“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~ Plato
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Silicon Valley surrounded by engineers. For whatever reason, I had never met a war veteran face to face. That is, until I met my future father-in-law, “Butch” James Gray.
I was nervous meeting him for the first time because I had only seen pictures of him in my boyfriend’s photo album. Butch proudly stood next to his pocket knife collection which was perfectly lined up in several glass displays. He wasn’t from Texas, but he didn’t seem like someone I wanted to mess with.
My bias proved unfounded. From the moment he greeted me with his big bear hug, I knew I had met one of the good guys. What got me curious were the words embroidered across his cap.
“4th INFANTRY DIVISION
Beyond Textbook & Hollywood
We had a few more family visits out from the Northwest before I got comfortable enough to ask about his thoughts on the war. I grew up in the 80’s which meant most of what I knew about Nam were textbook factoids memorized for my History AP Tests and scenes from Tom Cruise’s awfully depressing flick Born on the 4th of July.
Butch is a hard-working, self-made family man. When it comes to his personal stories from the battlefield, he is soft-spoken. I decided to call and find out more. As I peppered him with questions about his military service, I pieced together snippets of courage, sacrifice and honest reflection.
A Personal Battle
As Butch talked about the jungles, fighting the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese without bravado, I couldn’t help but draw parallels into my own personal battle — with hurtful words from my childhood, ministry hardships, and my family of origin.
I learned that war isn’t only waged on land where men fight with artillery and fly overhead with bombs. There is a battle in my soul over the words that have been spoken into my life.
God is fighting to free me from the words that harm me, so that I can embrace His words that bless me.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, I’m sharing excerpts from Butch’s story as an infantry soldier, after he was drafted in 1967 as a nineteen-year-old, at the time of the Tet Offensive, when our nation deployed the largest number of troops in the history of the Vietnam War. Butch served as Army Sargent in the 4th Division, Rifle Company for two years in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
I’ll also share a commentary of internal thoughts from my modern day battlefield with words.
As you listen in, I hope you’ll be inspired, as I was, to embrace your Abba-given identity as highly blessed and always beloved.
1. So Dad. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to hear more about your time in Vietnam.
Butch: Sure… Did you hear about the sea lions dying along the Oregon coast? Turns out they have the same disease (leptospirosis) that I got in the jungle over thirty years ago.
The doctors thought I had malaria, because it has the same symptoms. You get it from drinking bad water. You think it’s okay, but it’s infested. You get weak, sweat, perspire, chills. The worse is your whole body shakes.
I got so sick I didn’t care if I lived or died. Had to get blood tests every day and penicillin shots around the clock for two weeks, lying there in the military hospital in Pleiku.
2. Were you worried you’d die?
Butch: Oh yeah. The doctors said they would do their best but that’s all they could do.
Once I was healed up, they sent me back right away… forward… to the front.
[ It’s hard to become the person God wants me to be when I’m overwhelmed by critical voices. The battle is fierce. God sends me back into battle, to pick up the sword of His Spirit and His Words. The simple act of getting up everyday and starting new exercises my faith. When I pick up my pen (and keyboard) to share what God is saying, I’m fighting the good fight. ]
3. I can’t believe they did that!
Butch: Some guys got malaria. The incubation can be 8-10 years. Then you die.
[ I’ve willed away hurtful words like they don’t matter. But here I am, confronting negative words even though I’m a Christian connected to Jesus. I’ve felt embarrassed to still be struggling in my heart with truths I know in my head. When I’m not honest about my pain, I’m only incubating it’s poison. ]
4. Tell me one of your stories from the frontlines. I’m not familiar with military terms, so tell it to a civilian.
Butch: As the patrol leader, I’d take up 8 men to look for the enemy and gather intelligence.
I had the map, the compass and the codes to interpret coordinates, along with the radio frequencies to keep track of. One time, the company commanders gave me orders to go into A Shua Valley, one of the most deadly places in the country. I spent 2-3 days reporting observations and information. If needed, I would call in gun ships, jet strikes or artillery.
