There was something about Walter’s article the other day that I’ve thought about for a long time. A lot longer than knowing what the term conscientious observer even meant. It’s interesting too that while we posted his tribute to Arnold, that same Wednesday evening’s Bible study was a continuation of going through the 10 commandments and that night was Exodus 20:13 Thou shalt not kill.
It’s seemed to me over a long time that courage comes in many ways. We take every Friday to remember our deployed troops, whom are deemed by all of us here as courageous, and so appreciated. Without those willing to go into the battle, and fight for freedoms and liberation, our world would be even more of a horrible mess.
While the commandment not to kill is a worth while study, I won’t judge those who have understood it to mean any kind of killing because I’ve had a lot of years trying to understand all sides of it.
When I was growing up, I was a scrawny little 4 eyes, the smallest in my class until around grade 10. Needless to say I was subject to my share of bullies growing up. If it hadn’t been for some bigger, tougher kids who for some reason took me under their charge, I’d have come home bloody more than just coming home with bruises.
I never really understood pacifists and conscientious observers before, because I always felt that if some big bully is pounding on a smaller, weaker kid (people), standing back and not doing anything to resolve it would get the smaller kid even worse treatment. Reading stories growing up about people standing by while others got hurt didn’t sit right with me. Sometimes it took a good right hook to get the bully to stop. But then I realized…
Other times, just a few words and a stare down would be enough. On a personal scale I’ve also learned that bullies are hurt people, and often when they’re shown compassion, they can grow into amazing, caring people.
I do want to talk about this more because over the years I’ve found so much courage is found in those people too, who would either attain peace through diplomacy or work toward healing instead of killing.
Is killing the enemy in war murder? Not according to the Lord when considering people such as King David, whom in spite of his actual murdering of a man so he could have Uriah’s wife, he killed many during times of war and was never condemned for it.
Reading through much of the earlier parts of the Old Testament, God orders Israel to slay the enemies often leaving none alive. So, no, Biblically I don’t see how killing during war is murder. But just as I believe, I know others believe just as strongly that from the very first murder of Abel by his brother Cain is a sin, that any killing is a sin. And these folks, as I said, show much courage for standing on their conscience even to the point of being punished for not acting against their beliefs.
That said, while reading Walter’s article, I thought of other Conscientious Observers, and I’d like to highlight a few of them. Some of you may know their stories, such as our first two, because of movies about them, but it’s still worth reading about these courageous men who were willing to go into the fight in a different way.
Alvin York was from Tennessee where growing up poor, gained a reputation as a hell raiser, but highly skilled rifleman. Many figured he’d never amount to much, being a drinker and gambling in the local bars, until two events changed his life.
First, his best friend was killed in a bar fight in Kentucky; and he attended a revival conducted by H.H. Russell of the Church of Christ in Christian Union. His friend’s senseless death convinced York that he needed to change or he’d end up with a similar end. The prayer meeting came at just the right time.
The Church of Christ in Christian Union was a strict fundamentalist sect, which like many in the south in those days forbade activities such as drinking, dancing, movies, swimming and cussing. They also forbade violence and were against war.
When the United States declared war on Germany in April, 1917, York’s new found faith was tested. He received his draft notice from his friend, the postmaster and pastor of his church on June 5, 1917, just six months before his thirtieth birthday. His friend and pastor encouraged York to seek conscientious objector status. York is said to have written on his draft card, “Dont want to fight.” When his case came up for review it was denied at both the local and the state level because the Church of Christ in Christian Union was not recognized as a legitimate Christian sect.
Alvin York entered the US Army and made for Camp Gordon, Georgia to begin basic training. A member of Company G in the 328th Infantry attached to the 82nd Division where it proven he was an excellent marksman but who had no desire for war.
After weeks of debate and counseling, York finally agreed with his company commander, that there are times when war is moral and ordained by God, and so, he agreed to fight.
The other soldiers in his company questioned York’s loyalty and looked upon him with suspicion for not wanting to fight.
Yet, his actions in France proved how courageous yet still convicted, Alvin York was. You can read of his exploits here, including delivering 132 German prisoners to his battalion headquarters…
I realize not everyone has seen the movie Hacksaw Ridge, and if you haven’t, I’d highly suggest it. It is an incredible movie, based on the story of WW2 Heroics by Combat Medic, CO Desmond Doss.
Doss was a Seventh Day Adventist, who upon joining the Army not long after Pear Harbor, found himself facing a court martial because of his refusal to even touch a rifle. Ridiculed and found untrustworthy by the others in his company, Doss was able to train as a medic.
