His name was Glenn Lawrence, and he was my great uncle. He gave me my first gun. It was an old 22 single shot, target rifle. It was an old rifle that he had bought to use to kill rats in his barn, but decided instead that a young boy needed a gun. I still have it and will always treasure it. Uncle Glenn was a collector of all types of animals. He had an old owl in a cage under the trees. He would catch rats and mice and feed them to the owl. He was the only person in the county to raise sheep and exotic cattle.
One thing that always intrigued me was that Uncle Glenn fought in the Great War. Not World War II, but the First World War. This is the war that took place in the beginning of the 20th Century. He was a young man looking for adventure and enlisted in the U.S. Army to see the world. He got as far as France and quite honestly, he had seen enough of the world for a lifetime. He was one of those young, enlisted men who fought in the trenches in France. He lived through being gassed by the Germans, suffering a terrible head wound, and for a while, was considered missing in action.
He never liked to talk about the war, but I would occasionally coax a story or two out of him. Once, I asked him how many of the enemy he had killed. He took a long time to answer. In a low, sad voice, he said, “Three, I killed three.”
A wave of sadness overcame him, and I never mentioned it again.
I would ask my grandmother (his younger sister) about his time in the army, and she would tell me stories that he never would tell. She told me about how they had received a telegram that he was missing in action. They didn’t know if he was dead or alive. It was only after the war and he was home that he told them what had happened.
It was in the heat of battle, and many of the men in his unit had been killed. He suffered a head wound that required extensive surgery and recovery and he ended up having a steel plate inserted in his skull to replace the damaged bone. After he was released from the military hospital, he was scheduled to be shipped back to the states, he defied orders and joined another unit and was shipped back to the front. Because of his actions, his records were lost by the Army and he was accidentally listed as missing in action.
He came home after the war, married his sweetheart, farmed and had five children. He lost his wife in childbirth during the birth of his fifth child. Now he was a widower with four young children and a newborn. He was all alone dealing with the Great Depression, and the side effects of his head wound. He was a farmer and during the summers the hot sun beating down on him in the field caused him to suffer from excruciating headaches. He had to quit farming. He survived the Depression by moving to Pontiac, Michigan, and working in the auto industry. After retirement, he moved back south.
It was during the winter of 1977 that they found him slumped over a lit space heater in his old rustic farmhouse. He had suffered a stroke and had fallen over the heater. He remained there several days before a granddaughter found him. When I saw him, he was in the hospital.
For some time, I had been concerned about his spiritual condition. We had talked about a great deal of things, over the years, but never about the Lord.
That night I asked him, “Uncle Glenn, have you ever trusted the Lord with your life? If you were to die today, would you go to heaven?” I will never forget his honest answer. “Dennis, I am a sinner. I know I am. I don’t know how God could forgive me, but I have asked Him to forgive me. I have trusted in Him.”
I left there that night with a peace that my favorite great uncle was right with God. It was just a short time later that he passed away. I remember serving as a pallbearer at his funeral.
My Uncle Glenn was the kind a man you would want to memorialize during this time of year as we pause in remembrance of those who paid a heavy price so that we can be free. He was that “citizen soldier” who left the comforts of home and suffered great hardship so that we could be free. Let us never take for granted the great sacrifice that others have made so that we can enjoy the great freedoms as American citizens.
Dr. Dennis R. Culbreth serves as senior pastor of Jasper’s First Baptist Church (www.jaspersfbc.org)