The Beauty of Dirt

“Don’t touch that-!” a mother says to her little toddler son, who is playing with a stick that he found on the ground.

“Now don’t play in the dirt,” a grandfather says to his little granddaughter as they step off the deck of their house and into the backyard.

In both instances, the message being sent is well-meaning, clear, and unmistakable: Dirt is bad.

Upon reflection, I now beg to differ. There are different kinds of dirt, and they can be either good or bad. Too often, however, we too quickly assume the negative.

God made man from the dust of the ground (that’s dirt!), and, as one old farmer put it, “God don’t make no junk!” With the creation of the earth, God stopped making dirt, so we’d better take care of what dirt we have.

Sure, there are some impurities and other dangerous things in dirt, but we can’t condemn all dirt as bad just because of that. In fact, where would we be without it? Even with the advances made in hydroponic agriculture, we still need dirt to grow most of our foods. We need dirt for construction of homes and roads. And think of all the things that are made using different kinds of dirt. For example, bricks and tiles. And think of the things that are extracted from dirt–things such as gold, silver, lead, and iron ore. And diamonds!

We tend to get all worked up over dirt. Dirty hands. Dirty fingernails. Dirty faces. Dirty diapers. It’s not dirt itself, however, that is bad. It’s where it is and when it gets there that present a problem.

It’s not so bad for a child to have dirty hands if he’s playing. That’s a child’s way of learning. He’s feeling the dirt, getting to know it, its texture and qualities and characteristics. He scrapes it into a pile He scatters it about. He throws it into the air and watches how it falls back to the earth again. He throws clods of it. He builds highways in it. He makes hills and mountains of it. It gets into his pores and under his fingernails. He eats it.

Stop! That’s far enough!

There are limits to what one can and should do with dirt, even in an otherwise good pursuit.

I played in the dirt when I was a child. I built those highways for my Tonka and Buddy-L toy trucks. I tossed dirt clods into the air and hit them with sticks or threw them, pretending that they were hand grenades, and watched them “explode” in a cloud of dust. I slid in dirt when we played baseball. I got it under my fingernails and in my pores. Sometimes I even got it in my mouth, such as when my brother and his friends convinced me to play football with them and it evolved into a game of “pick up and smear–Dennis.” But I can’t remember ever eating it–or even wanting to.

No one had to tell me, “Don’t eat dirt, Dennis.” I just knew not to. Just as no one ever taught me not to eat worms. If I had tried to eat either, I’m sure that someone would have stopped me.

To an overprotective parent or a fastidious person, perhaps dirt is ugly. But to an archaeologist dirt is wonderful. To a mineralogist, it’s great stuff. To a farmer, it’s beautiful.

Jesse Stuart wrote of “the beauty of dirt.” He was a man of the dirt of the rocky hills and mountains of Eastern Kentucky. He saw that dirt was the root of man’s sustenance, the place of man’s labors, the home and playground of God’s creatures. He, like other people of the soil, recognized the beauty of dirt. Just as a sculptor looks at a lump of clay and sees a bowl or a pitcher or a vase, Stuart looked at the soil and saw corn and beans and okra and maple syrup and sassafras tea. The soil produced weeds and thorns and thistles as well, but they were the price one paid for the use of the good things that the soil produces for man.

Stay clean, of course, but learn to see the beauty of dirt.


The Womb of the Morning

I’m an early riser. I guess it was ingrained in me from my youth.

My parents were sticklers for punctuality. They expected my brother and me to be at the breakfast table when Mother brought the biscuits from the oven to the table with the sausage or bacon and eggs. He expected us to be ready to go to work with him as soon as he finished his breakfast and put on his work boots. And he expected us to get our jobs done when they were supposed to be done on the job site.

I guess that trait just rubbed off on me. In fact, I think that my parents’ training of us kids was so good that I became an even greater stickler for punctuality than they were.

