Earl C. Willer tells the story of two men who grew up best friends; though Jim was just a little older than Phillip and often assumed the role of leader, they did everything together. They even went to high school and college together.
After college they joined the Marines. By a unique series of circumstances they were sent to Germany together where they fought side by side in one of history's ugliest wars.
One sweltering day during a fierce battle, amid heavy gunfire, bombing, and close-quarters combat, they were given the command to retreat. As the men were running back, Jim noticed that Phillip had not returned with the others. Panic gripped his heart. Jim knew if Phillip was not back in another minute or two, then he wouldn't make it.
Jim begged his commanding officer to let him go after his friend, but the officer forbade the request, saying it would be suicide. Risking his own life, Jim disobeyed and went after Phillip. His heart pounding he ran into the gunfire calling out for his friend. A short time later his platoon saw him hobbling across the field carrying a limp body in his arms.
Jim's commanding officer upbraided him, shouting that it was a foolish waste of time and an outrageous risk. Your friend is dead, he added, and there is nothing you could do.
"No sir, you are wrong," Jim replied. "I got there just in time. Before he died, his last words were 'I knew you would come.'"
Think of it friends. Someday, we'll be together in Heaven and I'm certain that we'll be rejoicing and saying pretty much the same thing. Jesus, I knew you would come back for me. He is the epitome of Loyalty. His love was so great for us that He gave up His life on the cross. He said that He would come back and take his Church back to Heaven to spend eternity with Him. You can count on that! I don't believe that it's a long time off in the future either.
There were two soldiers, Joe and Carl, who were close friends. It was war time and they were in one company engaged in an encounter. Outnumbered and as they started to suffer heavy casualties, the commander ordered a retreat.
When the company got to safe ground, Joe noticed his friend, Carl, was not with them. He went to the commander and asked permission to go back to look for Carl. The commander disapproved, saying that under heavy fire of the enemy, Carl would surely be killed. He told Joe they would recover the bodies when it was safer to do so.
Joe apologized before he disobeyed the order and ran back to the battlefield.
Minutes later he came back carrying Carl’s dead body. As he put down Carl’s body, the company saw that Joe himself was badly wounded now. The commander furiously told Joe, “I told you he would have been killed in the firefight. You foolishly endangered yourself, and now I risk losing another man. What a waste, Joe!”
Joe, now fighting for his own life, calmly told the commander, “Sir, it was not a waste. When I got to Carl he was still alive. I held him up and propped him on my lap telling him to hold on. He gasped for breath, he smiled, and his last and only words were, ‘Joe, I knew you would come.’”
“I knew you would come.” These simple words convey the meaning of one of the deepest graces of our faith and our hope. We know God will always be there for us.
He was very old now, but could still hold himself stiffly at attention before the monument. His war, the one to end all wars, now just a fading part of history. Very few could remember, first-hand, the savageness of the ordeal that had sent millions of young men to their deaths. Cannon fodder, they'd called them, sent before the guns to be mown down -- blown apart by chunks of metal which had decimated their frail bodies. The cream of a generation; almost wiped out. He was haunted by the faces of the boys he'd had to order into battle, the ones who'd never come back. Yet one nameless ghost was able to bring a measure of comfort to his tormented mind. At the sound of the gun signaling the eleventh hour he was mentally transported back to the fields of Flanders.
The battle had raged for over two hours, with neither side gaining any advantage. Wave after wave of soldiers had been dispatched from the muddy trenches and sent over the top. So many had died already that day that he decided he could not afford to lose any more men before reinforcements arrived. Perhaps they'd give the remnants a few more days of life. There came a slight lull in the battle due to the sheer exhaustion of the men on both sides.
During this interval, a young soldier came up to him requesting that he be allowed to go over the top. He looked at the boy who couldn't have been more than nineteen. Was this extreme bravery in the face of the enemy or was the soldier so scared he just needed to get it over with?
"Why would you want to throw your life away soldier? It's almost certain death to go out there."
"My best friend went out over an hour ago, captain, and he hasn't come back. I know my friend must be hurt and calling for me. I must go to him, sir, I must." There were tears in the boy's eyes . It was as if this were the most important thing in the world to him."
"Soldier, I'm sorry, but your friend is probably dead. What purpose would it serve to let you sacrifice your life too?"
"At least I'd know I'd tried, sir, he'd do the same thing in my shoes. I know he would."
He was about to order the boy back to the ranks, but the impact of his words softened his heart. He remembered the awful pain he'd felt himself when his brother had died. He'd never had the chance to say goodbye.
"All right soldier, you can go." Despite the horror all around them, he saw a radiant smile on the boy's face, as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
"God bless you, sir," said the soldier.
It was a long time before the guns fell silent for the last time and each side was allowed to gather their dead and wounded. The captain remembered the young soldier. He looked through the many piles of bodies. Young men. So many as to give an unreal quality to the scene before him.
When he came to the makeshift hospital, he looked carefully through the casualties. He soon found himself before the prone body of the soldier, alive, but severely wounded. He knelt down beside the young man and gently laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm so sorry, son. I knew I was wrong to let you go."
"Oh no, sir. I'm glad you did and I'm glad you're here now so I can thank you. You see sir, I found my friend. He was badly wounded, but I was able to comfort him at the end. As I held him dying in my arms, he looked me in the eyes and said: "I knew you'd come."
The young soldier faded between consciousness and oblivion for some time before he finally slipped away. The captain stayed by his side until the end, tears streaming quietly down his cheeks. Only in war could the happy endings be so terribly sad.