Almost everyone in America has been somehow affected by the recent events at the Ft Hood Army post. The events seemed particularly intense because only days later Americans honored those who served in Veterans Day observances around the nation.
Just when we thought there couldn't be another movie about WW II along comes Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' and the ten part miniseries about the 101st Airborne's Easy Company with the epic and stirring film, Band of Brothers.
Most Americans are not naïve about the strains of war and they realize that sometimes soldiers will act out their worst under the pressures of warfare. Yet there is an unparalleled history of military dignity, observances of the rules of war and concerted effort to observe the provisions of the Geneva Convention in American fighting men and women. All of this fails sometimes not because they are soldiers or U.S. Soldiers but because they are human.
Yet it is that humanity that can also draw out the finest behavior in those under great stress and in life threatening circumstances. This accounts for the fact that no other country in the world can tell of so many military heroes.
My father was a burly handsome Italian speaking American GI who loved to tell stories about his escapades in Europe during WW II. Fun loving and mildly recalcitrant, he laughed about how he skipped off base at night by putting on civilian clothes and sauntering boldly out of the facilities. When questioned at the gates he would just start spouting off in Italian and the guards would let him pass thinking he was one of the locals.
The brass wouldn't let him stay in Italy and he was soon shipped out to chase the fleeing German troops across the hedgerows and byways of the German country side. Battles and skirmishes waxed and waned and he paused once to ask his Sergeant what that buzzing noise was he heard all around him at times as he charged across the open fields. His Sergeant replied with, "Don't worry about it soldier, and just thank God that you can still hear the buzzing because when you can't you will probably be dead."
One story dad repeated often always provoked my deepest awe and while I never told him to his face I have never been as proud of him as I was for the way he handled himself in that particular circumstance.
He had just been in an intense firefight with German soldiers and had little sleep for days. He sat up with his rifle in hand and tried to sleep for just a few minutes until the next call came to move out. The call came and his entire company rushed forward to the next position but he failed to wake up.
When he did awake he found himself completely alone and unable to determine which way his company had moved. He followed his gut instinct and headed off in the direction he thought they would take but as he moved away only a few yards he heard a muffled voice and jerked himself around quickly with his rifle pointing in the direction of the sounds.
There in a ravine lay two wounded German soldiers and although they were bloodied up they were not in imminent danger of dying. They motioned to him by spreading out their hands as best as they could and achingly cried out the words, 'mercy, mercy.' With his finger poised firmly on the trigger and no one around to witness anything he pondered their situation and wondered what he would want someone to do for him if the tables were turned.
In only a few seconds he decided to show mercy as requested and dashed off to find his company. He came through the rest of the war unscathed and returned home to his family to live a long and productive life.
Acts of mercy, kindness and compassion coming from a fully dressed and fully armed soldier may seem like the perfect non-sequitur but in the legacy of the American soldier that is not true. Acts of compassion in our brave servicemen are a reflection of America and all that it was meant to be.
Mercy is an outcome of upbringing and association with a nation that was founded on principles that cannot be compared to any others in the history of civilization. Abraham Lincoln said "I have always found mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice." An American soldier may have the power of death in his hands but because he is an American soldier we want to think he will never forget the power of mercy in his heart.
The balance between life and death hangs on the simplicity of another simple but profound rule given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." (Mt 5:7)
Copyright ©2009 Rev. Michael Bresciani