Tag Archives: Armed Forces

Three reasons why Christians should read military history

Roger Trimble, standing second from the left, in front of his B-24 Liberator
Roger Trimble, standing second from the left, in front of his B-24 Liberator

I recently finished a book called “Beyond The Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot’s Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on the Eastern Front”. It’s about a World War 2 heavy bomber pilot who completes 35 missions, and then goes into the Soviet Union (our allies, at the time) to rescue American POWs who were starving or being kidnapped or murdered by the Soviet secret police.

I found a very good article about it from Stripes, to just quickly introduce the story:

Later, after making contact with POWs roaming the Polish countryside, [Capt. Robert Trimble] fully embraced his mission. He saw the desperate plight of those who had been liberated from Third Reich prison camps. Many were sick, emaciated, often clothed in rags and left to fend for themselves during a brutally harsh winter.

Trimble risked his life numerous times over six weeks, helping to rescue hundreds of POWs. He came to the aid of others, too. In one daring rescue, nearly foiled by Russian agents who had become suspicious of his activities, Trimble helped 400 French women make it out of Poland and back to France.

Although he was being constantly trailed by Russian spies and informers, he would evade them, and bring food and money to the POWs, then put them on a train to Odessa, Ukraine, where they could get onto a ship going home.

Why I read military history

It is hard to develop virtues just by wishing and hoping. Something has to go into your mind that causes you to think differently, and feel differently. Everything that you watch on TV, hear on the radio, or see in the movie theater, is made by secular leftists. They aren’t trying to build your moral character. They’re goal is to break down your resistance to their unBiblical worldview and moral values. Instead of giving people who hate Jesus your money, just so you can be entertained, why not try to put something in front of your eyes that will make you better?

Look at this famous passage from the Bible.

Romans 12:1-2:

1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 

2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

And also this from Philippians, my favorite book of the Bible.

Philippians 4:8:

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

So you can see that when I am reading, my goal is to work on my character. I want to have feelings about things that are appropriate for a Christian man.

So why military history? Here are three reasons why I read these military history books.

Humility

First, humility. Humility used to be one of my biggest challenges. So I thought to myself “instead of seeing yourself as some heroic figure, why don’t you read about some real heroes… people who willingly gave their lives for their friends, like the Bible urges, and like Jesus did by example”.

Remember this from John 15:13?

13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Military history is filled with stories of courage, bravery, self-sacrifice, endurance, unselfishness, and many other virtues. When you read about people who are better than you, doing more important things than what you’re doing, it really helps you to be humble.

The best thing for humility is reading Medal of Honor citations. You can find a bunch of them online here. And if you want a book to read, try these books about Medal of Honor recipients:

Endurance

Second, endurance. I sometimes feel badly about not having found someone to marry and not having lots of children. I wanted a good marriage to be a model for others, and also to have an influence in the next generation through my children. However, whenever I read military history, I see a lot of young men dying in battle. And I think, they too won’t know what sex is like. And, they too won’t know what marriage is like. And, they too won’t know what having children is like. But it’s not just the ones who die, it’s the hardships they have to go through, as well. Cold, hunger, imprisonment, pain, loss of their friends, etc.

I remember reading about one of my favorite battles – probably the most famous battle of the Korean War, which is our most moral war. It’s about Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division. They had to hold a hill beside a vital road against overwhelming numbers of Chinese soldiers during the freezing cold North Korean winter. I remember reading about how one soldier got up to go to the bathroom, and was nearly shot by a sniper. He fell over on his own poop, which had already frozen by the time it hit the ground. For months after, I would always think about this whenever I went into a bathroom. We have pre-warmed water in our bathrooms at work, along with soap, lysol spray, febreeze, contact lense cleaner, hand sanitizer, and other things. Just understanding what other people have to go through in war helps me to be more patient with the little tiny setbacks that I experience. I used to get very anxious when anything went wrong, because of I was raised by strict immigrant parents. That anxiety seemed to last a long time, but since I started to read military history, I’ve been much more patient. I know that things could be worse.

Thankfulness

The third thing that I’ve experienced is thankfulness. Not just for all the things that I have because of what our armed forces have done, e.g. – basic human rights, prosperity, liberty, security, etc. But also specifically about those who gave their lives so that I could live free in a free country, and practice my Christian faith without fear.

Here are two of my favorite Medal of Honor stories from World War 2, in the Battle of Pearl Harbor:

Congressional Medal of Honor
Awarded Posthumously
PETER TOMICH

Rank and organization: Chief Watertender, U.S. Navy.
Place and date: Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.
Born: 3 June 1893, Prolog, Austria.

Although realizing that the ship was capsizing as a result of enemy bombing and torpedoing, Tomich remained at his post in the engineering plant of the U.S.S. Utah, until he saw that all boilers were secured and all fireroom personnel had left their stations, and by so doing lost his own life.

And:

Congressional Medal of Honor
Awarded Posthumously
JAMES RICHARD WARD

Rank and organization: Seaman First Class, U.S. Navy.
Place and date: Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.
Born: 10 September 1921, Springfield, Ohio.

