By Maurice Possley
With the recent news of the death of Osama bin Laden, we praise the hearts of the courageous team of Navy SEALs that pulled off the dangerous mission.
At the same time, my heart aches for the family of Mark Metherell, a man of great courage and even greater faith who perished now three years ago on the front lines of a worldwide battle to bring bin Laden’s campaign of murderous terror to a close.
Two years ago, after moving from Chicago to Laguna Beach, California, I attended my first Sunday service at Little Church by the Sea where the preacher spoke of duty and sacrifice. When he invoked the memory of Metherell, a former Navy SEAL who grew up in Laguna Beach and was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008 — I wept, thinking of his wife, daughter, sisters, parents and best friend and their visits to Mark’s grave at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Pt. Loma, Calif.
I was reminded of a verse from the Gospel of St. John in Chapter 15,: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Not long after that first Sunday at Little Church, I began collaborating with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor John Woodbridge on a book about the extraordinary life of Ira “Teen” Palm, a soldier in World War II who went behind enemy lines in an attempt to capture Adolf Hitler in Munich a few days before the psychotic mastermind’s death by suicide on April 30, 1945. Poring over Palm’s letters, I was struck by his strong yet humble Christian faith that girded his unwavering belief in the righteousness of the fight to end Hitler’s reign of terror and genocide.
Sifting through Palm’s papers, I found that he had a copy of a 1954 speech given by Gen. Charles L. Bolte, U.S. Army vice chief of staff during which he said, “We should never forget that our finest weapons are only as good as the heart of the man that uses them.”
My sorrow is tempered by the pride and humility I feel when I look at the noble commitments of so many, including my eldest son, a U.S. Army surgeon, and three of my nephews, who serve proudly in the U.S. Navy. Like Teen Palm, in the unselfish orientation of their hearts and wills, these young men — and thousands of other men and women like them — represent America’s highest and best ideals.
My father’s eldest brother, Maurice Possley, after whom I was named, was a member of the crew of the “Temptation,” a B-24 shot down in the Pacific on Sept. 1, 1944. His body, like those of the entire crew, was never recovered.
As a young boy, I tried to imagine what he was like as a boy, how he came to be a man, a brother, a son. When I questioned my dad, who along with two other brothers, Francis and Leroy, also served in armed forces during World War II, he told me that “Mort,” as his family called him, had a ready smile, was generous, led by example, and was a man of deep faith. I also learned that he was a man of great courage. But I simply could not comprehend at that tender age what his death meant or how there were so many more children such as me for whom the friendly ghosts of fallen loved ones loomed large.
Over the years, I came to realize my uncle was just one of many thousands and thousands of such brave men and women who willingly made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But even today, I do not know that I can fully appreciate their heroic selflessness, as well as the unfathomable losses suffered by their families and friends. The price of liberty cannot be measured solely in blood and grief.
Such sacrifices continued to be made across the globe in such places such as Korea, Viet Nam, Somalia and most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq to name but a few. And as I read the notices in the newspapers about the latest casualties in the “War on Terror,” I cannot help but wonder about the children who someday will stand before a cross or memorial, as I did, and wonder.
As our country pauses this Memorial Day to honor and remember those who died to protect us and others from tyranny, may we reflect not only upon the hearts of those men and women who paid for our freedoms with their lives, but also upon the brave, generous souls in the Armed Forces who continue day and day out to serve the cause of freedom by putting themselves in harm’s way. They are our true north.
Meet Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Maurice Possley, co-author with John Woodbridge of “Hitler in the Crosshairs: A GI’s Story of Courage and Faith,” at Laguna Beach Books, 1200 S. Coast Highway, 6 p.m., Friday, May 13.