If you follow the news, you know that North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il died after holding dictatorship since 1994 when his father, the “Great Leader” died. Kim Jung Il's funeral is scheduled for today, and with the time difference, has already taken place. Kim Jung Il's father, Kim Il Sung died following a reign since the government was established in 1948, making North Korea a family dictatorship.
Documentaries show us that life in North Korea is hard, putting it mildly. The citizens face starvation daily, and a government that would rather execute you than keep you alive.
Over 2000 years ago, was another time when life was hard for a different nationality. King Herod had called for a census and folks had to be in their hometown to be counted. December 25th, is the day we celebrate Christmas, an established day to remember a Groom with a pregnant Bride searching for shelter in their hometown. A hometown that was now packed with people looking for lodging.
Joseph, Mary's fiance, found out that she was pregnant (hugely enormously taboo in those days). Joseph wanted to break off the engagement. And can you blame him? He’s engaged to a pregnant girl with no idea who the father is. She’s telling him she hasn’t been with a man, but God made her pregnant. That would be difficult for any man to swallow. It all sounds completely ridiculous.
But Joseph wasn’t just “any man”. We’re told in Matthew 1:19 that Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, was a good man. Matthew continues telling us an Angel appeared to Joseph to tell him Mary’s telling the truth, and he needs to marry her. He listens, and he marries her.
He could have run in any direction and that society would have approved. Instead, he did the unpopular thing, something that was sure to bring him ridicule and criticism. He married her. Joseph was a good man. He’s an unsung hero in the story, he barely gets a mention, but plays such an integral role.
Speaking of unsung heroes, many have become heroes, but not because they started out with that goal in mind. I mean, not too many when asked, "what do you want to do?" answer, "I want to be a hero."
It was a warm day on the 25th of June, in 1950, when North Korea attacked South Korea. There was much discussion in the US, but the outcome was America gets involved in the Korean Civil Conflict on the heels of WWII.
So a man enlists; a boy really. He wants to be a Marine. He wants to make a difference. So the Marines train him, and send him off to Korea.
His squad is always where the action is. He bonds with the men which happens during wartime. Your unit becomes your family. After a bit he’s promoted to Sergeant, and head of the squad.
As the story goes, Mr. John Songer, from Cincinnati, Ohio was in a squad that was on the front lines way too often. He had a young bride at home, but was committed to his squad and their efforts, a true leader, and courageous soldier.
When he was promoted to Sergeant he was given his own squad to lead. He remembers solemnly the coldest winter while fighting at the Chosin Reservoir where men lost fingers and toes and other extremities to frostbite, in uniforms and boots ill equipped for such bitter weather.
Sgt. Songer was loved and respected by his men for his quick dry wit during fierce battles to maintain the morale of his men. They came to love him.
Soon after, Sgt. Songer was given a new squad of men fresh from the States who had no idea what war and battle meant. It was at this same time that Sgt. Songer’s tour of duty was coming to an end and he would be heading home.
Sgt. Songer knew he had a beautiful bride waiting at home, a family, and safety, but in his own words, Sgt. Songer looked at these new fresh recruits and said, “if I leave now, these babies are going to die.” Sgt. Songer went to his commanding officer and told him he wasn’t leaving - he would stay with his men.
How many men would sacrifice home for a company of men he hardly knew? He only knew just by looking at their faces that they were ill-equipped for war and needed a leader. No one else stepped up.
Sgt. Songer was decorated with a Silver Star for his heroic efforts in one particular battle. As the Marine bulletin would write, “
"He displayed exceptional courage, initiative and professional skill in the performance of his duties, which according to the citation were "administering aid to eleven wounded Marines upon arriving within the defense perimeter of a besieged patrol that had suffered heavy casualties. Sgt. Songer then volunteered "unhesitantly" to search the area, where he killed one of the enemy and helped evacuate dead and wounded marines" [No Man Left Behind], the dispatch said.
Sgt. Songer's heroic actions served to inspire all who observed him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
Sgt. Songer intentionally put himself in harm's way to take care of not only his men, but those from other squadrons.
"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."
I think that applies to the willingness to lay down your life as well.
Mr. Songer now resides in College Hill in Cincinnati with his beautiful wife, one son in Cincinnati, and other children across the country.
During the 30 years we attended the same church, it is obvious to anyone how much he cares for the people around him – even those he hardly knows.
He’s at his church for the 3 weekly services, and participates in quiet, unassuming ways, like
- arriving early to help set up and greet newcomers
- shaking some one's hand and leaving money in it when he knows there's a need..
- cutting the huge lot of land owned by the church until someone finally took his mower keys away
- on missionary night he started a “drawing” when he gives crazy gifts related to the country from that night’s study that he purchased himself while telling jokes, mostly teasing the KY folk.
- teaching kids about tithing by watching the ones who he knows is putting in their tithe from a job, and returning it to that kid double what was put in the plate, telling them when you give to God first, God rewards you.
- He does things in the background. If he hears of an immediate need, he fills it, without anyone knowing it was he. He wants no credit for himself.
He battles with bad knees from the war, but never complains. He shows genuine care of those around him who have no idea of the daily struggles he faces from aging and caring for a wife with the onset of Alzheimer’s. He always puts his needs last.
From Joseph, to Mr. Songer, to now, this world still needs a few good men and women who aren’t afraid and will do the right thing even if it’s the most difficult thing. I trust you are cultivating these qualities in yourself and everyone who is part of your life.
The Mr. Songer’s of this world are rare. But it shouldn’t be that way. The generations that served selflessly in WWII and Korea are quickly leaving this world as they are now in their 80’s.
Who is going to be brave enough to step up to take their place? Are we and the generation we’re raising taught to have these esteemed qualities of the Mr. Songer’s of this world?
As John Wayne put it, "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway."
We are facing an uncertain future with a North Korea without Kim Jung Il, and an unpredictable "heir" to the dictatorship by the son he named as his successor. We are going to need people who may be afraid, but do what’s needed anyway because it's the right thing to do. I hope you and I choose to be included in that group.