By Robert A. Richert – [email protected]
The following letter from me to the editor was published unedited in the Long Beach Press-Telegram March 21, 2004
Dear Editor, Long Beach Press Telegram,
I am sure that most of your readers are uplifted by the stories of American soldiers whose spirituality has been strengthened by their experiences in Iraq (“Five who found Faith”, USA Weekend, March 12-14). I strongly disagree with the prevailing view of the group, summarized by corporal Luten’s statements;
“God healed my leg” and “has been with me every step of the way”.
The following true story is a graphic illustration of my objection.
In 1969, I served as an infantry soldier for the U.S. Army in Vietnam. One day my squad was on patrol near a small hamlet, when suddenly we came under heavy machine gun fire.
Fortunately, the barrage did not last long and no one was injured. The enemy hit us and fled. One of my squad members, visibly shaken, related that during the firefight he was literally dodging bullets, just like John Wayne in one of his old war movies. Like some of the soldiers in your article, he was adamant that God must have intervened to save his life. He thought he was the recipient of a miracle.
Several months after the above incident, our unit was working with a South Vietnamese Army Company. We bivouacked at their base camp; a crude assembly of buildings and hooches perched atop a small hill. The South Vietnamese soldiers lived there along with their families. One day, while most of our platoon went out on light patrol, a medic and I stayed behind to guard our gear. At midday I was relaxing in the shade at the side of a building when suddenly, I heard a loud explosion. I jumped up and as I rounded the corner, I witnessed a scene of horror that I will never forget.
A young Vietnamese woman came running carrying her infant boy, about two years old, in her arms. Both were drenched in blood. The shiny wet blood soaking into her black shirt turned it a nauseating deep maroon color. Unfortunately, it was her child’s blood. Our medic came, placed the infant on a blanket on the ground, and attempted a frenzied resuscitation. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother, her face twisted in agony, screamed hysterically. Near the center of the child’s chest, just above his tiny heart, was a hole the size of a nickel. I watched helplessly as the last of his blood oozed out of the hole, his lips turned blue, his eyes glazed over, and his life ebbed away.
So, what caused this terrible tragedy? Apparently, two South Vietnamese soldiers had a fight. One threw a hand grenade at the other and the explosion killed him instantly. In a terrible quirk of irony, a piece of shrapnel from the grenade struck the child in the center of his chest and pierced his heart.
My bullet-dodging comrade left for home before this incident occurred. I would like to ask him and the soldiers in your article, “Where was that poor child’s miracle? Why are you deserving of god’s divine intervention, and not this helpless, innocent child? What kind of God acts in so capricious and cruel a manner?”
Only the survivors of wars and other tragedies are around to tell tales of their miraculous experiences. However, this atheist in a foxhole will always speak up for one dead child of war who never had a chance…or a “Miracle”.