[ It’s hard to imagine someone willingly going into enemy territory, knowing they could be killed. I’m free in Christ, with an amazing variety of choices. What am I choosing to spend my energies on? Am I using up valuable time focusing on what the enemy is saying through my circumstances? ]
5. You were deep in enemy territory!
Butch: Oh yeah. One time, we traveled on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
We were sent in to disrupt the enemies by planting explosives in trees, so to stop their progress. But the North Vietnamese would only return to clear and open up the trail right away. Felt like a waste of time.
[ The enemy of our soul likes to throw words of accusation, threat and intimidation. But I need to stay faithful, even on days I feel my efforts are futile. ]
6. You were honored with a Purple Heart. What happened?
Butch: We were searching for the enemy, going up a mountain, when we were ambushed.
[The enemy] attacked the point guy, so the rest of the patrol ducked for cover. When you don’t know where the fire’s coming from, you just try to find cover.
There was a lot of elephant grass. We ran straight into a booby trap — pungy sticks — bamboo knives. Rows and rows of it. You can’t walk around it. Camouflaged.
26 guys got wounded in 10 seconds. Just like that.
I got a wound in my leg, got some medication for the infection. The next day, they sent me back forward.
That’s the way [the enemy] wanted it. They’d rather wound us, than kill us. They figured the wounded would hurt us more.
[ When we try to scale upwards in our personal growth, words wound, more deadly than we give them credit for. It’s important to get them treated. God does not want my today and my tomorrow live wounded by yesterday’s words. ]
7. You once mentioned it was tough to watch a chopper take off when you were in battle. Talk about courage. What were the conditions like?
Butch: One time, we had to get transported. They were trying to evacuate us from a hill. We were out there for two weeks.
There was a big insurgence. We were outnumbered. I saw people die, had to care for people who couldn’t get medical attention. The choppers can only take a certain number of people. So when you see it take off, you get a sinking feeling.
[ I got emotional at this point. Unbelievable. Can you imagine being left on a hill in enemy territory for two weeks? ]
8. You returned to civilian life without resentment or bitterness about the war, when some did. Why is that?
Butch: When you’ve been some place where people don’t have rights, you know how well off you are, because people are willing to sacrifice.
The rights of freedom come at a cost. It ain’t something someone says is in our constitution. Freedom is something we defend, that citizens sacrifice for.
[ Rather than focusing on what I can’t change, I’m better off enjoying the freedom I can exercise today. I need to defend it because Jesus paid a high price for it — a life that ended in suffering, cruelty and unmentionable emotional and physical torture. ]
9. How did you survive countless dangers — ambushes, watching people die, snakes, leeches, illness — for so long?
Butch: The way my family raised me, they killed my emotions.
I had a high tolerance for pain. I don’t say anything when I hurt. Sometimes, that’s not good. It’s a survival technique, I guess (laughs). Way my folks were, we didn’t get to express ourselves when something upset us.
[ What once may have been a survival technique, I need to practice unlearning now. Even if it comes at a cost because I am safe and secure in God’s unconditional love. ]
10. What is one thing you’re most proud about your service?
Butch: I did what I asked to do and I’m not ashamed of it.
In the end, I was struck by the confidence that spoke through in Butch’s ending words. I felt inspired to stand shameless, because no matter what anyone says about me, I know I’m blameless in God’s eyes.
He knows my heart and I’ve been faithful to do what He’s asked me to do.
I am free.
“Christ has freed us
so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom.
Therefore, be firm [in this freedom],
and don’t become slaves again.”
Galations 5:1 (God’s Word Translation)
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world…
They have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We demolish arguments and every pretension
that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,
and we take captive every thought
to make it obedient to Christ.”
~ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
What are you battling today?
How is God setting you free?
Honor A Veteran
Words are powerful. Honor a veteran by simply asking them to share their stories. Before this interview, my father-in-law has been quietly humble about his military service. It wasn’t until I took the time to probe and listen, was I blessed with such amazing stories of heroism and courage. I was moved beyond words and honored to have heard him share his experience first-hand.
