"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.
Major Michael Davis O'Donnell, Vietnam Listed as KIA February 7, 1978
He remembered the face peering through the window. A longing, lonely wave said the last goodbye. My dear husband, Jeff, a tall, lanky, fourteen year old boy, returned the glance of his much beloved uncle, almost a boy himself, but aged enough to venture into a tumultuous, erratic war of the 1960's that called many brave young men from their roots to dense, perilous forests and bloody fields filled with hopeless, heartless soldiers, in shock from the trauma of their new home, violence, bloodshed, horror, pain, and grief.
Jeff stared, watching, as Nick drove away, leaving my husband at his Boy Scout meeting. Later that afternoon, Nick would leave his sweet little home on a north Georgia hill and begin an hour's drive to Atlanta, where a plane would signify his journey to the killing fields of Vietnam. In the quiet hours that come after the somber leaving of one so loved, Jeff studied the life of his uncle. He pondered the one he had come to know and grown to love, his mother's loving, stout younger brother, who was more like a brother to Jeff himself than the uncle he was.
Jeff believed Nick invincible. His belief was built on the actualities of Nick's self. He was robust, healthy, scarcely a novice at life, full of courage, and undaunted by anything life swung his way. Jeff remembered playing a game of darts with him. One dart accidentally hit Nick in the leg, penetrating his tough flesh. His uncle immediately pulled it out and threw it down as if nothing had happened. That was Nick. Brave. Immune to fear. Unshaken by shock. Unyielding to pain.
So, Jeff had every reason to believe a safe return home awaited his dear uncle, his friend, his hero in life. How could any less be possible for one so strong and valiant? What else could a fourteen year old boy be expected to believe? Jeff's last conversation with his uncle is now in my husband's mind and heart, forever engraved, letters in stone. He hears Nick's powerful voice as if yesterday they spoke. "You'll be back," with believing heart, he told Nick. Nick's quiet response gave young, teenage Jeff a pause of shock. "Watch out for Mama and Daddy. Their getting older. They don't have much money. They need somebody to take care of them. . . . Because I know I won't be coming back." It was much too much for Jeff's youthful heart. However disturbed, he remained endeared to his hopefulness of seeing Nick again.
Six months later billows of grief surged through the Janes family. A hollow knock on a dear mother's door brought news feared by all whose loved ones live on hostile foreign soil, fighting for freedom and love of country. On a cool morning in the coastal city of Nha Trang, a claymore mine had unexpectedly detonated as Nick attempted to disarm it. Nick was instantly killed. His body was returned to his beloved home in the North Georgia hills, and the family, including my dear husband, was wrought with the sting of death.
On a lovely, warm summer evening in 2003, my husband and I enjoyed a late walk in the stately city of Washington, D. C. Brought there by a church council meeting, the opportunity gave us time to soak in the sights of our country's capital. Our final design at that day's end was to visit the Vietnam Memorial. We feared the darkness might thwart our purpose, yet we
pursued our course, longing for a glimpse of Nick's name on the massive monumental wall.
Thumbing through the voluminous book of those who had died or remained missing for their country in the easternmost part of the Indochina Peninsula, we quickly found his name, Nicklos Byron Janes, along with the listed wall section, where we could witness Nick's personal memorial, carved into the black granite wall. We walked. I wondered at the soon realization of our expectation. Our steps increased with anticipation. I felt my heartbeat rise as we drew near. Finding the proper section, we quickly found Nick's name. We gazed and touched. Felt the smooth, silky stone. Stood, in memorable pause, at the name of a loved one, gathered with what would now be 58,259 others. It was at once humbling and staggering. Pure and tragic. Sobering and thoughtful.
Today we honor Nick and millions of others who served and gave all for love of God and country. And now, in the reminder of loss, I am reminded of the reality of death and the truth of God's word. For Christians and all, the Apostle Paul, appeals through the scriptures that "Death is swallowed up in victory," and he says, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (I Corinthians 15:54,55).
May we all remember. May we all take pause. May we all believe in hope. May we all trust in God's infallible word. For those for whom we mourn, who followed the path of Christ, wait patiently on the other side. With the Lord, they are present, in their heavenly home. May any grief we feel not yield to bondage, but may it rather rise in faith, knowing that we are all in a temporal state, living for an eternal destiny, a sure hope. And may this hope, this blessed promise of Jesus Christ, render us today and always to a life of service for Him, and an always there faith that credits us with righteousness and prepares us for our better place.
Matthew Henry, a devoted theologian of the eighteenth century, spoke eloquently this truth: "Tears are a tribute to our deceased friends. When the body is sown, it must be watered. But we must not sorrow as those that have no hope; for we have a good hope through grace both concerning them and concerning ourselves." May the peace of God go with you today and bring you holy pause and sweet remembrance, giving you special grace and rich thoughts in Christ for the week ahead.