Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Merci, Normandy, France
Uncle Lewis, Emporia, KS
Our Memorial message this past Sunday included a reflection back on the final scenes from the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. A small squad led by Captain John Miller had been ordered to find the last surviving son of a family so that he could be sent back home from the Normandy invasion. The dialog in those final scenes stirred up my curiosity enough to review them again last night. I fast forwarded to the final gruesome battle scenes when the soldiers were defending both Private James Ryan and a strategic bridge from the advancing German Nazis. The action was intense and gut wrenching, although I’m certain nothing Hollywood can create could come close to the horrors of actual combat.
Captain Miller was mortally wounded as the tide turned in favor of the American troops when reinforcements arrived at a the bridge. Captain Miller beckoned Private Ryan close. He whispered with his dying breath, “James…earn this. Earn it”. Those two words were obviously seared on Private Ryan’s heart for all eternity. The camera then focuses on his face which morphs into that of an aging veteran standing in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial many years later. It’s one of those hallowed places you encounter in Europe upon cresting a hill to discover that all the memorial markers were set in place at the same time and aligned in perfect rows. There’s no mistaking their origin and there are not too many locations in America like them with the exception of Civil War battlefields in the East.
Like so many other veterans before him, Ryan has returned to honor his fallen comrades and specifically the man who gave his life so that he would live. His family is standing in the background, giving him space. When Ryan’s wife approaches him, he turns to her and asks “Did I live a good life? Am I a good man”? He desperately needs his wife’s affirmation because he deeply understands the ultimate price that has been paid. She quietly responds, “You are”. That poignant exchange choked me up as much as any experience in my life, perhaps because I had just finished my lesson plans to teach a session on Jesus’ final week on this planet. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us so that we may have eternal life. My Uncle Lewis served in the medical corps in WWII and tragically lost his life at the all too young age of twenty nine. I too should be living my life to honor their sacrifice. God gave all of us the priceless gift of life. And how we live it is our gift to him. Earn it.