I grew up in an environment where most people honored God, their country and their word. I was, and in many ways still am, a country boy from rural East Texas. We lived a simple life but were never lacking for something to eat, clothes to wear, discipline or love. We were just normal people, pretty much like everybody else around us. We were proud that we were Texans, and even more proud that we were Americans. During the last portion of my high school days, the Vietnam War was escalating, and most of us knew that in all likelihood we would be in the military and many if not most of us would end up in that part of the world called Vietnam, in Southeast Asia. We hardly knew what the fight was all about, but our parents raised us to honor the flag, what it stood and stands for. We didn’t protest the war, burn our draft cards or flee to Canada or some other parts of the world to avoid being drafted. We just waited and when our names came up, we reported to the induction station indicated and served in that branch of the service or joined the particular branch of our choice, but we served. As 18-20 year old, young men we didn’t focus much on politics, we were more interested in girls, cars and trying to make a dollar. Most of us were not particularly mad at anyone, and certainly not enough to want to travel half-way around the world and kill them, but we prepared to do just that. It wasn’t because we were brave, blood thirsty, war mongers, evil or anything like that. It was because our country asked us to do it. Most of us went to Vietnam believing that we were going to fight for freedom; freedom for the South Vietnamese people who wanted out from under the iron fist and tyranny of the communist dictatorship of the North.
I went to boot camp while still 18 and turned 20 in Vietnam. I saw and experienced things during my year there that I have tried to forget since returning home. I don’t talk about it and probably never will other than to say, God spared my life numerous times and looking back I can see His hand of protection during the entire time although I was not serving Him. I would lay awake at night after coming home, because of the things etched in my mind and lived a façade trying to hide the troubled mind and spirit from family and friends. I believe that I did a good job of it and doubt that they ever knew the nightmares and phobias I had developed. I wore a mask, because I didn’t want my mother to have any idea of what I saw or did. I was an empty shell, drinking, carousing, partying, and completely numb to where my life was or where it was heading. I wasn’t brave, but I almost volunteered to go back in the military and go back to Vietnam after being home a few months because, there I knew what to do and how to act, in Texas I didn’t. When you’ve taken up arms against another human being and learned to develop a hatred for that person or people it is hard to shift gears and trust people. I was cynical, skeptical, often unfeeling, and uncaring! I detested every anti-war protester, primarily because people I knew and cared about did not make it back home. They paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for freedom, and in a sense, the right of those protesters to protest. I stand for that right, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept. I came home on a hospital plane and one of my team mates and I were the only two ambulatory people on the plane. We landed in San Francisco and the men on stretchers were rolled past a fence with several hundred students from Berkley on the other side. They threw feces, gasoline, bottles and insults at and on those men. My friend and I could not take it, and the military police lining the path we had to travel literally pulled us from the fence. We fully intended to take on that crowd. I am thankful today that they had taken our weapons from us prior to departure from Vietnam but I wasn’t then! It would have been 2 against about 300 but we had no thought of the odds, only anger. It was not that we were brave we were Americans who believed in defending this country and those who had sacrificed so much under her flag, but were unable to defend themselves. We were willing to die that day for that purpose.
My life changed after much wandering, when at a small Assembly of God church in Palestine, Texas led by Henry Vincent, I met Jesus Christ. Henry knew the trouble in my soul but we never discussed it. There were people in that church that demonstrated the love of God and no matter how mean or rude I was to them, they kept on loving me and demonstrating something I had never known. When I finally went to a service, I thought they were lunatics and wanted out as quickly as possible. I can only explain returning a second time by saying that although I thought they were completely nuts, I sensed something different, and that something was the LOVE OF GOD! I fell under conviction of my state and my sins and the devil convinced me that I had done too much to ever be forgiven. Now my plight was worse than ever. I had the horrors of my memories of Vietnam tormenting me and was totally convinced I was going to hell and could do nothing about it. That mindset, had it not been for the preserving power and grace of God, would probably have led to suicide! After weeks of people interceding for me, loving me and showing no sign of being offended at my attempts to offend them, I received a message from a couple in the church with a passage for me to read. I had to find a Bible, I didn’t have one. It was midnight and amazingly I was sober, having had nothing to drink that night. I found the Bible and sat at the kitchen table in Palestine, Texas and began to read in the King James Bible, Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” As I read that, something began to break inside me and I began to weep for the first time in years. A light came on inside my head and heart and I said, “That’s it. I’m leaning to my own understanding.” So, I quietly called out to God for forgiveness and I could literally feel a weight lift off my shoulders. It was there my metamorphosis from darkness into His marvelous light became a reality. I was born again! I became a member of the family of God that night. My life has never been the same since.
It still took years before I was be able to go into a public place without feeling the need to have my back against a wall. I must confess that even today I survey a room when I walk in, so I know who is there and where everyone is, but I have a Peace that passes understanding and no longer harbor the hatred that I had learned! It wasn’t bravery that got me through that time in Vietnam it was God’s Grace! I have asked ten thousand times, “Why me Lord?” There were guys who died that testified of Him but I lived! He always nudges my heart and says, “Don’t ask why. Ask what now?” Can I ask you to pray for our men and women putting their lives on the line in various parts of the world? Can I ask you to respect their commitment to fight for freedom, even if you disagree with the particular war or conflict? Can I ask that you express to them a heartfelt “thank you” when you meet them? Treasure the freedom that we have! I urge you to commit to God, your country, your family and yourself to do whatever it takes to preserve that freedom! They are not all brave who serve, just men and women of honor! Had it not been for people who refused allow themselves to become offended by my sinful behavior, I would likely be in hell now! Had it not been for God’s protection I would never have returned from Vietnam. Had it not been for God’s love and grace I would be lost and without hope, but TODAY I have hope because He changed me! Let Him love through you today, you never know whose life you might save, literally as well as spiritually! God Bless!

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