White Easter lilies grow in William Robinson’s yard in Covington County, Alabama. At age “90 and a half,” as he calls it, Robinson is a veteran of the Korean War.
“There aren’t a lot of those guys still around,” Army Col. (ret.) Buddy Pyron said. And at such a dangerous moment in history, this seasoned veteran has a message about war.
Robinson almost missed South Korea. “In 1950, I was shot by a dog,” he said.
It was a hunting accident. The dog fell against a gun, kicking off the safety and activating the trigger. The bullet took out Robinson’s spleen and half of his liver.
At his first army medical, the doctor sent him home. Six months later, a second army doctor had a different opinion. “If you can survive that, you’re in great shape!”
So in 1951 Robinson headed to Fort Bliss in Texas for basic training.
How did he get to South Korea?
“We were transported by train to Seattle, Washington, where we boarded a ship to Japan.” Once there, he boarded another ship to South Korea.
Robinson’s first impression of the country was painful—little children begging for food.
"You couldn't turn them down," he said. "We threw them c-rations and those hungry young’uns fought one another for them."
Robinson was then stationed on a small mountain at Kimpo Airfield for 16 months. His first assignment was to stand guard, and one dark, rainy night, he heard the enemy coming.
“I had a gun that held 30 rounds and it could unload all those bullets at once. So I clicked off the safety. That’s when I heard the yelling. It was my sergeant, not the enemy. He’d heard that safety click and knew he was in trouble!”
His eyes flashed with pride as he spoke of moving up from ammo carrier to eventually being in charge of one of four massive 90mm anti-aircraft guns placed at each corner of the airfield. This artillery targeted high-flying planes, and it took a platoon to run each one—16 men.
The soldiers slept in a building right beside their gun and were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, William Robinson and his gun became one.
“I’d stay on the phone by the gun when we were under attack,” Robinson said. “A big computer in a trailer told us how to hit the planes and the commander would tell me, ‘Commence firing’ and I’d tell the gunner, who would pull a lever on the right side of the gun. You couldn’t stand behind it because of the recoil.”
How did Robinson know when to stop?
“We’d keep shooting until I got word over the phone: ‘Cease firing’.”
It’s Robinson who would have given the final order to gun down the famous North Korean pilot No Kum Sok who defected in 1953, landing his MiG-15 on Robinson’s airfield. However, by all accounts, the radar was down that morning for repair and no one saw him coming in.
Robinson's older brother was in World War II. Had they compared experiences?
“We never talked about it,” he said. “A lot of things you can't stand to think about."
It's no secret that war changes servicemen and women. Many come home bitter and some lose their minds. What's Robinson’s wish for his enemy as North and South Korea attempt to reconcile?
"They're humans like us." he said. "They have to learn to get along."
His voice held no hint of anger. In fact, he said, “When I was in Korea, I’d ask God to bless our soldiers and to bless the South Koreans and the North Koreans.
Was he serious? He'd asked God to bless the enemy?
It sounds unthinkable until you recall the words of Jesus: "Love your enemies, bless those that curse you." (Matthew 5:44)
The Easter lily—heartier, but similar to the peace lily--is the Irish memorial flower for those who lost their lives in a 1916 fight with Great Britain. The idea of a memorial flower is good and choosing a hearty kin to the peace lily is ideal. Why?
Memorial Day honors those in the military who died while in service to our country. It's because of their sacrifice that this weekend should be a time to pray for peace with our enemies.
And prayer brings God into enemy love. He’s essential because that's the troubling part. You and I can come up with a dozen reasons to hate our enemies until we come face to face with what Jesus did.
Jesus isn't asking us to act apart from him—we can do this terrible thing, this enemy love, because of Jesus. From the cross he says, "Father forgive them..."
It doesn't mean we shouldn't fight. There are battles to be won. But Jesus said to know the things that make for peace—understanding, forgiveness, love, and prayer. As William Robinson said, ask God to bless the enemy.
Remember the white Easter lilies that grow in his yard.
The Rev. Mathews is an attorney, faith columnist and the author of “Reaching to God.” She can be reached at Letters@RAMathews.com Copyright © 2019 R.A. Mathews.