There are stories that I find that touch the heart and fit the moment — and then teach us a lesson. I found one this week that is just perfect for Memorial Day weekend, the day set aside to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice that we might be free. This story was written back in 2002, by Captain John Rasmussen.
It was raining “cats and dogs” and I was late for physical training. Traffic was backed up at Fort Campbell, KY, and was moving way too slowly. I was probably going to be late and I was growing more and more impatient.
The pace slowed almost to a standstill as I passed Memorial Grove, the site built to honor the soldiers who died in the Gander airplane crash, the worst redeployment accident in the history of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Because it was close to Memorial Day, a small American flag had been placed in the ground next to each soldier’s memorial plaque.
My concern at the time, however, was getting past the bottleneck, getting out of the rain and getting to PT on time. Suddenly, infuriatingly, just as the traffic was getting started again, the car in front of me stopped. A soldier, a private of course, jumped out in the pouring rain and ran over toward the grove. I couldn’t believe it! This knucklehead was holding up everyone for who knows what kind of prank. Horns were honking.
I waited to see the butt-chewing that I wanted him to get for making me late. He was getting soaked to the skin. His BDUs were plastered to his frame. I watched-as he ran up to one of the memorial plaques, picked up the small American flag that had fallen to the ground in the wind and the rain, and set it up right again.
Then, slowly, he came to attention, saluted, ran back to his car, and drove off.
I’ll never forget that incident. That soldier, whose name I will never know, taught me more about duty, honor, and respect than a hundred books or a thousand lectures. That simple salute — that single act of honoring his fallen brother and his flag — encapsulated all the Army values in one gesture for me. It said, “I will never forget. I will keep the faith. I will finish the mission. I am an American soldier.”
I thank God for examples like that.
As we gather to barbecue or picnic — or (as is true in my household) just sleep in on Monday and relax — may we remember those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and one private, soaked to the skin, who honored them. Enjoy the extra day away from the rat race of life, but do not let that day pass without remembering those who cannot celebrate, because of the price they have paid. May we rededicate ourselves to using our political freedom to announce to the world the spiritual freedom we offer through Jesus. We honor their sacrifice by engaging in Kingdom work with all our hearts.