I never wanted to be late for school or church. I never wanted to be late for meetings. Neither did I want meetings to start later than their scheduled time. After all, if I made a point of being on time to get to the meeting, the least the one in charge could do was start (and finish) it on time. As a teacher, I expected to be in my classroom early so I could get everything ready for the day’s activities and lessons. I expected the students to be on time. To me, rushing to their seats just as the tardy bell rang was being late. I expected them to get their homework assignments done on time, too.

As a morning person, my best time for devotional reading is early in the morning. Sitting in my recliner (but not reclining) with a cup of coffee and my Bible (and possibly a notepad or a commentary), I’m ready to begin the day. If I’m late getting up because I forgot to set the alarm, or if I fail for whatever reason to have that quiet time alone with God, the rest of my day is out of kilter.

Perhaps that’s why a particular phrase rang true to me one morning during my devotional time. It leaped at me from the page as I was reading Psalm 110: “the womb of the morning.” I began to meditate on its meaning for me. Now. Today.

A mother’s womb is the place of beginnings. For the developing baby, the womb is a place of warmth, quietness, nutrition, comfort, and safety. It’s a place for the development of something promising–a new life filled with potential. The womb symbolizes youth and the strength, vitality, and potential that accompany it.

So it is with each new morning. The early morning is the beginning of a brand new day. It is filled with promise and potential of what could be developed, of what could be produced, of fruitful accomplishment.

In the early morning, we look forward, get organized, plan, hope, and pray. We get our mental and physical potential moving. We begin to turn potential energy into kinetic energy and to develop that potential into reality. We produce something that will eventually bear fruit, sometimes immediately but at other times eventually.

The Scriptures speak often of rising early. Job did it (Job 1:5). Abraham did too (Gen. 19:27). As did Moses (Exo. 34:4-5). And so did David (Psa. 57:8). But the example of early rising that I like best is Jesus Himself (Mark 1:25). If He, the very Son of God, thought it necessary to rise early so he could go to a “solitary place” to pray, how much more should we?

I don’t know if Ben Franklin’s proverb “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” is a guarantee of any of those three alleged benefits, but following it surely helps one get a lot more done during the day than if he slept away half the day. Once one gets into the habit of early rising, failure to do so seems like such a waste of time, almost as criminal as stealing someone else’s property. It seems the next kin to sloth.

So here’s to rising early, to the promise that the “womb of the morning” holds out to all who will give it a chance to give birth to great accomplishments. It holds out potential for fruitfulness and productivity even in old age, when the womb is normally barren. Like old Sarai, whose womb was barren for so long and yet bore the son of promise in her old age, the habit of early rising can produce fruit for us even in the heretofore barren womb of time.


Reclusive poet Emily Dickinson wrote a short bit of verse titled “Nobody.” It proclaimed the virtue of being a “nobody,” someone who had no special significance or influence and received no public recognition. That’s how she wanted to be perceived because that’s what she thought she was.

I have often felt like that. I’m not famous for anything. I’m not widely known. Even when I go “back home” to the community where I grew up, no one knows me. When I left there to go to college in another state, no one, not even my closest friends or track teammates, kept up with me or what I was doing. Forty years later, when the hometown newspaper published an article about the release of my first book (along with my phone number and e-mail address, courtesy of the editor, who was a family friend), only two former classmates contacted me. Like Dickinson, I’m “nobody.” Are you nobody, too?

But then I’m reminded that God often uses nobodies, sometimes without their even knowing that they are being used.

Robert Fulghum wrote in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”

First, you are important to your spouse, even if he or she sometimes doesn’t seem to acknowledge your value. Then you are important to your children–or, if you don’t have children, your sibling’s children, or those of a friend or a neighbor. Even little kids whom you don’t know–or maybe haven’t even seen before. But they see you. They watch you.

To quote Fulghum again, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

But that also goes for the adults around us. They’re watching what we say and do. They notice how we deal with frustrations, disappointments, tragedies, and joys. They see how we treat others, not only our closest relations but also those who work for us or with us or for whom we work.

