The spirit of the fallen solider

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2019

It is doubtful anyone loved their country more than the fallen soldier.  The warrior who one day walked onto a battlefield with fierce determination to protect and defend his beloved America only to never return to its shores. Not including the Civil War, we have lost almost 700,000 service members on battlegrounds because of such courageous love.

These soldiers were born into families who were of different religions and different ethnicities. They were Republicans or Democrats or neither. However, where they were, it mattered little because they were all in the same mud, the same trenches, experiencing the same horror and fighting together to save their country. They gave their lives for all Americans to be treated equally, all religions to be freely worshiped and for all to have the freedom to speak and vote.   

Courage has no color and no voice. Bravery is born of the heart, which believes there is no greater love than a person laying down his life for another. We need look no further than to view 700,000 graves scattered across this world to see headstones depicting exemplary love.

My daddy always said, “When our country starts losing its way and folks no longer take pride in America, is the day war will begin, or a tragedy will occur to wake up the spirits of the fallen soldiers. It is the day we become unified and one. Our backyard debates and political party arguments are silenced. We all realize at that critical time what matters most is saving our land of the free.”

When my father was around 13, his widowed mother ran a boarding house near Jamestown, Tennessee. He was the youngest of four children who regularly helped his mama with the chores and duties of running the inn.

“Ray, you need to go to the train depot in the car to pick up Sgt. York and take him to his home,” she yelled from the kitchen.

Yes, the same Sgt. Alvin C. York, World War I hero and recipient of the Medal of Honor and numerous other awards. Back in 1927, most 13-year-old boys knew the story of the famous Tennessean who had stood exposed to gunfire from a German machine gunners’ nest atop a hill in northern France. Nine of the seventeen men in his unit had been gunned down in a barrage of bullets as York led the charge along with the remaining soldiers. York, being an expert marksman, attacked the hill, silenced 35 machine guns and took 132 Germans as prisoners.

Also, in 1927, if a 13-year-old knew how to drive a car, he took the wheel. As Ray inched toward the train station, snow began to fall in Jamestown. Undeterred, as soon as the sergeant got off the train, the boy proudly saluted him.

Ray Walker drove a hero 11 miles to the York farm as the snow started to settle on the roads.  When they arrived, the sergeant stepped from the car, telling the lad to come in from the cold.

As the snow and ice accumulated, Sgt. York sent word to Ray’s mother, explaining why her son was going to stay with him until the weather cleared.

It was four days before the roads were drivable. During those days, the sergeant told stories about the war and his service to the awestruck young boy who would later become my patriotic father.

Daddy always declared that when Sgt. York talked about his infamous battle, he spoke with deep sadness about the comrades he did not save on the hill that day in France. The sergeant was a renowned hero, yes, but within his heart, he remained a man without pretense or pride and humble enough to make sure a young stranger was safe.

Gary Cooper won an academy award for his portrayal of this remarkable man in 1941. After all the fame and accolades were bestowed on Alvin York, the ailing Sergeant tried to enlist once again to fight in World War II.

Perhaps if each American paused to remember folks like Alvin Cullum York, or the 700,000 soldiers whose remains are scattered over battlefields all over the world, we might become a more thankful, thoughtful nation. If we teach our children the personal tragedy of war, then maybe they will understand the importance of peace.   

All fallen soldiers have a story to tell of their heroism. They came from all corners of these United States and gave their lives for us. It is vitally important to keep telling their story because if we listen, we might garner enough courageous love to heal a divided country.   

Do we need war or tragedy to unite us again, or might we learn a valuable lesson from the spirits of our fallen American soldiers?