"The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war."
General Douglas MacArthur
Once in while I have the honor of meeting and speaking to a person who is in a different league. Today I met just such a person. I'll call him Sergeant K. He and I had a very interesting conversation. Actually I asked questions and he told stories. I say he is in a different league because he is what I wish I could be were I not a Chaplain. I would not change places with him for all the money in the world, but if life had pushed me in another direction, I would hope I had the kind of internal fortitude that I heard in his voice and saw in his eyes and felt in his hands.
Sergeant K probably tops out at 22 years old. He is short and muscular and has what might be called a baby face. We spoke for about 30 minutes and when we parted I felt as though I had met someone significant. He is a warrior and when I first encountered him, I liked him immediately.
As is the habit of most would be conversationalists, I approached Sergeant K and blithely asked, "How are you doing?" That was a pretty stupid question. You see, Sergeant K was lying on a hospital gurney, needles and tubes running in and out of his arms, with a bullet hole in one leg. He had been injured in a gun fight the prior evening and was being prepared for transport home. Having only a marginal understanding of the circumstances of his injury, and knowing that often soldiers appreciate the opportunity to decompress after a stressful situation, I asked him if he could remember what had happened. As he relayed his story, the innocence of his youth flowed intermixed with the maturity forced upon him by circumstance...and I was in awe.
On the night in question, Sergeant K and his squad were given the mission of getting a bad guy. They knew where he was and had a good idea of how to get him. They approached the house by darkness and began the assault. Sergeant K, being the veteran and leader of the squad went in first, clearing room after room. The bad guy was determined to fight back. As they entered one room, they met gunfire head on and Sergeant K was hit. They fought "for what seemed like forever". In reality the fight couldn't have lasted 20 seconds. Wounded and bleeding he directed his squad to withdraw so he could redirect a counter assault and tend to his leg. As they moved slowly back, a round caught the newest member of his squad, mortally wounding him.
As Sergeant K laid there on his back relating the story of how the building and bad guys in it were finally destroyed, tears wandered down his cheeks, slowly pooling in his ears. His days of mourning and wondering were just beginning. It was then that I was given the honor of praying with and for this wonderful young man. I prayed while he wept. We spoke a little longer and I left the hospital thankful for having had that conversation.
A couple more things bear comment that will help the reader understand the thinking and nobility of these great men. Less than a month ago, Sergeant K was in another fight in which he received shrapnel to the other leg. He now has two Purple Hearts pending. In spite of his wounds, he expressed a desire to be back with his men, engaged in the fight, supporting them and leading them. That desire and drive came from somewhere deep in his spirit; somewhere untouched by military training or conditioning; somewhere unavailable to man but open to God. Sergeant K's spiritual man played a huge role in his actions and attitudes and he displayed that unashamedly. As we talked it was impossible not to notice that in addition to the scars created by bullets and bombs, he bore a large tattoo on his left shoulder. It offered a window into the soul of the man and his understanding of why he does what he does. It read, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God."