All through my college years I was careful to live out my faith, being consistent in my quiet time, in prayer and in church attendance. There was a Lutheran church on campus, but after one visit I knew that this liturgical approach was not for me.
So each Sunday I would walk three miles to a small independent Bible church outside the town. The little congregation welcomed me and I enjoyed the pastor’s good teaching.
In the spring of my freshman year, right before the end of second semester, I was sitting in the Sunday evening service, thinking about the difficulties of studying, the loneliness of feeling like a social refugee and the dread of three more years of all that stretching out before me.
Suddenly I thought, “I don’t have to keep on dealing with this. I can just finish out this semester, quit school and go home! I can just work for Dad in his tire shop.” My whole outlook brightened and the dark clouds of my gloomy thoughts lessened.
A few days later, when I arrived home, I talked with Mom and Dad about my decision. They listened kindly and then gave me some good advice: “Give it another year and then make a decision.”
With the first year of college behind me, and a whole summer of cutting and baling hay to earn money for my next year of school before me, I was willing to give it another try. This was another good lesson from my parents on following through, whatever the difficulty might be, one that would be important in my first job after college.
At college, Instead of taking gym class, I had decided to try something different and signed up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps. Freshman year this had just meant wearing a uniform once a week and taking some military classes, but in my sophomore year we began doing physical training and war games every Tuesday afternoon.
On the first day of physical training I showed up in my fatigues with my rifle, ready for action. I found myself first in one of three lines for a drill. We were told to crawl on our elbows and knees for sixty yards, while cradling our rifles and shouting as loudly as we could.
At the signal I dropped down and started crawling. Completing my sixty yards, I stood up and looking back was amazed to see that the guys from the other two lines hadn’t even gotten halfway yet!
“Well,” I thought, “I shouldn’t be surprised: I’m running cross-country, training ten miles a day while these other guys are sitting around smoking and drinking beer!”
The next week when I arrived for the training, I found that I had been promoted from private third class to the rank of master sergeant! When I asked the reason for the promotion, I was told that it was because I could crawl fast! Now I had a platoon to command and I had no idea what to do with them!
I said to myself, “If this is the way the army chooses their leaders, I’m not sure I want to join! Doubts about my future military involvement increased as the war games began. Each week, I ended up in front of a machine gun nest. “You’re dead!” said the referee. This happened every week without exception. It was not a good sign with the war in Vietnam going full tilt.
“If I can’t survive here, what will happen there?” I thought. I didn’t know that the Lord had already been at work and was going to protect me. In the spring of that year all the ROTC cadets were taken to a nearby war college for physicals prior to starting boot camp in the summer. To my surprise, after my exam I was given a 4-F rejection slip.
“You are blind in one eye and legally blind in the other. You would be a liability on the battle field, especially if you lost your glasses,” said the officer. “In addition, your history of asthma, your enlarged heart, bad back, having one leg shorter than the other and your flat feet make you unfit for military service. Rejected.”
And this in spite of my being in better shape than any of the other candidates! But I didn’t object. No, I was glad. More than that, I was ecstatic! I wasn’t going to die in some Vietnamese rice paddy after all. Machine guns were not going to be in my future!
So being blind in one eye turned out to be a great positive after all! God’s grace was clearly evident; He had used what looked like a tragedy in childhood to protect me from an early death in Viet Nam.
Picture: in my work clothes in summer after my junior year