Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Soldier's Fight

Some days I love being a chaplain. Others, not so much. And sometimes, the worst days are the days of greatest ministry opportunities and ultimately the greatest fulfillment. A few months back I was involved in a horrible event in Iraq that I wrote about and from which I received a lot of great feedback. That was a horrible, yet fulfilling day as a minister. But the fact of the matter is that it was a singular event at a particular moment in history. Last week I experienced exactly the opposite...the inevitable end of a long war highlighted by many battles.

I don't think anyone really wants to die. Nevertheless, it is a matter of fact that we all will. If you were to ask any soldier, sailor, airman, or marine about death, most would probably talk about dieing "gloriously on the field of battle". If you gotta go, that's the place to do it, they might say. But sometimes they don't have that choice. About 6 months ago one of the soldiers in my unit, Mr. Turns, after 26 years of military service, decided to retire. As a part of that process he underwent a physical exam, during which it was discovered that he had colon cancer. Instead of retiring and spending the rest of his life enjoying time with his family, he was given 6 to 12 months to live. Being a soldier, he determined to fight. And for the next 6 months, he did just that. He took all kinds of pills, endured innumerable shots, received radiation therapy, and who knows what else. While his body began to shrink from the cancer and the treatments, he continued to fight. Over the months from then till now, I spent time with him in his home and in his hospital room discussing everything from the weather to eternity. And throughout it all, with the cancer spreading all over his body, he complained very little, and continued to fight, determined to win, with a smile on his face. He was amazing.

Cancer, it seems, can spread beyond the confines of the human body. It infected his wife. She, too, fought while the cancer unavoidably ate away her heart and soul as her husband suffered. Their daughter, in her first semester of college, suffered academically as she struggled with her fathers illness. Their son worked feverishly to complete everything necessary to become an Eagle Scout and make his father proud. And again, despite the circumstances, the family pressed on like the military family they are.

Last week the struggle ended. Mr Turns passed away at his home, in his wife's arms. He is survived by his wife of 20 years, his teenage daughter, beginning her second semester of college, and his teenage son, who became an Eagle Scout the day after his father's funeral. He is also survived by the hundreds of soldiers with whom he worked and played, in war and in peace.

While he didn't die on the field of battle, he did die fighting.

With the permission of Mrs. Turns I am including the address below in the event anyone would like to help her with her children's education. Donations can be sent to:

Turns Children College Fund
(Lynette Turns)
c/o Savannah Mall Bank of America
14083 Abercorn St.
Savannah, GA 31419

Thank You

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


I normally try to write my own stuff and shy away from hanging my hat on the peg of others work, but I came across this poem today by the worlds greatest poet, Edgar A. Guest. Originally published in 1918, near the end or just after WWI, it struck me as rather relevant in 2005.

To the Men at Home
by Edgar A Guest

No war is won by cannon fire alone;
The soldier bears the grim and dreary role;
He dies to serve the Flag that he has known;
His duty is to gain the distant goal.
But if the toiler in his homeland fair
Falter in faith and shrink from every test,
If he be not on duty ever there,
Lost to the cause is every soldier's best.

The men at home, the toiler in the shop,
The keen-eyed watcher of the spinning drill
Hear no command to vault the trench's top;
They know not what it is to die or kill,
And yet they must be brave and constant, too.
Upon them lies their precious country's fate;
They also serve the Flag as soldiers do,
'Tis theirs to make a nation's army great.

You hold your country's honor in your care.
Her glory you shall help to make or mar;
For they, who now her uniforms must wear
Can be no braver soldiers than you are.
From day to day, in big and little deeds,
At bench or lathe or desk or stretch of soil,
You are the man your country sorely needs!
Will you not give to her your finest toil?

No war is won by cannon fire alone.
The men at home must also share the fight.
By what they are, a nation's strength is shown,
The army but reflects their love of right.
Will you not help to hold our battle line,
Will you not give the fullest of your powers
In sacrifice and service that is fine
That victory shall speedily be ours?