A Gathering of Eagles
About the Guest
Col. Jim Coy, an associate professor at the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics and recipient of the Combat Medical Badge while serving in the Army, highlights some of the men who received the Medal of Honor--the highest and most rarely awarded decoration conferred by the United States.
Col. Jim Coy highlights some of the men who received the Medal of Honor
A Gathering of Eagles
Bob: It is on a day like today, Memorial Day 2012, when we acknowledge once again that freedom isn't free.
Jim: For those who fight for it, liberty has a cost that the protected will never know.
Soldier: Soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force. You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained . . .
Jim: For those who fight and almost die, freedom has a flavor or a taste that the protected will never understand.
Soldier: All of a sudden, I notice that I'm down below in the tank, and I notice I'm being covered with blood, and I look up, and I see my tank commander hanging over the side of the tank. He had been shot in the face, and I got out of the tank, and as I started to run from the tank, another shell hit the tank. At that point I just literally crawled to a ditch alongside the road, and it was just bedlam.
Bob: The realities of battle and of war serve as a stark reminder of the price of freedom. Today we remember those who have demonstrated considerable valor to secure our liberty.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition, the Memorial Day edition of our program. You know, anybody who has had dinner with you in a group setting over the last several years knows to be ready to answer a question that you are likely to toss out onto the table and invite everyone to answer.
Dennis: Yes, when you speak of having dinner with me in a larger setting, you're talking about, maybe, like, a table of 10 people.
Bob: Yes, I'm talking about four or five couples all getting together for dinner.
Dennis: You know, I think we can bore one another with our small talk, and we can talk about business and the like, and it's important to find out about our families and how long we've been married. I like to do that. But I like to ask a question, because this question garners some fascinating answers and some very stimulating discussion. The question is – in all of your life, what is the most courageous thing you've ever done?
Now, I'm going to ask our guest on FamilyLife Today, Colonel Jim Coy, who is a military man, a physician, who has written a book called Valor, about courage, subtitled A Gathering of Eagles. So we've got an eagle with us. In fact, we've got enough medals in the studio, Bob, you and I could melt this stuff down, and we could retire.
Bob: I'm afraid we're going to start picking up radio signals on some of the medals that are hanging off in here.
Dennis: I don't think I've ever seen so much color in the studio. I'm going to ask our guest and put him on the spot right off the start here – Jim, what's the most courageous thing you've ever done in all your life?
Jim: I think, as I reflect back where I had to expend the most courage was the time that over a 10-year period, that I was dealing with cancers that would return every two to three years and have to go through another round of biopsies, another round of treatment, and then the result would come back that they had not been able to take all of the tumor and have to wonder about what the future would really hold, and if I would survive or succumb to the disease process.
So that took courage, and I'll talk to a lot of people who have endured difficult times – POW experiences, men who have received the Medal of Honor – some of those men who have also endured malignant disease or difficult times, and they will relate the same thing – that it takes the same kind of courage to face the unknown and the future.
Bob: You know, it's interesting – you've been on the battlefield, and yet when we ask you about courage, you go to the hospital ward and facing down a disease. I mean, most of us would think there has got to be more raw courage in ducking bullets than in going under the knife.
Jim: I think they're very similar, in some ways, so I know people who can be courageous who have never been on a battlefield.
Dennis: And this book you've written, Jim – Valor: A Gathering of Eagles, well it really contains the stories of more than 100 Medal of Honor recipients over the years. I think it might be helpful if you shared with our listeners just how the Congressional Medal of Honor was first established.
Jim: The Medal of Honor was established in the Civil War period of time in the early 1860s. It was discussed by the Navy Department at that time, and they were going to strike, I think it was 30 medals. And the history of the Medal of Honor – there are about 20 pages that describe that in the book, and then the Army followed suit within a year, and it was to be awarded for heroism.
But only since World War II and up through Korea and Vietnam was it refined to really reflect true heroism where deeds had to be documented. The book that I put together has 117 recipients. There are only 139 living today. These men are recipients who were living when I spoke to them.
