The Kamikaze Survivor
One of the great things about working at the cafeteria is that from time to time I run across some really interesting people. Today was one of those days. I had returned to Greenwood from a luncheon at the Colts complex and was getting ready to head upstairs and get a jump on some work I had to to. As I turned the corner, I saw an elderly gentleman going through the cafeteria line. He was wearing a hat that simply stated, “Kamikaze Survivor – WW II.” Now we get quite a number of WWII veterans who come through the line, and they wear all kinds of caps with the names of their ships, or aircraft, but I have never seen one that referenced the Kamikaze pilots from Japan.
When I was a young boy, I remember the movie “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” and then there was “Tora, Tora, Tora” that I watched as a teenager. But both my father and my father-in-law served in WWII on the other side of the world, so I never heard too much about the war in the Pacific. Truthfully, neither Dad nor my father-in-law, John, have ever spoken much about the war and since I never served in the military I really don’t have a suitable frame of reference to discuss anything having to do with war. I will tell you that I can’t even imagine what it must have been like – to be faced with the decision to kill or be killed…
But this gentleman today seemed to be the real deal. As he came up to the cashier, I asked him about his hat. He told me that as a young man, he was a crewman on the USS Harding, a destroyer that was stationed near Okinawa, Japan. At 10:00 am on April 16, 1945, the ship was attacked by kamikaze pilots who dove their planes, on a suicide mission, toward the Harding. Apparently one aircraft was shot down while a second one was also damaged just before it impacted the ship. Part of the plane’s engine broke off, piercing the ship’s bridge while the rest of the plane impacted the side of the ship, its onboard bomb exploding into the keel of the Harding. The pilots of both Japanese aircraft were killed on impact – their kamikaze missions completed.
It was like the veteran telling the story to me was back there in the middle of the fray. The details – the explosions on the ship, the fires, the gash in the hull – all recalled with clarity, as if the event happened yesterday. Luckily, this war hero was on the other side of the ship and was not killed in the attack. Hence, the cap – Kamikaze Survivor.
Whenever I have the chance to hear these historical accounts of WWII, I always listen. After all, these veterans are aging and soon enough, their first hand accounts of what happened in the middle of the battle will be lost forever. There is one particular thing I have noticed about these men and women who fought so valiantly in the military. There was a sense of national pride so strong during WWII that these people were willing to die for what they believed in. It seems that the commitment to die for something today is not as strong as it was during the years of the war, especially after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor.
Now please don’t send me cards and letters – I know that many of our younger people are committed in the military today. But as a generation, it’s tough to beat the country’s unified commitment during WWII. Of course, today’s story caused me to think about what things are worth dying for.
Well, you know me by now and sure enough, there is certainly one thing worth dying for, and that’s eternal life with God. I know it sounds a little confusing, but the Bible is quite clear that we must die to ourselves and be “born again” into the family of God. Interestingly, all four of the Gospel writers affirm this truth. Jesus Himself spoke on numerous occasions about the need to die in order to live.
The verse for tonight is from Matt. 16:25, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” I could have chosen an almost identical verse from each of the other Gospels. What’s even more important is that Jesus speaks these words Himself. He encourages us to lose our lives for Him. Because by dying to ourselves, we will live eternally with God.
My encouragement this evening is that Jesus, more than 2000 years ago, knew that He was on a mission that would end in His death – and He did it for you and for me. My prayer this evening is that you will consider dying to yourself in order to spend eternity with Him. After all, what’s so great about this act of selfless love is that, for Christians, its not a kamikaze mission – because there’s life after death – eternal life. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…