There is something about the power of an amazing story that lives on in the memories of the listeners for years and years to come. Too many times today we are running at such a hectic pace that information to be relayed is reduced to 'bottom-line facts'. A friend or neighbor launches into a tale and we soon grow impatient: Can you sum it up in a minute or less? Better yet, maybe the length of a TV commercial?Earlier this summer however, hundreds and hundreds of people from the Octorara area sprawled out at twilight along the OHS soccer field for a special night to honor America and all of our brave men and women fighting in Iraq. The special event, held by New Day Community Church of Atglen, was intended to especially honor Corporal Brandon M. Hardy who lost his life while carrying out combat operations in Al Anbar, Iraq on April 28, 2006. Every American there that night had the opportunity to hear the story of a hero.
Running across the giant video screen were images and memories from his life. The oldest of four children, Corporal Hardy decided at age 10 to join the military. After graduating from Octorara in 1999, he left for the Air Force. During his military service he progressed rapidly, finally reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant. Though his accomplishments had been many, he still wanted to do more and believed this goal would be met by joining the Marines.
His mother, Jill Hardy, spoke about her son's strong Christian faith and deep commitment to keeping America a free country. On the website his family has set up to honor him, we hear those beliefs in these words: "I am an American fighting in the armed forces which guard my country and our way of life," said Corporal Hardy to his family. "I am prepared to give my life in her defense." Honorable and unbelievably brave words from someone who did not spend his life taking the easy path.
Another soldier who chose to put his life on the line for our country is well-known war hero Senator John McCain. On his 23rd aviation mission his plane was shot down in North Vietnam and he emerged from the wreckage with two broken arms and a broken leg. Immediately seized by the North Vietnamese, he was taken to a prisoner of war camp that became known cynically as the "Hanoi Hilton." Details of the brutality he survived during his five-and-a-half years in captivity by now have become widely known. When asked by a reporter how he lived through the isolation, the torture and the beatings, McCain replied, "What sustains you is faith in God, faith in country and faith in your fellow prisoners." Last week Americans also learned that when John McCain was given the chance for early release from the camp he turned it down, choosing instead to think about what was best for the other men in his unit. Though he suffered horrible cruelty, he does not regret his choice. "I am one of the lucky ones," he said," so many men had it much worse than I did."
All of us who are American need to make sure these stories never die out and that we take the time to listen. We need to think often of the Brandon Hardy's and John McCain's among us who have given everything and faced evil so we wouldn't have to. These words from the Bible testify to the power of unselfish acts: "Greater love has no man than he who would lay down his life for his friends."