For my blog this week, I want to pay tribute to a special group of American workers: members of our U.S. Military. It is fitting on this Memorial Day to do so. It is, in fact, this day we pay tribute to those whose line of work has cost them their lives! (For a clarification of the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, see HERE.)
Military men and women know the risks. If you don’t, you have a lousy recruiter. Few lines of work in our nation come with the caveat, “Oh…and this job may cost you your life.” It tends to reduce the number of applicants.
In the book, A Greater Freedom, Oliver North and Sara Horn give us dramatic examples of the depth of commitment of most soldiers. The book is a collection of stories from one of America’s more recent military engagements, Operation Iraqi Freedom. The reader will be touched by many examples of the real life sacrifice of heroes in the military workplace.
One particularly moving story to me was that of Navy Medical Corpsman, HM3 Michael Johnson. He died in action while trying to save the life of a wounded Marine. The wounded soldier survived.
Commander Frank Holley was the senior chaplain in the 5th Marine Regiment during this time. His regiment had a gospel choir that was providing music for the worship services before the war began. HM3 Michael Johnson was a part of that choir.
Chaplain Holley remembers Johnson coming forward for communion on the last Sunday before battle. He states, “As Marines and Sailors came forward for Holy Communion, I thought to myself as I administered the sacrament to each, ‘Lord, what will become of his man? Will I see him again if tomorrow we get the word to go?…Lord, I don’t know what’s ahead, but use me as an instrument of your grace.’”
It was, in fact, the last communion HM3 Johnson would be given. It was memorable to the chaplain only because the tall African American needed a shave. Chaplain Holley noted, “Though we grieved his death, we were comforted by he fact that this man knew the Lord.”
On September 17, 2003, the branch medical clinic at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego was named for Michael Johnson, who posthumously was promoted to HM2. It was there that Chaplain Holley met Johnson’s wife and parents. His eyes were misty as he shared the faith commitment he witnessed in Johnson’s life, hoping to encourage them with Michael’s spiritual legacy.
My father in law is a retired Air Force Chaplain. My father was a Navy Chaplain’s Assistant. My wife, Rhonda, and I were married by two Air Force Chaplains—one of whom was her dad. And I personally have benefited from the military chaplaincy program in many ways. I’m grateful for this service to our military.
The Bible tells us that we shall continue to endure “wars and rumors of wars.” (Mark 13:7) Jesus then adds, “But do not be troubled, for all these things must come to pass but the end is not yet.” That’s a heavy message. Sounds like we’re going to need chaplains for quite a while.
Thank you HM2 Michael Johnson. You’ve made a difference. We pay tribute to you and the many who’ve died to make us free. And keep up the good work, Chaplains! Giving a soldier faith, hope, and courage is a true labor of love.
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Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.