His name was Ferdinand and I never met him; in fact, he died nearly 22 years before I was born. Ferdinand was a Second Lieutenant with the 701st Army Air Forces Bomb Squadron and was serving the United States as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator when he was killed in action on April 20, 1944. He was shot down from the skies over Europe as the Allied forces prepared for its invasion of Normandy, which eventually led to victory in World War II. Ferdinand was survived by at least one child, a 6-year old son: my father. Ferdinand B. Ferrini was my grandfather.
While it is true that I was born during the Vietnam War and was a schoolboy as the Cold War thawed, I have never really thought about my grandfather and his fellow combatants. I marched in Memorial Day parades and remained silent as “Taps” filled the air at the cemetery where they concluded. I remember the flags and flowers that adorned the graves of our fallen service men and women. However, the depth of gratitude strangely escaped my thoughts until I visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC last November with my family. As I stood before the stone pillars I felt it necessary to tell my youngest boys that their great-grandfather gave his life for the freedoms we enjoy. Regrettably, that was all I knew to say.
This weekend, as I celebrate Memorial Day with my family, I will pause briefly to think about my grandfather, who, at the age of 26, was halfway around the globe fighting the Nazis so that we can enjoy the American dream. I will also pause briefly to think about the 1.35 million soldiers, seamen, and airmen that have been killed in combat during our country’s history (as a means of perspective, that number is a bit more than the entire population of the state of Maine). When it comes to securing the American Dream, as an American Legion Post posted on Facebook, “All gave some, and some gave all”.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
This week I have been thinking about this supreme sacrifice – a willingness to die for another – as I’ve been preparing a sermon for Sunday based on Romans 6:1-14. In those verses, Paul exhorts us to find our identity in the death of Jesus in order to identify also in the life of Jesus. On a national scale, we must find at least a part of our identity in the willing sacrifice of those young men and women who gave all for us and live lives that honor their service. On a cosmic scale, we must fully acknowledge the sacrificial death of the savior for the forgiveness of our sin and live as those who know they are redeemed for a purpose.
I thank God for the sacrifice of a man I have never met who secured a freedom he would never have fully known. And I thank God for the sacrifice of the Lord I am blessed to know who secured a freedom I would never have imagined.