One day, in response to a statement by someone on Facebook, I replied, “It’s nice to hear from former students.” I wasn’t fishing (or is that phishing?) for posts from my former students but merely stating a fact. But I got several responses from people who had once survived one or more of the junior high history classes that I taught. Many of them responded. Soon, their posts turned from private messages to me to reminiscences among themselves about things that they recalled from my classes.

Many of the things that they mentioned I had long forgotten–but they had not. It was fun to be reminded of the incidents. (And a bit shocking as I read about how those junior high students now had children of their own who were older than the parents had been when they were in my classes!) It was especially humbling to know that a few of them had become teachers–even one a history teacher!–because of my influence.

I had never known, perhaps might never have known but for that Facebook exchange.

If you don’t think that you’ve had or are having an influence on someone else, think again. You might not be aware of the influence you’re having or have had in the past, but it’s there nonetheless. You might be a nobody in the world’s eyes, but even nobodies exert an influence on someone. Silent, unsung, unheralded. But important and influential to someone.

Teacher and author Jesse Stuart was right when he said, “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”

I hate to disagree with you, Emily Dickinson, but no one is really a nobody–not even you.

Rocket Ron and His Still Never Equaled Feat

While searching recently for some tidbit of information needed for a project, I happened across an amazing accomplishment by a player for a minor league baseball team in Tennessee, a feat that has to this day never been equaled.

One day in May 1952, a pitcher for the Bristol Twins did something that got him a quick ticket to the major leagues. His accomplishment seemed to be a harbinger of great things to come in his baseball career. It even caught the attention of the legendary Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers, desegregating baseball. His feat even had the experts comparing him to Christy Mathewson and Dizzy Dean. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues called his deed “the greatest individual performance in the history of baseball.”

Western Pennsylvania native Ron Necciai had signed a professional baseball contract right out of high school when he was barely 19 years old. He was assigned to the Class D minor league team in Salisbury, N.C., where the manager told the young first baseman that he was going to be a pitcher. Necciai did what he was told, but he admitted to the manager that he was a bit nervous. When he had pitched in high school, he had broken a batter’s ribs when a fast ball got away from him. Ever since, he had preferred not to pitch. But he would do what he was told.

His prospects for a successful pitching career didn’t look very good at first. In his first two games in the minors, Necciai walked six batters in three innings; he also surrendered seven runs. In another game, the opponents scored three runs without his getting a single out. Necciai was ready to throw in the towel, but the coaches prevailed upon him to give himself time.

He went to spring training in 1951. That’s when hard-to-impress Branch Rickey saw him pitch and sent him back to Salisbury, where he promptly lost seven straight games and again was ready to quit. But the manager offered to pay him an extra $90 a month to drive the team bus. After a pep talk by the coach and a chewing-out by Rickey for not throwing harder, Necciai stayed and won the next four games he pitched. The Pirates sent him to their AA team in New Orleans. And in spring training the next year, they had him pitch against the defending world champion Giants, and he pitched five shutout innings and that against such legends as Alvin Dark, Monte Irvin, Sal Maglie, Eddie Stanky, and Bobby Thompson.

Necciai’s pitching seemed to be improving, but his health wasn’t. He had a nagging pain in his stomach and was losing weight and vomiting blood. Doctors diagnosed bleeding ulcers, prescribed medication, and put him on a strict diet. The pain persisted. He asked the team to send him down to Bristol to get back into shape, and they did.

Necciai started the Opening Night game for Bristol, striking out 20 Kingsport Cherokees in a two-hit shutout. His next start was against the Pulaski Phillies, 19 of whom he struck out, and he beat them 7-4. A few days later, pitching in relief, he faced 12 batters and struck out 11 of them. The media began calling him “Rocket Ron.” (George Stone later wrote a book about him using the nickname as his title.)

