I can still see my father's eyes twinkle at me as he handed me his small flight Bible that he carried with him on all 30 of his treacherous B-24 bombing missions during World War II. "It is time that you should have this," he said. My father, Chief Master Sergeant Robert Meinhold, passed away a few years later. I am at a loss of words to describe what this Bible gift from him means to me. What is on the inside front cover of this Bible, given to Army Air Corps members during World War II, is a forward from President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origin have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.
Roosevelt once said, "I am a Christian and a Democrat, that's all." He is also, no doubt, one of our greatest leaders in history. A man, handicapped by polio, that guided our crippled nation out of the depression and then rallied the nation after Pearl Harbour by simply saying: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Warren Kozak wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal as a D-Day tribute to Roosevelt, "This was an American president unafraid to embrace God ..." On D-Day, Roosevelt calmed a worried nation, by leading a prayer on national radio. "Almighty God," Roosevelt began, "Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilisation, and to set free a suffering humanity." (You can hear the broadcast here)
How times have changed. Today if a president prayed like Roosevelt some religious liberty groups would likely want to impeach him.
On the day he gave me his flight Bible, my father told me about John Nicolai, who was the radio operator on his aircrew. Nicolai was a Christian and would lead the 10-man aircrew in prayer by reading aloud Psalm 91 as their bomber aircraft was readying for take off. B-24 bomber missions over Europe suffered some of the highest casualty rates in the war, but all of my father's aircrew survived. They endured three crash landings. On one ill-fated mission the plane was hit by flak that damaged 2 of the 4 engines. Even with fuel leaking inside the aircraft the pilot was miraculously able to find a Russian allied runway in Nazi-controlled Hungary. My father was listed as an MIA for several weeks and his parents thought he had perished.
You may recall President Barack Obama awarded the Navy Seal team that took out Osama bin Laden the Presidential Unit Citation. It is awarded for "extraordinary heroism" and is the highest award that can be given to a military combat unit. The 484th Bombardment Group - my father's unit - received two Presidential Unit Citation awards.
Senator George McGovern was a decorated B-24 pilot with the 455th Bomb Group and flew in many of the same missions as my father's aircrew. In the book, "The Wild Blue," McGovern said, "During the war...I was ready to give my life." McGovern was a devout Christian and had even studied in seminary school. It was his Christian values that later made him outspoken against unnecessary war and famous for his work on world hunger. He said his empathy for others came from the Bible verse, "Love thy neighbour as thyself."
Nicolai told my dad if he survived the war he would become a minister. Nicolai eventually settled in Bismarck, North Dakota and, true to his word, became a minister and also a pillar in his community (see his obituary here). Three of his sons became ministers. One of them served as an Air Force chaplain.
The pilot, Aaron Scharf, who was a Jew, became a college professor and even wrote a book, "Flak," about his war experience.
If alive today, what would Roosevelt say about the political correctness going amok in the military today? Last year an Air Force officer was reportedly told to remove a Bible from his desk. When I heard about this I wondered if military chaplains would now be required to keep their Bibles from public view too. Bob Campbell wrote recently in the American Thinker: "The Department of Defense announced it would be removing military edition Bibles from its base exchange stores. These military editions published by Holman Bible Publishers are...known as the "Soldier's Bible, or Sailor's Bible and so forth." The Air Force also recently issued a statement that "personnel ...are free to express their personal religious beliefs so long as it does not make others uncomfortable." Where is this politically correct madness headed next?
American statesman Daniel Webster said, "If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity."
My father embraced the Orthodox Christian faith later in life. He and my mother were parishioners in an Orthodox mission church that worshipped in a garage in Waldorf, Maryland. Dad helped in raising funds that helped this mission church build the now completed St Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church.
My father believed prayer protected him during the war. Part of the verses of Psalm 91 says, "I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust....He shall cover thee in feathers, and under his wings shall thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler."
Dr John Meinhold is a resident of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and a US Air Force veteran