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by Billy Cox

Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The next day, his son Dick called with bad news. Dad, a crew member of the USS Pennsylvania, had suffered a massive stroke and was in hospice care. And it became obvious that he had bottled up his eyewitness account of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “day of infamy” until the very last minute. Dick hadn’t even known his father was at Pearl Harbor.

Now, suddenly, all that was left was a story on videotape, along with Schleicher’s brief explanation for his 73 years of silence: “I didn’t wanna talk about the war. I didn’t wanna have nothing to do with it.”

I can’t remember exactly how many of these folks I’d interviewed over the years, and nobody knows how few are left. When the bombs struck Pearl Harbor, anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 U.S. military personnel were in harm’s way.

John Schleicher, 97, survived the Pearl Harbor bombing because he was in church that Sunday morning. The Nokomis  resident never talked much about serving during WWII and did not even tell his son, Dick, that he had been at Pearl Harbor until a few days before 73rd anniversary of the attack.

To qualify for membership in the exclusive Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, however, veterans had to have been positioned within a 3-mile radius of the attack from 7:55 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. The PHSA formed in 1958 and enjoyed peak membership in the 1960s, when some 20,000 were paying dues.

Today, with the youngest eligible members approximately 96 years old, PHSA survivors are now as rare as Civil War veterans in the nuclear age.

In fact, the PHSA held its last formal gathering at the USS Arizona Memorial in 2010, then officially folded in 2011. And with just seven members remaining, the San Diego chapter of the PHSA – perhaps once the nation’s largest, with 586 men – finally called it quits in September.

This weekend, the National Park Service expects to host 35 World War II survivors in Hawaii, according to a spokesperson, just 15 of whom saw the sneak attack unfold. “Only a few hundred Pearl Harbor survivors remain,” she stated in an email.

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Ernst Lohmeyer (1890-1946) was a Lutheran pastor and scholar in Hitler’s Germany.  He opposed the Nazis–particularly the “German Christian” movement that sought to purge Christianity of its “Jewish” elements (that is, the Bible)–and after the war opposed the Communists, who took over where he lived in East Germany.  The Nazis sent him to the Eastern Front.  The Communists murdered him.

The theologian James R. Edwards tells his story in a new book entitled Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer.

From the review in Christianity Today by Christopher Gehrz, The Nazis Persecuted Him. The Soviets Killed Him. Today He’s Barely Known:

Whenever I teach the history of 20th-century Europe, I incorporate stories from Christians who resisted the evils of totalitarianism. That list always includes martyred anti-Nazis like the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the university student Sophie Scholl. But thanks to theologian James R. Edwards, this fall I can add one more name to that cloud of witnesses: the German Lutheran Ernst Lohmeyer, who stood fast against Nazism and survived fighting in two world wars, only to be executed by Soviet authorities in 1946.

Having first encountered Lohmeyer’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark in graduate school, Edwards’s interest was kindled on a 1979 visit to Greifswald, East Germany. A local pastor told him that “we cannot mention the name of Ernst Lohmeyer” in the city whose university Lohmeyer served as theology professor and president. As he began a decades-long research project, Edwards “joined the small company of people dedicated to remembering, recovering, and recording the life of Ernst Lohmeyer.”

His labors have resulted in a new biography, Between the Swastika & the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, & Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer.

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Pastor Niemöller spoke out against Nazism. In 1937 he was sent to the camps for “misusing the pulpit.”

By Doris Bergen
In the annals of the Holocaust, Martin Niemöller cuts an awkward figure. A celebrity in his day, the impulsive German pastor is now remembered, if at all, as the tag to the quote that begins, “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist.” Though a political prisoner, he is sometimes called a martyr but did not die at Nazi hands. In fact, Niemöller remained alive for decades after the war, time he used to try to reckon what he had been part of—and frequently to put his foot in his mouth.

Niemöller’s only meeting with Adolf Hitler was a fiasco. It was January 1934, and Hitler had been in power for just under a year. The chancellor, obsessed with his image, was irritated about strife in the German Protestant church and the foreign press coverage it attracted. Disunity made him look weak. To manage the situation, Hitler summoned a dozen prominent clergymen to his presence. Among them was the Lutheran pastor and former submarine captain Martin Niemöller.

