Along the banks of the Minnesota River, in the shadow of the Mall of America, and adjacent to runway 30L of the Minneapolis St Paul International airport lay more than 208,000 of America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, and their spouses or dependents.
In beautiful symmetry, white washed markers identify the gravesites inFort Snelling National Cemetery, one of 131 national cemeteries in the United States that serve as the final resting place for some of America’s finest.
Among the nine Medal of Honor recipients buried at Fort Snelling is Private James Dennis LaBelle, born in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, and died at the age of 20 in Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands.
On March 8, 1945 Private LaBelle and the 5th Marine Division faced a brutal enemy in the battle for control of the strategic Pacific beachhead. His official Medal of Honor citation reads:
Filling a gap in the front lines during a critical phase of the battle, Pfc. LaBelle had dug into a foxhole with 2 other marines and, grimly aware of the enemy's persistent attempts to blast a way through our lines with hand grenades, applied himself with steady concentration to maintaining a sharply vigilant watch during the hazardous night hours. Suddenly a hostile grenade landed beyond reach in his foxhole. Quickly estimating the situation, he determined to save the others if possible, shouted a warning, and instantly dived on the deadly missile, absorbing the exploding charge in his own body and thereby protecting his comrades from serious injury. Stouthearted and indomitable, he had unhesitatingly relinquished his own chance of survival that his fellow marines might carry on the relentless fight against a fanatic enemy His dauntless courage, cool decision and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of certain death reflect the highest credit upon Pfc. LaBelle and upon the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
This coming weekend we will reflect and remember on Memorial Day, our national holiday where we honor those who died advancing liberty and defending our nation.
From coast to coast, rural towns and major cities will mark the day with parades and ceremonies, including a moving event at our own Fort Snelling. We must not forget those who paid the ultimate price while wearing the uniform.
For us Christians who hold another citizenship not of this world, we do well to honor those who gave their lives for the advance of true freedom, the freedom that comes from the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Following the example of our Lord, these courageous men and women offered their lives so that the gospel would reach us. The writer of Hebrews tells us about some of them.
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of (those)…who…were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented of whom the world was not worthy (11:32-38).
Their names must not be lost by our generations. We remember the apostles James, Peter, Paul and the rest, as well as faithful Stephen and John the Baptist.
We cannot forget John Wycliffe who was persecuted mercilessly for his work in Bible translation, nor can we forget William Tyndale, a later Bible translator whose work makes it possible for you to read the Bible in English. Tyndale was choked to death and his body burned at the stake in the fall of 1536.
Every American Christian should know the names of Jim Elliot, Pete Flemming, Ed McCulley, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderain, five young missionaries who died in 1956 in a brutal attack from the Auca Indians in Ecuador, the very people they were trying to reach with the gospel.
While these names are known to us, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions remain largely unknown. The martyrdom of Christians continues today around the world and seems to be increasing in ferocity. News reports and gruesome videos have become standard segments in nightly broadcasts.
Are you shocked to learn that Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary reports “an average of 159,960 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith per year?”
When you gather this weekend with family and friends for the start of the summer season, remember the meaning of the holiday. But you are more than an American – you are a Christian. When you gather with your children or grandchildren, tell them the cost some paid to deliver the good news down through the ages so that the gospel reached you. When you gather this weekend, praise God for those who gave all so we could have liberty, and pray to God for those who suffer because of their allegiance to your Lord Jesus Christ.
Am I Soldier of the Cross, Isaac Watts
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.