DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Have you ever heard of Walter Marm, Gary Littrell, Kenneth Stumpf or Charles Hagemeister? They are four Vietnam War veterans left from an historic group of 850. Out of those 850, 522 were killed (about 60 percent). Today there are less than 100 still living and only 40 of them are able to do much travel. I had the privilege to have lunch with the four of them and others recently at program prior to a NASCAR race.
After that luncheon, as I was boarding the commercial plane traveling to speak at my fifth patriotic service of the week, I could not help but be abundantly aware that we were facing, head on, six military fighter jets side-by-side — dress right dress, ready to make their thundering flyover at the Coke Zero 400 race at Daytona Beach. Behind the jets was the towering super-sized American flag caught in the sun at full mast by the Atlantic Ocean breeze. Wow, what an Independence Day display!
All that is what made me start looking back on a shameful moment in my life. Remembering a grown man searching and then crawling out from underneath our bed with my heart about to burst with shame and my eyes getting ready to prove such deep embarrassment.
The story begins with a thin inexpensive gold-painted frame that had always been, when I was a boy, proudly displayed behind the big coal-burning Warm Morning stove. It was worth a lot to all of our family. Held inside of those four frame boundaries was the picture of two large colored red, white and blue American flags that crossed at their bottoms. The lower half of the declaration had a lot of important-looking writing that led down toward the bottom to an official military discharge paper which was about the size of a big check. It was filled in with handwritten blue ink. It fully and publically declared for all to see that my father, Robert H. Welch, not only was in World War II for two years but had been honorably discharged. Up toward the top, placed in an oval cutout window, between the two flags was a black and white picture of daddy in his uniform.
No doubt, that daily reminder from an ordinary proud American soldier had a huge bearing on my own volunteering for military service. When daddy died I became the keeper of this family treasure and always had it in our home in a choice notable spot. But somehow this patriotic family heirloom had come up missing. Likely it happened in one of our moves, but what made it so killing to me, this loss had practically gone unnoticed for several years. However on that Fourth of July I finally did miss it and started frantically searching.
I finally found it under the bed — glass cracked, back loose and torn with its frame broken. This was all so shameful for me. How in the world could this ever have happened? Something so treasured, near, dear, meaningful, loved and personal to so many of us. And I was responsible for its safe keeping.
On our bedroom floor, trying to make things better by trying to piece it back together I made a vow: This would never happen again. And it has not. And I also learned a very important lesson.
The Great Wall of China, during combat, was never broken through by warring military armies during combat but it was penetrated. What combative armies could never do was done by the keepers of the walls and gates who were distracted, tired, sleepy and even willing to be bribed with many favors and promises of personal rewards. It is easy to lose sight of what is so important and then lose it altogether. That’s what happened to me with dad’s citation.
That brings my memory back to Walt, Gary, Ken and Charles — those four super ordinary-looking guys who share such a dramatically common denominator: They never quit or gave up and they unselfishly risked their own lives in dramatic efforts to save others. Consequently, they each wear around their neck the Medal of Honor presented by the President and the Congress of the United States of America. They were in Daytona at a Medal of Honor luncheon for them and other Medal of Honor recipients.
When speaking, each of the four men goes to lengths to reiterate the following refrain, “This metal is not about us, but it’s about all of those who served this country at some time. We realize that there are many who have made far greater heroic efforts than we, some even gave their lives. We just happened to be the ones who get the recognition and lived to tell about it. We actually hold the Medal of Honor in trust for all those others and we continue to remind everyone who will listen what a great sacrifice that has been made so we can be free.”
Come to think of it, I do not believe the warring enemy would have ever gotten through the Great Wall of China if Ken, Charles, Walt and Gary and their buddies had been the keepers of the gates.
Jesus is the one who did lay down His own sinless life at the hands of the enemy of our souls in order that “whosoever will” would not only live a life of freedom here but in eternity later with Him.
Do you think Christians will ever stop sharing that thrilling personal story of God’s love? Will American Christians ever forget “the main thing?” Could Southern Baptists ever get so tired and sleepy or so distracted by money, favors and worldly promises that we would leave our first love and allow the enemy in?
That will never ever happen if we are like those New Testament soldiers of the cross and their buddies.
There’s a world out there right where you and I live who will listen if we and our buddies will just be Christians who will tell His extraordinary story. As I wrote in the “You the Warrior Leader” book, the Medal of Honor for Christians, is to hear the Lord say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
Bobby Welch is the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s strategist for Global Evangelical Relations, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.