War: Life Transformative
“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:3-4
So what will it be like to return to the place where I fought a war half a century ago? This war had an enormous impact on my life and, unfortunately, my later health. Significant Agent Orange exposure used prolifically as a chemical defoliant to keep the “jungle breaks as bare as possible entered my system and did its damage over the years.
These jungle breaks were 100-yard-wide, 50-mile-long swaths through a fertile jungle to allow watching enemy movements. I lived and fought in these swaths, shaving using rain puddles, getting water for c-rations, and low crawling through them not knowing they were saturated with the powerful, untested on humans, defoliant.
25 years later, when the Air Force researchers said it would happen, I found out it had given me diabetes, a heart attack, and a stroke, which led to heart bypass surgery and eventually heart stents. I am the only one in my family to be inflicted with these ailments. In addition, it may have precipitated now upcoming para-esophageal surgery.
I also very nearly died in country in the midst of lethal combat as an Infantry Platoon Leader, and I may never have known those later health maladies without God, by His providence, literally bending bullets and shell fragments around my body rather than through it. The powerful impression I had had before going to Vietnam was that I would not return to the U.S. alive. I knew in advance the life expectancy of an Infantry Platoon Leader was the shortest of anyone in a fire fight. But God’s plans often surprise us and alter the outcome.
After being in Vietnam for over a year, returning to the U.S. alive was surely a transformative life event. I have still, a half century after, not plumbed the depths of the experience. It was surely a traumatic stress encounter. However, God was with me through the entirety. Of that, I was well aware!
I will visit the now deserted base which was the place from which we launched our operations, mostly into the Central Highlands of Vietnam. We conducted mechanized operations; being a Mechanized Infantry Battalion with Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) mounted with three machine guns and what we called Mortar “Tracks (APCs) to fire mortar rounds from a movable platform, tanks to beef up our fire power, or air assault operations using helicopters in place of our APCs, carrying our weapons, mortars, and ammo on our backs. We even used boats on one operation, being based on the South China Sea.
As a Platoon Leader, I suffered the loss of killed or wounded soldiers for whom I was responsible multiple times. They were all heart wrenching. I lost a number of RTOs (Radio Telephone Operators) whose job was to remain within arms-distance of me, so they were killed or wounded approximately arms-length from me. Yet God surely was my shield.
Many soldiers can survive such and consider it luck or fate. They do not consider the providence of God their means of escape. They do not acknowledge that He had another call on their life. They might later, or then again, not at all. But I knew God had other purposes for me.
After marrying and having five children, God chose to take my wife at a young age through cancer, rather than me, whom He had already saved from the “fowler’s snare. He moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.
Vietnam was surely life transforming. How could it not be? War has a way of making an indelible mark on you. You may be silent about it. You may eventually talk about it, or not. But it still leaves its deep mark, which changes your life permanently. Nothing is quite the same after.
God is certainly much more like that than any war. When He enters your heart, He leaves you reborn. You will never be the same when He comes. Nor will He ever not be afterwards. When He transforms a soul, He does it forever. Jesus said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you, and He holds Himself to it. His Word never fails.
Vietnam is a country in a far-off place where I learned what war is, about death and dying, the human carnage of it, at such a young age; an impact never passing without leaving its mark. But I am glad to go back nearer the end of my life than when I first went, though I had no idea then my life would last this long. The memories never faded – the smells, the sounds, the land, the seasons, the people. This time I go not to fight, but to remember and ponder. How great is our God!
“Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings. It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings. When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again a season of clear shining to cheer it after rain. // In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue the theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new. Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say, ‘Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.’
(1st and 2nd verses of William Cowper’s hymn, “Sometimes a Light Surprises, 1779)
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