68 years ago today, allied forces invaded Normandy and began the liberation of Europe. It is fitting that we honor the survivors, remember the sacrifice of the fallen, and attempt to learn from their courage. The awful price paid for the victory that freed Europe and the world from Nazism must not be forgotten.
102-year-old Bea Cohen served in the U.S. Army during World War II and remembers D-Day. She said, “I come from a country where there wasn’t anything like [peace and freedom]. And I know the difference. What I don’t want people to forget–our men and women veterans; they’ve given a lot.”[i]
Yes, they gave “a lot.” Some gave all. The haunting question asked by survivors is, “Why them and not us?” Or “How did I survive and not others?”
Those who have survived the horror of the invasion or subsequent battles are not the only ones to ask this question. It is a question that present-day warriors ask themselves as well. Why does one return from war to see his or her family, but another does not?
Sal Palacino and Morton Parks are both survivors of D-Day who were both a part of the 116th Army infantry regiment comprised of only 136 men. Although they don’t remember one another from the war their bond is close. Palacino, 88, and Parks, 87, share memories that very few can understand.
After reading a newspaper story about the declining numbers of D-Day survivors, including Parks, Palacino decided to try to meet Parks. “First of all, it’s emotional, in that we’re still both living,” Palacino said. “Ten thousand GIs that first day were killed at Normandy. Omaha Beach was the worst. Can you imagine what the probability is of meeting another person who survived that first day when 10,000 were killed?”[ii]
Ray Weiss, staff writer for the Daytona Beach News-Journal points out, “The odds of that first wave of soldiers seeing another day were slim. But all of these years later, Parks and Palacino have no answer as to why they survived, when so many others around them didn’t.” [iii]
Which brings me back to the question, “Why them and not us?”
Even if you have not experienced the horror of war and lived to tell about it, in a sense, you too are a survivor. Most of those reading this blog are old enough to have seen people their age or younger die. For more than 30 years of ministry I have had the sad responsibility to stand over the coffins of many people younger than me – even children.
I have seen and experienced grief up-close and personal. A hard-working husband and father nears retirement, but is suddenly killed. An outgoing young teenager who loves the Lord surrenders his life to Christ at camp and within three months dies in an accident. A godly young wife and mother is struck down by cancer. Or a young husband and father who is an athletic Marine reenlists to serve in the Army and after a morning run doubles over in pain only later to discover an inoperable tumor on his liver.
Two of my closest high school friends have already been taken home to be with the Lord. Yet, I survive. “Lord, why?”
Recently a fellow pastor from our area died in an automobile accident. In recent years, another friend who served a nearby church lost his battle with cancer as a young man. In both cases, I grieve their loss and solemnly wonder why God chose to end their earthly lives and ministries and not mine.
The heartache and the questions are inevitable. But where is the healing and answers? Even fully devoted followers of Christ who trust God and know the answers from His word still know pain and grief, even if it is not like those without hope who don’t know Christ.
These are profound mysteries that even the wise and knowledgeable must recognize as “holy ground” belonging only to the One True God. Gratefully, God offers hope for those who cling to Him in faith. As I share some simple, yet sound Scriptural principles, I do so with humility and deep respect for the Sovereignty of God as well as your suffering.
Strength for Survivors
- He is God – Simple, but certainly not shallow. “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” (Ro.11:34) You may totally and completely rule out “luck” and replace it with providence. Because He is sovereign God nothing is left to chance.
- God is Good – When blinded by pain and grief it may be only natural to cry out “Why?” to God, but our inability to comprehend or appreciate His work in no way nullifies His goodness. “For Yahweh [The LORD] is good, and His love is eternal. His faithfulness endures through all generations.” (Ps. 100:5)
- What God Does is Good – Even God’s judgment is good. While God’s righteous and holy character must judge sin because it is an affront to His nature He also condemns sin because it is deadly to us. If the question is raised as to whether or not God really has our best interest in mind simply consider the fact that God loves mankind so much that He willingly died for us on the cross in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus. At the time, unless one was familiar with the Old Testament prophecies and recognized Jesus as the Messiah, one would have been just as bewildered as Jesus’ disciples initially were. Yet, His horrific suffering was all a part of a plan to rescue us!
- God Has Good in Store for His Own – “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28 HCSB) As we are often reminded, not all things are good, but all things do work together for God’s people.
- God Gives Us Life – He is the Author of life. All that we have come from Him. We must be careful to show our appreciation by living for Him.
- God Chooses When Our Lives Must End – While some may cause Him to end their lives early because of their own foolishness decisions, many deeply devoted believers have died what some would call “untimely deaths.” Regardless, God is in control
- God Expects Us to Live for Him – Someone said, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” We have an opportunity to make our lives an investment in eternity. It has been said that God has given us life; what we do with that life is our gift to Him.”
In the fictional movie based on the events following D-Day, “Saving Private Ryan,” Captain John H. Miller (played by Tom Hanks) lies gravely wounded following a key battle. Just before his death, he looks to “Private Ryan” (played by Matt Damon) and whispers, “Earn this!” Captain Miller has given his life fighting the Nazis in a battle while protecting Private Ryan. This comment haunts Ryan the rest of his life as he tries to live up to Captain Miller’s dying words.
We are “survivors” for a reason.
While “earning” the least of God’s grace is not within the realm of possibility, we must not throw up our hands as though there is nothing we can do to show our gratitude. We are “survivors” for a reason. God has mercifully allowed us to live another day. Rather than question the sovereign choices of God we would do better to invest our time into making our lives count for Christ. One day we may know why God chose to do what He did. What really matters is not why God chose to act the way He did in a particular situation, but that we choose to act the way we should while we can.
Why did Palacino and Parks survive D-Day when nearly 10,000 did not? Only God knows. When asked, Palacino said, “I’m not God, so I don’t know. People say we were lucky. But it had nothing to do with luck, with bullets flying by you and people dying. Did I tell the bullets not to kill me? I just praise God every day.”[iv]
And so should we.