They gave their lives in a distant war

They gave their lives in a distant war


Evan Golder

Pvt. Bennie Rackley, Miss.; PFC Bernard Kazmierczak, Wis.; S/Sgt. Marvin E. White, Iowa; PFC Reginald H. Drew, R.I.

The rows of headstones curve gracefully off into the distance. Each of these soldiers died in World War II's "Battle of the Bulge" in the winter of 1944-1945.

It's Memorial Day weekend 2000 in the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg. As I walk quietly among the 5,076 white marble crosses and Stars of David, I am struck by the diversity of national backgrounds represented here. Probably all these soldiers would rather have been somewhere else. Instead, they answered a call—of God, their country or their draft boards—and died helping resist an evil attempt to conquer the world.

In a strange twist, I'm reminded of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the USAF colonel returning home after five years in a North Vietnam prison camp. Running toward him as he disembarks the plane are his wife and four children. One daughter, 15, runs with arms wide open and a smile to match. The obvious difference, of course, is that none of these soldiers ever knew such a homecoming.

PFC Harold D. Jackson, N.C.; Cpl. Stephen B. LeGier, Ill.; PFC Mario Palazzolo, N.J.; PFC Robert H. Evetts, Texas.

I thought of the names on those gravestones last month, as I watched the 24 U.S. servicemen and women return to their home base on Whidbey Island, Wash., after being held by China for 11 days. Sailors swept sweethearts off their feet, a sister rumpled her brother's hair, a young father held a child on each hip, families huddled in hugs.

It was a proud moment for the U.S. military. Not only had these 24 comported themselves professionally under threat of death and captivity, now they spoke with quiet confidence of the training that had pulled them through, their trust in one another and their trust in God.

PFC Sergio D. Hernandez, Calif.; PFC Zeno Sanders, Colo.; PFC Donald C. MacPherson, D.C.; PFC Abraham Melinsky, Mass.

Sometimes I am not comfortable with such displays of patriotism. But being a "just peace" church does not inoculate us from caring about those who would defend the country where we are free to be a just peace church. I have learned to distinguish between a General Synod policy to seek alternatives to war and a pastoral concern for those willing to go to war to protect our right to disagree.

Times differ, situations change. To many, Ho Chi Min was not the threat Hitler had been. I have hiked Vietnam's trails in peaceful times and felt compassion for the GIs who sweated in those jungles three decades earlier. And I have walked respectfully among the graves in Europe. I don't know who these young persons were, but because they gave their lives in a distant war, I can live my life in peace at home.

PFC Spiro P. Tekos, N.H.; PFC Simon B. Wolfgang, Pa.; Pvt. Lee Curtis, S.C.; Pvt. Roberto Soto, Texas.

The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.

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