I sought advice from five groups of people for the first book in the series called A Gathering of Eagles, which was religion, politics, ex-POWs, admirals, generals, and Medal of Honor recipients. And when I wrote to those 40 people, 30 responded, and I asked them these questions: What's your creed for life? What's your code of conduct for life? What's the advice that, if you would die today, you would give to your children?
The immediate page that follows their advice for life is their citation, but the 11 men that ring the cover of the book, they also tell a faith-based story in the book – why they love God; why they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior – so, amazing stories from the Southern Baptist – I think I can mention that group – I got a hold of the first book they created – a video that I was consultant for FamilyNet, and that was called Valor.
I'm now working on the POW book, which I think will have even more inspirational stories than this book. I think that freedom had a true cost for those who were incarcerated as POWs that no other group can speak about -- what freedom really is and what a faith in God is. So many of these men walk away with a faith in God from their experiences.
Dennis: Yes, in fact, Jim, we had Brigadier General Dick Abel, who is a personal friend of mine, who gave a quote, and I can't quite pull it up, but it had something to do with freedom has a cost. Do you happen to know that quote?
Jim: Yes, the quote is basically this, and there are some variations of it, but this will jog your memory if I have it correct. "For those who fight for it, freedom has a flavor or a taste that the protected will never understand. To those who fight and almost die, liberty has a cost that the protected will never know."
Bob: Most of us have heard of the Medal of Honor, and we think of men of valor, we think of men who exhibited some kind of bravery, but you start reading some of these stories, and you can't really imagine what has taken place on the battlefield. I know as you collected the stories, you had to, time and time again, just imagine the scenario and go, "How did these men do this?"
Jim: Absolutely. There are a number of the men in the book who have, in fact – well, a Scripture, when I sign this book for people, I often use a Scripture out of John 15:13, and two of the men, in fact, in the book will quote that Scripture – "There is no greater love than this, that a man would lay down his life for another." And a number of these men, most of them were laying down their lives for other men.
Six of the men in the book, in fact, scooped grenades below themselves because they were with a group of men in a foxhole, and they knew that the concussion of the blast from the grenade would kill everyone, so they elected to sacrifice their lives. Now, these men all survived, but one man from Iwo Jima scooped two grenades, two Japanese grenades below his stomach and was severely injured but survived, and he was a fellow who joined the Marine Corps at 15 – an interesting story.
But I think, as I read the story of Desmond Doss, and he is just a dear friend. He was a non-combatant. That's what he preferred to be called. Many people called him a conscientious objector. He was a Seventh Day Adventist, has never touched a weapon – he saved the lives of 75 men on Okinawa.
What happened was they went up cargo ropes onto a bluff, and they were attacking the Japanese, and the Japanese counter-attacked, and everyone who was not wounded on the American soldier side went back down the cargo net, but there were 75 men, at least, who were significantly wounded, who were down.
Desmond Doss stayed with those 75 men and moved, one by one, through them in full view of the Japanese firing on the position, picking the men up, tying a rope around, and lowered them over the side until he saved all 75 men's lives. And as it goes through his citation there about five different stories over a one-month period. One of them was where he went 200 yards forward of the American lines in enemy territory to bring a downed soldier back.
And then four soldiers were wounded in front of the mouth of a cave where the Japanese were, and they were about 20 feet from the mouth of that cave, and Desmond Doss made four trips back, under fire, to bring each one of those men back. And there are five stories, I think in succession there, that just talk about what he did.
He was severely wounded himself, and rather than call a medic forward, he thought, "I'll just wait here until someone comes, because I don't want to get anyone else killed." When the medics came after him -- it was approximately four-and-a-half or five hours later that they were able to get to him -- there was another man who was wounded beside him. After they put him on the stretcher and started to carry him away, he said, "The fellow over there is wounded worse than I am, so just go ahead and take him."
And he got another fellow, and they were hobbling along together, trying to get back, and he was shot again in the upper arm and it fractured – what we would call an open fracture. Twenty years ago we might call it a compound fracture, where bone was sticking out. And just, as a conscientious objector, in fact, the interesting story comes out in the video, Valor.
He talks about, you know, the commanding officer of his unit wanted to have him kicked out of the service but later on he saved that commander's life, and the commander said, "This is the bravest man that I've ever met." A phenomenal story.
