This evening I was surprised to go and eat dinner over at the Wilmore Subway and enjoy the company of another student. Dinner was nearly over and we were just chatting when an older man started to walk towards our table. I had seen him when I had come in. He had eaten dinner with his wife and they had just finished eating. He asked if the other student was someone he knew, and after realizing that he knew neither one of us, he asked us who we were and he introduced himself. He shared that he was a retired Southern Baptist preacher who had been preaching for 59 years. After talking for a few minutes, he started to share about his time that he spent in the navy during World War II. He was serving on one ship in the Pacific and then was transferred to another ship in the Atlantic. Months later when the war was winding down in the Atlantic, his ship went around to the Pacific through the locks and docked at San Diego. When he got off the ship, this man saw a soldier from his former ship and saw that he was missing a leg. The man commented that a few weeks after this man had been transferred to the Atlantic, his old ship and its marines were sent to Iwo Jima as part of the first wave off the ship during the invasion.
As this man told the story to us, he said it was a moment of testimony. He shared that later his ship docked at Iwo Jima, he stepped off the ship and saw the black sand and thought, “My buddies bled in this sand.” A man in a jeep came along and asked him if he would like to see the island. He got to see the beaches, the place where the flag was raised, and then came to a section where 7,000 small white crosses had been placed for the fallen soldiers. He told the jeep driver to leave him there. He would find his way back to the ship. He said he stood there for quite a time, asking God why his life had been spared by his transfer. It was that moment that he told God that if he had spared his life, then God should take his life and use it to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
Next Wednesday, November 11, is Veterans Day. This man reminded me today of many things, but especially the fact that many men have died for freedom. This is not merely a patriotic freedom that we are just thankful for. These are men and women who have served faithfully to die for something they believed in. Just as this man witnessed to us that God had spared his life and in turn he must give it back to God, we also have an opportunity to thank God. This Veteran’s day we should be thankful for those men who have served, but also be thankful to God that it was his blood that stained the ground around Calvary instead of our blood. It is in his resurrection that we are able to say, “You spared my life. Take it and use it to stop others from the same fate.” May we be thankful this Thanksgiving and Veterans Day for the service and honor of our military, and especially thankful for the service and love of God to us that we may have something far more important that political freedom: we are free to choose Him.