When my daughter, Laura, was nine the two of us were hanging around the kitchen one morning. We were stationed at the naval base in Agana, Guam. If you’re scratching your head asking yourself, “I should know where Guam is. Where’s Guam?” don’t worry. You’re not alone. From Los Angeles head west six thousand miles and that’ll pretty well do it.
But I digress. I was enjoying one of those rare times when the ship I was assigned to was actually in home port. On this morning Laura was looking at all the wonderful things in the “junk drawer.” You know the one. It’s the drawer in every kitchen that collects all the odds and ends that don’t have a home elsewhere in the house. Rummaging through the non-descript mess, Laura pulls up a small, round, clear-plastic box. With what can only be described as childhood curiosity and wonder she holds the prize as if it came out of a Cracker Jack box and says, “Daddy, what’s this?”
There are moments in your life that are unforgettable. This was one of those moments. I looked at the item clutched in her little hand and knew I had a teaching moment. Only in this case, I was the one who was to be taught.
The plastic box had a bed of cotton upon which sat an inch-and-a-half chunk of shrapnel. In answer to Laura’s question I said, ‘That’s a piece of shrapnel. It comes from a bomb.” In truth, it came from a North Vietnamese rocket that had probably been made by either the Chinese or Russians – but I was dealing with a nine-year-old. Keep it simple.
“Was this when you were in Vietnam, Daddy?” I answered that it was, only I was surprised that she would have assumed that simply because I could hardly ever remember mentioning this to her. I mean, it’s not like this would be a dinner-time topic of discussion!
I went on to explain how I came by this dirty piece of worthless metal. She listened intently while I told her of my first trip “in theater.” It was the start of the “Easter Offensive” in 1972. I was a maintenance controller for VMCJ-1, First Marine Aircraft Wing. The squadron had recently left ‘Nam for Iwakuni, Japan. Now we were coming back. The C-130 troop transport plane I was on touched down in DaNang about 12:30 in the morning. Our maintenance crew was there to prepare the inbound EA-6A Intruders that would need to be on station over the north later that morning. As the ramp on the back of the aircraft lowered, a Marine ran up to the plane announcing we were in “Condition Yellow.” I turned to my boss, a staff sergeant and seasoned veteran, and asked him what this meant. He casually said that it meant we should expect a rocket attack at any moment. I hadn’t even set foot on Vietnamese soil yet and I can expect a rocket attack! Home looked pretty good right about then.
As we stood around waiting until the planes arrived, we were jolted back to reality when a loud explosion occurred about a hundred yards from our position. Several more followed in quick succession. In the split-second of time it takes for the brain to grasp the situation and my feet could respond to my brain screaming “Run for cover!” I was acutely aware that debris was flying through the air as the ground convulsed beneath me. Something hit me in the chest. It was the shrapnel, still warm. I grabbed it and dove for cover.
Laura then asked me a question that still causes me to tear up today. “Daddy, did you know Jesus then?” I looked into her face and it all hit me at one time. As my throat was tightening with emotion (I hate it when that happens!), I managed to answer, “No, baby, I didn’t.” Oh, but God was not through with me yet! Laura then made a most profound observation. “Then you would have gone to hell, Daddy.” She was absolutely right.
It was about six months after this experience in DaNang that I came to know Jesus as my savior. It was four years after that when Isaura and I were married. Then two years later Laura was God’s gift to us, followed by a second blessing three years later with our youngest, Jenny.
I have kept this unsightly piece of my personal history because this bit of shrapnel is a reminder to me of all that I would have missed. I would have never known the love of a wife; the joy of witnessing my daughters’ births; and myriad other life experiences for which I am truly thankful.
Above all this, I realize how close I came to missing out on God’s love simply because of a little piece of shrapnel addressed: “To Whom It May Concern.” I would never have known the exhilaration of being forgiven of my sin, and of the new life available in Christ. In a word, I would have missed everything.
In God’s mercy and providence, for reasons too deep and mysterious for me, I have been blessed. It is my privilege to share God’s love with you.
You see, God wants to bless you. You can have all that and heaven too!