I remember watching a documentary about the Falklands War. They had an embedded reporter and film crew with a Special Forces team that were scouting to take the main town where most of the British citizens were known to live. I remember they were using a night vision camera because they were maneuvering at night.
I do not remember the full details, but I know they got into a firefight. One member of the team was hit and was pulled out to where the camera operator was. He recorded what transpired in the minutes that followed. He kept his camera mostly on the man’s face. You could hear the medic trying to patch him up as well, but I soon was zoned in upon the face of the young man on the screen before me.
I was not able to join the military due to trying to be a good son. My eldest brother joined the Navy, and my father had opened a family business a couple of years later while I was still in High School so when it came time to make the choice. I decided to be the dutiful son and honor my father’s wishes and stay out of the military and in the family business.
So this was the closest I have ever came to a real combat situation. I wished I could have been there with them. Standing and fighting beside them, but instead I set thousands of miles and months after the fact, watching the face of a young man in the green light of a low light camera lens.
I watched his eyes. His eyes that moved, reacted, and flickered with the life within him. Soon though they become unresponsive, but still the flicker of life was present. Then it happened. The flicker left and I knew that his soul was gone and all that was left was an empty body.
This was the first time I had ever witnessed the death of a body. It was the first time I knew that without a doubt we had souls that are just using a body to get around from place to place and converse with other souls. It was here that I knew we were children of creation, not an act of chance or nature. It was here that I realized those that had never had to make such a sacrifice as this young man did or been his comrade, or as I learned by watching a documentary. That these men, these soldiers sacrifice so much so we can have freedom. Therefore, we can have the indulgence of not having to see things like this. Then I see what people do with this freedom. They take from men that have died like this man. They take the symbols of God from where those like him are buried. They steal money from those like him so they can live in luxury while they suffer physically and mentally from the wounds of war, and they refuse them care that was promised to them. This is just wrong.
What follows is sermon given at the Naval Academy a few short hours before Pearl Harbor was attacked:
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, Peter Marshall preached to the regiment of midshipmen in the Naval Academy at Annapolis. A strange feeling which he couldn’t shake off led him to change his announced topic to an entirely different homiletical theme based on James 4:14: For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away. In the chapel before him was the December graduating class, young men who in a few days would receive their commissions and go on active duty. In that sermon titled Go Down Death, Peter Marshall used this illustration.
In a home of which I know, a little boy—the only son—was ill with an incurable disease. Month after month the mother had tenderly nursed him, read to him, and played with him, hoping to keep him from realizing the dreadful finality of the doctor’s diagnosis. But as the weeks went on and he grew no better, the little fellow gradually began to understand that he would never be like the other boys he saw playing outside his window and, small as he was, he began to understand the meaning of the term death, and he, too, knew that he was to die.
One day his mother had been reading to him the stirring tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table: of Lancelot and Guinevere and Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat, and of that last glorious battle in which so many fair knights met their death.
As she closed the book, the boy sat silent for an instant as though deeply stirred with the trumpet call of the old English tale, and then asked the question that had been weighing on his childish heart: “Mother, what is it like to die? Mother, does it hurt?” Quick tears sprang to her eyes and she fled to the kitchen supposedly to tend to something on the stove. She knew it was a question with deep significance. She knew it must be answered satisfactorily. So she leaned for an instant against the kitchen cabinet, her knuckles pressed white against the smooth surface, and breathed a hurried prayer that the Lord would keep her from breaking down before the boy and would tell her how to answer him.
And the Lord did tell her. Immediately she knew how to explain it to him.
“Kenneth,” she said as she returned to the next room, “you remember when you were a tiny boy how you used to play so hard all day that when night came you would be too tired even to undress, and you would tumble into mother’s bed and fall asleep? That was not your bed…it was not where you belonged. And you stayed there only a little while. In the morning, much to your surprise, you would wake up and find yourself in your own bed in your own room. You were there because someone had loved you and taken care of you. Your father had come—with big strong arms—and carried you away. Kenneth, death is just like that. We just wake up some morning to find ourselves in the other room—our own room where we belong—because the Lord Jesus loved us.”
The lad’s shining, trusting face looking up into hers told her that the point had gone home and that there would be no more fear … only love and trust in his little heart as he went to meet the Father in Heaven.
After Peter Marshall had finished the service at Annapolis and as he and his wife Catherine were driving back to Washington that afternoon, suddenly the program on the car radio was interrupted. The announcer’s voice was grave: “Ladies and Gentlemen. Stand by for an important announcement. This morning the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was bombed…..”
Within a month many of the boys to whom Peter Marshall had just preached would go down to hero’s graves in strange waters. Soon all of them would be exposed to the risks and dangers of war, and Peter Marshall, under God’s direction, that very morning had offered them the defining metaphor about the reality of eternal life.
—Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter, pp. 230-231, 272-273