Sent to Okinawa, Japan, his unit climbed a vertical cliff dubbed Hacksaw Ridge, and the Japanese were up top, waiting for them. They opened fired with artillery, mortars, and machine guns, turning Doss’s unit back and killing or wounding 75 men. Desmond was the epitome of the phrase, leave no man behind, as he retrieved them one by one, loading them onto a litter and down the cliff.
A few days later he was busy dressing wounds, and making four trips to pull his soldiers out of the cave they had taken shelter in, all the while grenades were being thrown at them. The last trip out, he was critically injured, yet he treated his own wounds and waited five hours for a litter to carry him off.
During the time he was being carried off, they had to take cover from a tank attack. While waiting, Doss crawled off his litter, treated another more severely injured man, and told the litter bearers to take him instead.
While waiting for them to come back, he was hit in the arm by a sniper and crawled 300 yards to an aid station.
Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector to earn the Medal of Honor for his heroism and earned immense respect from those he had served with.
Thomas Bennett may be an unknown to many folks, but for those he saved during a days long ambush in Vietnam, he was a hero.
Born in Morgantown, West Virginia, Bennett was a student at West Virginia University when Vietnam really warmed up. By winter of 1967, he faced losing his student deferment due to poor grades and he realized he would become eligible for the draft.
Tom was raised a Southern Baptist, but through studying other religions, he desired followers of different religions to share their similarities rather than fight each other over their differences. To learn more he began attending services of different faiths. His belief in the sanctity of human life became a solid conviction and he often preached on the subject at his own church.
His stepfather was World War II Navy veteran, had raised him as a patriot and to be ready to fight for his country if called. Already some of Bennett’s friends had been drafter or signed up for service and several had gone to Vietnam. One of his friends since childhood had been KIA. Tom was torn between his convictions but he also didn’t want to dishonor his friend’s sacrifice by refusing to serve or by running as so many others had to Canada.
He thought he faced three choices: serve, desert to Canada, or declare himself a conscientious objector.
Thankfully he learned of a fourth choice from a University campus draft counselor , that he could apply to be classified as a conscientious objector who was willing to serve and be trained as a medic. That’s what he requested and was granted.
Under the Army’s program, he and other conscientious objectors took weaponless basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, then attended the field medical school there. Tom was glad that he could still serve his country and honor his friend’s memory, but his involvement would be saving lives.
He lamented at the thought though of having to go to Vietnam, and almost backed out, but he shipped out in January 1969. After 10 days in country, he was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, and headed deep into the thick jungles central Vietnam.
In early February the company suddenly under attack.
Their other company nearby, Delta, had walked into an ambush. Bennett’s platoon was ordered to attack toward Delta, but soon Bravo was also ambushed. The three point men were hit and everyone else dived for cover except Tom. Ignoring the incessant gunfire, Bennett made his way forward and gave lifesaving first aid to the three wounded men before carrying each man to a safe area a little ways off.
As the firefight continued, he ran hunched over, back and forth across the battlefield, patching up wounds and encouraging his fellow troops. When it was over, Bravo was left with five dead and six seriously wounded who were carried out by Medevac choppers.
Those left behind dug in deep, wary of another attack during the night. Bennett spent the night double-checking anyone who had been wounded and not evacuated.
That same night, Bennett’s platoon sergeant made the request on behalf of the men, to put Corporal Tom Bennett in for a Silver Star for his bravery under fire.
The next day the men of Bravo Company continued to push downhill without any more incident until they were suddenly hit again, this time by B-40 rockets along with AK-47s.
Bennett immediately went to work bandaging wounds, injecting morphine and offered words of encouragement. By night when it was over, Bravo’s survivors were exhausted. But again Tom was up all night treating the wounded.
As the sun came up the next morning, enemy snipers took potshots at the Company, wounding even more, and Bennett instantly came to their aid. Rifle shots rang out as he went to one of the fallen, when Tom himself fell…
On April 7, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon presented Tom’s posthumous Medal of Honor to his mother and stepfather. Tom was the only conscientious objector to earn the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War, and only the second in history- the first being Desmond Doss.
You can read some of the remembrances of Tom here, where his name appears on the virtual Vietnam Wall Memorial.
To all our troops, those of you who put yourselves in harms way, whether you fight the bullies of this world, or save those who do, you are our heroes and we are so grateful for you.
God bless and be safe.
Have a blessed RED Friday all.