1969. It’s a dark and stormy night in a tropical war zone half-a-planet away from your agrarian roots. You’re flying a single-seat F-100 just coming off a target on the Ho Chi Minh Trail after tangling with triple-A spitting fire in your face. Adrenaline, that amazing manifestation of God’s grace that keeps the body functioning in times of high stress, is still surging through your veins, staving off physical and mental exhaustion. You are so sweat-drenched that you’re eyeballs burn and your boots feel like flooded waders as your feet work the rudder pedals. It’s dark as the inside of a cow as you streak through the post-midnight sky at 6 miles/minute. There are no external visual clues as to your spatial orientation. Intermittent lightning flashes and turbulence and all that jinking in the cross hairs of the enemy have made the gyros in your inner ears unreliable. You dare not trust them to tell you which way is up. There is no autopilot and the jet cannot be trimmed up hands off. Your bladder is bursting but you are far too busy to do anything about it. You are at bingo fuel (minimum to return to base) over unfriendly territory and you’re a long way from home. You have no choice but to resist all other bodily sensations and trust your burning eyes scanning a cluttered panel of  dimly glowing dials and gauges to keep you alive to fight another day. Don’t tell me there is no God!

“If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me” ( Psalm 139:8–10).

Veterans Day, 2021. Life is simpler now. If it’s a dark and stormy night I don’t even go out. If it’s after midnight I’ve long been in bed and the bathroom is mere steps away. I now get around at a sedate subsonic pace, day VFR only. My combat radius is substantially reduced and  I can still find my way home. I haven’t experienced the terror/exhilaration of being shot at and missed in over half a century, praise the Lord. To borrow from Bunyan, if this isn’t Beulah Land it sure is close. It has been an uncommon life uncommonly blessed and I’m one uncommonly contented codger.

“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6).

I have no lingering trauma, but I live with indelible memories of man’s inhumanity to man, some of it wrought by my own hand at the point of the spear for an interminable year. The dominant memory is of God’s amazing grace in my life over the killing fields of a noble cause lost. I have learned first-hand to have zero faith in man, even less in government, but total faith in our Sovereign God. His hand has been on me from the moment I was conceived (Psalm 149:5), and never more felt than in combat. By His grace I was one of a dedicated band of brothers, the ablest aviators our country could produce, who, with a generation of patriots on the ground, did our duty for God and country in The Charge of the Light Brigade writ large in Vietnam.

On this day to honor living veterans, I speak for my brothers-in-arms who cannot. Honor their charge, America. T’is a nobler thing to die for one’s country in defeat than in victory when the cause is just. Would that our political leadership was worthy of the warriors. 58,000 souls on The Wall–let not their glory fade.

“Greater love hath no man…”

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