meet the needs of his men. You know, their marriages, their – their relationships, financial problems. And so, to lose a man like that the first day was very difficult.
Narrator: The death of a comrade is agonizing, but the heartaches of a soldier’s life aren’t limited to the tragedies on the battlefield. When he puts his gun aside at the end of the day, his thoughts may drift back to his family, where another challenge is looming. It’s at times like these that chaplains are called upon to soothe battle-weary souls on the front lines.
Chaplain Morris: You take 11 hundred men away from their families and stuff begins to unwind. And I had the great privilege of going from tank to tank, Bradley fighting vehicle to Bradley fighting vehicle, trench to trench and sitting with men, as they pulled out pictures of their babies and said, “Chappy, I’m missing my daughter’s birthday today.” And they begin to cry and I’d hold them. “Chappy, I got a call from my wife when I went to the MWR phone last night. She’s gonna leave me. She can’t take this military life anymore.” Who does a warrior turn to in a time like that? “Chappy, my daughter’s going to have an emergency surgery.” “Chappy, there’s not enough money to pay the bills.” Day after day, hour after hour, what a great privilege to pray with young men, to help them hold together as they sacrifice so that we can be free.
Narrator: Who are these men and women, called upon to give sacrificially of their time, of their lives, for our nation? They’re your friends and your coworkers, the kid up the street, the girl who used to cut your hair, your uncle, your father, your son, your daughter.
Roger Helle: My brother and I both volunteered to go to Vietnam and went to Vietnam the end of 1965. My first baptism of fire, my company was on a search-and-destroy mission all day long. Landed in a field, dug in, flares going off all night long. Nobody slept, the adrenaline, the anticipation.
That morning at dawn, about 5:30, we began our sweep. It was over 120 degrees that day, and we’d had about 20 casualties from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. And by 3:30, we were just totally physically exhausted, soaking wet with sweat, leeches on your arms and legs. And as we crossed that field, we were coming up to a patch of jungle. And what we did not know is we had pushed a whole enemy battalion, 650 Viet Cong regulars, into a – a peninsula. And they were dug in the tree line waiting for us. And as we crossed that field – I was an 18-year-old kid – my platoon sergeant was standing six feet away from me on my right. My best friend, Danny – I’d gone through training with – was on my left. And as we got close enough to the enemy, uh, when they opened fire, I was talking to my platoon sergeant. And as I was talking, looking at him, when they opened fire, a 50-caliber machine gun round hit him right in the top of his head. And as I threw myself down to the ground, my best friend, Danny, was hit in the chest with a 50-caliber machine gun, killed instantly, both of them. We suffered 40 percent casualties in that one operation.
I can’t describe what it was like, as an 18-year-old kid, putting those bodies in those burial bags. I remember walking over to Danny – Danny, laying in the grass knee-high – and he was just laying there, looking up into the sky and those empty eyes. And – and I remember carrying his body. We put it in a burial bag. And I remember picking it up myself and carrying it to the chopper. But because the chopper is such a – a target, you know, they have to get in and get out. And because there were so many bodies, as – as I laid his body in the door of the chopper, the men in the chopper, all they could do is grab these nameless bags and throw them in the back to make room for more bodies. And not all the months of training prepared me for that moment. It was like something died inside of me.
John: This is a special Memorial Day tribute to our nation’s Armed Forces. And that very sobering story reminds us of both the harsh realities of war and the great sacrifice that men and women have made in service to their country. And we’re making a free audio download of this program available at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And you can also purchase a CD of this program, if you’d like.
We’re gonna hear more stories now in our tribute to America’s veterans. And we’re reminded that these 21st century troops stand on the shoulders of what’s been called, “The Greatest Generation.” Those like H.C. Kiser, who served in World War II, some of America’s most amazing stories of bravery and God’s grace occurred during that particular era of American history.
End of Program Note
Newsman: The last 18 hours has brought the greatest air attacks of all time against Germany. Thousands of Allied heavy bombers attacked military targets in the Cologne area within 40 miles of the battleground at Auchen, where American ground troops continue to make some progress.
H.C. Kiser: I’ll never forget that morning. It was on October the 12th, 1944. We had just gotten over the target and released the last of our 500-pound bombs. This huge B-17 bomber sustained a direct hit under the belly of the bomber. When this shell exploded, I was sitting. I had a piece of armor plating to my back and I had my legs crossed. And a huge hole about the size of a grapefruit went right between my legs and on the right side of my leg, there was about three holes the side of a baseball. And they were holes that went through the top – to the top of the plane.
And my face was filled with – with splinters from the catwalk and pieces of metal from the body of the plane. And it just engulfed my face and I said, “Oh, Lord, I’m blind.” And I shook my head, shook it off. And there I was. I was completely not a scratch, not anything the matter with my eyes.
And then, all of a sudden, it went into a spiral, a deep dive downwards. We were pinned with centrifugal force. My back went up against the top of the bomber and my arms and my legs were dangling down and I couldn’t get to my escape hatch. You see, at 29,000 feet, it was about minus 50 below zero and we had an electric heat-lined suit.
Also, we were on oxygen and the first thing that happened, we realized that our oxygen was gone and we began to gasp for breath, knowing at 29,000 feet, just a few minutes, few seconds or may be a few minutes, it’s death or else we’ll pass out. We began to pray and ask God to help us make a right decision before we – before we bailed out. The first prayer was answered. The big bomber went out of that steep dive and it leveled off a little like this.