Then came May 13 and the game against the Welch (WV) Miners. Necciai started the game despite not feeling well. His manager noticed that he didn’t look well either. But Necciai took some medicine and by game time said he’d do his best. And with his first pitch of the game he began to throw strikes. There were some errors, some dropped foul balls, a wild pitch, and a hit batsman, so it was by no means a perfect game. But there were also strikeouts. A lot of them. But Necciai wasn’t feeling well. In fact, between the fourth and fifth innings, he threw up in the dugout. Nonetheless, he kept pitching, and the strikeouts kept coming. By the end of the eighth inning, he had amassed 23 K’s. But he wasn’t keeping track; his mind was on the pain in his gut.

In the ninth inning, the first two Miners struck out, one swinging and one looking. The third batter came up and swung wildly at the third strike, but the ball squirted past the catcher for a wild pitch and went to the backstop, allowing the batter to reach first. Necciai had no idea was what happening; he just wanted to get the game over with so he could get something for the pain in his stomach.

The fourth batter of that inning also struck out. Necciai had struck out an unprecedented  27 batters in a nine-inning game, a feat that had never been done before. And it has never been equaled. Seventeen batters went down swinging; ten batters were sent back to their dugout on called third strikes.

Necciai was a relief pitcher a few games later, and he struck out the first eight batters he faced. In his next start, he struck out 24 while giving up only two hits in his third shutout in four starts. When the final stats of the season were calculated, Necciai had struck out an average of about 23 batters for every nine innings he pitched.

On August 6, the big team called him up to help them salvage something from a terrible season. As a Pirate, he faced the Chicago Cubs on August 10, and they pounced in the first inning, tagging him for five hits, including two doubles, and scored five runs. He ended up surrendering seven before the manager mercifully removed him for a pinch hitter.

Yet, the next night he came on in relief and pitched three no-hit/no-run innings, striking out five. But he gained only one win the rest of the season. And then he was drafted into the army. He injured a shoulder muscle and never managed a comeback. His baseball career was over after less than a month in the majors.

Necciai landed a job demonstrating sporting equipment at shows for outdoorsmen. He got married and had three kids. His ulcers suddenly vanished. He gained weight. When he retired, he moved to Florida, where the Bradenton Pirates had him throw out the first pitch at a spring training game on March 3, 2016.

Necciai’s career didn’t last long. But he wasn’t bitter, and he often said, “I gave baseball a nickle and got a million dollars back.” And he holds an enviable record that even Nolan Ryan couldn’t touch: he struck out 27 batters in one game. You can’t do better than that.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Put the Cookies on the Bottom Shelf!

An effective teacher teaches such that the lowest-achiever, the least capable student in the classroom, can understand. If the lowest student can understand a concept, certainly everyone else will be able to. . . .

The best teachers take complex concepts and present them simply and meaningfully to their students when the time and subject matter are appropriate and the students are ready to learn them. This does not mean “dumbing it down” or being anti-intellectual. It does not mean either resorting to mere entertainment or rejecting the teaching of higher-order thinking skills. It does not mean teaching junior high and high school students using one’s college class notes. And it does not mean assigning professional-level materials as “ancillary” or “supplemental” readings.

It does mean taking students from where they currently are, making them stretch (but not too much at once), and guiding them slowly onward, as they are ready and as far as you can take them.

Let’s start putting those cookies on the bottom shelf!

(Excerpts from Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught by Dennis L. Peterson, 2017, pp. 208, 215)

Copyright (c) 2018

Life-Long Learning

Every so often, usually around graduation time, one can see news stories about older people who finally complete their high school or college studies. The older they are, the better their stories seem.

As the typical story line goes, the person dropped out of school (whether high school or college) early for a variety of reasons: to enter the military during wartime, to support the family financially during the Depression or following the death of a parent, or some other trying circumstance. And then “life happened,” he or she got busy with the normal demands of life and just never had a chance to finish what he or she had started. But then the person retired and one day decided to “finish the job,” going back to school for that GED or college degree. And the news media cover the story, complete with film of the person walking across the platform to receive the diploma.

