Hugh Thompson: An Example to Follow

Hugh Thompson has died. Who was Hugh Thompson? A helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he intervened to stop the My Lai massacre.

Early in the morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta came upon U.S. ground troops killing Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai. They landed the helicopter in the line of fire between American troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians and pointed their own guns at the U.S. soldiers to prevent more killings. (AP via ABC).

Thompson received the Soldier’s Medal in 1998, 30 years after his actions. Few honored him as a hero at the time. More details Thompson’s courageous deeds are here.

I can only imagine how it felt to see your own countrymen engaged in such shameful behavior and to make the decision to intervene with the threat of force. I can only imagine how alone Thompson felt in the aftermath of My Lai. Thompson’s actions required courage at every step.

No, I don’t have any reason to believe that Thompson was a Methodist. I have no clue about his religious preference. The values of Honor and Duty, however, are important to all Soldiers, and should be doubly so for Soldiers of faith. As the Army’s keystone doctrinal manual says:

While the use of force is sometimes necessary for the common good, the authority to wield it carries a moral responsibility of the greatest magnitude.” (FM 1 ¶1-52)

The just use of force requires self-control and unit discipline. Surrendering to individual or group anger turns a unit into a mob, and war into murder. Letting passion rather than purpose rule the day not only harms the victims; it hurts the national purpose and causes lasting injury to the conscience of the perpetrators as well. The nation expects more from its service members, and our Lord certainly expects more from those who belong to him.

The vast majority of American service members are disciplined men and women of honor who do their duty under very difficult circumstances. Every once in a while, some may stray from the disciplined path of honor. When that occurs, we need men and women like Hugh Thompson to step forward. His actions exemplify the Army – and Christian – value of Personal Courage for the sake of others.

William Calley and Hugh Thompson both served in the same Army. I know which one represents the true spirit of the American Soldier.

Vice President Says Thanks

The Vice President of the United States visited my duty station today (6 Jan 06) and spoke to a gym full of service members, Department of Defense civilians and family members. His purpose in visiting was to thank the members of the armed forces and their families for their sacrifices and accomplishments in the war on terrorism. The nation owes a debt of gratefulness to its uniformed service members, and when the Vice President speaks in this capacity, he’s speaking on behalf of the people of the United States. On behalf of all of you, I accept the Vice President’s words of gratitude and pass them along to the rest of the military community.

Some of the Vice President’s speech dealt with the administration’s position on various issues associated with national defense. If you want news or opinions about that part of his speech, you’ll have to look elsewhere – with one exception. Near the beginning of his speech, the vice-president said, “The war on terror is a battle for the future of civilization; it’s a battle worth fighting — it’s a battle we are going to win.” This drew the loudest applause from those assembled (including me). He commented on the national commitment to confront the violent, defend the innocent and bring freedom to the oppressed. Those are among the reasons that I wear this uniform.

The Vice President closed the ceremony by re-enlisting five Soldiers and presenting five Combat Action Badges. One of those receiving the award was Chuck O’Brien. Chuck and I served together in the 3d Infantry Division and Chuck attended the same church that my family attended in Hinesville. Chuck and his wife helped lead the church’s youth group that was so important in my son’s spiritual growth and nurture. Congratulations to all those recognized today.

As flattering as it is to get a visit from the Vice President, I’ve always considered the personal words of thanks from ordinary Americans to be even more important. When a church member or leader says thanks to its members in uniform, that’s even more terrific. I value words of gratitude; I even value the little pieces of ribbon on my dress uniform that express appreciation for what I’ve done. In the end, though, it’s my Lord whose approval is most important. As I serve in this uniform, I must remain faithful to him and to his intent for my life. Someday, I hope to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from someone even more important than the Vice President of the United States.

One Step Toward Freedom

Pray for the people of Iraq as they prepare to go to the polls for their first general election under their new constitution. As is obvious in the news, enemies of the constitutional process are attempting to foment civil war and social chaos. Those who bomb markets, schools, hospitals and places of worship purely to murder civilians won’t hesitate to attack polling places. The bravery of the Iraqi electorate to this point is inspiring to all friends of liberty, including those living under oppressive regimes in the region. The political way ahead for Iraq is not easy; its unique religious and ethnic issues greatly complicate its future. Those who work (and fight) for a free, unified and prosperous Iraq future deserve our prayers and our support.

Iraqis are holding elections, and this is a great thing. It’s another step in bringing to fruition what so many paid so high a price to achieve. Whatever happens in Iraq, it will not approach perfection. The mission will remain incomplete. The result will be something of a disappointment because our hopes are so high. The cost was so high.Nobody hopes more for the peace of Iraq than those who fought there. And yet, we as a nation have learned once again that there is only so much you can accomplish even with the smartest of smart weapons, even with the most prepared and dedicated fighting force in the world. The truth, if you haven’t figured this out already, is that we will never bring in the Kingdom of God with the force of arms. The best we can do, if we’re fortunate, is to make the world a little bit more peaceful and a little bit more just.

Saint Martin’s Cloak

The Legend of Saint Martin

In the fourth century, a Roman soldier serving in northern Gaul met a scantily dressed beggar. The soldier’s name was Martin, and although he had been reared in a pagan Roman household, he had begun the process of inquiring into the nature of the Christian faith. Seeing the beggar, he impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the poor man. That night, he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me.” The dream confirmed Martin’s faith and he was baptized. Sometime later*, Martin left military service, became a monk, an evangelist and ultimately bishop of Tours.

During the Middle Ages, the relic of St. Martin’s cloak, (cappa) became one of the most sacred relics of the Frankish kings. It would be carried everywhere the king went, even into battle, as a holy relic. The priest who cared for the cloak in its reliquary was called a cappellanu, and ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, from which the English word chaplain is derived. One of the many services a chaplain can provide is spiritual and pastoral support for military service personnel by performing religious services at sea or in the battlefield.

* The classical account of Martin’s life says that he left military service about two years after his baptism. Following historian Jacques Fontaine, many (if not most) scholars now date his birth earlier and believe he served in the army for about twenty years after his baptism.