When it was seen that the U.S.S. Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Ward remained in a turret holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.

I do think that it’s important for Christians to read these kinds of stories in order to feed their own awareness of what it must have been like for Jesus to give his life voluntarily for us.

There is no shortcut to gratitude. You have to constantly reflect on the sacrifices made by others for you, if you are to have any concrete reason for feeling grateful. The more you read about examples of people giving their lives for others, the more you’ll appreciate what Jesus did for you. It will make you grateful.

There is a very annoying idea out there in the culture that says that people just do whatever is easy and fun for themselves, and since everyone else is always doing what makes them feel good, then there is no need to be thankful for anything. It’s comforting for people to delude themselves with that belief, but it’s false.

My reading list

You can check out the “What I am Reading” section of the blog to see which military history books I’ve been reading.

Meet four heroes of the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6th, 1944

Map of D-Day landings (click for larger image)
Map of D-Day landings (click for larger image) (courtesy of Time magazine)

I thought it might be a good idea to write up something about D-Day in order to help people understand some of our military history, and to put the spotlight on some real heroes. I don’t regard artists, athletes, dancers, singers, actors, or other celebrities as heroes. It really alarms me that so many people know more about these fake heroes than they do about real ones.

Weakness emboldens aggressors

For one thing, many people don’t understand how British and American libertarian isolationism made World War 2 into a much bigger mess than it needed to be. As historian Victor Davis Hanson explains in the lecture I linked below, the Allied nations were much stronger and better equipped than the Axis nations before the war started. The Axis nations developed better weapons after the war started. But Germany and Japan didn’t think that the Allied nations would do anything if they were aggressive. We know this from their writings and correspondence. They thought that British and Americans were just too scared of war to stop them.

Germany and Japan tested their hypothesis out by re-arming and annexing territory from their neighbors. Britain and America were led by libertarian isolationists, so they didn’t fight back. The aggressors correctly understood that libertarian isolationists didn’t have the will to oppose them, even if they were weaker than the Allies. But the more they re-armed and annexed territory, the stronger they became. The Allied nations waited too long to confront them. And that’s why World War 2 was much harder to win than it needed to be.

Here’s a very good lecture about the causes of World War 2 by an actual military historian, Victor Davis Hanson:

So, that’s the first point I wanted to make: libertarian isolationism causes wars. Although libertarians claim to oppose war, they actually cause war, due to their weakness in the face of evil. So who stops wars? People who favor a strong defense, and show a willingness to fight back against aggression are the ones who REALLY oppose wars. This is called “peace through strength”, and you can see it in action in the Cold War, where Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet Union by making their aggression costly.

Heroes of D-Day

My second concern was to promote the real heroes of D-Day, over the fictional heroes of movies, fiction, music, dancing, sports, and other entertainment nonsense.

Here are the four heroes I chose:

  • Major John Howard
  • Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort
  • Brigadier General Norman Cota
  • Major Richard Winters

Let’s take a look at each of them.

John Howard

Major John Howard led elements of the British 6th Airborne Division to take two vital bridges southeast of Sword beach. He did this in order to prevent German socialist counterattacks coming from the east. After they took the bridges, they had to repulse German tanks with nothing more than their useless PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti-Tank) grenade launchers. The PIAT was nothing more than a grenade launcher powered by a coiled spring. It was very inaccurate, and only effective to 50 yards. But that’s all the British paratroops had to stop tanks, and they made it work. You can read about him in this book by Stephen E. Ambrose, entitled: “Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944“. This New York Times article tells the story in brief. He also is played by Richard Todd in the famous movie “The Longest Day“.

Benjamin Vandervoort

Lt. Col. Ben Vandervoort served with the 82nd Airborne Division. I read about how he lead an infantry attack against German Tiger tanks (!) and infantry in Stephen E. Ambrose’s book “Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany“.  Ben Vandervoort broke his ankle during the D-Day landing, but he insisted that the medic just “lace it up tight” so that he could supervise the attacking and holding of Ste. Mere Eglise, southwest of Utah beach, against a vastly superior enemy force.  This article tells about how he defended against elite German SS infantry and heavy Tiger tanks at Trois-Ponts, during the Battle of the Bulge. He was outgunned and outnumbered 20 to 1, and had just a few lightly-armed soldiers, two weak 57mm anti-tank guns and some bazookas. He is portrayed by John Wayne in the famous movie “The Longest Day“.

Norman Cota

Brig. General Norman Cota is my favorite person in World War 2. At 51 years old, he nevertheless landed at  D-Day, and rallied terrified Army Rangers to follow him up the bluff, by telling them that Rangers ought to lead the way. “Rangers Lead The Way” later became the motto of the Army Rangers. He always led from the front, demonstrating how to attack a German machine gun position in a farmhouse to a group of American soldiers who were pinned down. He actually grabbed a bunch of grenades and led the assault team against a heavy machine gun! You can read about him in this short article and in Stephen E. Ambrose’s “D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II“. He is portrayed by Robert Mitchum in the famous movie “The Longest Day“.

