I want to acquaint you a little bit with myself about who I am and how I got to be here. And why I am here today. First of all, to do that, I need to tell you some of the events that have happened, and it's going to jump around in terms of years. They are not in sequence in that way. I've selected them in this order in order to help you understand what it is that I want you to take away from this message this morning.
I was drafted into the Army in 1962. I went down to the draft board and asked them to place my name at the head of the list and draft me into the Army. I did that for two reasons. One reason I'll share with you in a little while and the other was that I did not want to serve three years. By being drafted I would only serve two years. I felt that was long enough to serve my country and have my obligations behind me and get the G.I. Bill and do whatever I wanted to do with that. At that time I didn't know what I wanted to do with that, either.
So, I served my two years and got out of the Army and I met my wife, Georgia, who when I met her and asked her how she got that name, she said it was because she was born in Georgia. That was a lie. She was born in California. But she had me hooked. We were married and we moved to Oregon and I went to the Oregon Campmeeting in the Portland area. One day at the conclusion of it, we went to the state fair which was not far away. We were walking around through the pavilions and into this one pavilion and there were a bunch of recruiters along the wall. They were recruiting for the various branches of the service. As I looked over at them, smiling smugly with my experience behind me, I had been a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, I had served my country, I had done it all, I had my honorable discharge so I was set to go.
The recruiter waved me over, so I went over there just as arrogant as could be, felling like "I'll put this guy straight." As I walked up to him, he said, "Not you! I'll talk to the young man behind you." I was twenty three years old, too old to be recruited into the Army. It made me feel a lot older than I was.
I also want to tell you something about the name of your church here. I had a Chaplain's assistant whoso name was McDonald. He was a very interesting character. In the time that he was my chaplain's assistant he probably filled about five books with experiences for me, and several heart attacks.
One day we were going to the field. We were in a jeep, he was my driver, he was my chaplain's assistant. Chaplains are non- combatants so the Army has to issue us an enlisted person to carry a weapon, an M16 rifle to keep us safe and protect us. he was driving me to the field and I was reading and there was something I had particularly asked him to bring in the filed with him. I don't remember now what it was, but I asked him if he brought it because he was very prone to forget things. He said, "No, I forgot it." I was probably a little irritated as I looked at him and I said, "Well, go get it." He started to stutter a bit. And I said, "NOW!" So he jumped out of the jeep. We were driving down the road about twenty five or thirty miles an hour and he just jumped out of the jeep, rolled down the ground. H scrambled to get hold of the steering wheel which is over here and I had my hands full of the books I was studying and trying to get that jeep stopped. I looked back and he had jumped up and was double-timing back into the garrison chapel to get whatever I told him to get. McDonald, Chaplain's Assistant. A great experience.
A lot of experiences in the Army I wouldn't trade for anything. I had very good friends there. One of my friends was a chaplain. He and I were going up on a jump. This happened to be a free- fall and so we were climbing to get a lot of altitude so we'd have a long jump. He was jump-master for this jump and was looking out the window. I wasn't paying any attention. There were several of us sitting in this Huey helicopter. I was sitting with my back to one door. The doors were removed for the free-fall jump. All of a sudden he turned to me and he yelled, "Get out! Get out!! Get out!!!" Well, it startled me and I got out. I was sitting by the door and I just fell over backwards and rolled out the door. Turning and tumbling and twisting and falling, I finally got myself straightened out and found where the earth was, looked around for my opening point and couldn't find it. I didn't know where I was. I looked up and there was the helicopter and my friend was waving at me. My good friend, chaplain. He went over to the drop zone and they jumped and got in and I was miles from the drop zone. I picked up my equipment and walked back. They didn't even send a vehicle for me. They let me walk all the way back. Good friends! People that take good care of you.
I was down in Panama, taking jungle warfare training, becoming a jungle expert. Part of the process of the training we were making a movement through the jungle. We had just crossed a river that I couldn't find the bottom on. We got across the river and we were going through the jungle and we started going up. Up and up an up. Finally all of a sudden we stopped, and we were in this triple layer canopy jungle. You can hardly see anything in broad daylight anywhere around you. All of a sudden I here everybody whisper, passing down a message. I waited for the message to get to me so I could pass it down to the next guy. And the guy in front of me turned around and said to me, "They want the chaplain up front." So I thought, "Oh, oh. Someone has probably been injured or bitten by a snake or carried off by a leopard or something. So I went on up the jungle path up and up and up until I got to the top. When I got to the top, one of the NCO's grabbed me by the arm and dragged me right into the stream of water. The first sergeant was there and started putting this Swiss repelling harness on me. "What in the world is going on?" I'm looking around and he jerked me around. And he said," Wait a minute Chaplain, we've got to get this straight." He hooked the ropes on me and said, "We're all going to repel down this waterfall, and we want you to be the first." "What waterfall?" I looked around behind me and about four or five feet behind me was a waterfall which kind of disappeared. I thought, "Okay, They want the chaplain to go first, so I'll go first." I looked down the waterfall and it looked to be about a hundred feet, maybe, down. So I kicked off and fell down a ways and decided I'd better check things out, so I put the brake on and swung back in under the waterfall and hit the rock face of the cliff. I kicked off again and went out and dropped. And did that about three times until I got to the bottom. Good friends.
