On this day seventy-five years ago, my father’s life was profoundly impacted by a piece of shrapnel and two strangers.
As a 20-year-old small town football star, he found himself far from his Kansas home on a WWII battlefield near the French/German border. He was a radio operator assigned to a forward observer team directing artillery fire to attack the Germans occupying a French town. His battalion was ambushed, and he was taken prisoner. Right after being captured, an artillery shell exploded behind him. He realized his “pant leg was filling with blood.” An artery in his leg had been severed by shrapnel. “As I attempted to get my belt around my thigh, two German soldiers came down the trail. One stopped and tried to help me with the belt, but the buckle broke. The soldier went on. The last I remember, I had crawled in front of a bunker, maybe 75 yards across a clearing, and two German Soldiers came out and were looking down at me. When I awoke several hours later, I was in a German field hospital.” A few days later, his left leg was amputated. He remained a POW for several weeks.
Reflecting on my father’s life, I know this was a pivotal moment for him, strengthening his faith in God and in human kindness. He questioned why his life was spared when so many others died in the battles. He knew he had been rescued by two enemies who could have stayed in the safety of their bunker, but chose to risk their lives to help him….an “American soldier who just moments before had been directing artillery fire toward the area.” As he wrote years later, “I was fortunate to have fellow human beings rise about the typical act of warfare and perferm an act of Christian brotherly love. To forgive your enemy and then risk your life to save his–that is the ultimate in forgiveness.
My father felt God had a reason for sparing his life. He never considered himself a victim. He strove to make his life worthy of the risk the two enemy soldiers took to save him. Many years after the war, he returned to France and Germany, hoping to thank the two people who saved his life. Though he met with former German soldiers when he traveled with veteran tour groups, he never found the men.
Today, seventy-five years after the fateful date of February 21, 1945, I picture my dad sharing a toast in heaven with his fallen brothers and the two Germans. I’m not sure if they’re lifting glasses of French wine or steins of German beer, but I know they are grateful for His blessings.
Today I’m remembering those of the Greatest Generation who sacrificed to liberate occupied lands and push back evil forces to secure freedom for many. I also will not forget the family members who supported the soldiers on the frontlines. My mother’s story of strength and faith is an amazing testimony to be told another time. With a grateful heart, I thank all who sacrifice to serve our country, especially the members of the United States Army 70th Infantry Division….the Trailblazers. You will not be forgotten!
My dad’s favorite Bible verse
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose. ~~ Romans 8:28 (KJV)