Spiritual Life: Veterans have made 'superhero' contributions for us

Micah Smith, Tri-City Herald on

Published in Religious News

Americans love the idea of a superhero, someone possessed of supernatural powers used for the common good.

Joe Thomas, a professor studying this phenomenon, remarked, "They explain mystery. They model behavior. They inspire. They make mistakes ... and learn from them. They are life lessons. They give hope that no matter what the odds, even one person with no superhuman powers, one person can make a difference."

But even superheroes need courage.

G. K. Chesterton, a British writer and Christian thinker of a previous generation, described courage like this: "Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of readiness to die. 'He that will lose his life, the same shall save it' is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes.

"He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then there will be a suicide, and he will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine."

Like my friend, John Keaveney.

Francis Lewis High School in Queens, New York, must have seemed like a distant planet to 21-year-old Cpl. Keaveney as he carefully scanned the bleak, sandy stretch of ground in front of him. Small, ancient pagodas dotted the barren turf between him and the wounded Marine and medical corpsman penned down by sniper fire just over a hundred yards away.

It might as well have been a hundred miles.

The heat and humidity mingled into a suffocating blanket over the Cua Viet River as it slipped silently past them, disappearing into the jungle. Time seemed to slow down as the second lieutenant asked for volunteers to move across the open ground and bring the wounded men to safety.

The next thing John knew, he was leading a team of three other Marines zigzagging across the open ground to their objective.

John visually checked his men as they sprawled out in the offensive prone position around the corpsman. No shots fired yet, he thought. Let's gather these two up and move out! At that moment, John felt his buddy's body jerk next to him from the impact of a sniper round. Parker, John's good friend, lay next to him, groaning as life left his body.


But my friend carried on. He was subsequently awarded the Silver Star for physically carrying his fellow Marines, one at a time, through 100 yards of heavy machine gun fire.

I know more than a few superheroes, and I'll bet you do too. Quite a number of them happen to be veterans. Maybe they haven't served on a battlefield like my friend John, but nonetheless, if you measured contributions like sacrifice, compassion, generosity, and courage, they would outshine The Avengers.

In the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 11, the writer takes us on a drive-through of ordinary men and women who made courageous contributions to their generation. And the common strand that connects these people is their faith in God while facing giant-sized problems.

Life itself is a battlefield sometimes and even though we would prefer to dodge the challenges and skip the obstacles, courage calls us to move forward. And when our natural courage falters (as it surely will), faith in a faithful God will more than compensate.

My veteran friend John will swear to it.

About The Writer

Rev. Micah Smith is president and founder of Global Gateway Network (, author of "Heaven's Heartbeat," and a Tri-City Herald Spiritual Life contributor. He enjoys trail running and coffee roasting with family and friends. email:

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