In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I would repost an amazing personal experience I had while visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
In 1999 my husband, James, and I traveled to Baltimore for a medical meeting. While there, we visited Washington, D.C. One thing I’ve always wanted to see was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or “The Wall” as it is sometimes referred to. I had no idea the effect that visit would have on my life and how God would use it.
The very first day we visited The Wall, it was overwhelming. I didn’t realize how big it was or how many names were on it. There were 58,169 names carved in that granite wall. My mind just couldn’t take it all in. There were letters and flowers and teddy bears propped up against it; expressions of love and gratitude everywhere. People were taking pieces of paper and raking a pencil across the engravings; a sketch of the names would appear on their paper; they call it “name rubbing”. Everyone seemed to want a piece of it. The whole thing was just an enormous emotional experience for me.
We went back to the hotel and I said to James, “I wish I had thought to tell my brother we were coming here. I could’ve gotten a name from him and brought him back a “rubbing”. But then I said, “That’s okay, I’ll just pray and ask God to give me a name. Maybe He’ll want me to pray for someone who’s still missing in action or family members of someone who died.” I somehow believed God would be faithful to do that for me. As I began to pray about this, the name “Tom” kept coming to my mind. “Tom. Tom.” Later I said to James, “I think his name is Tom.” James said, “Who?” I said, “The name God gave me, it’s Tom.” “Hmm,” he mumbled, “Thomas.” I said “No, it’s not Thomas, it’s Tom.” Again James said, “Thomas.” Well by now, I’m starting to get a little upset because this name had come to me from God and He was very specific; the name was Tom – NOT Thomas! I said, “Tomorrow, when we go back, I’m gonna find Tom’s name and get a name rubbing of it.” James said, “Now there are over 58,000 names on that wall, how many Tom’s do you think there are?” I said, “I’m going to open one of those books and the “Tom” God wants me to have is just gonna jump off that page; you’ll see!”
So, the next day we went back to The Wall and I started on page one of the “big book". They have these big books on site that includes every name that has been carved on the wall and exactly where on the wall each name can be found. In a few minutes James comes over to me and his face was almost as white as a sheet. He looks at me with tears in his eyes and he hands me a piece of paper. Written on the paper was:
Tom Thomas Rank – CPL Service – AR DOB 12/19/45 DOD 8/28/68
New Philadelphia, Ohio Panel 46W Line 54
I just began to sob. I picked up my sketch pad and followed James as he began to look for Tom’s name on The Wall: Panel 46W, Line 54. I handed James the sketch pad. As he began rubbing the pencil across the engraving, the name Tom M. Thomas appeared. We both just stood there. I didn’t know whether to shout for joy or fall to my knees! It was a true “God moment”.
About 3 ½ years later (6/3/03), an advertisement came on TV for a website that would allow you to communicate with the veteran’s loved ones. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to share what God had done with someone who knew and loved Tom. I went into the website and left the following message:
“It was approximately 3 ½ years ago that I first visited The Wall; for some reason, Tom’s name has stayed with me – I have been praying for your family ever since. I have a ‘name rubbing’ framed and hanging in my foyer for all to see – I ask others to pray for you, too. I would love to have a photo of Tom to hang with his ‘name rubbing’. Please contact me…”
Five months later (11/9/02), I received a response from a woman, named Marsha, who had been a friend to Tom’s mother. Among other things, she wrote:
I didn’t know Tom very well because he went into the Army shortly after I met him, but I knew his mother and family for 30 years. His mother passed away a couple of years ago…I can tell you that I was with his mother the morning the Army Chaplain visited to tell her of Tom’s death…Tom’s sister-in-law was pregnant at the time and on the day he was put to rest she had a boy and they named him Tommy Michael Thomas – he looks just like him.”
Imagine how blessed I was! So I responded immediately with my own story. Marsha then sent me a copy of Tom’s memorial and an article that had appeared in the local newspaper. Tom had only been in the Army for 7 months before he was killed; he was 22 years old. His mother received the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and 5 other medals in his honor.
But that’s not the end of this story…
On March 8, 2004, two years later, I received an email from an address I didn’t recognize. The subject line read: “Tom Michael Thomas”. For a moment, I think my heart stopped beating. It had been 16 months since I had received my first email regarding Tom. I opened it and read, “…I don’t have a photograph of Tom, but I was with him to the end. I was his medic…”
In that moment, I was so crushed, so blessed, so humbled all at once. I imagined that one moment in time – Gary (the medic) cradling Tom in his arms like a baby; Tom asking Gary to tell his mother how much he loved her. It was too much, too much…
All of a sudden my heart went out to Gary. What a nightmare war must be! Gary was a medic; men were dying in his arms almost daily. How helpless he must have felt. Did he know Jesus? Did he feel His presence?
