Being in the right place at the right time

May 23, 2012

Back in 2008, my friend Dave McNeil (at the time a full bird Colonel in the US Army) invited me to tour the battle sites in Normany with active duty paratroopers. Since the 1980’s, the US Army has taken groups of paratroopers back to Normany to study the battles there, to learn from those battles, and to reenact the paratrooper operation of D-Day. Dave has been a critical part of planning and pulling this off, and has hosted Presidents and other heads of state as a result.

I’d never “crossed the pond” (i.e., the Atlantc), and thinking that I may never pass this way again, I gave myself three days in Paris to tour around. For the record, Paris in three days is flat out exhausting. I did not “see it all” by any stretch of the imagination, but I saw what I wanted to.

From Paris I rode a train to Normandy, met Dave, settled into the 17th century manor house of a 9th century chateau, and the tours began.  Along about the second or third day, I was seated at a luncheon with several of Dave’s subordinate officers, who asked “How do you know Colonel McNeil?” I explained that I was his Pastor, which opened up a great conversation with them, along with a British officer who was with us, as well.

The next day, as the group of officers were gathering after lunch to tour the chateau and hear it’s history (it was used by the Germans as a base of operations during the war, and still bears some of the marks of the war-even on some internal walls), I was approached by one of the U.S. Army Captains. He explained their practice of reenacting the jump on the Saturday closest to D-Day, then pointed out that while they like to have their Chaplain pray with them before a jump, they did not have a Chaplain with them. Would I be willing to fill in?

“Honored to be asked, happy to say yes,” I replied.

Two days later, I shivered in the cold and then prayered for these soldiers–American, British, French, German, and Italian. At the end of the prayer, I invited them to join me in the Lord’s Prayer, and listened as I prayed and heard other languages. I was humbled, right afterwards and later, after the jump, to be thanked by several of the troops.

The next day, as we stood and looked over Omaha Beach, the commander of the German troops approached me. He thanked me for “what you did yesterday,” and I quietly admitted that it was my honor.

“You don’t understand,” he said. Then he went on to say that he had many troops under his command who were from the former East Germany, and “they have no belief,” he said. They knew nothing of the Christian faith, and he said the he tries to talk to them about having a deep faith in God. He said he points out to them that it is not something you put in your pocket when you jump, but you must carry it in your heart at all times.

I stood there, shivering in the chilly breeze, looking over the beach on which so many lost their lives, and let the Commander’s words sink into my heart.

Maybe, just maybe, I had travelled and come this far, so I could say a simple prayer, that would be a seed, that one day, may bear fruit in the life of someone I do not know, and will never see.

That was one remarkable trip, and it was worth it, just to be in the right place at the right time.

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One Response to “Being in the right place at the right time”

  1. Betsy Bunte Says:

    Chuck, Thank you for sharing this very special and personal story with us. What a privilege for you that day to pray with and for those men! I “salute” you!

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