Dennis: Let me ask you about that. As you have interviewed these 117 men that are in this book, is there a single common thread that you began to notice that would show up in almost every story? Maybe it had a different flavor or a different approach, but did you spot a thread? I mean – what did you find?
Jim: Yes, there are different threads. Obviously, a love of nation and selfless service – that kind of thread runs through them all, but the most common thread, and it's going to sound almost overlooked or not real, is the humility of these men. What you'll find interesting is these guys are no different than anyone else – you or me, they are just like us.
What happened was they were afforded a difficult situation, and they had to work through it, and they worked through it as best as they could, and they survived, and they saved the lives of others or did a heroic act. But almost, to the man, every one of them is profoundly humble about what they did.
Dennis: Yes, I want to ask you about that, because it would seem that someone who is now labeled a hero, and their story gets told publicly as they are introduced, they receive the applause of men, in their family they're known as a hero, in their neighborhood they're known as a hero.
There would be an identity that you'd begin to take on, I would think, that would change the course of your life. As you interviewed these guys, did you see some of that? And maybe humility goes with it, because they realize there were others who died who aren't being recognized.
Jim: I think that is part of it. In fact, they know that many people are never awarded any medal who gave their lives and who paid the supreme sacrifice, and they'll be quick to say the heroes are still all over there. The heroes died.
Bob: It's interesting, as you told Desmond Doss's story, you talked about the 75 men he rescued. That number was in dispute, right?
Jim: That's correct, yes. They wanted to say on the citation that he saved the lives of 100 men, and Desmond Doss said, "I don't know how many men it was. I know that it was quite a few, but I don't believe myself that it could be more than 50." And they said, "Well, we think it's 100," and he said, "Well, I think it's 50," and they said, "Well, okay, we're going to call it 75."
Bob: And that reflects the kind of humility that you're talking about. Here is a guy who may have saved the lives of 100 men, and he's going, "Oh, it couldn't have been that many," and I'm thinking of the 50 – I'm thinking of going back to the mouth of the cave when they've been shooting at you.
Here is the question that all of us ask: we imagine ourselves in that situation, and we think, "Would I have done that or would I have stayed back and said, 'I'm not going out there. They're shooting. I could die.'" And I guess you never know until you're in that moment, do you?
Jim: I think that's exactly true. We never know until we are afforded the opportunity, and we all hope that we'll never have to be faced with that, Again, it comes back to the Scripture of John 15:13 – there is just no greater love than to lay down your life for another.
As I'll teach men and work with men every week, I will say, "We're not going to walk out of this meeting today, and no one is going to throw a grenade at us. We're not going to have to lay down on a grenade for anybody else, most likely. But God, Jesus Christ, does expect you to emotionally and spiritually lay down your life for other people today. As we walk out of here today, he is going to expect us to do that emotionally and spiritually. And that takes courage, in itself.”
Dennis: I know one of these men that you wrote about, Brigadier General Joe Foss. He was a fighter pilot of fighter pilots. I mean, Top Gun couldn't hold this guy's gun. He shot down a number of Japanese planes in World War II but ultimately was shot down and had to bail out in shark-infested waters.
Jim: A great story. I always enjoyed being around him – a big man, six-four, maybe taller – and he would get these young military people, and I would watch him, and he would start to get them, paint them into a corner, and start asking them about their faith, and as they started to squirm, he would just say, "Hey, you know, this is something you need to think about. It's something you need to come to know that there is a God, and that there is a purpose for your life."
He came to know the Lord after the war – just a neat man – but, yeah, his story that he writes of the 11 stories for the book that had inspirational faith-based stories. What he concludes with is they went out on a mission, and as he is diving onto what he thinks is a Japanese Zero, he realizes that it's a Japanese floatplane, which is a two-man plane, which is slower. So he's going to either collide with the Japanese floatplane, or he is going to have to take evasive action.
He rolled away from the plane. When he did that, that just spread his underbelly to the rear-seater, the machine gunner in the Japanese floatplane. He fired on Joe's plane and hit it along the engine. And it sputtered a few times, until finally the engine just stopped. He's trying to glide to an island, and he overshoots the island; comes back out and lands in the middle of the sea, the ocean. He's about five miles from that island. Joe can't swim.
