Archives For war

I am a huge proponent of studying the lives of the great people of history. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a modern-day trailblazer in action but there is something more pleasing about studying another’s life in full to understand their story and what we can learn from it.

I want to know their dreams, adventures, successes, struggles, and what they learned in the process. Then I want to study the life application.

Those who know me and have read this blog are aware that I am a student of Winston Churchill as are many others. The latest book of his I am reading is Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden.

Most people know Winston Churchill by his magnanimous speeches with his deep British accent, his cigar in hand as he walked, and the way he led the United Kingdom with the Allies to victory in World War II. He is one of the most quotable people of all time and books continue to be written about him and I suppose more will continue to be for years to come.

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What most people do not know is that Winston Churchill was considered an incredible failure by the age of 40.

Like Churchill, we begin life with so much promise and hope – the world is to be conquered. Churchill was desperate to establish himself as a fast-moving politician in Edwardian England. He was an astute student of history and knew that he must be daring in how he lived to gain attention. He served in the military for a few years and in 1899 he was commissioned as a war correspondent during the Boer War. Churchill became famous worldwide for his fight in a train ambush and later through his daring escape from a POW camp in South Africa. Most Americans don’t know that he was a celebrity in the US even in his twenties and went on a massive speaking tour in North America to share stories from his Boer War heroics.

It’s easy to canonize Winston Churchill because of his successes. But, pay closer attention to his failures that made him who we know him today. 

During the First World War, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and the chief proponent of the invasion of Turkey now known as the Gallipoli campaign. His strategy was to create a southern link to Russia, their ally. The Turks were a skillful and determined enemy, repelled the allies, and the campaign costed the lives of many young Australians and New Zealanders (ANZAC troops). Perhaps not solely responsible for the tactical defeat on the ground, the campaign was never the less Churchill’s idea and it crippled him politically for years.

Churchill was a big, fat, failure. 

We now know the rest of the story as it didn’t end there.

Churchill entered the political wilderness, dug in his heels, and marched back to eventually become Prime Minister during World War II.

So what do we learn from Churchill’s first half of life?

Churchill said it best,

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We may not live life with the type of drama that Churchill lived but we do share the ups and downs of life. Which honest person hasn’t had setbacks in life? We all have taken a punch or two to the face and even have fallen. It hurts admitting it but it is part of life.

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Churchill’s life has taught us that failure is part of our journey and we become better because of it.

For that, we can keep getting back up and moving forward because victory in life is found in how we respond to the punches.

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My Brothers in Arms

July 9, 2012 — 6 Comments

This past week my men’s group had an emotion-filled time spending our last night together at our friend’s house. We have been meeting at his house, primarily his porch, for the past two and a half years. My friend is getting married, moving and off on a new adventure so we can only be happy for him. There is a little sadness in leaving his porch for it has been a place full of great memories, some of joy, some sad but ultimately it was a place of encouragement. It is a place where you are reminded that you never have to walk alone. Our group is moving to a new house with a new story to be told and I’m excited to see what God will do through it. These past years have been special and I’ll never forget them.

My wife knows I need other men like those in my group and I’m thankful she can see how beneficial it is to have these friendships. In my life experience, every man needs a fighting friend or more to navigate life.

The famed Sergeant Bill Guarnere in the book and HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers said it best,

Once we get into combat, they only people you can trust is yourself and the fella next to you.

I don’t have a natural brother so God has instilled something special in me that helps me grab tightly to those like in my men’s group. Throughout the pages in my life story, I have been blessed to have many great friends whom I call brothers. The life chapters have been wonderful with my friends growing up in Kansas City, my Young Life brothers in Christ in St. Louis, my brothers in college in Evansville and this group now. We are brothers in arms, united always fighting through life, celebrating our successes and failures, joy and pain, adversity and adventures.