Dad, thank you for serving our country so honorably. I’m proud of the man you were and prouder still for the father you became to Eric, becoming the dad you never had and giving so generously always to those you love.
Spread The Word! FREE Book for Family & Friends Who Serve In the Military: Strength For Service
FREE DOWNLOAD from November 7-21, 2010: Anyone can download the Kindle version (on Amazon) “Strength For Service“.
Thanks to my friend, Jessica Turner The Mom Creative, has been working with Strength for Service.
Please help spread the word! Share today’s post on Facebook or Twitter by clicking on the “Share/Save” button at the end of the post.
Strength For Service is a daily devotional geared towards soldiers and anyone in the service of others. One million copies were distributed during World War II and the Korean Conflict. In 2001, it was republished, distributing more than 400,000 copies through chaplains (chaplains can request free copies anytime, click here).
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Today’s topic: How Is God Setting You Free?
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Thank you and thank Butch for me…he is a true hero.
Thanks for stopping by today, Jay!
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Glynn Young, Jay Cookingham. Jay Cookingham said: What A Vietnam Vet Taught Me About My Personal Battles http://bit.ly/9MfhTB /cc @feedly […]
Thanks for taking the initiative to find this story and to share it. Thank you for also sharing from your difficult times. It helps to know that others have stared down tough circumstances and persevered.
The stakes are high and God always comes through.
Such a lovely story. So glad Butch and you shared it with us. I thank God for our veterans.
Several of your words really hit home with me:
“That’s the way [the enemy] wanted it. They’d rather wound us, than kill us. They figured the wounded would hurt us more.”
That’s so true. Satan knows when a believer dies, that his chances to win them back to his side are over. So he’d rather keep us alive in pain, then let us die and slip through his fingers.
“He knows my heart and I’ve been faithful to do what He’s asked me to do.
I am free.”
The ultimate freedom!
“He’d rather keep us alive in pain, then let us die and slip through his fingers. ”
Never thought of it that way. That’s good. Thanks, Lisa.
[…] friend Bonnie, The Faith Barista, is asking a question today for her Thursday Faith Jam ~ How is God setting you […]
I haven’t had time to write a full post, but how is God setting me free? Through writing. I’ve been working on my story, that I know God wants me to share. As I look back and rehash things I thought were long buried, I’m learning that by keeping things buried, I carry them with me like a knapsack full of rocks. As I get the rocks out in ink and type, the knapsack gets lighter and lighter. (No, I haven’t posted anything yet, but I will – once I get it all written.)
I am free! Free to share, free to write, free to let God’s goodness flow from my heart through my fingers. It’s such a joy. Such a joy!
.-= Rachel´s last blog ..Doing whatever it takes Band edition =-.
Writing is freedom! It’s powerful. So happy you’re sharing it, Rachel!
I never tire of hearing the stories of our military heroes. Their experiences and struggles demonstrate and teach more than most. Even the Apostle Paul talks about fighting the good fight and striving for the reward.
It is often (and correctly) said that Freedom isn’t free. Butch, my grandfather and others have paid the price for our freedom and I am eternally grateful. Thank you for the great interview and the insights that you share.
.-= Michael G´s last blog ..Are You Listening =-.
Thank you to your grandfather for his service to our freedom, Michael. It’s unbelievable how our veterans show courage in battle and in the way they live their lives after their return.
I’ve always wondered what went through these brave men’s minds out there in the jungle. We can learn so much from them for our own faith battles. Thank you!
.-= Joy´s last blog ..Through the Stormy Fog =-.
My eldest brother served long tours in Vietnam. I still have his letters and those from men in his company to whom I wrote. Your post motivates me to take another look at them.
We do honor when we ask others to share their stories.
I found it so interesting how you paralleled your own thoughts with reflections from your father-in-law.
Those letters are priceless. A piece of history in our nation as well as the lives of those who fought for us all. In honor of your brother… thank you, Maureen.
