With Veteran’s Day upon us I’ve been doing some reflecting upon what I might call the great, humble warrior class that has shaped my family. It really is symbolized best by a gun that I have that was issued to my great, great grand-father, Jeniah Franklin St. John, early in the Civil War. Jeniah was a young man called to duty with the Army of Ohio, and he served faithfully under the command of General William T. Sherman as they made their way through Georgia, burning Atlanta, and then on down toward the coastal region, at which point they turned northward toward the Tidewater area. Of course, their shared effort was to put down the rebellion designed to preserve the evil of slavery. I have his handwritten letters describing the journey. They are a treasure.
His grandson took up the cause of freedom following graduation from medical school at Ohio State University, at which point he joined the United States Army as a medical doctor. Serving in World War II, Clement F. St. John had the privilege and challenge of serving under General Patton’s command, even having a fascinating run-in with the general one day in North Africa while trying to find his hotel room. Not realizing he was on the wrong floor, and frustrated because his key wasn’t working in what he thought was his room, he started banging on the hotel door thinking he could hear people inside. Moments later an irate General Patton threw the door open and began cursing wildly at my great-uncle, demanding an explanation for his interruption. “Wrong floor, Sir,” was the reply, and off he went as quickly as possible. Ultimately Clement St. John would become the commanding general of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a significant honor wherein he oversaw the care of multitudes of service men and women from around the world. He also was one of President Eisenhower’s physicians during the president’s two terms.
And then there is my dad–the greatest man alive, Robert Walter St. John, who served with distinction in the United States Army as a military police officer. Stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, for a time, his unit was responsible for providing security for President Lyndon Johnson when the president would return to his Texas ranch. Following his military service, and a number of years as a police officer in places like Berkley, California, my dad wound up serving with the Treasury Department as a special agent, doing work ranging from investigating moonshiners in the Appalachian Mountains to being an air marshal to working as an undercover agent fighting terrorism before fighting terrorism became a household reality. I was reminded once again just how important my dad’s service to the United States was when I had a conversation with Karl Rove at a book-signing event for his book Courage and Consequence. I wanted him to sign a book for my dad, which later became a Father’s Day gift. When I answered his question about what my dad did, the pride in his eyes, and the genuine gratitude, was palpable.
And I haven’t even mentioned my great-grandfather from my mother’s side, whose picture hangs proudly in my childhood home, a picture taken during World War I while he was dressed in his infantry uniform. Nor have I mentioned my mother’s father, who served in the armored division of the United States Army during World War II.
And then, of course, is my beautiful bride’s father, Thurl Bruce Roberson, who was a Marine Corps. sergeant in the South Pacific during World War II, serving as a tail-gunner on a B-25 Mitchell, doing bombing runs over Japanese naval convoys. Trekking through the Pacific, with duties at Iwo Jima and then ultimately serving occupation duty in Japan, he returned home, raised a family in the hills of Virginia (my dad probably chased his extended family away from the moonshine stills!), and saw both of his boys serve with honor in the Marine Corps., one of whom, Bruce Kent Roberson, made a career of it and retired just a few short years ago.
It strikes me that God has a special place in his heart for veterans. No doubt God desires all people to live peacefully with one another. Jesus is, indeed, the Prince of Peace. And yet God is a realist who understands the trauma of life within time and space. He is not ignorant of the realities of nations and peoples and conflict. First Chronicles 12:1 and following finds God singling out a large variety of great warriors, affirming their might and honor, and making it clear that they were men who sought “to help” (1 Chronicles 12:33).
Indeed. I’m so thankful I get to stand in the shadow of patriots; so grateful for those who have gone before me and served with such honor and distinction during seasons in which men and women needed to rise to defend and promote the dignity of this land called America. So thankful . . . humbled . . . speechless, for words simply aren’t good enough to describe . . . well . . . greatness.