After the sixth grade, Gene “went to Eustace School to finish my education. The first year at Eustace, I had to go to a temporary building because the old school burned down. We called it the Cow Shed, because it was a long building like a cow shed and held several classes.”
Seventh grade was “probably the lowest point of my school life,” Gene later wrote. First, he developed appendicitis and had to have his appendix removed. “In those days they kept you in hospital at least a week, then you had to stay in bed at home at least a week, before you could even get up.” The hospital was actually an old house converted into a hospital by Dr. L.L. Cockerell. Gene’s dad had to borrow $125 to pay the hospital.
The biggest problem came in the aftermath of the surgery. Hubert Wheat, Gene’s seventh grade teacher, “failed me. It wasn’t on grades either. He told Dad I was too young, was the reason he failed me, so I had to do the 7th grade over.”
Dad had told me this story before. It still bothered him decades after it happened. But as he wrote about it in the early 1990s, he saw something different in the experience. “As I write this, something was reveiled [sic] to me I had never in my life thought about. I probably would never have met Hilda Noble in my senior year.”
This made me wonder about something else. If Dad had finished school one year earlier, he probably would have entered the Army one year earlier in 1943. As it was, he never saw combat in the Pacific because he didn’t make it in time. Graduate one year earlier, and my tender-hearted dad may have had a very different life.
So, here’s a family tip of the hat to teacher Hubert Wheat, whom I’m sure has passed on by now. Wheat angered my dad at the time and for a long time afterward, but that teacher also paved the way for the rest of Gene’s life.
I wonder today how many Americans are familiar with the name and exploits of one of the greatest persons of the 20th century – George C. Marshall.
Marshall orchestrated one of the greatest military victories of history – World War II — and then shaped one of the greatest achievements of peace after the war with what came to be known as the Marshall Plan. In essence, Marshall led in the defeat of America’s enemies and then built them back into friends. Truly astonishing!
The New York Times columnist David Brooks highlights Marshall in one chapter of his book, The Road to Character. The chapter on Marshall is titled “Self-Mastery.”
Marshall did not start life well. In addition to being a poor student, he was “mischievous and troublesome,” Brooks writes. But after overhearing his brother tell their mother of his concern that the younger Marshall would “disgrace the family name,” the young man decided to take mastery of his life and seek to overcome his natural inclinations.
In the prewar Army, Marshall’s competence proved so obvious that commanding officers refused to promote him for fear of losing his services. When World War II began, competence became more important. Marshall became chief of staff in order to organize the war effort. Brooks writes:
“The quintessential Marshall moment came in the middle of the war. The Allies were planning Operation Overlord, the invasion of France, but still no overall commander had been selected. Marshall secretly craved the assignment and was widely accepted as the most qualified for it. This would be among the most ambitious military operations ever attempted, and whoever commanded it would be performing a great service to the cause and would go down in history as a result of it. The other Allied leaders, Churchill and Stalin, told Marshall that he would get the job. Eisenhower assumed Marshall would get the job. Roosevelt knew that if Marshall asked for the job, he would have to give it to him. He had earned it, and his stature was so high.
“But Roosevelt relied on Marshall to be nearby in Washington, whereas the Overlord commander would go to London. . . .
“FDR called Marshall into his office on December 6, 1943. Roosevelt beat around the bush for several awkward minutes, raising subjects of minor importance. Then he asked Marshall if he wanted the job. If Marshall had simply uttered the word ‘Yes,’ he presumably would have gotten the job. Still, Marshall refused to be drawn in. Marshall told Roosevelt to do what he thought best. Marshall insisted that his own private feelings should have no bearing on the decision. Again and again, he refused to express his preference one way or the other.
“FDR looked at him. ‘Well, I didn’t feel I could sleep at ease if you were out of Washington.’ There was a long silence. Roosevelt added, “Then it will be Eisenhower.’”
Today, we expect people of high competence to pursue great recognition, to almost demand it. Marshall did not. He had committed himself to service, and he stayed true to the commitment, even though he wanted more.
Eisenhower returned triumphantly to parades and celebrations, and the thankful people soon elected him president. Eisenhower was a man of greatness, as well, but Marshall probably had a greater impact on history, and he did it by holding his own desires and passions in check, much as did Eisenhower, who was prone to fits of anger, which does not match the public image of the man to this day.
