Hell produces heroes. In the midst of a military battle, there are soldiers who fight and miraculously come out unscathed, warriors who are wounded, and those who die. There are also medics whose job it is to provide emergency medical care to a wounded soldier on the battlefied in the midst of battle.
While WW II raged in Europe, the new Pacific battlefront required more soldiers than were in uniform. Because most men 18 years or older were already in uniform, the Army went into American high schools and explained their critical need for enlistments. High school boys were told that if they enlisted now, they would be permitted to finish their high school education if they survived the war.
WW II was a time of desperation and patriotism. Male and female, young and old, all wanted to support their country’s war effort, and so it was that Louis Michaels, a high school senior, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1944.
Before he left home, his grandmother gave him a pocket-size Bible and told him to keep it with him until he returned home. She told him that its words would keep him safe.
During infantry training, Louie realized he had a high probability of dying if he remained a foot soldier, so he volunteered to become an Army medic. This would have been a safe choice had Louie been sent to Europe where the German Army respected medics and didn’t shoot them when they assisted the wounded in battle.
The Japanese, however, had a different perspective. Kill a medic and the wounded would most likely die, too, from lack of immediate care. Call it a “two-fer.”
Louie’s quest to find a safe assignment failed. He was put aboard a ship for the South Pacific, landing at Mindanao in the midst of a battle too brutal for words. It didn’t take him long to realize that the red cross on his helmet was a prominent target.
Battles are never casual. Men die left and right of you so fast your mind can’t even fathom it. Sometimes the young, good-looking kid kneeling next to you becomes a puddle of gore. It is suicide to move in such an assault. But that’s when soldiers most need the medic.
Louie told me of those battles, of the screams of the wounded calling for the medic, for him. And he knew that had he tried to get to the suffering men while enemy bullets pinned them all down, he would have been instantly killed. So he stayed put, remembering God’s promises in the small Bible in his breast pocket, the bag full of morphine slung over his shoulder useless as he endured the screams of the hurt and dying until it was safe for him to run to them.
Louie’s unit battled it out on numerous South Pacific islands. Along with many of his friends, he eventually succumbed to malaria. Only a handful, Louie among them, survived the deadly illness caused by drinking contaminated water.
Two weeks after Hiroshima was decimated by the atomic bomb, Louie and his unit were part of the first wave of American soldiers to arrive at the still smoldering, highly radioactive city.
Throughout my childhood, Louie told me stories of his war experiences, but he never told me the gut-wrenching, gruesome ones until he was dying. Although these final stories were shocking and difficult to hear, it wasn’t until then that I fully comprehended that I had, all along, been in the company of a hero.
Corporal Louis B. Michaels
We give thanks to You, Almighty God, for our brave men and women who selflessly put their lives on the line for ours.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2012