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Summary: A Remembrance Day message asking us to recall that love is the motive for sacrifice.

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JOHN 15:13

HEROES IN UNLIKELY PLACES

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

September 11, 2001 shocked a complacent world from its lethargy into enforced wakefulness. Before that day, police and fire fighters were often thought of as necessary nuisances. If nothing else, the events of that day snapped us from what could easily be described as a near universal somnambulation. We were forcibly compelled to acknowledge that we had taken for granted quiet heroes within our society.

As the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell into one massive heap of rubble, all free men and women grieved the loss of life. We North Americans grieved our loss of innocence. Most of all, we each grieved at the needless deaths of brave individuals—firemen and police officers—who died risking their lives so that others might live. The bravery of those who entered those burning buildings is no longer taken for granted, but rather review of the events has only enhanced their valour. Similarly, Canada’s military men and women who serve today in Afghanistan remind us that we dare not assume they are any less than courageously serving for our benefit.

There is in this statement from the Saviour instruction revealing God’s grace toward our fallen race. Courage and love may be confused in the sacrifice of one individual in the place of another, for love compels courage. Without question, we who are Christians will benefit from examination of these precious commodities. May God make us willing to express our gratitude for the courage of quiet heroes among us, and may He make us a people that love others deeply from the heart. Join me in exploration of the twin issues of love and courage.

EVIDENCE OF LOVE — Whatever else may be evident from the statement of the Saviour, an individual’s willingness to sacrifice himself for another is evidence of love. However, death is not of itself an indication of love. There may be many reasons an individual would die—even willingly. I speak cautiously and with deepest humility in saying that motives are seldom pure. Rather, multiple motives may be thrown together leading an individual to the supreme sacrifice.

Peer pressure may cause an individual to sacrifice his life. I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative sense. I refer to the sacrifice of brave individuals who have willingly given their lives for members of their own unit during times of war or trauma.

On May 6, 1970, Lance Corporal James Howe, together with two other marines, was occupying a defensive position in a sandy beach area in Vietnam. Enemy sappers suddenly launched a grenade attack against the position, utilising the cover of darkness to carry out their assault. Lance Corporal Howe and his comrades moved to a more advantageous position in order to return suppressive fire. When an enemy grenade landed in their midst, Lance Corporal Howe immediately shouted a warning and then threw himself on the deadly missile, absorbing the blast with his own body.

Andrew Mynarski of Winnipeg and Pat Brophy were tail gunners in the RCAF. At 12:00 am June 13, the two men and the rest of the crew were aboard their Lancaster, A for Able, crossing the coastline of France, and keeping a look out for anti-aircraft artillery. Shortly after the Lancaster crossed into enemy lines, it was “coned” in searchlights and the pilot began evasive manoeuvres. Within minutes, Brophy spotted a German Junkers firing rapidly. As he and Mynarski pivoted their guns to take aim, the Lancaster was hit. Brophy remembers noting that it was 13 minutes past midnight.

A burst tore through the fuselage, igniting the wing fuel tank, and knocking out both engines. Fire ripped through the plane, separating the two gunners and destroying the intercom. The pilot gave the signal for all crew to bail out. Mynarski was half way out of the rear hatch and about to jump when he looked back and saw Brophy struggling to get out of his turret. The hydraulic pivot system had been shot up, and Brophy was trapped. All the rest of the crew had already bailed, and the burning plane was bucking wildly. But Mynarski threw himself to the floor, and made his way through the flames to try to help Brophy escape. With his hair and clothing burning, Mynarski struggled in vain to turn Brophy’s turret manually, but both men knew that it simply would not go. Brophy ordered Mynarski to get out while he could, and Mynarski made his way back through the growing wall of fire to the hatch, turned to salute his friend, and then made the leap. Mynarski’s descent was clearly seen from below. His clothing and parachute were burning, and as he fell, the flames went higher. Although he survived the jump, he died within hours from his burns.

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