By Gordon Helsel
“Buy One, Get One Free.” “Save Up to 50% Off.” “Save Big!”
Memorial Day weekend, the families of our fallen Armed Forces see an onslaught of Memorial Day sales’ signs, but we should ask ourselves what they must be thinking and how they feel.
As an Army veteran, I know the meaning of Memorial Day. Like the families of the fallen, virtually all combat veterans are ever mindful of it.
It isn’t about spending or saving money. Memorial Day is the solemn national reminder that their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers or mothers sacrificed themselves so that we might be saved from tyranny.
On Memorial Day, I thank God for my fallen friends Mike Kravchak and Art Herod, who bravely gave their lives while trying to protect their fellow soldiers in Vietnam.
One day in 1968, we were assigned to find and destroy the 2nd Battalion of hardened, well-trained North Vietnamese. Our commander, Lieutenant Kraut, moved our company to the jungles on the left and the right, but kept Mike, Art and I assigned to a trail.
Mike was just 19 years old when he offered to be the point man, the first man in-line, as he, Art and I walked that trail.
“Gordon,” he said. “Let me walk point.”
Although he and Art were new recruits, Mike felt he was ready. He continued to ask, and I finally agreed because I had walked point for him the day before. Little did I know God had intervened at that very moment. It is just one detail in the series of miracles that saved my life on that day.
Art, a big gentle man, and a husband and father, walked behind me. In his rucksack, Art faithfully carried an 8” × 10” photo of his daughters and beamed whenever he showed it to someone.
I saw Mike and Art die–and I can never forget the price they paid in serving our country. My memoir The Day God Showed Up is a tribute to the LORD and every generous soul who helped to save my life.
Often I have wondered why Mike and Art died, but God miraculously saved me. Many veterans wonder why they were spared death and why their fallen brothers or sisters were not spared. As a result, many veterans suffer depression and commit suicide.
After much contemplation, I had to hand this mystery over to God.
As one friend explains it to me, God has an ordained will for each us and it is eternal life with Him.
However, we are created in His image with free wills and intellect. Therefore, the Creator cannot coerce us to love or obey Him, and this is best explained as His permissive will.
Christ tells us: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men… And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:16-17, 28-33)
God knows every hair on our heads. In other words, not so much as one hair can be harmed or taken from us unless He allows it. Even though we may become subject to enemies, they cannot take our earthly lives unless God Almighty permits it. Because God loves us and desires our eternal happiness, Christians believe that He will not allow His servants to die before the perfect moment.
On Memorial Day, may all the families of our fallen Armed Forces be consoled by the grace of God. I pray it consoles my fellow and sister veterans as well.
All the same, too much American blood and treasure, too many lives, have been spent.
Therefore, I pray that President Obama and future commanders in chief will refrain from sending our Armed Forces into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary to defend our country.
Therefore, I pray that everyone selling refrigerators, cars and other goods comes to realize the price our fallen men and women paid for their freedom. Let it be a reminder to Americans that our fallen Armed Forces are not unknown soldiers, but real persons who sacrificed their lives for us. Let it inspire us to care for their families and care for our veterans too.
Peace be with you on Memorial Day and every day.
Virginia Delegate Gordon Helsel represents and serves the 91st district. He is former fire chief, councilman, and mayor of Poquoson. In 1968, he was an Army sergeant bleeding to death in Vietnam when God saved his life in a most surprising way. For valor and wounds sustained, Sgt. Helsel was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He wrote “The Day God Showed Up” as tribute to his wife, God, his fallen and wounded friends, and all Americans who put their lives on the line by serving our country. See more at