I love the parallels you drew, Bonnie, and the way you have honored those who’ve served!
Perfect post for today. Thank you Butch for serving your country and taking the time to share about it. This has reminded me to pick up that phone and call my father-in-law who also served.
.-= Amy Sullivan´s last blog ..The Hole-A Guest Post by Michelle DeRusha =-.
I can’t imagine the stories he’s lived. Thanks for the shout-out to your father-in-law here today, Amy!
Thank you for sharing your story, Butch. As a civilian who was caught in a war zone, I have an inkling of what you went through. That’s all—a sliver of the slightest idea. Thanks for willingly obeying. Thanks for being courageous. Thanks for defending freedom for those who couldn’t. Thanks for persevering when no one was saying, “Thank you.”
Bonnie, thank you for recording this. Thanks for adding your thoughts on your own battles. Thanks for the reminder to unlearn our survival techniques as we learn to trust God.
You’re a blessing, Sheryl!
I am so thankful for all the men and women who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom. May I never take it for granted!
.-= Kevin Martineau´s last blog ..What are you doing to remember today =-.
I am so inspired by them!
Love, love, love this post, Bonnie. You weave the physical and spiritual to perfection!
Love you, too. 🙂
Happy Veterans Day to you & yours, Kristen. The wives in the military are the unsung heroes as well! 🙂 Love you, too!
Thanks Bonnie for a walk down memory lane today. I hadn’t even known some of the battle details myself. Dad never shared, guess he thought I would worry at the time. He is a very patriotic man with a deep love for God, family and country.
It was hard to wait at home for him while he was in combat, but thankfully our life has worked out well.
Two years is a long time. May the bond you two share continue to blossom as it has so beautifully throughout the years. Faithful companionship is a beautiful thing.
What a powerful story, Bonnie. Please thank your father-in-law for sharing these parts of his story. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been…how hard remembering must be at times.
And thank you, especially, for giving us this real story today–for not shying away from the hard stuff and for the integrity you always bring to your writing.
.-= Laura´s last blog ..TELL =-.
It was an unexpected gift to hear his story — and so much more meaningful to share it here with you. Thanks for sharing this space together, Laura, because remembering is that much more meaningful together.
[…] to read more stories about God setting people free? Drop by Faith Barista today for the Thursday Faith […]
Those words can hurt. A woman whose been physically abused has bruises. You can prove it with those bruises and broken bones. But someone who has no bruises or marks of disfigurement cannot prove it. They walk around defenseless, afraid because if they said anything no one would believe them. So you say nothing building walls around you so you can’t get hurt again.
The problem with that is the friendships it keeps out. God loves us. He is our Father when all others let us down. We can trust Him with the unseen. To trust Him means taking a step around the wall and facing both friend and foe without anything between you and them. The funny thing about that wall is it still hurt. It didn’t protect me as I thought. It kept those who wanted to help away. Trusting God and letting Him set me free allowed me to walk without walls. He allows me to become transparent because I realize He has the best super glue around for broken hearts.
.-= Nikole Hahn´s last blog ..The Phone Calls Are Different Now =-.
“They walk around defenseless, afraid because if they said anything no one would believe them.”
“He has the best super glue around for broken hearts.”
Love this, Nikole!
Thank you Bonnie. I needed to hear this. I haven’t had time to blog lately and write. I haven’t written anything since the last time I jammed with you here. I haven’t even journaled just for myself like I usually do.
I have been dealing with another battle. This time my own health instead of my husband. I am now being diagnosed with heart issues. Oddly enough they think it might be the exact same thing as my husband. At least it did not send me to the ER. We figured out at an office visit when I just went in for a routine exam.
My own survival technique is stuffing and avoiding dealing with pain. Putting on a “mask” of everything is fine and I am ok. And you are right hiding what is going on inside is no good at all. Dealing with the pain and hurt and grief is best and I needed the reminder to keep going and keep fighting. Admitting I am scared, confused, and overwhelmed is an understatement. And it time to talk about it with some trusted people, but most importantly talking with God about it.
