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Dear Yank: A Memorial Day Message

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4).

In 1944, Sgt. Frank K. Turman was serving in the Netherlands East Indies.  He started thinking about the initials “GI” and the words they represented a General Issue. Then he got mad and wrote a letter to the editor of YANK Magazine.  And this is what he said.

“Dear Yank:

It takes courage to buck against so many people, but we would like to know who the person was that started referring to a soldier as a “GI.” Discussing it with all the fellows over here, I find that most of them hate to be called GI. Anybody can be a GI, but it takes a man to be a soldier, sailor or marine. What would Washington have said if you asked him to send up a GI? Nathan Hale said: “As a soldier I’ll gladly die.”

Abraham Lincoln said: “A soldier is more than just a man.  He’s a bearer of truth and faith in the things that go to make up everlasting decency of mankind.” General Pershing said: “Only as soldiers who know what they are fighting for, do my men push on.” Francis Scott Key didn’t know any GIs’.  He wrote only of the guys who kept the flag, “still there.”

When we walk over our dead buddies we wouldn’t refer to them as dead GIs.  And when we get home again, and see our buddies’ loved ones, we just couldn’t say: “Your son died a GI’s death.”  When we think of GI we think of items of issue, but we are not issued; we are here for a cause. When I got in the Army they told me I was a soldier, and that’s what I have been.  GI might be a term for some people in this Army, but not for us.  I may not be all the way right, but lots of fellows are with me on it.”

I am with Sgt. Frank K. Turman in the sentiments he expressed.  With all due respect to the traditional meaning, perhaps the initials GI could also refer to God’s Instrument.  I believe that military personnel are God’s Instrument of righteousness and peace for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In a perfect word, military personnel would not be needed.  The universal human heart beats for such a world. The vision of the prophet Isaiah might yet be fulfilled. Perhaps the time will come when men “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4)”.

Today, nations are not beating their swords into plowshares. The world is at war with terrorism. All over the globe political leaders are taking the limited resources of the countries they rule and building bombs of mass destruction.  In 1998 India and Pakistan renewed the arms race with a vengeance. We can once more hear the ticking of the Atomic Clock as the hour hand moves once more towards the midnight of mutually assured destruction in that part of the world. In Iran and Iraq our sons and daughters fight and die on foreign fields of battle.

Until the arrival of the Prince of Peace, who alone can transform the global human heart, there will be wars and rumors of wars.  Men and women will be called upon to defend themselves, and others, in just causes.  In the defense of personal property and political ideologies, many will be wounded, and some will die, demonstrated in those 56 individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured, before they died.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.  Nine fought and died from wounds, or the hardships of the Revolutionary War. What kind of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers, and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated.  But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and the sacred honor. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy.  He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags. Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly.  He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward. Vandals, or soldiers, or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters.  The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire, which was done.  The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying.  Their thirteen children fled for their lives.  His fields and gristmill were laid waste.  For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home after the war to find his wife dead, his children vanished.  A few weeks later he died from exhaustion, and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Such are the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution.  These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians.  These were soft-spoken men of means and education.  They had security, but they valued liberty more.  Standing tall, straight and unwavering, they pledged:  “For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They gave us an independent America which others have maintained with their blood.  We owe them all a debt of honor.  That is why we honor our military men and women. We want to magnify our military personal. We want to pay a debt of honor. We want to say to anyone and everyone that we are grateful to those who have given us gifts of dying grace, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And, as we live in freedom because of all the men and women who died to make us free, let us also remember another battle that was fought more than 2,000 years ago at a place called Calvary. The goal of that battle was also to set men free. It was a battle for the ages, and victory was won. The cry of victory can be shouted for all eternity, “Redemption has been accomplished. It is finished!”

“In the heat of the early morning On a hill they call the Skull The roaring of the angry mob had settled to a lull

All eyes were cast upon the man whose hands and feet were bound They saw him cry in anguish when they heard the hammer pound

They watched the bloody woven thorns with which His head was crowned They watched the bloody cross of wood be dropped into the ground.

The soldiers gambled for His clothes, they watched them win and lose They saw the sign above His head that said “King of the Jews” It is finished,

And the sky grew black as the night It is finished

And the people scattered in fright

The work had been done, redemption had been won The war was over without a fight
It is finished. They searched His face for anger, for vengeance in His stare Instead of eyes that burned with hate a look of love was there He prayed for their forgiveness and bowed His battered head And no one knew the meaning of the final words He said The provision has been made The foundation has been laid He paid the ransom due and tore the temple veil in two And opened up the way for me and you It is finished!”

William P. Newell (1868-1956) thought about the finished work of Christ and wrote.

“Years I spend in Vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.

Now I’ve given to Jesus everything;
Now I gladly own Him as my King;
Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the might gulf that god did span, at Calvary!

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.”

Of all the battles that have been fought, of all the men and women who have died to set people free, let us not forget Calvary. Let us not forget Jesus Christ.

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