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Some Reflections on World War II
In my earliest years, my values were shaped
by an extended Christian family. Both
my father and mother were active in the Church, with mother giving time,
energy and talent as the Organist-Choir Director of a very large
adopted a basic philosophy of life following the words of John 3:16: "For
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever
believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
I lived with
idealism in my soul and a desire to love everyone whom I met along
life's way. Then came the
I was shaken by the attack on Pearl Harbor.
That was the final exclamation point to what my government had
been telling us -- that there is a basic disagreement in philosophy
between the major nations of the world. Therefore, it is a critical necessity that we defend our
country and its precious values. (Today,
looking back, I picture every national government floating that same
banner over its people!)
Drafted in June 1943, I was low in rank and
responsibility. Only after
two and one-half months of combat did I become the Squad Leader of a
machine gun squad, awarding me the rank of Staff Sergeant.
That was my rank when the war ended --
Staff Sergeant, Second Platoon, Company B, 63rd Armored Infantry
Battalion, 11th Armored Division. I
was never a Chaplain or Chaplain's Assistant ... only a Squad Leader who
treasured those special moments when I had time to read my Pocket New
Testament, or special occasions when it was safe to have our Chaplain
lead us in worship.
My basic and unit training took place in
California. We were always
shooting at Japanese cardboard figures; training films included these
suddently shifted to the European theater, we were introduced to a new
enemy, the German Army. And
then, two weeks after the German surrender, a new batch of films made us
wary of our Russian allies.
Through those changes, I began to wonder
about the role of propaganda. Those
whom we fought invented ways to stir up both troops and civilian
population, and now even our own government had adoped this means of
attacking the enemy.
After the war in Europe had ended, there
were some opportunities for our Chaplain to lead worship in German
churches. I would sit there
and wonder about all the worshippers who had directed millions of
prayers to God ... both Germans and the Allies ... asking God to direct
and protect them, and to give them victory.
My question: How could God answer those prayers? We both wanted victory, but how could He make that
possible? And if
"God so loved the world, ..." the world, meaning everyone,
could He favor the prayers of one side over the other?
We were instructed by our officers to treat
German civilians gently, to respect their property and to acknowledge
their status as "non-combatants."
This policy suited me very well!
It was possible to carry out our military assignments, while at
the same time respecting those who did no violence.
I enjoyed contacts with German families
after the war ended. One
special family in Landshut -- a mother and father and their pre-teen
daughter -- invited me to their small apartment.
There I could listen to the radio and glance at a German
newspaper, trying to increase my tiny vocabulary and expand my
comprehension of the language. Their
apartment was heated by what looked like an inverted 50-gallon drum set
over the stove, with a tiny one-inch pipe at the bottom, through which
one could feed tiny twigs and dead leaves.
This was the only source of warmth they had, but they shared it
in the spirit of friendship. --
After I returned to America, I continued our friendship by
sending CARE packages of simple necessities for a couple of years.
God's love is reflected only by my love, and that love must be so
much more than words.
I was not involved in the discovery of the
concentration camps, Mauthausen and Gusen, but I vividly remember seeing
enlarged photographs of stacks of naked human bodies at those camps. During my four and one-half months of combat, from Bastogne
to Linz, I had witnessed the wounded and the dead, even the death of my
best friend; but those memories shocked me far less than these
Could these be human
Why are they treated like
Who could have done this?
There is a dark-side in each of us. And it is something we must fight against.
For me, there is a struggle to give 100% of myself to God.
But I always fail in some measure.
Fortunately, He is forgiving and ready to help me succeed.
Perhaps this is why I am not bitter because of the war or because
of those who have been tainted by the designation: "Enemy."
If together we can visualize the same goal and reach for it,
we will become friends and helpers of each other!
As I reflect upon my few months of combat,
I visualize the German soldiers as being hard-working, dedicated,
skilled and focused on their goal.
I was amazed at civilians whose towns and villages had been
bombed and destroyed, cleaning up their streets and beginning the
rebuilding process as soon as the fighting had ended.
They refused to allow their spirits to be defeated, if even
If the best of every nation can be pooled together and used for good in this world, we will enjoy a sense of brotherhood and well-being that is unprecedented! God loved the world 2,000 years ago, and He can guide us in fulfilling our desire to be complete and whole!