During the accompanying interview, the reporter inevitably asks the person what motivated him or her to go back to school when there was almost no opportunity to use any of the education. Quite often, the response is that the person simply wanted to finish because of a life-long dream that one day he or she would do so. And many of them simply wanted to continue learning. They discovered somewhere along the way that they loved to learn.

One year, I substitute taught two terms at Knoxville Business College (now South College) for an instructor who was on sabbatical while working on her dissertation. I had morning classes and evening classes. The former were made up almost exclusively by recent high school graduates who were still in “party mode.” They either were not working at all or worked part-time jobs flipping burgers or mopping floors. They had little motivation beyond the immediate moment. The evening classes, however, were made up primarily of two groups of students, all older, middle-aged or beyond: those who were in dead-end jobs and wanted to prepare themselves to get better jobs and those who were retired and just wanted to learn for the sake of learning. Guess which students–morning or evening–did better. It wasn’t even close; the older students won that hands-down.

Learning is a life-long process. The sooner one realizes that fact and develops a plan for directing that learning, the more positive will be the result. People who do soon realize that most of their learning actually occurs after they have completed their formal education in high school or college. In fact, the real reason for a college education is to learn how to learn. After that, one learns primarily either in the School of Hard Knocks or his own self-directed educational program.

The professions recognize this fact, and most professions include programs for continued learning for those in them. In my own life, for example, after I had completed my bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and began teaching, I attended various annual teachers conventions where the organizers offered numerous seminars and workshops on various topics designed to help us improve our knowledge and teaching. When I was an editor, I attended several conferences and seminars for that profession. And there were also numerous conferences for historians and writers.

But beyond those formal, professional educational opportunities, I found that the most effective and fulfilling opportunities came from following my own self-developed plan of learning. I have taken several classes from the Great Courses program ( http://www.offergreatcourses ), including courses in the American Civil War and the Third Reich. Both courses were taught by eminent scholars, experts in their topics: Gary Gallagher and Thomas Childers. I was so impressed with those courses that I’m going to take two more (on aspects of the writing craft) if the USPS will ever deliver them. The courses are a steal with the current 80 percent discount being offered by The Great Courses.

I’m currently enrolled in the first of what I hope will be many courses offered online by Hillsdale College. It’s an examination of Winston Churchill and statesmanship.  I can view the lectures any time I want–or can fit into my schedule. I can watch them multiple times if necessary. But the real incentive is that the courses are FREE!

But the greatest learning is what one does on his or her own. For example, with the Churchill course, I’m locating online and reading practically every speech, essay, or book mentioned in the video lectures about that great man and what he believed. They reinforce what the instructor has been emphasizing, further solidifying the information and ideas in my mind. That’s a lesson I learned from Dr. Carl Abrams. He encouraged me to read the books that were listed in the bibliographies of the books he required me to read for his class on the History of the South. From that habit came my first book, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, which I was led to write because of all I was learning by following Abrams’s advice.

The key to continued learning, however, is to have a plan. Don’t do it willy-nilly. Find a subject you want to learn about, and then develop your plan, listing books you want to read or courses you want to take. Then, do something with what you’re learning. Share your knowledge with others. Write an article or essay. Prepare a speech or presentation about the topic. Inspire others to follow your lead and develop their own life-long journey of learning.

Ronald Reagan said, “You can never be lonely if you have a good book.” But that is just the beginning. There are always more books out there that others can recommend on your topic. Try some of them, and then share your wealth of knowledge. When you stop learning, you begin to stagnate, and stagnant water stinks!

The Importance of Stories in Teaching

“Everyone loves a story. Watch people during a long verbal presentation such as a speech or sermon. Minds wander. Eyes glaze over. Heads begin to nod. But then the speaker begins to share a story about someone to illustrate his point, and all waning attention is restored. Minds sharpen and refocus. Chins rise from chests. And the listeners become more attentive. That is the nature of stories about people. We can capitalize on that fact by teaching through the stories of biographical study.”