Thank you for sharing and thank you Butch for sharing your story and allowing Bonnie to tell us.
.-= Katie´s last blog ..Reasonably Happy =-.
Thanks so much for sharing!! It really added a “face” and a “name” to this day!
I had planned on participating in the jam this week, but a cold/flu bug has gone awry in me, and I’m dealing with a pretty bad asthma issue. If the meds from today’s dr. visit don’t impact it – then it will be a round of steroids for me. ugh. they don’t like me at all, and i hate taking them, even if they do what they need to do.
I’d really prefer to believe that I can wake up in the morning completely healed!! That’s my preference, and yet, if God wills to use the steroids, if there’s something I need to learn through this journey that involves the side effects, or if God’s just going to rock my world in other ways that this needs to lead to – then so be it.
I would appreciate prayers for spiritual warfare though, as it was an amazing conference that wore me out; a great workshop that started the tickle in my throat; and the National Missionary Convention that I’m to attend in the middle of the week (and do a workshop a week from Saturday on “HELP! My child wants to be a Missionary!”). Plenty of reasons for satan to try to keep me down.
So go to work prayer warriors…please!! and go GOD!!
love your hearts…
.-= marina bromley´s last blog ..Faith Barrista Jam- Shaking off feelings of guilt =-.
How is God setting me free?
anxiety…when I don’t know how to get what I want (godliness) out of my family and I stress because there must be something right I should say or do but what is it? The verse God hit me with this summer: Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart…so he’s been freeing me bit by bit from the anxiety of how badly we hurt each other and as I delight in him I see the wrongs lessening and I start believing he is at work in us all!
homeschooling…my daughter’s anxiety and my stress. I’m the kind that likes to check things off, and she’s the kind that’s learning to whine to get out of things. Oh my. Does “delight yourself in the Lord” work here also? What’s that look like? We enjoy parts of our day and have to practice discipline for other parts. But when we’re grieved at each other, not connecting, and I feel I should just enroll her at the public school down the road, someone comes and asks if she’s going to homeschool through high school and she says resoundingly: I hope so!
I’ve been learning from Kat over at Inspired to Action, and from Ann at A Holy Experience, and encouraged by (in)courage, and lately signed up for scripture verses daily delivered to my inbox from Zondervan. That’s using the computer! Husband gave me a moleskine calendar he didn’t need anymore and I’m writing a daily memory verse in it. Daily, have I memorized, have I exercised, have I strategized? Slowly I am releasing excess pounds. Learning to walk in the way of God’s provision and not fret.
Thank you Bonnie, for the prompt!
.-= Beth Werner Lee´s last blog ..ThanksGrieving =-.
Thanks for this deeply moving post.
.-= Dan Roloff´s last blog ..John Rushings Final Prayer =-.
Being honest about pain – This is what’s setting me free right now. All the people who write, like you, in balanced transparency about their pain – I keep saying “them too” and breathe a sigh of connection. Others can relate to my past and pain. I continue to heal and progress in healing every time this happens.
I like how you wrote to focus on the freedom I can experience today – others have set the path before me and now I’m free to truly be who God made me warts, foibles, blessings, and all! It’s so amazing!
Psalm 32 comes to mind – how keeping it in can harm our emotions, bodies, soul and how letting it out relieves the pressure. Most of all, how God wipes it clean when we let it out.
How is GOD setting me free? I imagine in many ways I have not yet recognized. You know the saying about hind sight being 20/20. As I sit here and think about what HE has been doing. HE has been teaching me to be more giving. There is more than enough. I have also learned that I am covered by the blood of CHRIST; understanding HIS righteousness in my life. I am righteous because of HE. Once you understand HIS love for you produces right believing then right living. Now that’s freedom! Thank you for your story about Butch and your personal revelations! I love your BLOG!
[…] friend Bonnie, The Faith Barista, is asking a question today for her Thursday Faith Jam ~ How is God setting you […]