Roger Helle / Nov. 11, 2020

A Veteran’s Reflections

Grateful for a life spared, and thankful for those who paid the ultimate price.

It was as hot as I remembered, nearly 120 degrees under cloudless skies. It was 1989 and 23 years had passed since I last stood on this spot. Twenty-three years earlier we often came into this little fishing village on the Perfume River five kilometers south of the Imperial City of Hue, South Vietnam. My squad of Marines almost always took enemy fire as we approached this village.

The last time I walked into this village, nine Marines and a Navy Corpsman died violently when we were ambushed by a large group of Viet Cong guerillas. Two other Marines who had been critically wounded were taken by helicopter to a hospital. I was told the next day both had died. I carried the guilt of surviving that night for 23 years.

Today, there was no gunfire, just a crowd of villagers, many of whom had not seen an American before. The older villagers stood silently watching to see what was going to happen. Our group of returning veterans knelt with me as we had a Memorial Service for my fallen friends. Standing with me were my wife and children. My emotions were overwhelming.

But this time, gone was the guilt of surviving as well as the grief I had worked through. By God’s amazing grace in my life, He had healed the deep wounds of my Vietnam experience and I could only weep tears of gratitude. But there remained an unanswered question: Why me? Of the 13 men on that patrol, why was I spared? I silently prayed for an answer, but Heaven was silent.

Then, as if in answer to the searching of my heart, I heard what the Bible calls “the still small voice of the Holy Spirit” say, “I spared you for my purpose. Now, be faithful to what I called you to do.” That event took place 31 years ago in a place I never wanted to return to again. Vietnam had taken so much from me in the lives of those I had the honor of serving alongside.

On my last combat tour, I was critically wounded by a grenade, shot, and burned. I was only 22 years old, and as I lay in that open field bleeding heavily, I knew I was going to die on that trail. Suddenly, I was being pulled to safety. A 19-year-old Lance Cpl. and a 21-year-old Navy Corpsman pulled me to safety while exposing themselves to enemy fire. It’s true what Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Every day in our country is a gift. What we do with that gift is our gift to God. No nation on earth has the freedoms secured for us by our Constitution and guaranteed by the blood, sweat, and tears of our veterans. Every day since, I try to keep that promise I made. The promise to live my life in a manner worthy of the sacrifice made for me to be here. And to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

Please don’t take those freedoms for granted. The price paid for them was greater than you can imagine.

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