1975. WW1 veteran Jim Collie lay in his nursing home bed, wide awake and restless long past bedtime. The orderly on duty noticed—the Preacher, then a theology student working to pay off college debt.
“What’s wrong, Jim?”
“Don’t you smell it?” the old soldier asked, anguished.
“The stench. All those bodies…”
After the war ended, Jim, one of the few surviving members of his regiment, The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), had the devastating task of identifying his fallen comrade’s bodies. Fifty-seven years later, those memories haunted him.
Sometimes he talked of other war duties. He demonstrated how to clean his rifle, his blue-veined hands bending the invisible weapon open, then pushing and pulling the cleaning rod through the barrel. After straightening and polishing it, Jim raised the rifle to shooting position, checked the sight, then lowered it and folded his hands.
“Did you ever have to point it at an enemy,” Rick asked once, “knowing that if you didn’t pull the trigger, he’d pull his?” Jim’s head fell to his to chest. He never spoke of war to my husband again.
Involvement in battle robs soldiers of peace of mind and heart. PTSD devastates; steals many sufferers from life by suicide and other means of self-harm. Battlefield memories can wound as deeply as on the day they were made.
We’ve known other veterans. Sometimes we’ve marched beside them on days of remembrance, I in my capacity as a representative for my MP bosses, and Rick as padre for a local Legion. Every time I’ve had that privilege, every time I’ve laid a wreath at a cenotaph, it shrinks me. Even as a mere stand-in, who am I to walk beside those who willingly defended the freedoms I too often take for granted?
The veterans our nation honours on Remembrance Day have laid down their weapons. Their nightmares are past. But many more uniformed officers have replaced them. We remember them all with gratitude for their countless sacrifices and prayers for their protection.
Many who see battle are followers of Christ, with remarkable stories of Divine protection and enablement. But whether or not they wear a uniform, every Christ-follower is automatically the target of a very real enemy. Since his stunning fall from Heaven, Satan, the enemy of all God’s creation, has prowled the globe, watching for vulnerable souls to destroy. Robbing them of faith, hope and love. Injecting them with toxic doses of pride, fear, despair and hatred—the basic recipe for war.
Only Jesus Christ has power over that Cosmic enemy. We remain strong not through worldly weapons, but by trusting God’s sovereignty, believing his Word and clothing ourselves in spiritual armor.
“Jim,” asked the Preacher that night in ‘75. “Can I pray with you?” The veteran nodded. Simply and quietly, my theology-student fiancé prayed for peace. For rest. Then he left the room. Next time he checked, Jim was sleeping peacefully.
We remember that. We remember him. And on November 11, we will remember them.