I fell on my hands and knees, back to the belly of the plane and I crawled up to my right about eight or 10 feet to my escape hatch. See, when I pull this fleece-lined glove off and I grabbed this metal object to release it, my hand froze immediately and I didn’t have the strength to release my hand. And I asked Doug Johnson, I said, “Doug, help, I’m in trouble.” And Doug came and he put his hand over mine and together, we gave it a jerk and the big door flew open in space.
Neither had ever jumped and we were terribly frightened. And I said, “Doug, this thing’s on fire; it’s gonna blow up.” Doug jumped, and Doug said, “Look at your parachute.” He said I can’t jump. You see, my – the red ripcord handle should have been right here and there was no red handle – no ripcord handle. In fact, there was no parachute. And it had exploded like in the waist of the plane.
And Doug said, “Kaiser, we’ve been friends too long. I’m gonna ride this bomber down. We – if it burns, if it blows up, I’ll die with you.” And I said, “Doug, thank you, but don’t be a fool.” When I told Doug to jump, I saw him jump. As soon as he released from the plane, I saw him pull the ripcord and his parachute opened – successfully opened.
Then I began to wad up the contents of this tangled parachute. I began to compress it just a little like this, a little at a time. I got an object, small enough that I thought I could jump out. And I prayed a little prayer and I said, “Lord, I – I don’t know what to do. I’m – looks like death is imminent. Lord, I need a word from you.” It seemed like the Lord said, “H.C., I’m the God of miracles. And in sheer faith, 29,000 feet, if you’ll jump out, I’ll show you.”
With that in mind, I leaped out. When I cleared the – the – cleared the bomber, I opened my arms like this and I turned the contents of the parachute loose. It didn’t open. It was just all tangled and I was falling faster and faster like this. And in despair, I just bowed my head and I said, “God, thousands of miles away from my pastor and my godly parents. And Lord, maybe You can’t open this parachute.” And when I told the Lord He couldn’t, He showed me that He was a God of miracles. The parachute did open, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, would I?
I looked up and a beautiful sight, the parachute had opened. And you know why I fell all that many feet before it opened? Because right up over my machine gun was an oxygen bottle that was – I’d clip it on my harness and it would sustain life for eight to 12 minutes. When the big bomber went in this dive, that bottle came loose and it was bouncing down through the waist of the plane and I couldn’t catch it. I didn’t have enough wind to chase it.
And the good Lord let me fall – free fall – all that distance, until I got down in the atmosphere, where there’s plenty of oxygen. And He just said, “Okay, I’ll do the miracle now; I’ll open it.” And I looked up and I saw that beautiful sight.
Narrator: Perhaps one of the most dramatic moments in American history occurred on the banks of Normandy. Nearly two-thirds of the brave soldiers who stormed the beach that day died. Marking the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the late President Ronald Reagan stood on the windswept shores of France and spoke of the unparalleled determination those men displayed.
President Ronald Reagan: At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of most difficult and daring of the invasion, to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliff shooting down at them with the machine guns and throwing grenades and the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe.
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs. Some of you were hardly more than boys with the deepest joys of life before you, yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here?
We look at you and somehow, we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love. The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge – and pray God we have not lost it – that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer and so, you and those others did not doubt your cause, and you were right not to doubt. You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.
Something else helped the men of D-Day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here, that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them, “Do not bow your heads, but look up, so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do.” Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.
Duke Boswell: I would like in – in some way, for them to remember not so much what I did, but what the ones that died did. It used to bother me that I – I would think now, “Lord, why did I live through this and all these good people didn’t? Why were they killed and why wasn’t I killed? Why did You let me live?” I don’t know the reason and I probably never will, but maybe it was because He left me so that I could maybe pass the lesson on to the other people, that – that we died, trying to preserve the freedom that we have and – and to pass on the letter that – that freedom is not free. Somebody’s got to pay for it and that’s what I’d like to pass on, to let them enjoy these freedoms, know that someone paid dearly for them and be ready to help pay for them if – if the time should ever come.
John: What a reminder we’ve heard today that freedom is not free. Someone has to pay a price, and that’s what we’ve heard about – the selflessness, the sacrifices of others for us and for future generations. This is a special Memorial Day tribute on Focus on the Family to those who have served in the Armed Forces.
Jim: John, these stories have really grabbed my heart. And during World War II, many of our troops gave up to five years – maybe more – from their families back home. In more recent years, men and women have been asked to deploy on multiple occasions and be away from home. We hear from many of those families, and we want you to know we’re grateful for your sacrifice, and we want to be there for you.
In fact, we heard from one woman whose husband was serving overseas. We aired a program on post-traumatic stress, and this woman wrote us a note. She said, “My husband is in the military, so currently we are apart, but because of your Focus on the Family app, we can listen to the same broadcast and talk about what we’ve heard. Thank you. We’re going to start giving to Focus soon.” That’s so sweet! What a great comment, and we really appreciate that, and we’re glad that we have a small role to encourage you through our programming.
Let me say thank you to those who provide the resources for us to do this very thing, to be there for these families, to help them strengthen their marriages in times of high stress. It really is our privilege. And let me just say at the end of the program here, Happy Memorial Day to you and your loved ones.
John: And I’ll echo that sentiment, and just remind you again that our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And we are observing the holiday, celebrating with our families and friends today, so the offices are closed. But call tomorrow if we can be of any service to you. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. Join us again tomorrow for an inspirational message of fighting fear with faith, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.