Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (quoting Shakespeare): "What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel."
Sergeant Buster Kilrain: Well, if he's an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel.
In combat we observe the raw ferocity of corrupt mankind's hatred. War draws from its participants a bloodlust unfamiliar to our civilized society. A "killer angel" indeed.
Yet there is also another side to war, and in it we see that "divine spark" of God's image upon which Chamberlain places his faith. Here we witness the bravery of Gideon and Jehoshaphat, whose faith overcame impossible odds and their own terrors, as they defended their people against powerful invaders. We admire the nobility of Uriah the Hittite, betrayed in battle because he had a soldier's loyalty. We lament the love and valor of Jonathan, who to the death honored his bonds of friendship to David, of family to King Saul, of patriotism to Israel, and of ultimate allegiance to Almighty God.
So we discover within the hellish cauldron of war the paradox of the fallen image-bearer. We understand that our condition of total depravity does not mean absolute depravity. Even unredeemed man yet carries God's image with him, corrupted but not exterminated by sin. In the last mortal extremity it may yet exhibit its precious value.
We recognize this holy selflessness today, as expressed in the sacrifices those who give the "last full measure of devotion" in our age. It was present in the last moments of Senior Airman Jason Cunningham's life, which ended prematurely on the peak of Takhur Ghar during the March 2002 Operation Anaconda:
The quick reaction force’s medical personnel, including Cunningham, another [pararescueman] who was a technical sergeant, two Ranger medics and a 160th medic, had their hands full. The Chinook’s cargo area became the casualty-collection point.
It was in there that Cunningham went to work, putting into practice all that theory he had absorbed, and doing so in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. He was trying to save lives in the back of a helicopter at the top of a bitterly cold mountain, under constant fire from enemy forces that had him and his colleagues surrounded.
Just when things seemed as if they couldn’t get worse, the forward compartment of the helicopter caught fire.
“The helicopter’s a bullet sponge after it gets shot down, because it’s just a great big target,” Scott said.
As Cunningham and the 160th medic worked inside to staunch their buddies’ bleeding, the enemy fire increased. Incoming mortar rounds bracketed the Chinook, landing within 50 feet of the helicopter’s nose.
About four hours after the helicopter hit the ground, Cunningham decided the cargo compartment had become too dangerous for his patients. Using a small sled-like device, Cunningham dragged the wounded troops to a safer spot away from the aircraft. In doing so, he crossed the line of enemy fire seven times ...
Shortly thereafter, at 12:32 p.m., Cunningham’s luck ran out. An enemy round hit him just below his body armor as he was treating a patient. The bullet entered low from the right side and traveled across his pelvis, causing serious internal injuries.
“Untreated, you die from that,” Scott said.
Cunningham must have known he was in serious trouble. But despite his worsening condition, he continued to treat patients and advise others on how to care for the critically wounded. One of the two blood packs he had brought saved a badly wounded Ranger. The medics gave the other packet to Cunningham himself, whose life was slowly flowing out in a red stream onto the white snow.
Back at the surgical unit, word of the situation on the mountain was seeping back. “We’d heard that one of the 160th medics was hit, and one of the [pararescuemen] severely wounded,” Burlingame said. If a medevac helicopter could get in and pick up the wounded, there was time to save Cunningham.
“The combat controller wanted so bad to say the [Landing Zone] was cold so they
SrA Cunningham's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery
could bring in a helicopter to evacuate the wounded, but he couldn’t,” Scott said. In the early afternoon, leaders directed that no more rescue attempts be risked until darkness. It was a decision made to save lives, and it probably did. But it sealed Cunningham’s fate.
As the hours in the snow lengthened, Cunningham grew increasingly weak from loss of blood. Seven hours after he was hit, the other medics began to perform CPR on Cunningham. They continued for 30 minutes, until it was clear nothing more could be done. There were other lives to save. At about 8 p.m. on March 4, Jason Cunningham became the first pararescue jumper to die in combat since the Vietnam War.It is the spirit of Jason Cunningham that we seek to honor on our country's Memorial Day--the spirit of those who would sacrifice their lives for an ideal. Perhaps this is but a pale reflection of Christ's holy sacrifice for our lost and dying world, yet it is also an immediate and poignant one, and reminds us that God's common grace yet rests on mankind. There is indeed a divine spark.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.