Two greying empty-nesters named Henry, St. Louis Cardinals fans since childhood (however intermittently in my case), sat across the picnic table on Saturday. The other Henry had been charged with telling me about his father, yet another Henry. So, it being Memorial Day weekend, Henry père's war story came to mind.
"Dad was on a B-24 on a bombing run over Germany when the plane was shot down. The plane turned over on its back, one of the wings fell off, and then it exploded. Dad was blown out of the plane. He was the only survivor.
"When he landed, he was captured by a bunch of German civilians. They got a length of rope and were taking him to a tree to string him up when a German soldier came by and stopped them. My dad spent the rest of the war as a POW.
"After the war, ... I don't know whether it was guilt from being the only survivor of the shootdown or what, but he was never the happy-go-lucky guy he'd been growing up. He went through shock therapy and other things, but he was never happy again. He became an alcoholic and died when he was forty."
So much food for thought in so few words.
Isn't it interesting that it is to one of the soldiers whom he and so many others had gone overseas to kill that Henry père ended up owing his continued life and Henry fils owed his very existence? That German soldier is remembered on this Memorial Day because he did the exact opposite of what he and Henry père were trained and paid to do: preserve the life of the enemy.
Why were the civilians so ready to kill? Was it simply because Germans were barbarians, as we were taught growing up? Or could it be that they had lost loved ones to the carpet bombings and felt justified in killing one of the bombers? Or that they were still angry about the misery they had gone through in the 1920s and 1930s caused by the Treaty of Versailles and its resultant near starvation, and that on top of being dragged into the first war, one that was originally no business of France, Britain, and certainly the United States and entered by those last for opportunistic imperialist reasons?
How did those civilians feel about being robbed of their prey by a man they were paying to defend them from the likes of this US soldier? Was this rescuer in danger from those who were paying him?
For the last few years of the war in Ir-Af-Pak, US military deaths by suicide have exceeded deaths from hostile fire. Was Henry père's alcoholism simply a somewhat socially acceptable form of suicide?
Most importantly, was there no way this war could have been avoided? Was the US government, which by this time had eschewed the liberty mindedness of Jefferson for Progressivism, without blame for bringing it about? Or could those who ended up profiting from it have had some interest in seeing it begin?
Whatever the answers to those questions, some things are certain.
God's ways are beyond our knowing. Certainly the average US Christian would not credit the courage of a paid armed agent of Adolph Hitler with his own eternal life in Christ, yet that is the testimony of Henry fils (as I connstrue it, anyway), and that in a way harder to swallow than that of Corrie Ten Boom. (Sister Corrie's testimony is that the Nazis were the horrible death dealers we US Christians love to hate, yet it was through that horror she saw God work in her own life, eventually even to the point where she was able to forgive those who had tormented her and killed her sister.)
Yet because of the interposition of a kraut, Henry père returned home, married, and fathered children, including Henry fils, who, for reasons of his own, soon followed his father into alcoholism.
Yet today he is the loving husband of a joyful wife and father of two children he has every right to be proud of. Most importantly, he is a citizen of heaven who testifies, "I'd have gone the same way my father did. It's only because of Christ that I didn't" and takes an active role in his church.
Part of what God used to bring that man to Christ and make him a channel of blessing to so many was the noble action of an anonymous German soldier almost seventy years ago. May the soul of that Nazi soldier rest in peace.
Happy Memorial Day.