When I first met “Stephen,” I noticed that he had an interesting “birth mark” on his nose and that he walked with a limp. As I got to know him, I discovered that the stain was no birth mark, but was a battle scar from his active duty service. Stephen was a Korean War vet who served in the United States Marine Corps, first as an enlisted Marine and eventually as an officer.
Stephen would attend worship services at a chapel where I served, and I would often wonder where his mind would drift to as he stared out through the stained glass windows on Sunday mornings. (His mind was obviously not thinking about whatever soliloquy I was delivering from the pulpit.)
I imagined his thoughts drifting to his time in Korea where he first earned his stripes as a PFC. At the very beginning of his career he received the physical marks that would daily remind him of the cost of patriotism. His march through the Chosin Reservoir earned him a membership with “the Frozen Chosin” as well as frostbite injuries that permanently marked his nose, and injured his legs. Yet he continued to serve in a community where physical fitness and warrior toughness are standard issue. Many others would have thrown in the towel having sustained the injuries that caused him to struggle daily.
Stephen was not only a premier patriot, but also a leader in his piety. As a chaplain I have encountered commanders with varying degrees of spiritual commitment and what speaks most to me is to see a commander worship with his or her troops. In a military culture, the commander sets the example for everyone under his or her authority. They set the example in their speech, in their behavior, and in their spiritual practice. When a commander shows up for worship, a religious service can fill up because the rest of the troops take their cue from the senior officer. Stephen was committed to attending every divine worship service that was available. It did not matter if his chaplain couldn’t preach himself out of a paper bag, Stephen still showed up.
In peacetime, piety is a taboo subject, but in war, faith’s stage is front and center. Stephen led from the front whether in peace or in war as an example of spiritual devotion for his troops.
Stephen’s story is the epitome of faith in action. He was a broken pious patriot who did not let his handicaps hold him back from serving God and country with all that he had. Stephen poured himself out for faith, comrades, and complete strangers, and that inspires me. – by Chaplain Justin Hayes, Lieutentant, U.S. Navy
This article first appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of GraceConnect magazine. Click here for more information.