Richard Winters

Major Richard Winters served in the 101st Airborne Division. Winters led an assault against a superior force of heavy machine guns and 105mm field guns. His tactics were so brilliant that they are still studied at West Point today. You can see Richard Winters and Carwood Lipton in the HBO “Band of Brothers” series, or read this book by Stephen E. Ambrose entitled “Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest“, which is the basis for that series.

I hope this convinces you that military heroes are far more important than the “heroes” of fiction and entertainment. It’s alarming to me that people invest more and have more respect for characters in Hollywood science fiction movies, and other such make-believe nonsense. We need to be rooted in reality. In reality, men who fight and die fighting evil to protect your freedoms are the real heroes. People who take military history seriously are able to give respect and gratitude where it is due – a very important part of being a mature, moral human being.

Why I admire people in the armed forces more than famous entertainers

I’ve noticed that many Christians can tell me a lot about famous entertainers. It doesn’t matter if it’s singers, musicians, actors, athletes, etc., they seem to know details of their biographies, achievements, etc. And it doesn’t really matter if those people are Christians, or whether they have performed actions consistent with a Christian worldview in their private lives.

Anyway, speaking for myself, I mostly admire two kinds of people. The first kind is the kind I blog about here all the time: Christian scholars engage non-Christians intellectually using logic and evidence. The second kind, as you can tell from my reading list, is people who distinguish themselves in conflict with those who oppose the principles and policies that allow me to live out my Christian life. And I am especially interested when people who are fighting evil (imperialists, Nazis, socialists, communists, leftists, etc.) exhibit Christ-like character in risking their lives to save others, or in giving their lives to save others.

Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot
Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot

I have a war story to tell you that happened on November 10th, 1943.

Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) Walter Lewis Chewning of Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, steps on the burning fuel tank of an F6F-3 Hellcat flown by Ensign (later Lieutenant) Byron Milton Johnson of Potter, Nebraska to effect a successful rescue of the pilot on November 10, 1943. Johnson had flown out to USS Enterprise from Barbers Point, Hawaii, enroute to Makin Atoll in the Gilberts to support the United States Army invasion, which occurred on November 20, 1943. The afternoon of November 10, Johnson took off in F6F Hellcat Number 30 for a routine training exercise. He immediately developed engine trouble and requested an emergency landing. He was waved off three times as he struggled to maintain control, but his tail hook caught the third arresting gear wire, and Johnson’s Hellcat was slammed into the deck, coming to rest in the port catwalk. The plane came to rest on its external belly fuel tank, which started to leak. As the engine vibrated horribly as the propeller bent itself on the deck, sparks ignited the fuel. The hard landing had jammed Johnson’s canopy closed, shearing the retaining pin; he could not exit the plane. Chewning, who had joined the ship October 2, 1943 as Enterprise new catapult officer, scrambled out of the catwalk and came through the smoke. Stepping on the burning belly tank, he forced open the canopy and pulled Johnson to safety.

He received the two highest non-combat medals available:

Chewning was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions.

He was a well-educated and accomplished person before joining the Navy:

Chewning played soccer and Lacrosse at Cornell while studying Mechanical Engineering, breaking his rib and left ankle in one game. He graduated in 1936 and studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the Navy in January 1941. He was the assistant to the Chief Engineer at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before joining USS Enterprise. He served as Enterprise’s catapult officer until December 1944, when he transferred to Dutch Harbor Naval Air Station in Alaska as ordinance officer. Chewning served in the Navy until December 1949; he also was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war he assisted research and development for various aeronautical companies, the United States Air Force, and the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Motion picture film of the crash, taken from Enterprise’s bridge, was shown as part of the television program “Victory at Sea” on January 25, 1953. Chewning and Johnson gave interviews to several newspapers about the accident after the program aired.

You can see a video clip of the rescue here, from 5:35 to 6:00. I found a colorized version of the picture above here:

Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot
Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot

This image was colourized from the original by Paul Reynolds.

What I thought was interesting about Chewning was how he had everything going for him in terms of his education and career, but he chose to join the Navy anyway, in order to defend his country from Japanese imperialism. Those who understand how the Japanese treated prisoners and conquered peoples will know which side of that conflict was good, and which side was evil. Chewning wasn’t some sort of loser who took risks for fun and thrills. It had to be a risk where the prize was worth the risk. And he had the humility to consider others better than himself, so that their life was worth the risking of his own. Many people on the secular left who like to talk about how generous, compassionate and virtuous they are are unable to make moral judgments against evils like Japanese imperialism – much less take self-sacrificial action against them.

I just think that it’s important for young Christians to have the right kind of heroes. The heroes who are promoted to young Christians by the cultural elites are not usually the right role models. And there is a reason for that. The secular leftists don’t want young Christians to be emulating people who excel according to the standards of the Christian worldview. We are in a religion where self-sacrificial love is the centerpiece. Taking trouble on yourself for someone else. Doing your job, when it goes against your own self-interest. Let’s not allow a bunch of godless socialist celebrities to pick and choose who we hold in high regard.