[Excerpt from Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught, pp. 193-94, available at]

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

The Edited Life

I recently ran across two articles written by Joanna and Chip Gaines, and they made me think. Whenever I watched an episode of their popular TV show “Fixer-Upper,” I was amazed at how many irons that young couple had in the fire. I often asked myself, How do they do it all?! When do they relax?

Then, when I learned that they were ending their TV show, I thought, They’ve finally realized that they’re too busy. But no, they were merely shifting gears, taking one or two irons out of the fire and replacing them with others.

Joanna’s article revealed that her life actually thrives on simplicity. But that simplicity requires intentionality–purposeful focusing–or what she calls “living an edited life.” It is not the relaxation of doing nothing but of prioritizing and organizing to live an orderly and productive life.

Sometimes we find ourselves overburdened not by what others place upon us so much as what we put upon and expect of ourselves. We have to learn that we don’t have to “do it all” because God doesn’t expect us to do it all, and certainly not by ourselves. Joanna Gaines confessed, “[T]here’s nothing quite like the feeling of a lighter load, particularly when you can see in hindsight that you were never meant to carry all that stuff anyway.”

But she went on to say that reaching that point was not a one-time deal. Rather, it was a decision that had to be made “day-by-day, moment-by-moment,” because once it’s made, it repeatedly will be challenged as things come up, demanding our attention. Then we must make the decision again.

Having been an editor for more than fourteen years and having worked extensively with editors of my own writing for even longer, I can relate to her phrase “living an edited life.” Editing has its own demands, not the least of which are imposed deadlines. Some deadlines are well-scheduled so that an editor has the leisure to do a thorough job. Other deadlines (most, my experience has been) are tight, sometimes even unreasonable. In such instances, all the editor has time for is a “quick and dirty,” correct the basics, the most egregious errors.

Editing involves a lot of deleting. Word-count limitations and instances of verbosity, redundancies, and needless repetition demand it. And it’s not always an easy decision to determine what must be eliminated or deleted. But it must be done if the writing is to be precise, succinct, coherent, and orderly.

I think that’s what Joanna Gaines meant by “living an edited life.” We just have to bite the bullet and decide what must be cut from our busy, overburdened lives if we are to be able to relax and do our best at the tasks that absolutely, positively must be done.

The resulting less-cluttered life will leave room and time for the things that truly matter. And that’s what Chip Gaines’s article dealt with.

He revealed that he’s up at 4:00 a.m. (I can hear some of you groaning because you don’t even know what 4:00 a.m. looks like–except dark.) He does so because he’s not only a fixer-upper but also a farmer (or I guess in Texas he’s a rancher), and farmers know that they can get a lot more done with the animals early in the morning. It’s also quieter and cooler.

Chip admits that 4:00 a.m. is early and that the work is hard. But then he reveals the side benefits that sluggards and sleepy heads miss out on. He sees the stars brighter then against the sky ate its darkest. And “when I’m up before the world has woken . . . I have space to think and time to wrestle through life’s complexities.”

I need sleep as much as the next guy (increasingly so as I age), but I must say that Chip’s absolutely right. Although I’m lazier than Mr. Gaines, not rising before 4:45 a.m. (unless I encounter one of my insomnia nights), i’m up long before many other people. And although I don’t milk cows or goats or feed pigs at that hour (I don’t even have a dog to take outside), I do take advantage of the quiet in the house to read and meditate on God’s Word, coffee mug in hand, and prepare my mind for the day ahead.

As I plan, I sometimes realize that I won’t be able to get everything done to the level of quality I’d like, so I have to do some editing. I delete some things from the to-do list. I move other things to later in the week or even to the following week. And sometimes I decide that with some things that must be done, I will have to bite that bullet and content myself with a “quick and dirty.”

In the end, living an edited life turns our alright–assuming that you’ve edited according to the right priorities.