It was Christmas just after the invasion of Panama. I'd been out across the country seeing soldiers and seeing wounded and taking care of the dead. I had been out about three days straight. I believe I had about one to two hours of sleep in those three days. I came in around Christmas Eve, and walked in this place where they had moved us and hadn't been there before. Windows were bare. I was just exhausted. A friend of mine flicked the light on and I walked through the room over to the window and started looking out through the window. I could see the jungle and the hills back in the distance, the town, the northeastern part of Panama City. As I was watching the dark of the hillside beyond me I saw a flash. It just registered on me that there was somebody shooting at me. Then about that time there was this "Thud." There was an impact on the wall. Sure enough, there is somebody shooting at me. So, I'm looking out the window and I see another flash. Then there was a thud on the other side of the window. I thought, "Why is this guy trying to shoot me?" Realizing what was going on, I was just in a daze. Another chaplain friend of mine ran up and grabbed me and yanked me to the ground, while somebody else flicked the light out, and dragged me out of the room. They can be good friends.
Sometimes events can get to you where you're not really realizing the dangers around you. Just too tired. Too tired to react, too tired to care, too tire to do the things you're trained to do. That's why it's good to have good friends around you.
I went to the National Training Center. I don't know how many of you know about our training centers. We have JRTC, NTC, we have a variety of different ones. The NTC is the National Training Center, and that's where we have a battalion of tankers who wear Russian uniforms, drive Russian tanks and use Russian tactics. The NTC is where we send our armor up against the to gain practice and training. The deck is loaded in behalf of what we call Op4, the bad guys. It's their sand box, and they know how to play in their sand box. They know where every ravine is, every hillside, they know how to operate in that environment. It's difficult for our guys. We think that we've got the better equipment, the better training. We go in there and just take care of things. We usually lose, at least the first couple times trying, until we get smart about how to do our tactics.
Well, I was involved in one of these exercises when I was in the 82nd Airborne Division. We were flying out there and it was a bad, bad weather time. There was a lot of wind blowing at Fort Irwin in California. The wind was about forty five knots and had been for three days. So, they told us that we would not jump: we would come over and we were going to go through the process and stand up, hook up, open the doors, and then they would sit us down and shut the doors and land. We'd do jump another day. So, we were all stood up, had out static lines in hand, and we were standing there waiting for them to turn the light off, shut the doors, sit down so we could land. All of a sudden, the jumpmaster got our attention and he said, "Ten knots wind in the drop zone." Not five minutes before that it was forty five knots. I mean, that's a significant drop-off in weather at that time. So, okay, ten knots. We can do this. Green light came on just about that time and we went out. As soon as my chute was open, I looked at the ground. I knew it was not ten knots in the drop zone. The ground was moving very rapidly under me. It was bad! Looking on the ground, I knew I was going to get hurt. I knew I was going to get hurt bad. There was nothing I could do. When I landed, I landed hard, I got dragged. The wind was pulling me across the desert through brush and timber and rocks and ravines and different things. It was difficult to get that parachute released because I had the old detente button canopy releases which they have now done away with. Now they have this stainless steel loop that you pop and it's gone. But the detente buttons have to be pushed in and then you've got to rock the release and pull forward and then the canopy is released. But what they didn't know, was, that when you get above about thirty knots, you can't do it. It's pulled so tight there is no way you can rock it and pull forward. So, drawing on my old experience in the early sixties, I reached back and got a hold of the risers and pulled it forward to my chest. All this time I'm doing forty five knots across the desert and being bounced around. Then I was able to get hold of the detente button and release it and let it go. One riser pull makes the air spill out of the chute and i stopped.
Unfortunately, our unit took a real beating that day. When it was all over, we had eight dead in the drop zone. We had another fifty who were either para- or quadriplegic, never to walk again. We had seven of the most trauma'd patients were flown to Loma Linda Hospital, who were unconscious, some of them for up to two weeks. We had another four hundred fifty that were hospitalized for various things broken, torn, or other damage done, surgeries needed for repair.
I stayed in the drop zone for the rest of that day and I spent the next day and night in a hospital giving encouragement to the wounded and injured. A training exercise deemed by a three-star general as acceptable casualties in order to gain the training we needed to function in case there was combat of a similar nature.
