Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Writer, A War, and Veteran's Day

Since November 11, 1919, Americans have celebrated Veterans Day (originally Armistice Day) to honor those who’ve served in the military. I had the privilege of being at Rays Church, in Oconee County, Georgia as they began their observance this past Sunday. Josh Darnell, a retired captain in the United States Army and Purple Heart recipient spoke at their Veterans’ Day service. Most of today’s post is composed of excerpts from Josh’s message on Sunday. I found it a great challenge to abridge his words, because they were all so powerful.

L to R Bev and Jerry Varnado, Melissa and Josh Darnell
Josh, a graduate of the University of Georgia in journalism, later chose to enlist in the military at a time in his life when many would question his reasoning. He traded his life of comfort and ease as a writer at “Georgia Magazine” for that of a soldier on foreign soil. Josh struggled to explain his actions to others, but eventually traced his decision back to stories he heard from his grandfather and others like him.

In Josh’s words: “He told me stories of doing battle with Japanese tanks, of the bullet wound he took to the jaw, and the suffering he endured in the months spent returning home on a hospital ship. It began to occur to me that his was only one story among an entire fading generation that owned similar tales…These and other stories of courage, sacrifice, and diligence accumulated in my head, and eventually began to affect the way I viewed my role as an American.

I put in my two-weeks notice at my job, stepped through the door of the Georgia Square Mall recruiting station, and so my story began.”

Josh went on to speak about the men and women now serving in the military, “…many of them still in their twenties and facing their third or fourth combat deployment, would never be asked to jump from airplanes into Nazi territory or storm beaches as their WWII forbearers did. They would never watch their buddies freeze to death like so many in Korea, or face alienation on the home front like so many veterans of Vietnam.

But, they will face the crushing emotional strain of deployment again and again and again. They will miss a baby’s first steps, or a grandmother’s funeral or a child’s graduation. They will walk down a dusty street, never knowing which passing car or hard-faced local is wired with explosives. They will see friends dead or injured, and return to a nation still trying to figure out if it was all worth it in the first place. They will suffer and sacrifice on the same level as their predecessors, and because of that, their service must be considered just as noble, their stories just as sacred.”

Josh shared candidly about his struggle to hold on to his faith in light of the horrors of war, and then came the life altering explosion of a suicide bomber. “As I lay there, ears ringing, fighting to maintain consciousness through the pain, I found myself in a position of spiritual clarity well beyond anything I had ever experienced. …I came to the ponderous realization that, at that very moment, there was virtually nothing between me and the God I had sought and dismissed so many times. No worldly distractions, no embittered analysis about the nature of man, no anger over the things I had witnessed. Just me, the sound of my blood pounding in my ears and the strange certainty that God was listening very intently for the next thing I would say.

So, I asked him for help.

I asked Him not to let me die in a muddy street 6,000 miles away from everything I had known and loved and taken for granted.”

God answered his prayer through other brave men and women who risked their own lives to rescue him and provide medical treatment.

Though still left with many unanswered questions, Josh expressed his gratefulness and the peace he’s found in God. He closed this way—“As my life stretches out in front of me, I can only pray that I continue my story with the same grace, courage, and humility that so many veterans of wars past have exemplified in their post-war lives. It is the least I can do for those who served before me, and for the God that brought me home. May God bless you all, and may God bless the United States of America.”

May God bless America, indeed. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord..." Psalm 33:12

Pictured below are other veterans in attendance on Sunday. When I see these men served in places like Afghanistan, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, I know the names on this list have suffered much for freedom. It’s a special privilege to see WWII veteran Harvey Smith among these faces, as well as the name of one not able to be present, Ed McDonald, another of that Greatest Generation.

Pictured left to right: Josh Darnell, U.S. Army(Captain) 2006-2010-Served in Georgia, Texas, and Afghanistan; Bill Gilmer, U.S. Navy(Bailey Tender 1st), 1948-1952-served in Korean Conflict, Also now serves as Commander of Amvets Post 10; Bobby Kinman, U.S. Air Force(E5 Staff Sergeant), 1967-1971-served in Texas, Illinois, and Florida; Lynn Norton, U.S. Navy(2nd Class Petty Officer), 1957-1959-Served in Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Japan; Bennie Reynolds,U.S. Army (SP4), 1968-1969-Served in Georgia, Oklahoma, and Germany; Paul Shadowens, U.S. Navy(STG2-Sonar Technician 2nd Class), 1969-1973-Served in California, Around the World Tour, and Vietnam; Harvey Smith, U.S. Navy(1st Coxswain) 1943-1945-Served on Attack cargo aboard USS Wakesha, later at Georgia Tech for Officer’s Candidacy; Bob Strickland, U.S. Air Force (Sr. Master Sergeant)- Served in Texas, Florida, Japan, Europe, and 3 years for American Embassy in Brussels. Belgium.

Not pictured: Perry Aycock, U.S. Army (E5 Staff Sergeant) 1966-1967, Served in Georgia, Louisiana, And Vietnam; Scott Aycock, U.S. Navy (E3) 1991-1993, Served in Virginia and Mediterranean; Ed McDonald, U.S. Navy(Mate 34e Class-Motor Machinist) 1943-1946, Served on Submarine “Tirante” and destroyed 22 Japanese ships, also served in Connecticut, and Japan.

I’d also like to honor two other men: My father (left), Steve Chitwood, U.S. Air force (staff sergeant ) 1949-1952 – served in Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, and England during the Korean Conflict and my husband’s father (right), another WWII veteran, Alton Varnado(deceased), U.S. Navy ( Gunnery Sergeant) 1943-1945, Oklahoma

Thanks to all these veterans for their brave service and for helping to secure freedom for not only us, but also our children, grandchildren and beyond.

Let’s continue to pray for men and women in our military putting themselves in harm’s way this very hour. Thank a veteran today for their service.

For more from Josh Darnell, please read this article at Georgia Magazine.

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