We could use more self-mastery in this new day, but we Christians understand that true self-mastery comes only with God’s help as we listen God’s guidance in Scripture and yield to His Holy Spirit.
American culture has pretty much ignored the Christian teaching about humankind’s sinful nature. We are created in God’s image, but we, all of us, have this self-centered bent that causes others and ourselves harm. Many parents even encourage this self-centeredness, and our culture honors self-expression, even if that expression is vulgar and mean.
It might be hard for our culture today to produce a George Marshall, and if there are no George Marshalls for this new day, who will lead when humankind attempts to stem the flow of evil. If the U.S. cannot produce such persons of character, maybe some other country can – maybe Germany or Japan or Mexico or Brazil or South Africa or Israel. And in thinking in such ways, we begin to see how important the United States has been to the world and how critical it is that we return to nurturing character and doing so in a way that honors the biblical truth that we all are sinners, not angels.
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.)
The president of the United States: “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
Thus spoke Franklin Roosevelt to the nation on June 6, 1944, as Allied forces were in the midst of the D-Day invasion. He prayed to God on the airwaves.
This great prayer was broadcast and recorded for all to hear, even today. And across these years, some might find it inappropriate for a president to pray in such manner — in fact, to pray a prayer that could not be prayed at some public school graduation ceremonies.
Roosevelt began and ended his prayer with “Almighty God,” a rather generic appellation that would have been inclusive of all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He also did not utter the name of Jesus; once again a bow to inclusion.
Of course, today some courts have indicated similar use of “God” language in a prayer is inappropriate for public school functions. This just seems patently wrong-headed and inconsistent with the best of our history. We do not need or want a government that is pushing Christianity or any other faith on people, but to go the extreme secular path that some courts have gone is to prevent free exercise.
I am OK if some atheist valedictorian wants to say he doesn’t believe in God, just as I am OK with a Christian valedictorian saying he believes Jesus is the Son of God. God talk, including anti-God talk, simply must be allowed in this country if we are going to have freedom of religion.
We can, however, draw the line when people begin to use God language to incite behaviors that would be destructive of the principles on which this nation are founded. In other words, if someone says God told him or her that America is evil and people should go kill their neighbors, that has no place in civil society whether the person invokes God’s name or not.
I obviously am no attorney nor an expert on church and state, but the ideas expressed above seem self-evident and consistent with history of this nation, as I understand it.
Roosevelt’s prayer was no violation of separation of church and state as expressed in the First Amendment — then or now. It is not an “establishment” of religion for a president to pray in public and to invoke the guidance and protection of God. It also is not a violation of others’ “free exercise” for the president to do this. Likewise, such actions by other individuals in public forums are not a violation.
On the opposite side of this equation, we don’t need a government — or school — pushing one faith and denegrating others. If we do, someday and in some places something other than Christianity will be pushed and Christians will be persecuted. I surely do not that to happen to me, and I surely do not want that to happen to others.
Roosevelt’s prayer points to the reality of a powerful nation that is still not the ultimate power. In his prayer, Roosevelt asked God much for Allied soldiers and the nation.
“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
“They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
“They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
“For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
“Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
“And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
“Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
“Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
“And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
“And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
“With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Cameron and I watched the final episode of the HBO World War II series “Pacific” last night. I still have a lot of images from the series flitting around in my head, and I know they are there, as well, for my 12-year-old son.
Some could question the wisdom of exposing a pre-teen to the voluminous use of the f— word. I questioned it myself at times. But I wanted my son to know what war is really like. It’s hell on earth. At least I guess it is. I missed Vietnam and am thankful for it.
Every pre-teen, teen and young adult male in America seems obsessed by the multiple video war games. I have qualms about it, but over the past few months I have let Cameron play the T-rated versions just so he will not be totally out of his cultural loop.
So war is everywhere in popular male culture. I hope shows like “Pacific” and movies like SavingPrivate Ryan will help give a better picture of reality. And one of the things I really liked about “Pacific” was that it showed the impact of such experiences on young men — it’s devastating, but it can be overcome.
Gosh, I hate war. I hate it so much that I hope the closest my sons ever come to it is a video game and TV screen.