THEN THEY CAME FOR ME

By Matthew D. Hockenos
Basic, 322 pages, $30

Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a U-boat officer during World War I, received the Iron Cross in 1917. PHOTO: ULLSTEIN BILD VIA GETTY IMAGES

A junior member of the group, Niemöller stood near the back. When Hermann Göring, head of the newly formed Gestapo, spoke he pulled a sheaf of papers from his briefcase and began to read the transcript of a phone call recorded that very morning. It was a conversation between Niemöller and a friend. Frozen with dread, the churchmen heard how a cocky Niemöller had promised that everything would be fine. Hitler would come to see that the people he considered opponents within the church were in fact loyal Germans. Anyway, President Hindenburg would take their side, Niemöller predicted gleefully, and by the end of the meeting the old man would be “administer[ing] the last rites” to the upstart Hitler.

The meeting thus torpedoed, the future of the outspoken Niemöller quivered in the balance. Would the devout Christian emerge a champion against the moral evil of Nazism? Or would the ardent nationalist, who voted for Hitler in 1924 and again in March 1933, redouble his efforts to prove that he could serve both his country and his faith and in the process become complicit in Nazi crimes? The answer, Matthew Hockenos reveals in a gripping biography, is “yes” and “yes,” or, more precisely, “yes but.” Niemöller was heroic but flawed, and his life and legacy challenge the popular notion of the individual hero as society’s best hope. In its place, “the pastor who defied the Nazis” offers two modest messages for those under threat in our own troubled times: help one another and don’t wait too long.

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Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy) (copy)
Chaplain Norris Burkes. Photo by Wade Spees.

This weekend, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I’m reading “The Liberator” by Alex Kershaw.

It’s a great book in many places, but I’m having a problem with the places where Kershaw negates the contribution of faith in the foxholes.

I’ll admit that I appreciate Kershaw’s efforts to expose the bonehead things said by organized religions, but, as a combat veteran myself, I believe it’s a disservice to our veterans to deny the place their faith played in the battlefield.

I can only suggest that Kershaw will find a place in his future writings for at least three epic contributions from people of faith.

Starting from my obvious slant, chaplains.

Father Francis Sampson, or Father Sam as he was affectionately known, was the real inspiration for the film “Saving Private Ryan.” It was he, and not the character played by Tom Hanks who found Fritz Niland, the real-life “Private Ryan,” who had lost his three brothers on D-Day.

Along with the 501st paratroopers, Sampson landed at Saint-Come-du-Mont on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He gathered wounded in a nearby farmhouse but quickly found his farmhouse aid station overtaken by Germans.

The frightened padre was placed against a wall to be shot, but a Catholic German soldier saved him by convincing his comrades not to kill a priest. The soldiers returned the priest to an Allied medic station where he ministered to German and American wounded paratroopers.

Father Sam was recaptured during the Battle of the Bulge and imprisoned near Berlin. There the chaplain was granted permission to stay in the enlisted men’s prison to conduct mass for the remainder of the war.

He would often discount his heroism by saying “no pair of knees shook more than my own, nor any heart ever beat faster in times of danger.” Yet a grateful nation bestowed on the humble man the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest American military award, for his selfless help to the soldiers.

After the war, the never-quit-chaplain volunteered for Korea. He retired after that war, but his nation recalled him for the Vietnam War as head of the military chaplains in 1967.

Faith also guided Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Doss. Portrayed in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” Doss was an American pacifist combat medic who refused to carry or use a weapon of any kind.

Although not a D-Day hero, he was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal for action in Guam and the Philippines. Doss distinguished himself in the Battle of Okinawa by saving 75 soldiers and became the only conscientious objector in WWII to receive the Medal of Honor.

Finally, no spiritual writing about WWII should omit the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And of course, there’s a movie about him too, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist and Nazi Resistor.” (2003)

His early-20th-century writings chastised the church for avoiding its role in the secular world. Few serious seminarians graduated after WWII without reading Bonhoeffer’s influential book, “The Cost of Discipleship.”

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RICK BROWN: Walk out what you’ve just talked about

June 12, 2018

Rick Brown Photo: Courtesy / Copyright 2017 Taylor Brown. All rights reserved.

Photo: Courtesy

Rick Brown

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood biblical fellowship. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who lived from 1906-1945. When Hitler rose to power he could see no German-Christian compromise with him. His resistance and his part in a failed assassination attempt on Hitler landed him in prison. He was executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II. While in prison he wrote two classics: The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. Listen to what he has to say about koinonia in his book Life Together:

“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

Bonhoeffer reminds us that fellowship is a gift. We need to receive it thankfully. Often we don’t. We worry about whether we studied enough. We worry about whether we talked enough. We worry about whether we prayed enough.

But God does not. When we gather together in the fellowship of the breaking of bread, God smiles. He smiles when we are devoted to each other. Faithfulness is our part. Fruit is God’s. We don’t have to be taking its temperature constantly.

