My father was a Marine and he served in the Pacific during World War II. For the most part, dad rarely spoke about the war. Like most soldiers who served, the subject was one with too many painful memories. Dad generally would keep the subject light and entertaining whenever he did speak about the war. There was one story though, that my father loved to tell my brothers and I whenever we would ask about the war. It was a story dear to his heart.
During the winding down of the war against Japan, dad was serving in the Pacific theater. One night he drew night patrol and was assigned to scout for enemy troop movements in the rough jungle terrain. He had just climbed a tree to conceal himself, when seemingly out of nowhere the entire area beneath the tree was filled with enemy Japanese soldiers. Dad found himself trapped in the treetop for hours on end, as the enemy decided to camp right beneath the tree.
Barely able to breath, for fear of giving away his position, dad said he spent the time praying for God’s protection and asking God to help him. Every prayer he had ever learned, swirled through his mind and heart, as he waited silently in that treetop. He prayed that he would not be discovered, and as time went on he began to pray for the enemy soldiers beneath the tree. He said he could see, in his minds eye, our family back home and he imagined these soldiers were missing their loved ones too.
Up close, the enemy soldiers looked very much like the men in his unit. While their physical appearance was not American, and he could not understand their language, he knew from observing them that they were Gods children too. Men caught up in a war, which had brought them all to serve their country. Each one standing for what they thought was right, according to their upbringing and nationality. Like him, they were ordinary men with families and friends in a country far away. Men who might never see their loved ones again should they perish in the jungles of war. As he prayed and watched them, they sat relaxed around the jungle clearing, laughing and sharing letters and photos from back home, the same as my father and his fellow soldiers did when not on alert.
As night began to give way to the first light of the morning, my father accepted that in the end, he would probably not be returning home. The odds were stacked against him and he knew he could not remain motionless and undetected for much longer. Having made his peace with God, my dad began his final silent prayer. He prayed for the men beneath the tree and their families. He prayed for courage for the necessity, which might mean he must fire upon and kill his enemy. And for forgiveness also, as my father never took Gods commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” lightly.
Just as my father gave the outcome over to Our Father in Heaven and made the sign of the cross, an enemy soldier spotted his hiding place in the treetop. As my father signed himself with the cross, their eye’s locked upon one another in the instance of war and the struggle to survive. To my dad’s utter amazement, the enemy soldier silently made the sign of the cross on his own forehead, and put his finger to his lips as if to say; “Be still my brother. I shall not betray you.” Almost in that very instant, the enemy soldiers began to move out as silently and as quickly as they had arrived. My dad never ceased Thanking God for his protection on that day. And dad always remembered to pray for his brother in Christ whose name dad never knew.