My brothers, I thank you for fighting with me. As it says in Hebrews 13:1 (ESV), “Let brotherly love continue.” My feelings for you can only be expressed through the Dire Straits song, Brothers in Arms,

Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battles raged higher

And though we were hurt so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

Any military commander who has stepped foot on a battlefield will probably attest that whatever plan they originally had didn’t exactly go as expected.

As in the case of some brave Navy Seals in Pakistan, their Black Hawk helicopter had mechanical problems when landing at their target.  Did they stop and complain about it?  I don’t think so but I bet there was a four letter word or two thrown out to describe how they felt. They had a window of opportunity and needed to move forward. They ultimately adapted to the situation, achieved their goal, and destroyed what was left of their damaged Black Hawk. They moved forward.

In the miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) (Episode 7), Easy Company is assaults a town of Foy. The company got caught in mortar fire because they stopped moving. Bullets were flying. They were incapacitated. It wasn’t until they started moving again that they were able to achieve their goal and take the town. It wasn’t easy though and it took brave people willing to step out to move the company forward.

Life is not that much different.

  • You didn’t get that job you wanted.
  • You got cut in a layoff.
  • You got that B instead of an A in a class that kept you from making honor roll.
  • You suffered an injury losing out on that sports dream.
  • You got cut from the basketball team. (yes, I did)
  • You lost a loved one.
  • You are a parent and your child’s makes a poor choice.
  • Your business didn’t perform well this year.
Many of these things above have happened to me throughout my journey. I felt like anyone would feel; loss, failure, frustration, etc. You may have some amazing dreams out there and they have felt shattered at points in time. I can promise you that whatever plan you have in your head it is not going to happen exactly as you expect. I am still learning from my own life experience. Life is full of surprises and this is why lessons are meant to be learned in the process.  If you want to remember a handful of bible verses, never forget Jeremiah 29:11,
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord….”
 Pick up the Bible and read the rest.  There is a promise for us when these bullets start flying. And don’t think they won’t.
What do you do next?
You keep moving. You learn. You adapt. Trust. You will overcome with God’s help.
Be adaptable
Be open to change
Be open what God wants for you when the bullets start flying.

Most of the nation has entered a freeze.  Blizzards have overtaken us in parts of the midwest and northeast.  Schools have closed. People are stuck and can’t move.

Yeah, I’m ready for spring just like you.

My father reminded me about my grandfather who fought (and was wounded) at The Battle of the Bulge.  This was the largest battle of World War II and was the Hitler’s last chance to save the war.  The allied victory sealed the German’s fate.  There were 80,987 official American casualties (19,000 dead) and the majority of them happened in the first three days of battle.  It was even worse for the Germans.

All of this happened in a deep European freeze.  The weather was much like what we are encountering this week. On top of that most of the troops didn’t have any of their winter gear so they were left with normal uniforms without gloves and other essentials.  Meanwhile, they were being attacked by hundreds of thousands.

You can read about the details of the battle here. You also get a good glimpse of the battle portrayed in movies like Battle of the Bulge (1965)Patton (1970), and the Bastogne episode of the miniseries Band of Brothers (2001).

When I hear people complain about the weather in the winter, I think about my grandfather Branch and the many others who endured this battle. It also makes me remember that our soldiers are currently fighting in weather like this in Afghanistan.

Remember who fought in the real cold for us.  We are free because of them.

Remember the Frostbite

I confess that I am  a war movie junkie.  I understand why many of you are not.

It is brutal.  It frightening.  It complex. It’s definitely not a date movie.  It usually is not going to make you laugh.

When I was 8, all I wanted to be was a soldier.  Until I watched Oliver Stone’s Platoon.  God bless my parents in a way for letting me watch that movie. As a parent now, I’m not sure if I’d let my children watch it but if they expressed interest in wanting to know about what real combat is like, at the right time I’d show them movies like The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Hamburger Hill, The Hurt Locker, Gettysburg, Glory, Black Hawk Down, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Memphis Belle, Gallipoli , Enemy at the Gates, yes even Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  I acknowledge that some of these movies could be argued as propaganda or that they over-sensationalize war but they do teach us something to the core about our own lives.  And if you think your life isn’t interesting, open your eyes.