As I began to respond to his email I struggled with whether I should make references to God or not. If he’s not a believer, I might loose him and I wanted to get to know him better. I wanted an opportunity to minister to him. But then I thought, this might be my only opportunity – go for it!
And so I did…I told my story. But while I had Gary on the line, so to speak, I took another opportunity…I wrote:
“Thank you, Gary Stolp, for all you did for me in Vietnam. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your sacrifice. God bless you! P.S. Tell me more about yourself."
Gary and I corresponded a couple of times that week. I want to share just a little bit of our conversations with you.
Gary writes: “…Tom was an infantryman. He was a good guy; always willing to share his rations. He died defending his brothers in B Company out in the middle of nowhere on a hill overlooking a valley…”
My response: “As I read your words, ‘He died…out in the middle of nowhere…’ a great sadness came over me. Then I realized, he may have been ‘in the middle of nowhere’ but he wasn’t alone. You were there, ‘…with him to the end’. Thank you for being there for Tom, Gary. Thank you for being there for all those men. When they were hurting, when they were frightened, you were there. What a comfort that must have been to them all.
One month later, April 28, 2004, William Thomas (Tom's brother) sent me a letter with 2 photos of Tom. In the letter, William was grateful that Tom’s memory lives on; he worries that Tom will be forgotten.
I imagine that is the fear of everyone who has lost someone to war. The sad truth is, we do forget.
At church yesterday, all those who have ever served our country were asked to stand before the congregation. As the 8 men from 3 generations stood humbly before us, we were asked to go forward and personally thank them for their service and sacrifice. There were hugs. There were tears.
In the name of the freedoms we enjoy – and take for granted – I ask you to do the same. Thank a veteran. Thank an active duty soldier. Thank a police officer, a firefighter, a member of the Coast Guard, etc. - anyone who has served and sacrificed for you to live and worship freely; anyone who is charged with keeping our homes and our children safe. It will cost you nothing but it will mean everything to them.
The medic who was with Tom Thomas when he died sent me something he wrote for a reunion of the boys of B Company in May of 1999. I sent him an email last night asking him for permission to share it with you. His reply: “I hope it communicates some of the feelings medics have.”
Ode to a Fallen Grunt
by Gary (Doc) Stolp
The grief I feel for you my friends, I never can fully let go.
You were there one day: and then you were gone, and no one can really explain the why of it.
I loved you as a brother and more – oh so much more.
You shared my loads; and I gave you the affection I could.
But you, you gave your all for me and for the other brothers there and here;
And for others who will never know nor really appreciate the kind of brother willing to risk all –
To ultimately give all.
I feel so empty.
The times, the places, the faces, and names are all being eroded by the sands of time.
I wish I were more so I could honor you more.
You all deserve so much more than I can ever give you.
If only I could remember better the kindnesses you gave.
The times you switched rations, ‘cause you knew I couldn’t eat ham and lima beans.
The times you carried part of my load ‘cause you saw I was ready to fall.
The time you told me: “Doc, you remind me of my Mom; she’s the only one that cared for me like you do.”
You warmed my heart, when it was cold.
You made me feel like I was an intimate part of your family, if only for a little while.
I withheld part of me while I knew you.
I was so afraid that I could not do my job if I became too close.
And by being more distant, I now have this big hole in my heart for you
Because I don’t know how to tell you what the time we spent together means to me.
I can only tell you that I would never trade it for the safety of staying home.
My Brothers, Fallen Brothers,
I carry a little bit of you with me every day.
How can I ever let you go?
You would never let me go.
You watched my every step along the way.
"Follow me! "
"Don’t step there Doc, it’s booby trapped!"
"Walk in my steps, it’s safe there."
You were so courageous my Brothers.
And I was always afraid that you would find out the fears I carried around inside.
Fear that I could not do the things that needed to be done.
Fear that I would let you down.
Fear that I would lose you,
More afraid of really living than dying.
There’s a wall,
A wall with your name on it.
If only I could remember all those things I should, I could meet you there.
But there’s another wall,
And behind that wall all brothers meet together
In another time and another place.
And in that time and place,
We shall get to know one another again.
There’s a Father over all brothers.
His memory does not fade with the changes of time
And He will heal all sorrows and wipe away all tears.
I love you, Brothers, like a brother
And I miss you.
I will remember.