Rendezvous with Destiny
Far away in distant and foreign lands American soldiers face danger and death at every turn. Poet and author Vicki H. Moss celebrates the life and reflects on the sacrifice of a soldier who lost his life in service while at war.
I've always struggled with attending funerals. After my father passed on, the struggle intensified. When I received an email that my Precept Ministry Bible leader's grandson had lost his life fighting in Afghanistan, my heart wept for Jan Priddy and her husband Don. However, attending the funeral wasn't an option — until I opened the attachment. When I looked into the young faces in the photo, Jonathon David Hall's life became personal. He stood in front at the far left. Another photo was of fellow soldiers standing alongside the tarmac awaiting the plane that would bring his body back home. Tears flowed. It was then I knew I had to be there to pay respect and honor this twenty-three-year-old young man who'd given his life so that I could live in a free nation.
When I arrived at Woodland Park Baptist Church for visitation, Jan and Don were occupied with someone so I walked over to the table where pictures had been displayed of Jonathon when he was a child. Sitting next to a sketch of a moose was a picture of a baby-faced blonde boy gazing back at me. A hockey ball cap and yearbook rested nearby. I was stunned to see car keys for a vehicle a young man would no longer drive. The 82nd Airborne coin and 101st Screaming Eagles patch caused my breath to catch in my throat. During WWII, my dad had served in both at different times. As a paratrooper, he'd jumped out of planes to fight behind enemy lines in Europe.
And there, nestled in its box, was the familiar purple heart as well as dog tags along with items that had been in Jonathon's pockets. Trained as a combat medic, everyone called Jonathon "Doc" and there was a small spiral notebook with a reminder that one of the privates had yet to get a smallpox shot, along with a note that read, "It's considered disrespectful to not greet people when you pass them." Dusty gloves rested next to a plastic container that held ear plugs. A black ink pen lay close to several one dollar bills folded over next to a small blue New Testament. Inside was a folded piece of paper with two verses "Hebrews 13:5 and 1 Corinthians 10:13." Momentarily overwhelmed, I had to leave to regroup before returning to offer condolences to the family.
While sitting in the auditorium, I looked up the verses. "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5. Turning to 1 Corinthians 10:13, I read: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
Why, God? Why was this young man, who sat at the feet of Kay Arthur in Israel as a young boy eagerly learning about the life of Jesus, taken? Why take him now when he had plans to be a doctor and save others?
I thought about the Screaming Eagles. Familiar with their motto, I knew that their first commander, Major General William C. Lee, promised his new recruits that the 101st had "no history but had a rendezvous with destiny." I'd read about their exploits so often.
They'd also been called "The Devils in Baggy Pants" by German General Rommel because he never knew when they would pop up in the desert of northern Africa. Dad had told me the stories over and over again. He was one of an elite division of fighting men. A paratrooper, he'd fought in every major battle but one and many smaller skirmishes. The patch of the 101st was the great American Eagle. The book, The Devils in Baggy Pants lay on a bookshelf in my family room. My life had been ensconced in their past. I'd jumped out of an airplane at 3,000 feet with an antiquated parachute trying to better understand my father's trials and tribulations.
"This is a fitting emblem for a Division that will crush its enemies by falling upon them like a thunderbolt from the skies." (From General Order Number Five.)
Jonathon's Brigade within the Division was called Rakkasans. And Jonathon David's name! He was named after David, the warrior king who was the apple of God's eye. Jonathan was the name of King Saul's son and David's best friend. They were a band of brothers. Pfc. Jonathon David Hall was a namesake of both. I was given no answers for why this promising young man was taken in the prime of life.
Later, I listened to Pfc. Ryan Claiborne tell about the fated combat mission. He stood erect, looking uncomfortable in a white neck brace and said, "I was driving the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, sitting just a few feet from Jon, when a bomb exploded beneath and flipped us. Unconscious, I awoke to find blood oozing from my mouth. I felt to see if my teeth were still there and then checked on the rest of the men who were now stirring. Unbuckling, I dropped from an upside down position. Everything was going textbook perfect though three others were injured. I waited to see if we would be ambushed but no one came. Everyone was going to be okay but Jon. God wanted Jon."
Flown back to an army hospital in Germany with massive head injuries, Jonathon's organs were harvested to save six Europeans — two were teenagers. Two of Jon's friends from back home, Randy Guintu and Joel McKinney heard about their friend's injuries from Jon's mother, Robynn Harrison. Tearfully, they reminisced about their childhood friend. "We kind of had our own memorial," said Mr. Guintu. "We went to his neighborhood, we had a pair of his shoes and threw them up on the power lines."
Air Force Lt. Col. Steven Hall, Jon's father, flew to Germany to spend the last twenty-three hours with his son. With no chance of recovery, the family made a difficult decision before escorting Jon back home. He said, "I was just so proud to be with him and salute him along the way…I just couldn't be more proud." Jonathon's mother, Robynn, and Tristyn, his sister, were also by his side in Germany before he was unhooked from life support. The long journey back to Tennessee was flown knee deep in grief.
During the memorial service, tears were salty while Lee Greenwood's "Proud To Be An American" was sung. Three generals were in attendance and Brigadier General Stephen Townsend offered encouraging words. Kay Arthur, our beloved Bible teacher, spoke. Officiating Pastor and Precept Ministry leader David Lawson reminded those in attendance of another sacrifice — God's only begotten Son — Jesus. Jonathon Hall had accepted the free gift and had given his life to the Lord.
At last, the funeral procession was escorted from the church to the Chattanooga National Cemetery and met by officers on horseback for the last stretch. Jonathon was honored with a twenty-one gun salute. Bagpipes wailed out mournful, yet comforting hymns.
I had arrived so saddened but left oh, so joyful. Expectant. Omniscient and omnipresent, God was always in control. Jonathon's passing was all part of the Master plan. And I also left the cemetery knowing that one of the Screaming Eagles— a Rakkasan—a soldier of love who had sacrificed his life so that his nation could be free and six Europeans could now live—had soared to higher ground to be with Jesus and others waiting to greet him. And if I was sure of anything, it was that my dad, another Screaming Eagle, was there to help welcome him home.
So thank you, Jonathon, for sacrificing your life so that the rest of us can enjoy living in a free country. And most of all, thank you Jesus for your awesome redeeming love and kindness in taking Jon back. Pfc. Claiborne said it well: "God wanted Jon."
When your rendezvous with destiny rolls around, what will be found in your pockets?
Note: Since this article was originally posted on my blog, it’s been read in several countries. One Vietnam Vet wrote to say he’d ridden his motorcycle in many military funeral processions since the Vietnam War and his heart had become hardened. After reading “Rendezvous with Destiny,” the tears finally flowed. And when another man read this story, he was so moved, he crafted a beautiful keepsake box from wood to hold the items found in Jon’s pockets. And I realized that as agonizing as it was for me to attend Jon’s funeral because of a still small whisper, and as excruciating as it was to gather my thoughts to write this article due to a gentle prompting, knowing the story touched one person’s heart made the journey worth the pain.