Sent: Friday, November 09, 2001
Subject: Shadows and Feathers
Dear Ethan & Emily:
Thirty-two years ago…Nov. 1969…I was nearing the end of my Field Artillery training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and fully expecting to be shipped to Vietnam within several months. (We were being trained to be Forward Observers, and at that time, these officers had the shortest life expectancy of any officer in Vietnam as we were stationed out in front of friendly troops looking for “targets of opportunity” with only a radio operator as a companion.)
One of the most dreaded or fearful phases of our training was the “Escape and Evasion” exercise that everyone had to go through. For this, other military units were brought in as the “aggressors,” and their mission was to capture us officer candidates as we negotiated ourselves from the starting point to a predetermined destination point several miles away across a range of mountains. This was an all-night exercise, and we had never seen the terrain before. After we were broken up into teams, we were given a map showing us where we were and the coordinates of where we were to end up the next morning.
I faced this challenge with some additional anticipation, as several weeks prior to this, I had “turned in” one of the permanent party Tach Sergeants assigned to our Battalion for drunkenness and abuse of troops. As “Battalion First Candidate” (highest ranking of the officer candidates. After the Escape & Evasion course, I became the Brigade First Candidate) I reported directly to the active Army Battalion Commander, and it was my responsibility to oversee the welfare of all the officer candidates in the command. This Sergeant told me aside that he would be “looking” for me on the Escape and Evasion course and that he would be waiting for me at the prison camp. (to “rough me up” as payback).
You see…this exercise also had a prison camp, and if you were captured, you were treated as a POW and subjected to some pretty unpleasant physical “abuse” (as I look back on it now) to see if you could handle the psychological and physical stress. I guess this was a final “check” to see if any of the officer candidates would “crack” under pressure.
There were 7 or 8 in my party and I remember like yesterday our making our way along an open area on the side of a mountain, when we were “attacked” by one of the aggressor parties. Everyone ran for what cover they could find. There wasn’t much…just a few scraggy bushes here and there. For some reason, I didn’t run for cover but dropped down to the ground alongside the face of a rock outcropping where we had been standing at the time of the attack, and I “flattened” myself as best I could along the rock surface…hoping that in the shadow I would go undetected. It was a bright moonlit night, and the shadow I was “hiding” in was the only protection I had. I still get misty eyed as I remember hearing my buddies being captured and tied up…one by one. I can still hear one of the aggressors saying: “I thought there was another one.” And as he said that, he was standing on the rock top side looking out over the landscape. Either he never thought to look down…or maybe he did but the stark shadow of the rock hid me and kept me from being detected.
I never moved…and hardly breathed for the longest time…and I remained in this position for so long that when I finally moved after I no longer heard voices…I could hardly walk my body was so numb from the position I had been in.
Alone…I maneuvered over the mountains and paused only briefly several times as I checked my bearings, and as I heard the voices from the POW Camp coming over loud speakers (acting as enemy propaganda) taunting us Americans to give up and surrender! I arrived at the destination point early the next morning, slithered on a rope across a mountain stream with all my field gear on (many fell in the water)…and for all practical purposes ended my training. This was the culminating and final challenge before we were commissioned. And one of the most amazing things is that the Sergeant who had said he would take revenge on me in the POW camp sought me out later that morning and congratulated me on successfully completing the course.
I never forget this experience every time I read Psalms 91. The whole chapter is one of my favorite passages in the Psalms but particularly vv. 1 – 2 have special meaning for me:
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the SHADOW of the Almighty…He alone is my refuge, my place of safety: He is my God, and I am trusting Him.”
And further on down…several more of my favorite verses: “He will shield you with His wings. He will shelter you with His feathers. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor fear the dangers of the day…Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you…For He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you with their hands….”
And then God Himself speaks: ” ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them. I will satisfy them with a long life and give them my salvation.’ ” Ps. 91 4 – 16
What more can I say…many times over my lifetime during times of stress and when I have been afraid (of whatever), I have envisioned myself protected and safe in God’s shadow and under His wings…and I have found peace and comfort knowing He has promised to take care of me.
If the image of my hiding in the shadow of a rock out on a hillside at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma will help you visualize God’s provision and love…then so be it.
I love you and pray that you will also experience this Peace and Refuge…in the shadows and in the feathers!