Then Bonhoeffer writes: “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” No community is going to live up to your dream of it. And whether you or I realize it, we ourselves will ruin that dream.

Here’s one final quote from Life Together: “Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else were to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, for eternity.”

Bonhoeffer reminds us that in Christian community Christ is the center.

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BreakPoint: The Greatest Love

Memorial Day Memories

Today on BreakPoint, we hear Chuck Colson’s thoughts on Memorial Day and what he called, “The Greatest Love.

It was February of 1945—three months before the end of World War II in Europe. Eighteen-year-old Sergeant Joseph George of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, was stationed in Lorient, France. It was evening, and George was preparing to go on patrol. The Americans were hoping to locate landmines buried by the Germans.

Sergeant George had been on patrol duty the night before. As he told his friend Private James Caudill, he was tired—tired and scared. Private Caudill offered to take the patrol on his behalf. He pointed out that, at age 36, he was nearly two decades older than George. He told George—who had already been blown off a torpedoed ship in the English Channel—“You’re young. Go home. Get married. Live a rich, full life.” And then Private Caudill went out on patrol. A few hours later, he was killed by a German sniper.

The actions of Private Caudill echo the values and valor of generations of military men and women we remember today. And they are an example of the sort of behavior we almost take for granted when it comes to our men and women in uniform who fight just wars.

What is a just war? One that is defined as providing a proportionate response to evil, to protect non-combatants, among other considerations. Today, our military men and women around the world are fighting to resist evil. Ridding the world of Islamo-fascism—by just means—is a good and loving act.

This willingness to sacrifice on behalf of our neighbors is why military service is considered such a high calling for Christians—and part of what makes just wars just. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica puts his discussion of just war in his chapter on charity—the love of God and neighbor. John Calvin agreed; he called soldiering justly a “God-like act,” because “it imitates God’s restraining evil out of love for His creatures.”

A world in which free nations refuse to fight just wars would be a world where evil is unchecked and where the strong would be free to prey on the weak—as we are now seeing in Darfur.

Our soldiers’ willingness to defend the defenseless around the world makes me proud to be an American. Their willingness to lay down their lives is a reflection of how the Christian worldview has influenced our society, which is why American soldiers, by the way, are welcomed all over the world, as historian Stephen Ambrose wrote, while soldiers from other cultures are feared.

So what of Sgt. Joseph George? He returned safely home. He married, fathered five sons. One of them—Princeton Professor Robert George—is a good friend of mine. He’s devoted much of his life to fighting the moral evils of our time: abortion, embryo-destructive research, and efforts to redefine marriage in a way that would destroy it.

In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that [he] lay down his life for his friends.” The story of Private Caudill and Sergeant George makes one realize more deeply what a tremendous gift this is. It’s why the George family has remembered Private Caudill in prayers for sixty-one years.

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Fearsome weapon cut apart Allied units at up to 1,800 rounds per minute
During World War II, American G.I.s called the German MG42 machine gun “Hitler’s buzz saw” because of the way it cut down troops in swaths.

The Soviet Red Army called it “the linoleum ripper” because of the unique tearing sound it made—a result of its extremely high rate of fire. The Germans called the MG42 Hitlersäge or “Hitler’s bone saw”—and built infantry tactics around squads of men armed with the weapon.

Many military historians argue that the Maschinengewehr 42 was the best general-purpose machine gun ever. It fired up to 1,800 rounds per minute in some versions. That’s nearly twice as fast as any automatic weapon fielded by any army in the world at the time.

“It sounded like a zipper,” Orville W. “Sonny” Martin, Jr., who was a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army’s 13th Armored Division, said in an oral history of infantry and armor operations in Europe. “It eats up a lot of ammunition and that makes for a logistical problem, but it eats up a lot of people, too.”

When the war began in 1939, the Germans had a solid, reliable general-purpose machine gun—the MG34. But it was expensive and difficult to manufacture.

The German high command wanted front-line troops to have more machine guns. That meant a weapon designed to deliver a high rate of fire like the MG34, but which was cheaper and quicker to produce.

Mauser-Werke developed a machine gun that fired a 7.92-millimeter Mauser cartridge fed into the gun from either a 50-round or 250-round belt. What’s more, the company manufactured the machine gun from stamped and pressed parts, welding the components together with a technique that reduced production time by 35 percent.

The MG42 had an effective range of up to 2,300 feet and weighed 25 pounds. A gun crew could change its barrel in seconds.

True, the machine gun had its weaknesses.

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Kevin Rudd
Cover: October 2006

Above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey are arrayed ten great statues of the martyrs of the Church. Not Peter, Stephen, James or the familiar names of the saints sacrificed during the great Roman persecution before Constantine’s conversion. No: these are martyrs of the twentieth century, when the age of faith was, in the minds of many in the West, already tottering towards its collapse.