We are at war. We always are. We always will be.

In life, if we pay close enough attention to the details, it isn’t that much different.  There may not be actual bullets flying over your head but the metaphoric ones can still cripple or kill us from living life the way it’s mean to be lived.

We must stand and fight together.

The Thin Red Line, painted in 1881 by Robert Gibb. Painting showing the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in battle with Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava 1854.

Here is what I’ve learned in my years of closely observing what most war movies best communicate.  I recently read an article in PASTE Magazine  reviewing Sebastian Junger’s latest, WAR that got me pretty fired up.  I have not read the book yet but the journalist in his review challenged a core piece in the book; glorifying brotherhood in the midst of battle.  What if brotherhood in battle is reality?  Most people I know in the military who have seen combat do not talk about it much.  I can only understand why.  But from what I’ve read about war and the movies I’ve seen, there is a theme that exists in all.  I’ll explain further.

In the movie Black Hawk Down, Eric Bana’s character “Hoot” shared his perspective on why he does what he does: “When I go home people’ll ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?’ You know what I’ll say? I won’t say a god**** word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.” -Hoot, played by Eric Bana.  What a simple way to put it.  I highly recommend this movie and how it represents brotherhood as well as the depiction of modern combat.  The book was incredibly detailed and written by the talented Mark Bowden, from Webster Groves, MO where I spent my high school years.

If you also saw the recent HBO Miniseries “The Pacific” produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, you witnessed one of the most honest and horrific portrayals of the war in the Pacific in World War II through the eyes of 3 Marines.

Eat your heart out, John Wayne, you won’t see many other movies portray war reality so well. The series predecessor, Band of Brothers, emphasized the role of brotherhood so well in combat but this one was different.  There is a critical episode when a core character, Leckie, was taken away from battle to “rest.”  In reality, he was placed with other soldiers dealing with what we now know as “post-traumatic stress.”   During WWII, my maternal  grandfather “Papa Jack” Martin had a difficult assignment at Fort Lee re-training these types of soldiers.  I can only imagine what the men he encountered went through.  Leckie and the other Marines in the film quickly recognized that the war’s idealism of fighting off imperial Japan was forgotten and it became more about fighting to protect the man next to him.

Memorial Day approaches. We are losing WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Gulf War & Iraq War veterans everyday so if you see one, honor them well.  Listen to them.  Ask them if they want to share their story.  Try to understand what they have experienced.  You will appreciate this wonderful nation more.  If they don’t want to talk about it, honor that and ask what you can do for them.  My father spends a lot of his time volunteering with the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge in St. Louis, Missouri.  His father (my grandfather) received a purple heart while fighting in Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.  My dad sees this as his part of honoring “Grandpa Branch” and those many others who fought for us.   My father shared a story with me today from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about some WWII veterans in their 90’s recently honored in St. Louis.  There are so many still serving today.  My cousin Shane and his wife Tiffany have together served 4 tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They have given much of their 20’s and 30’s to the military.  There are so many more like them still protecting us. Honor those who went before us this Memorial Day.

Thoughout life I’ve had several people whom I’ve felt are “the person next to me.”  Whether it was my best friends in high school and college when I was in Young Life or today’s amazing men’s small group I’m in, I recognize that we are all never alone if we fight together.

Brooke and I are celebrating our 6th anniversary on this weekend.  She is that person next to me when there is calm but also when the bullets start flying. We’ve been reading John and Stasi Eldredge’s Love and War this month. It has helped confirm that especially in marriage, we must rely on each other in this complicated life.

When the bullets of life start flying, who will be by your side? Who is the person next to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you would also like to share a story about a loved one currently serving in the military or is a veteran, please do so in the comments.