The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


War stories

I knew my grandfather was a gunner on a B-25 Mitchell in World War II. I knew he was shot down in the Pacific theater over occupied China and crawled through a jungle. But, like many from his generation, he never told me anything about the war in much detail, save for one story about his best friend who was killed in action.

My grandfather told me about being discharged and coming back to Florida. He found his friend’s home and rang the doorbell to give condolences to the mother. She opened the screen door, saw him through tears streaming down her face and slapped him, saying, “Why wasn’t it you who died?” 

That was the only war story my grandfather told me. It was enough.

In the summer heat we fire off exploding balls of light into the night. We wave flags, sing patriotic songs and march in processions. All fine things, of course. We celebrate independence, freedom, victories of battle.

But if there’s one challenge I can lift up on these days, it’s that we shouldn’t mistake the hells of war for anything other than that. Exploding balls of light can cloud that fact sometimes.

Jesus’ call to “love your enemy” is in stark contrast to the call to war. It doesn’t mean that we, as Christians, shun all Americana, abstain from the parades and don’t enlist in the military. No. It just means that when I sing “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” I don’t imagine for one second that I’m singing about the same freedom Martin Luther talks about in On the Freedom of a Christian.

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