One of those honoured above the Great West Door is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, pastor and peace activist. Bonhoeffer is, without doubt, the man I admire most in the history of the twentieth century. He was a man of faith. He was a man of reason. He was a man of letters who was as well read in history and literature as he was in the intensely academic Lutheran theology of the German university tradition. He was never a nationalist, always an internationalist. And above all, he was a man of action who wrote prophetically in 1937 that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” For Bonhoeffer, whatever the personal cost, there was no moral alternative other than to fight the Nazi state with whatever weapons were at his disposal.

Three weeks before the end of World War II, Bonhoeffer was hanged by the SS because of his complicity in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This year marks the centenary of his birth. This essay seeks both to honour Bonhoeffer and to examine what his life, example and writings might have to say to us, 60 years after his death, on the proper relationship between Christianity and politics in the modern world.

In both George Bush’s America and John Howard’s Australia, we see today the political orchestration of various forms of organised Christianity in support of the conservative incumbency. In the US, the book God’s Politics, by Reverend Jim Wallis, has dragged this phenomenon out of the shadows (where it is so effectively manipulated by the pollsters and spin-doctors) and into the searching light of proper public debate. US Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are now engaged in a national discussion on the role of the religious Right. The same debate must now occur here in Australia. As Wallis notes in his introduction:

God is not partisan: God is not a Republican or a Democrat. When either party tries to politicize God, or co-opt religious communities for their political agendas, they make a terrible mistake. The best contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable nor loyally partisan. Both parties, and the nation, must let the prophetic voice of religion be heard. Faith must be free to challenge both right and left from a consistent moral ground.


Had Dietrich Bonhoeffer been at Oxford, he would have been one of the gods. He was at 21 a doctoral graduate and at 23 the youngest person ever appointed to a lectureship in systematic theology at the University of Berlin, in 1929. His contemporaries saw his career as made in heaven. Along Unter den Linden, just beyond the faculty walls, however, the living hell of the Nazi storm-troopers was being born.

At the core of Bonhoeffer’s theological and therefore political life was a repudiation of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. As James Woelfel has noted:

According to this doctrine, the proper concern of the gospel is the inner person, the sphere where the Kingdom of God reigns; the Kingdom of the State, on the other hand, lies in the outer sphere, the realm of law, and is not subject to the gospel’s message. German Christians used this argument to justify devotion to race and fatherland as ‘orders of creation’ to be obeyed until the final consummation.

These debates may seem arcane in twenty-first-century secular Australia, but in the Germany of the 1930s they were central to the decision of the majority of German Lutheran ministers to submit to the Reichskirche (resplendent with swastikas on their ecclesiastical stoles) and to retreat into a politically non-threatening quietism as the political repression of Hitler’s post-1933 chancellorship unfolded. Equally, it was Bonhoeffer’s theological dissent from the perversion of this Two Kingdoms doctrine that led him, at the tender age of 29, to establish in 1935 the German Confessing Church, with its underground seminary.

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Bonhoeffer, who joined his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi in a resistance group led by Maj. Gen. Hans Oster, was hanged April 9, 1945, at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, weeks before World War II formally ended. He had been linked to the failed attack on Hitler that took place July 20, 1944, by documents the Gestapo found after the event. Ironically, Bonhoeffer was in prison at the time, following his arrest for “undermining the military” 14 months earlier.

According to the German state broadcasting organization Deutsche Welle, “Bonhoeffer’s Christian theology influenced the post-war period like no other of his generation,” adding the cleric “preached the presence of Christ in the world and laid the foundations for an interdenominational church image to which today both conservative and progressive theologian profess.”

A paradox of Bonhoeffer’s life is that he had an “out” from being involved in a Germany ruled by National Socialism. In 1939, as war broke out in Europe, Bonhoeffer was a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He could have remained in the United States, but told his American friends, “I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Yet, his New York experience left its mark, Deutsche Welle said. While in Manhattan, Bonhoeffer’s “faith shifted. He became profoundly fixated on, and influenced by, the famous Sermon on the Mount and the notion of living in Christ’s image. Bonhoeffer later wrote that ‘until New York I was a theologian but not yet a Christian.'”

Writing in Leadership Journal, Chris Nye, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, notes, “Bonhoeffer was a paradoxical figure. He was non-violent, but participated in a plot to kill Hitler. He was cosmopolitan (he loved music, the theater and literature of all kinds) and yet he was a monastic thinker who led students in solitude.”

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