As most of you know, I was a pastor in New Jersey before coming to Maryland in 1994. Among my congregants there were a number of World War 2 veterans. One of my last actions as pastor in that church — two weeks before coming to Hagerstown — was to honor these men in a service, upon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Each of them told their story of where they were at the time, and each of them were thankful for surviving – as none of them knew Christ when younger men. They had some pretty amazing stories of survival. It was an incredible Sunday morning of testimony of God’s grace and provision.
One of these men died this week at the age of 95.
Dick Richards was in Company C, 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. Just into Germany near the end of the Battle of the Bulge, as a field officer, he went around from foxhole to foxhole one evening to check on all his men. He had returned to his own to settle down for the evening – which he told me was an especially good and comfortably dug-out hole – lit a cigarette (his last ever!), and a mortar shell landed in the hole with him. It blew off about half of his face and jaw. The Germans had been watching him, correctly surmised he was an officer, and chose him as a target. Dick was evacuated quickly, and over a long period of months (and I believe several years) underwent quite a number of reconstructive surgeries. Though the scars would never all go away, and though his speech was a bit difficult and garbled, his recovery was rather amazing.
Dick was awarded the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars for meritorious achievement. His unit was among the best. Though outnumbered by the Germans 5-1, they inflicted casualties at a ratio of 20-1.
I met Dick a long time after the War. He served on some of our church boards and was a faithful attender. Definitely an “earthy” and “folksy” sort of a guy, he had an apple orchard on his property. I always enjoyed visiting him and hearing his stories and receiving his good common sense encouragement. I was a young, young pastor at the time, and Dick was a real blessing to me.
We should be grateful for the service of these warriors and patriots – who fought huge enemies, and won! I had to laugh at a cartoon I saw recently — of an old man with a cane looking at an occupy freak and saying, “that’s funny, when I was your age I occupied Europe!”