What motivates those who serve our country in the military and in law enforcement to willingly face the prospect of death? Over the Thanksgiving holiday break, I took in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” for a second time. If you have not seen this movie, it is based on the true story of Desmond Doss. Doss is a humble and simple man whose heroic exploits as a combat medic stun his comrades during some of the most intense fighting of World War II. Doss, who refused to carry a weapon during his field duties, saved the lives of 75 men during one bloody conflict against a hardened Japanese army that was burrowed into a bluff during the Battle for Okinawa. Upon conferring the Medal of Honor to Doss, President Truman recognized him for his heroism while facing extreme danger.
It was also near the Thanksgiving holiday that the nation learned of the death of Patrick Carothers of the U.S. Marshals Service, who died in the line of duty while attempting to apprehend a dangerous criminal who had holed up in a Macon, Georgia mobile home. The dangerous fugitive shot and killed Carothers while Carothers and and his fugitive task force team attempted to arrest him. Again, why did Doss and Carothers knowingly place their lives in jeopardy? What inspired them to put in harm’s way the thing that most people would say they value the most?
As the action of “Hacksaw Ridge” reached its climax, Doss is portrayed covered in the mire of the battlefield as he utters the prayer, “Lord, please help me get one more.” He is speaking of his comrades who lay helpless and suffering from their wounds. Even as they lay there, Japanese soldiers hunt down and kill the injured American soldiers they encounter. Even though his unit has retreated, Doss remains to face the enemy, unarmed, as he continues dragging the injured GIs to safety one after another. After each rescue he prays, “Lord, one more” and then he continues through the night until the last possible moment. One evocative scene portrays Doss underneath a cascade of water as he takes a shower after the battle. The flowing, cleansing water carries the blood of those he saved down and off his body. I have to say that as the movie ended, I was in awe of what this simple man of faith did. Not only did it leave a lasting impression on me, it also left the same impression on those who went to see the movie with me. We were left almost speechless as the movie ended. Of course, Doss is only one of thousands of “America’s best,” our veterans, who have disregarded their own safety while protecting their country in battle. It is obvious to me that Doss was motivated by his faith in God to love his fellow soldier more than himself. This love was demonstrated when Doss, while being carried off the battlefield himself badly wounded, stopped those who were carrying him and insisted that another soldier be placed on the gurney in his stead. In recounting this incident, Doss would opine that he would rather lose his life so that someone else might live.
As I learned about Pat’s death, I could not help but draw parallels between his gallantry and that of Doss. When Pat died, he was a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Marshals Service. So, over and over again, like Doss, Pat, through his 26 years of service, must have uttered similar words. “Lord, one more, help me get one more fugitive off the street.” There is no telling how many dangerous fugitives Pat put behind bars in his long career. One fugitive arrest after another, Pat and his partners made our country a safer place. I am not privy to the details of the shootout but it seems to me that Pat must have been the first one through the doorway when the murderer opened fire. Pat was in a leadership position with the task force and yet he was leading his troops into battle. He was placing more importance on the lives of his teammates than on his own life. He willingly risked his life over and over again for 26 years and eventually gave his life so that his country would be rid of still one more dangerous fugitive. But again, what motivated Pat to do this?
I had the privilege to work with Pat for a month during the late 90s. We had flown into Chicago from our respective offices to support the Chicago USMS office during the “Gangster Disciples” high threat trial. We hit it off immediately and so we were “hang out buddies” during our month together. It did not take long for me to realize one thing about Pat. He loved his partners. He was always looking out for their best interest and always made sure to check on them. Recently, I also had the privilege of attending Pat’s graveside ceremony before the family laid him to rest. At this gathering, his good friends also made sure to point out Pat’s great love for his family, his community, and for them. Pat’s pastor also spoke of Pat’s faith in God and how this relationship impacted him as a young man. It is clear to me that what motivated Pat was his love for not only his partners but also for his country. His selfless actions throughout his career and on the day he confronted this criminal demonstrate a man who was motivated by love.
As Jesus Christ awaited his betrayal, he is praying for those he is leaving behind. As the time is counting down for his arrest, brutal torture, and death, Jesus Christ utters these words. “Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” Not only is Jesus speaking to his disciples but also forward in time to those who would join in relationship with him. Jesus was motivated to undergo torture and death by love. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi tells us that Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (2:5-8).” Jesus Christ died so that all could be a part of his family (Rev. 21:3-4). It is hard to imagine how much Jesus suffered during his final hours. But Jesus led from the front and loved all completely by sacrificing his life. Jesus tells us of the “Parable of the Lost Sheep” in the Book of Matthew. This parable demonstrates that God, like a shepherd, hunts for even one lost sheep, and that he does not want even one to perish. God is saying in Matthew 18, “Can I find just one more lost person that I can save?”
This is the love that I see demonstrated by Corporal Desmond Doss and by Deputy Commander Pat Carothers. A love that is not concerned about ones own self interest. Rather, a selfless love for one’s fellow man and country. A love that is willing to sacrifice all on behalf of others. I am proud to have worn the same star as Pat (America’s Star). I am also proud to have known someone who was not only a warrior, but was also one that was motivated by divine love. So, in a season that is known for veterans and thanksgiving, I pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Pat. Thank you for laying down your life for your country. Rest in peace, brother. I will see you again when we are both reunited in the presence of Jesus Christ.