Major General Bob Dees, U.S. Army, Retired
In a recent discussion with a new widow who is working to finish her deceased husband’s historical novel regarding the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, I was reminded of a discovery which I made when walking the same battlefield on the north shoulder of the Bulge, at Elsenborn Ridge. Here is the account I provided to her:
“Walking along Elsenborn Ridge as part of a staff ride with U.S. Army Europe leaders, I suddenly noticed a rusty piece of metal on the ground. I asked the historian walking along with us what this might be? He indicated that it was undoubtedly a rusted hinge off of an ammunition box from the 23d Infantry who had occupied that part of the ridge during the Battle of the Bulge. Having just completed command of the Second Infantry Division in Korea, this mention of the 23d Infantry “Tomahawks” immediately caught my attention.
The Tomahawks were known for the Battle of Chipyong-ni in the Korean War where they defeated five Chinese Communist divisions with roughly 500 valiant warriors. This victory against overwhelming odds was a critical turning point in the entire war, allowing the Eighth US Army to stop their bloody retreat and begin moving north to liberate Korean land and people overrun by the Communists. Further, I realized that many of the experienced Tomahawk sergeants and senior leaders in the Korean War had been privates and junior officers six years earlier in World War II. Same unit, same leaders, different wars.
‘So tell me more,’ I asked the historian. He responded that ‘If the Tomahawks had not held the Elsenborn Ridge shoulder, the outcome may have been entirely different, the Nazi last ditch thrust through the Ardennes may have actually succeeded. The Tomahawks held firm at one of the most decisive points of the entire World War II.’
We moved on through the Elsenborn Ridge woods as I pondered the new information: How amazing that the same unit had succeeded against overwhelming odds at a defining moment in not just one, but two wars. What allowed them to grow leaders who were remarkably courageous under daunting odds? What was the “DNA” that empowered these Tomahawk warriors to fight so ferociously? What was the secret of their resilience across multiple wars? While I probably could not figure out the intricacies of these questions, I knew I could do one thing. I could honor and respect those who had fought, bled, and in many cases, died for those on their right and left, and for the freedoms which we enjoy today. Elsenborn Ridge is certainly “where valor lies” (the name of Gary Varner’s forthcoming book).
Certainly this vignette focuses honor upon our great veterans who served in World War II and Korea, but we must not forget our entire nation’s military who have served at home and abroad over our country’s history. They have truly demonstrated “Resilient Valor” as they have put “one boot in front of another,” bringing the light of freedom to the darkest, dankest, dustiest, and most depraved parts of our globe; as well as serving and protecting fellow citizens on the home front. We honor them!
I offer, however, that this vignette has much broader applications to resilient living—resilient valor under all circumstances in the military and far beyond. Let me give another military example to illustrate: In World War II, many airborne troopers in the 101st Airborne Division jumped into Normandy in the dark of night, then a few months later jumped in the largest airborne operation in the history of the world (Operation Market Garden in Holland). They were encircled at Bastogne, where they defied and resisted overwhelming odds, then worked their way through the heartland of Germany to liberate extermination camps and oppressed peoples from the grip of Hitler. They also kept putting one boot in front of another, resiliently fighting, bouncing back after wounds of the heart, soul, and body; continuing to press toward the mark. We also honor them.
The broader point is that these military warriors have modeled something that is priceless; something we will call “Resilient Valor.” In life we must continue the fight against all odds. We must show courage, valor, and staying power time after time. Maybe we have health issues, or relational fractures, or have been victimized by natural tragedy or senseless violence, or carry the wounds of actual warfare. Whatever our own personal situation, we have the example of these veterans, the example of many resilient men and women of valor in the Scriptures, and very specific Biblical encouragement from passages such as 2 Corinthians 4:7-10:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
One boot in front of the other. Resilient valor. Not growing weary in well doing. Struck down, but not destroyed. Only through Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith. A good word for each of us. Relevant to every walk of life.
Let us know what you think.
Major General (Ret.) Bob Dees, M.S., is the Military Director for the American Association of Christian Counselors and oversees the Military Counseling Initiative Division. He also leads the Liberty University Institute for Military Resilience. Having commanded military units from platoon through division levels, he well understands the mental and behavioral health needs of our military and their families. As a frequent speaker, author of Resilient Warriors, and co-host with Dr. Tim Clinton of the popular Stress & Trauma Care video series, General Dees is a national leader regarding faith-based resilience programs for the military and beyond. This blog entry is ©RFD LLC 2014. You can contact Gen. Dees at firstname.lastname@example.org.