How about you? I’d be interested in knowing how you go about “editing” your life so that you achieve what must be done and still have leisure to enjoy the bright stars in the dark sky. What benefits have you discovered? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Assessing Davis’s Cabinet Members

“Although the members of the Confederate cabinet were, as individuals, talented and capable men, they were not particularly effective. The cabinet really never worked well together as a team. Some of them did not stay in office long enough to be effective. Others, arguably, were not effective because they stayed too long.”

(Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, p. 24)

Meditations on a Motto

For quite some time now, I’ve been researching my uncle’s World War II military service experiences. One of the most interesting findings was the motto of his unit, but more about that later. Since his and many other veterans’ records were destroyed in the St. Louis repository fire in the 1970s, I’ve had to piece together fragments of his experiences from other sources, tracing his steps through histories of the units of which he was a part.*

In the process, I’ve run across a lot of interesting details showing how and why those units deserve more credit than they have heretofore garnered. For example, the 3rd Armored Division fired the first shells into Germany, was the first unit to set foot on German soil, and advanced an amazing 102 miles in 24 hours, the longest such advance in history, and that against stiff German resistance. The 3rd AD also was responsible for capturing the largest number of enemy soldiers in two separate pincer movements that closed German escape routes in the Falaise Pocket (1944) and the Ruhr Pocket (1945).

The 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 3rd AD spent a record 239 days in active combat and fired 170,100 rounds, the greatest number of any unit in the 3rd AD. The 391st AFA awarded 28 Silver Stars and 133 Bronze Stars, six of them Oak Leaf Clusters (including one to my uncle).

Despite these achievements, the 3rd AD was (and continues to be) overshadowed by the 1st AD, commanded by the flamboyant, bombastic, and self-promoting General George Patton. Patton’s men did achieve much, and he proudly made sure that people knew of those accomplishments. The soldiers of the 3rd AD, on the other hand, quietly went about their deadly tasks and left grandstanding to others. They surely are the unsung heroes of World War II.

But what about that motto, the detail from my research that most profoundly struck my attention? The motto of the 391st AFA Battalion was “Honor Before Honors.” They achieved much as a fighting force, but, overlooked and overshadowed as they were, the men quietly and humbly returned after the war and “got on with life,” never making a big deal of what they had done or experienced. (As a kid, I never recall my uncle’s talking about any of his war experiences, and that despite all the carnage he witnessed and the two Bronze Stars he had won.)

The motto of the 391st AFA Battalion came to my mind as I was reading my Bible recently and came across Proverbs 15:33: “Before honor is humility.”

A lot of people want the honors, but few have the honor (character) or the humility that is prerequisite to it. They want to receive the accolades of men without having done anything worthy of the honors. They want the bragging rights but not the character required to deserve that right or to handle it appropriately. On the other hand, as commentator Matthew Henry stated, “Where there is humility there is a happy presage of honour and preparative for it.”

The men of the 391st won honors because they had learned and prepared themselves to wage a brave fight that would make a difference to the greater cause, regardless of who got the credit. The 3rd AD was called the Spearhead and led the assault into Nazi Germany but only because they had proven themselves in earlier combat. The 391st AFA Btn. was the point of that spearhead. My uncle (kneeling on his M3 Lee medium tank in the photo), was a driver for a forward observer of that unit. Because he took his forward observer to the very front of the battle, the place of greatest danger, he was surely the tip of that point.

If the motto “Honor before honors” is true for a military combat unit, it is even more applicable to the spiritual condition of individuals today. How honorable and humble are we? Are we deserving of hearing our Lord’s “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”? Food for thought!

* [Sources searched include Spearhead in the West (history of the 3rd Armored Division); Combat History of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Battle History of “A” Battery, 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Armored Attack 1944; Armored Victory 1945; volumes 5 and 7 of the “Green Books,” the official government history U.S. Army in World War II; and many lesser-known publications.]

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson