ho am I to counsel and advise 600 men?” I asked myself. “And what really are my values?”
Never had I examined my beliefs before, but upon being promoted to lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Marine Corps, I felt I had to examine them.
At Annapolis, I was put in charge of the battalion of midshipmen– about 600 men. I also became faculty representative for the first class-to advise and counsel with midshipmen who were administering what they called their honor concept. This gave a heavy weight of responsibility to all those bright, young future leaders-and to me.
One day a former navy friend, who operated a Christian bookstore in Annapolis, called me. “When can I see you, Lee?” ·he asked.
“You can come over to my office right now, Jim,” I answered.
After we talked for a while, Jim asked a startling question: “Lee, are you a Christian?”
I looked at him in surprise. “Well, er, ah,” I stammered, “I think I am.”
He talked to me about Jesus Christ and about the importance of attending a church where God’s Word was preached. In the days that followed I was nagged by one question-“Am I a Christian?” I had been baptized in water. I was a member of a church and attended it regularly, but did that make me a Christian?
I thought about creeds I had recited which spoke of God the Father, Christ His only Son, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, was crucified, and the third day arose again and would come to judge the quick and the dead. Did I really believe that?
Then some other friends spoke to me about attending a church where God’s Word was preached. Finally I said to my wife, “Honey, we don’t hear the Bible taught at our church. Why don’t we try another?”
So we did. We also joined a home Bible class to which my friends invited us. At both I was confronted with something I never had heard before: God’s plan of salvation. . . . We’re all sinners, but God loves us; and He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die for us. In order for a person to be truly a Christian, he has to repent of his sins and trust Jesus Christ as his Savior.
I knew I had never done that; but as I thought about it, doubts assailed me. The biggest one was: Can I be a marine officer and a genuine Christian at the same time? It was one thing to be an uninvolved professing Christian and quite another to be the fervent kind our friends were!
Yet it became evident to my wife and to me that those friends had in their lives and their relationships with their teenage children something we didn’t have. We admired it and desired it. I felt compelled to determine if what they were telling us was true.
What is the authority behind these salvation messages we’ve been hearing? I wondered. Military officers follow this procedure: When we report into a new base, we immediately start studying its particular book of regulations and procedures. We then know how to act for we find the authority.
So I tackled the procedure book for Christianity-the New Testament. As I read I came upon Paul’s words to Timothy, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:14-16).
That’s it! I thought. That’s the authority! Now the salvation verses my friends had shared with me came alive with meaning!
Reading Romans 3:23 I suddenly saw myself as a lost sinner. In my heart I knew “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The further promise of that verse held out hope to me, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Not long after I trusted Christ, I was sent to Vietnam to command a battalion of 1,500 men. How glad I was that by this time my family and I were on praying ground! Those loved ones and our Christ honoring church back in Annapolis upheld me in prayer. I prayed for my men. The battalion, although in heavy combat activity, gained a reputation of accomplishing its missions with low casualties. I knew the Lord was answering prayers!
I had to meet with all new men who joined my battalion. I imparted to them conventional military wisdom, such as: “Be certain to wear your flak jackets, keep your helmets on, take cover when we have incoming heavy artillery.”
Then I shared my personal testimony. “Men, I want to tell you that in combat your lives are on the line every day. I just turned my life over to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. On a day-to-day basis, He is answering my prayers; and I believe He’s not only taking care of me but of this entire battalion. I encourage you also to trust in the Savior, Jesus Christ!”
I was blessed to have two fine committed chaplains in my battalion. Working closely together we saw many men trust Christ as their personal Savior. This “salt” permeated the battalion. We assigned lay leaders within the platoons. In chapel services God’s message of salvation through Christ was preached.
And God protected us. One day I suddenly heard the voice of one of our company commanders coming over the radio.
“Skipper, we’re receiving heavy fire. We’re pinned down and can’t move.”
“Hold what you have,” I exclaimed. “Have your men take cover. We’ll get you some supporting fire.”
A few minutes later another voice, tinged with fear, came through. “Skipper, the company commander’s been hit. I don’t know how bad it is, but I’m in charge now.”
We managed to join the pinned down company, and with our reinforcements were able to pull them back and bring all our wounded with us. How I thanked God for answered prayer!
Yes, I learned in Vietnam, while still a young Christian, what “pray without ceasing” meant.
Another time the amphibious tractor I was in ran over a land mine and exploded. I sailed through the air and landed on my head. But I wasn’t hurt. I considered it a miracle of God that not only was my life spared, but also the lives of the men who were with me.
Thus I found a marine officer not only could be a dedicated Christian, but by being one could be a far better leader.
After 30 years in the marines, I retired in 1975, a full colonel. My wife Gloria and I have been in the Lord’s service ever since, seeking to help others to know Him and live for Him.
May 27, 1985