And so the plane immediately – he was told that that plane was supposed to float, but all it did, he said, it sunk like a rock. So he's trying to get out of there, and he's trapped in the cockpit. He said he’s holding his breath until he thinks his lungs are going to explode. He frees himself, but his foot gets caught. He's dragged deeper and deeper, finally gets free, floats to the surface and within a very short period of time he's just saying, "Man, this is a difficult spot."
He looks off to one side or the other and sees sharks in the area and thinks, "This is terrible. I could have been shot down and killed. I could have died in a crash, and now I'm going to get eaten by sharks." And as he is trying to swim into this island, which he thinks is Guadalcanal, he is being washed farther and farther out to sea and just wearing out, and he hears some voices in the area.
He knows there are small boats, and he thinks the Japanese have come out to capture him, and then he hears somebody say in an Australian accent and realizes that they're coast watchers. They'd seen him go down, and they'd come out and picked him up, pulled him in, and as he was saying, "Well, I was trying to swim to that island," they said something to the effect of, "Well, it's a good thing you didn't get there, because there are man-eating crocodiles, and that's all there are on that island."
And so he just says, as he reflected on the story, he said, "You know, I could have been and should have been shot down and killed. I should have died in the crash. I should have drowned in the ocean or have been dragged out to the sea and drowned there or killed by sharks or maybe even man-eating crocodiles. But God saved me for future battles."
And the battles that he fought after – in the middle of his life – and turned his heart to the Lord, he fought the good fight for that latter part of his life – many years just turning the hearts of other people to God.
When Joe would talk, people would ask him, "Well, you received the Medal of Honor; you were an ace in World War II; you became a Brigadier General; you were the president – I believe the president of the NRA, the Crippled Children's Foundation; you had your own TV show. What's the greatest honor that you ever had?" And he would always say, "The greatest honor, bar none, is that I have a faith in Jesus Christ."
Dennis: Yes, I've heard him say that, and Joe Foss, we miss him, because he was a very good friend of Campus Crusade for Christ and Dr. Bill Bright and his wife, Vonette. Joe's courage moved from the battlefield to the spiritual battlefield, and he gave his testimony repeatedly wherever he went – at banquets – and spoke boldly of his faith in Christ.
Bob: Well, and, again, his story is a part of your book, Jim, and I'm thinking here of my own sons and thinking of how these stories can be inspiring to the heart of a young boy to invoke courage in him. This can be a part of family devotions – something that you could read with your sons or with your daughters and particularly this time of year to have something like this that points all of us back toward the valor of men who have fought to protect our freedom and who recognize there is a cost with that.
Dennis: And I am thinking of a great Father's Day gift for Barbara's dad, Robert Peterson, who is a Purple Heart recipient, and I think, Bob, of your sons – this would make a great Bible study one morning. Go feed your kids some doughnuts – that's not healthy, but spiritually and for his soul and his character, this book is.
Bob: Yes, and along with it, Colonel Coy’s other book which is called Prisoners of Hope, which details the stories of other heroes, 119 former prisoners of war, from World War II all the way through the Gulf War, sharing their stories. Again, you just get a chance with this to crack open the door on what real valor looks like, and help your children see that when we’re in situations that call for strength and courage, God gives that strength and courage to us.
We have both of Colonel Coy’s books in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and there’s information there about both the book Valor, and Prisoners of Hope. Again the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
And there is also information on our website about Dennis’ book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood®, because really this subject of courage is not something that is limited only to those who serve in the military. But all of us as men are called to be courageous.
With that in mind, we have taken themes from Dennis’ book and we’re putting them in a new video series that’s going to be released in August, the Stepping Up video series. We are kicking it off with a special event for men on Saturday, August 4th, a national simulcast event, originating in Chicago, and being webcast to churches all around the country. It’s the Stepping Up National Men’s Conference.
You can find out more about the book and the video series and the men’s conference again, on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Once again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now tomorrow we want to encourage you to be back with us. Byron Yawn, a pastor from Nashville, is going to be with us to talk about what every man wishes his father had told him as he was growing up. We’ll explore that tomorrow; I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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