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

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A Trip Down a Rabbit Trail

Whenever I begin to do online research, such as find a specific detail or statistic, there’s a good chance that I’ll end up being distracted by some interesting but irrelevant bit of information, and off I’ll go, wasting time by chasing down the proverbial rabbit trail. Sometimes, however, that little side trip can be instructive, fun, and sometimes even productive.

Such was my fortune while looking for a poem that I wanted to quote in this blog post. Alas, you’ll just have to wait until a later post to find out what that poem was because I want to share with my readers what got me sidetracked. Maybe you’ll even find it instructive, too.

My “find” was a collection of issues of Retail Clerks International Advocate, apparently a newsletter for salespeople, published in 1922-23. Each issue included a section of pithy comments designed to improve individuals’ salesmanship skills. The feature was titled “Pointers for Clerks on Salesmanship.” I found several of the statements are good advice for not only selling but also for living life. Here are several of the gems.

  • “The employee who simply ‘puts in the time’ is by and by put out.”
  • “No man can learn to enjoy life until he first learns to enjoy his work.”
  • “When you begin to fight back at the little daily annoyances, then you are the worse for them. Try to ignore the little things.”
  • “Your reputation will outlast your riches. Put reputation first.” [I would substitute character for reputation in this instance.]
  • “We all benefit by being called to account for our mistakes. If no accounting was ever necessary, we would all fall oftener.”
  • “Winning back a customer who has quit buying of your house because you have offended him, or because he thinks the house did not treat him right, is a tough proposition. . . . It takes great tact and a lot of diplomacy, and yet a diplomacy that does not show itself. The art of arts is to conceal art. . . . It will pay to acquire the art of the diplomats. It will pay better to avoid offending customers.”
  • Truth builds good will–your greatest asset.”
  • “Integrity is the foundation of prosperity.”
  • “The merchant or clerk who has reached the point where he thinks he cannot constantly improve on his methods is a ‘has been.'”
  • “Let your work be your best advertisement.”

Think about some of these statements for a few days. Then check back on Friday to find out what important poem I was going to share but that was put on hold while I chased that wackety wabbit down the sidetrack of distraction.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Reflections for Father’s Day

Albert, Prince of Belgium, visited the farm.

President of his high school senior class. Officer in the Halls Community Club. With his father, a productive dairy farmer whose farm was selected as a TVA test-demonstration farm for the education and improvement of farms not only locally but also nationally and internationally. Successful small businessman as a local brick mason, known for his honesty and work quality. Deacon and Sunday school teacher.

This is a worthy resume for any man. But one other entry that could be added to those achievements is much more important to me: that man was also father–my father. Daddy.

Daddy was not a perfect man. No man is. But he was a godly and dependable man. If he said something, you could count on it. If he told me that I’d get spanked if I disobeyed, I knew–from experience–that it would come to pass even as he had said it would. (Yet, I got far fewer of his spankings than I deserved.) If he told a client that he would do a job for a certain price, that’s exactly what he charged, even if he had to “eat” expenses that pushed his costs beyond the stated amount. He refused offers of additional money to push one client’s project ahead of a project of another client on which he was already working.

Daddy was not only a man of his word but also a man of the Word. Although he was not a good reader (his mother had to read his high school reading assignments aloud to him or he never would have finished them), he read his Bible faithfully. (His pastor, O.V. Edwards, wearing a black jacket in the photo of the church project to the left, taught him to lay brick while constructing their new church building. Daddy is to the far left in the photo.) From his own Bible study and the preaching and teaching he received in church, Daddy accepted Christ and developed his doctrinal beliefs and convictions. And he was firm in those convictions, come what may. He sometimes faced opposition over those convictions, but he stuck to them, even at the price of loss of friends. Although those former friends disagreed with him, they secretly admired and respected his commitment to his convictions.

Daddy was not without humor, although it was often dry or bent toward good-natured pranks and teasing. He once told a laborer who had forgotten his jacket on a chilly morning to stuff scraps of fiberglass insulation into his shirt sleeves. The uninitiated worker quickly became initiated by the itching that the insulation produced. Daddy also loved to tease his children when they were young and especially his grandchildren. But teasing was his way of showing people that he liked them. If he didn’t tease a person, it was a sign that he was ambivalent toward the person.

From the time my brother Dale and I were old enough to get into trouble at home, Daddy made us go to work with him, where he kept us so busy carrying bricks, mixing mortar, and either building or tearing down scaffolding that we didn’t have time to get into trouble. If we didn’t have anything to do, he found something, even if it was cleaning out the tool box in the bed of his truck. At home, he kept us busy mowing the lawn, weeding the strawberry patch, removing pruned grape vines, or hauling off wheelbarrows full of our garden’s greatest crop–rocks.

Occasionally, Daddy would find time to “pass ball” with us, throwing a baseball back and forth–on the ground, in the air–to help us hone our skills. He even tried to teach us to throw a knuckleball, a skill that Uncle Homer, a part-time St. Louis Cardinals scout, had taught him when he was a child. His knuckler was easy to see (because it rotated almost none, the seams were clearly visible as it came toward me) but hard to catch. When I did catch it, it stung my gloved hand as much as a hard fastball did. I never did master that pitch, but it increased my appreciation for the skill of such great major league knuckleballers as Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro.

Other boys might have had fathers who were easier on them, letting them do whatever they wanted and not spanking them when they did wrong. Others might have had fathers who sought to buy their affection with material things. And others might have had fathers who taught them by their example how to get ahead in this world and to gather to themselves wealth or fame. But Daddy gave us kids something much more valuable. He taught, by his example, a love for God and His Word and the character qualities that befit someone who claims the name Christian.

I will forever–on not only this Father’s Day but also every other day–be grateful that God gave me him as my daddy.