“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NIV).
You’re more likely to meet my friend Terri Kruger, head of New Mexico “Wounded Warriors“, at a graveside than a mall. Instead of a cafe, she often shares an MRE (meal ready to eat) with a soldier. One day she met me wearing a bright white smile along with her blue and red t-shirt. I asked her, “What’s the occasion?” And she answered, “Greeting our troops home from war.”
She often joins New Mexico’s “Blue Star Mom’s” (mothers with children in active duty) at Albuquerque’s Sunport to welcome our soldiers returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Waving flags and offering big hugs, these mom’s make it their aim to greet every son or daughter at their homecoming.
Because of Terri, I added my name to the Blue Star email list and joined a multitude of patriotic citizens in greeting our brave men and women home as they return from war. From newborn infants to Vietnam Vets; from motorcycle gang members to a Saint Bernard wearing Uncle Sam’s hat, our group forms a tunnel of love. Festooned with flags, banners, noisemakers, and tears, the soldiers walk through our midst. While I shouted, “thank you” or “welcome home”, I couldn’t help but think about our homecoming in heaven. There a great cloud of witnesses await our arrival with proclamations of joy. And best of all, the Lord will declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
My first homecoming celebration honored Leroy Petry, a man like Terri, who understands that love means sacrifice whether leisure time, lifestyle, or limb. A Santa Fe native, Leroy joined the U.S. Army Rangers through the influence of his cousin on September 1999. On September 11, 2001, he was still in training until assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
Little did we know that the firefighters, police officers, and port authority were the first recruits to the war on terror. Leroy would join their fight on the front lines in Afghanistan. He helped bring the battle directly to those who started the conflict. On May 26, 2008, Leroy and 70 members of his platoon targeted a building containing known combatants. Although Special Ops often take place at night, this attack happened in broad day light.
Immediately after dropping in from helicopters the Rangers came under strong fire from nearly 40 hostiles. Three enemy fighters hiding behind a chicken coop shot Sergeant Petry through both legs and wounded two other men. While finding cover an enemy grenade landed near the embattled group. Petry, knowing the risk to his life, picked it up and attempted to throw it back. The Sergeant said his instinct was “get it out of here, get it away from the guys and myself. And I reached over, leaned over to the right, grabbed it with my hand, and I threw it as hard as I could, what I thought was at the time. And as soon as I opened my hand to let it go, it just exploded instantly. And I came back, and the hand was completely severed off.”
Although the detonation amputated his right hand, he saved the two other soldiers from serious injury or death. Evacuated to a hospital, Petry was fitted with a prosthetic that bears a small plaque listing the names of the fallen Rangers of his regiment. Instead of seeking a medical discharge, Sergeant Leroy Petry reenlisted and has returned to Afghanistan. On July 12, 2011 he received the Medal of Honor for his bravery.
What about you? Have you been wounded in battle? Are you missing in action? Perhaps you’ve suffered a great loss or now walk with a limp. Before you give up; before you back away from the battle; before you surrender remember who you serve! It is not the president of the United States, but the God of the universe. He promises rewards richer than this life offers. Like Leroy, like the apostle Paul, forget those things which are behind you and reach forward to those things which lie ahead. “Press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).