On this Veteran’s Day, 2011, I’d like to share with my blog readers a column I wrote for the Herald on Veteran’s Day 2000. It was after returning from a place in southwest North Dakota that I’ve never forgotten. The column also tells of perhaps my favorite veteran ever, the late Clint Harstad, a longtime Grand Forks history teacher in whose home on Park Drive I enjoyed cups of coffee and scoops of ice cream. All our veterans – may we never forget them and never stop thanking them!
LISBON, N.D. — Commandant Ken Anderson unlocked one of several glass cases in a large room on the first floor of the North Dakota Veterans Home.
“This is probably the highlight of the museum,” he said as he pulled from the shelf a small Bible with a piece of jagged metal piercing its pages.
The metal is shrapnel.
“Archie Stokke was carrying this testament in his left pocket when he was hit,” Ken said. “They think it saved his life. He was knocked out and they thought he was dead. Somebody went to move him and discovered he was alive.”
Ken pointed to where in the Bible the shrapnel came to rest. It made a mark right beside Ephesians 2:8 which reads, “For it is by grace you have been saved.”
Oh my, I was left with goose bumps!
I’m thankful Archie’s life was spared. On this Veteran’s Day, I’m thankful also for all those who gave their lives fighting our wars and for those who fought and were blessed enough to return home safely.
Thank you. Thank you.
Archie, who was from the Harvey, N.D. area, lived in this Veteran’s Home until his death two years ago.
It was in 1944 when his testament stopped the metal fragment as Archie, a member of the elite Ranger Corps, landed by parachute in Normandy during World War II.
A picture of Archie, who received the Purple Heart in 1945, sits beside his testament on the shelf. Commandant Ken remembers the conversations he had with Archie over the years.
“In his life,” Ken said, “Archie served the Lord.”
Archie had something in common with Clint Harstad of Grand Forks. Clint is another soldier who took his Bible into battle.
He pats the black leather bound King James Version lying on his dining room table. More than 56 years ago, Clint’s Bible saved his life, but in a different way than Archie’s had.
“This kept me sane, absolutely,” Clint said of the Bible he had with him in England and France when he was in radio communications with the U.S. Army’s 7th Armored Division during World War II.
“When you are in combat you operate under lights-out,” Clint recalled. “But there were spare minutes where you would go an hour or so without communication. You could hear bombs being dropped 30 miles away. It was not an ideal reading situation, but it was a big comfort to me.”
Clint’s Bible went with him from his farm home near Dazey, N.D., to what was then Valley City (N.D.) State Teachers College. Naturally, he took it along when he was drafted and it stayed with him during the year he saw combat.
“It was a big factor,” Clint said. “I had it with me in my half-track (armored vehicle) and I carried it with me in my ammunition box. It got bounced around quite a bit.”
Clint has kept his Bible intact with layers of clear tape.
“It’s beat up, but I want to leave it this way,” he said. “It’s an important thing in my life. It’s battle-scarred, but as long as I have it like this, it’s more meaningful.”
Many verses are underlined and there are marks in the margins. “If a book is my book, I mark it up,” Clint said.”My very favorite verse is John 3:16. It’s helpful to have Bible verses in your mind.”
Clint believes in heaven and in hell.
As for war: “it’s hell,” he said. “I remember the first days in combat. I thought I can’t believe this. This can’t be. How can men act this way, killing each other? But how are you going to stop a guy like Hitler? It comes down to the ungodly method of killing each other off. It was the same way with the Japanese. They had to be stopped. But it’s incredible. Animals have more sense than that.”
Clint was blessed to not have been wounded. “We had steel helmets and mine was blown off one time,” he said.
Someone once told Clint, however, that there is no such thing as an unwounded soldier. “In a sense that’s true,” he said. “There’s a hurt there. You are part of the killing and that’s not the way it should be.”
Those who come home from war with no physical or mental wounds have to be terribly thankful, Clint added. “How thankful I was to be raised in a sound Christian home where God was a big part of our background.”
He again touched his old black Bible. “This book helped carry me,” Clint said. “It’s more than a book. It’s God’s word. And you need God to bring you through the valleys.”
May soldiers everywhere never doubt the saving grace of their Bibles.