Daddy and the Poppies

 Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. –John 15:13 NIV

One of the earliest memories I have is of my father “buying” me a poppy from a man in a military uniform outside our church on a Sunday morning. As I grew older, I came to understand when Dad put money in the can, he was donating to a local veterans’ organization.

A World War II veteran of the US Army, my father didn’t talk about his service. He’d been defending the continental United States on the godforsaken island of Attu when he was wounded. Shrapnel in his spine left him recuperating in a VA hospital for a year.

How I wish I would have asked more questions! But I was young with my own life ahead of me, and had little, if any, interest in something that didn’t directly affect me.

Now I regret that selfish attitude. I realize my roots are as important as my wings. I have plenty of questions now. Where was he stationed? What was his Army job? I know he’d attained the rank of sergeant but little else. I may never know this side of eternity. My parents, and that generation of relatives who could have given me answers, are all gone now.

I wrote to the Veteran’s Administration for my dad’s service records, but unfortunately a fire destroyed them. I researched “Attu” online and learned that had the Japanese won that historic battle on the westernmost Aleutian island, we may well have fought World War II on continental American soil. I sent for the DVD of the PBS documentary, Red, White, Black, and Blue, “a wrenching look at a forgotten battle.”

But I’d rather have the story from my father’s point of view. It would mean so much more to me.

So every year, in memory of my father, I “buy” a poppy and entwine it on my purse. When I had my grandchildren with me, I’d get one for them, too.

“My daddy—your great-grandfather—always got me a poppy,” I’d say. “Do you know where the idea for poppies came from?”

Then I tell them about the poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrae in 1915, during World War I: “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow Between the crosses row on row.”

I tell them about Moina Michael, who, in response to McCrae’s poem, went out and bought a bouquet of poppies and distributed them, asking that they be worn in tribute to the fallen. Donations were given to servicemen in need.

If I still have their attention—and I make sure I do—I recite the verse she penned:

“We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a luster to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead in Flanders Field.”

“And today,” I say, concluding the brief history lesson, “red poppies are made by disabled veterans in hospitals, with the donations going to support a variety of veterans’ organizations.”

And then I give them each a poppy.

Let not loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them about your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. –Proverbs 3:3 

Father, let the poppy also remind us of the sacrifice Your Son made for our eternal freedom. Amen.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea for the Seasons, © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

“When I Have Your Wounded”

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. –John 15:13 NLT

In 1964 Major Charles Kelly served as the commanding officer of the 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) in Vietnam. With only five aging UH-1’s, known as “Hueys,” the 57th’s primary mission was to recover wounded US soldiers.

Under Kelly’s leadership, the medical evacuation program grew and acquired the name “Dustoff,” taken from Vietnam’s red dust that swirled and dusted everything within range when the rotors churned.

Kelly was a soldier’s soldier, a man who stuck his neck out for what he believed. Wounded in World War II, Kelly almost died from his gunshot wounds. But this did little to deter him from doing what he felt he was called to do.

“He was morally and physically fearless,” wrote Major General (ret.) Patrick Brady in his article, “The Decline of Dustoff,” for The American Legion online magazine (June 20, 2013). Brady served in Kelly’s unit and, when Kelly was killed, took over leadership of the 57th.

Kelly was court-martialed three times, Brady reports, but he “cared more about doing what was right than about his career.”

He was called “Crazy Man” and “Mad Man” for his willingness to take on dangerous missions to rescue the wounded and fly at night, which up until Kelly took over, just wasn’t done. But Kelly knew it was vital to get medical help to the wounded as soon as possible.

“Why must a patient wait until sunup when helicopters fly just as well – actually better – at night, and the crew is safer from enemy fire?” Brady noted.

On July 1, 1964, Kelly flew his final mission, to what was supposed to be a secure area. Instead he flew into a “hot” spot, an area under heavy enemy fire. He was warned to back off, but Kelly refused.

“When I have your wounded,” he replied.

A few moments later an enemy bullet pierced his heart.

The next day that very bullet was dropped on Brady’s desk.

“Now are you going to stop flying so aggressively?” he was asked.

Brady grasped the bullet. “We are going to keep flying exactly the way Kelly taught us to fly, without hesitation, anytime, anywhere.”

“Inspired by Kelly,” Brady wrote, “Dustoff became the most revered and effective battlefield operating system in Vietnam, with close to one million souls rescued and unprecedented survival rates.”

Former Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams praised Dustoff: “Courage above and beyond the call of duty was sort of routine for them. It was a daily thing, part of the way they lived.”

Kelly was posthumously awarded the US Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award that can be given to a member of the US Army for “extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.”

“Greater love has no man than this,” Jesus said, “that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 RSV).

Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, a day set aside to honor America’s veterans for “their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

Let us remember the veterans among us, as well as those who have passed away and especially those who gave their lives in service to their country.

Thank you, honored men and women, for your service!

Thank you, Lord, for the men and women willing to sacrifice their lives for their country. They remind us of Your Son, who gave His life so others might live with You forever. Amen.

Read and meditate on John 15:9–17.

© 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

Image from The American Legion online magazine, June 20, 2013, “The Decline of Dustoff”