He was a simple man. Sprigs of snowy white hair peeking out from beneath a dirty ball cap, framing a wrinkled face that had weathered a lifetime of storms. Wearing worn blue jeans and a button-up shirt that had seen better days, he was probably someone’s father or grandfather, stopping by the magazine aisle for the newest puzzle books. But at the moment, he was staring at what I held in my hands. A photo essay on Pearl Harbor.
Being a child of the ’60’s and ’70’s, the surprise attack that had drawn the United States into World War II was just another history lesson to me. But in this man’s eyes, I saw memories of a time and place so real, I could have reach out and touched them.
I had to talk to him. “Nice book, isn’t it?”
The muscles in his throat moved, and for one brief moment, I felt ashamed for disturbing him. Then he spoke, “I was there.” Not for the attack, he added. He was a boy of eleven or twelve when the Japanese bombed Hawaii. He remembered the call to arms; the boys of Paulding County bravely marching to war; stars hung in the windows of those who didn’t make it back.
It affected him so nine years later, he decided to join the marines. His faded gray eyes shyly met mine. “I’d always been in church, was saved when I was a young boy. But the service changed me. I slid away from the Lord.” He hesitated. “Until I got to the Pearl.”
His orders had come in. After a brief layover in Hawaii, he’d be shipped to Korea to fight in a new conflict. Scared about what lay ahead, he’d decided to visit Battleship Row, particularly the entombed Arizona. Standing where so many had died, he watched as the infamous drops of oil rose to the surface.
“So many lives lost for the sake of freedom.” His lips turned up in a soft smile. “Then the Lord spoke to me in that still, quiet voice of His. He reminded me that one day, the oil would run out and people would forget what happened there. But His Son shed drops of blood for my freedom that will last for all eternity.” The man gave his life back to the Lord that day, sure that no matter what happened in battle, his everlasting freedom was secure. The old man tipped his cap and shuffled away.
A lump formed in my throat as I gazed at the book in my hands, my fingertips skimming the laminated cover. So many young lives lost for the cause of freedom. One battle fought for our eternal deliverance. The nameless man had changed my textbook view of Pearl Harbor. Never again would it be just another documentary on the History Channel, but a constant reminder to give thanks for the men and women who serve our country each and every day. And to give wholehearted praise to the loving Warrior who stormed the gates of hell to ensure my liberty from death.
For Christ truly is the greatest Soldier of all.