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Dillman.jpg (2012079 bytes) FIRST-PERSON: ‘I prayed with a Marine today'

(Reprint from the Baptist Press News, May 28, 2004)
By Shane Dillman

BETHESDA, Md. (BP)--One of the moments frozen in time is the breathtaking and awe-inspiring photograph of the Marines raising the flag atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima in the gruesome struggle that would claim thousands and forever change the men who took part in this bloodiest of bloody battles. Ministering to the injured Marines who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are moments that will be forever frozen in time for me. As a staff chaplain at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., I am honored to be able to serve the Marines and their families during difficult and trying times.

Every day I am able to see the honor, courage and commitment of these young men and women who have made the U.S. Marine Corps the pride of America's military. I consider it a great honor to be able to care for, support and pray for some of America's greatest heroes. Many of these brave Marines have lost limbs, their sight, and are battle fatigued, but in almost every case, their main concern lies with their fellow Marines who are still in harm's way.

As I was talking to one Marine, he told me his greatest regret was that he would no longer be able to serve beside his fellow Marines. The reason this brave young man could no longer serve was that he had lost both arms in combat. As I met with him, his wife and his parents, he said nothing about the sacrifices he had made. With tears in his eyes, he spoke with grace and poise about the love and sacrifices his family had made for him.

This story of love and strength is not an isolated incident but is the norm for the injured Marines who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In America, we make movies about heroes and patriots. Some of the finest patriots I have ever met have been Marines who are patients at National Naval Medical Center. Through their valor, they show what it truly means to be one of the few and the proud. When I was growing up, I thought of Marines as super heroes. From talking to members of my family who were Marines, I learned of the intense training and desire that it took to become a devil dog. Whether a Marine is in uniform or in civilian attire, it was always easy to spot them. Even as a child, I could tell that Marines carried themselves differently. They held their head a little higher and each step showed their pride.

The young men and women that I am able to visit every day represent everything that is good about America. They have pride in self and country. They do not ask for personal favors, but they are consistently trying to find out information about their fellow Marines. It is very difficult to see people hurting both emotionally and physically. I am privileged to show them God's love and have the opportunity to pray with them and many times share tears with them. The entire staff of Corpsmen, nurses and doctors who take care of these Marines do so with great proficiency and expertise -– but also love.

The image that stands out the most in my memory occurred while I was walking down the passageway to my office and heard a voice behind me. I instantly recognized the voice of a young Marine who had lost his left leg in combat. As I turned my head, I was astounded to see him walking toward me. He told me that he wanted to come up and thank me for all of the prayers, calling cards and the time we had spent talking. He told me that the new prosthetic was really working out well and that he would be able to carry on.

I wanted to smile and shake his hand, but instead I had to choke back the tears. I told this young man that he did not have to thank me for anything; it was he who had done me a great favor. He had allowed me to stand with him at a very vulnerable time. After a quick nod, he thanked me and walked away.

Whether someone agrees or disagrees with the war in Iraq is inconsequential but what really matters is the bravery of these young men and women. They are willing to answer the same call that so many before them have heard. With much the same courage their ancestors displayed when they raised the flag at Iwo Jima, these young Americans have raised our flag throughout Iraq. They have given people who have never known freedom the chance to be free. They protect the innocent and care for the fallen.

They also have allowed this Navy chaplain the highest honor of being able to say, “I prayed with a Marine today.”


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