I tell you this, in order for you to understand why I am a chaplain, and why I'm here. In the book of Acts, chapter 9, verses 5 and 6 there is a question the every Christian must ask. It says, And he said, "Who art thou, Lord?" And the Lord said, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: Jumping down to verse six: And he trembling and astonished said, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
Now, I'm a sixth generation Seventh-day Adventist. I was raised in our churches, trained in our Sabbath Schools, tended our schools, a graduate of Pacific Union College, Andrews University, and I got my doctorate here in Georgia. I felt the calling to be a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but I didn't want it. In fact, it was the last job that I aspired to. There was a whole series of things that I wanted. I'd rather be a fireman, a policeman, a cowboy, you name it. I had a lot of jobs I wanted to be, but none of them was to be a minister. None. I did not want that. And it's because of the feeling of a calling to be a minister of God and not wanting to do that, that I went to my draft board and said, "Draft me."
Do you remember the story of Jonah? Jonah 1:1 says that God called Jonah to go and preach His message to save a people. Jonah didn't want to go and he ran. He ran for his life. He ran down to the sea and he we t down to the sea, and there he got on a boat and he went down in the bottom of the boat. And there was the rough seas and he got thrown out of the boat into the water and into the belly of the whale or fish and then he was taken down into the bottom of the sea. When Jonah had gone as far down as he could go, he decided, "I think with the options, I'd rather preach."
I went down to my draft board and they drafted me. I went down to Fort Ord where I took infantry training and advanced infantry training and became what they call today an 11Bravo, and 11BB. I went from there down to Fort Benning, Georgia and went through jump school. Then I went down to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I felt like I got about as far from God as I could get. I wasn't half wrong.
There at Fort Bragg, living the life that I chose to live, not the life I was called to live, I met my God one day on the road to Damascus. When I was confronted I could do only one thing. "Lord, wilt Thou have me to do?" The reason that happened to me was because I was on an airborne operation where another tragic accident happened. On this jump I was jumping a PA bag, today called a weasy bag, a bag with your equipment in it. I was part of an RTO observer team. I was to carry the radio to take communication to call in artillery rounds. I was ready to jump. I was number five in the stick. The captain, who was there as an observer, not part of our unit, disconnected himself from the other side of the plane and walked across up to me. And he said, "Private, I want to change places with you." So I gave him all my arguments why he couldn't. "It's a manifest jump, we cannot change places. It's in the rules. I am part of an observer team and if we don't jump together we'll never find each other in the drop zone. We need to be together in order to do our job." I'm arguing with him when the assistant jumpmaster walked up to him and asked, "What's going on?" He told him that he was going to change places with me. The assistant jumpmaster told him why he couldn't. That captain turned to that assistant jumpmaster and he said, "Sergeant, you may be in charge in the aircraft, but soon we'll be on the ground. You'll be a sergeant and I'm a captain." The sergeant looked at him and didn't say a word. He turned to me and disconnected my parachute and helped me across and hooked me up on the other side. I was angry. I was unhappy. I was mad that he had buckled under to that captain.
After I was hooked up and checked my equipment to make sure everything was okay, in a very short time I looked across and there he was in my place, number five in the stick. And I was on the other side. About that time, I was number three, and it didn't make any sense because we wanted to get out earlier, three gets out earlier than five. If he wanted to get out later, there's a whole airplane full of people behind me.
I felt something in my stomach just tighten up. There was something wrong. I didn't know what it was, so quickly I checked my static line and my equipment to make sure I was okay. About that time the green light came on. The first guy with the bag went out, the second one and I was third, I stumbled out. I got a good clean canopy. Again I thought something's wrong. Something is bad wrong. So I checked my bag. I released it and let it go down slowly. I checked it to make sure everything was okay. About this time I was real close to the ground let loose of that and grabbed my risers, looked around where I was and boom, I was on the ground. No problem. Hooked up my equipment and got my radio out of my rucksack with all the things I needed. A young soldier, coming off the drop zone, running passed me, knelt down and stopped. He said, " Hey, there's something going on back there. There's a lot of activity." I turned and I looked and there about two hundred to two hundred fifty yards from us there was a whole bunch of people milling around. And then I saw some jeeps coming across the drop zone. I noticed that aircraft stopped dropping people and were just doing fly- bys. I figured something had happened, but didn't know what it was.
I went of the other direction to my assembly point. I never found the other half of my forward observer team. I went about the training for the day, and when we got through, came back and instead of going in to the barracks where we always go, they took us back out to the drop zone. When we got there, they had these big flood lights on and everyone was line up by stick. I was one of the last ones there. I went in and found my jumpmaster, I didn't see the assistant jumpmaster. "I said, "PFC Smedley reporting." He turned around and he looked at me and he said, "You're dead!" And it gave me that sick feeling in my stomach again. I said, "No." He said, "I'll show you on the manifest. I have you being killed on this airborne operation."
What had happened was, we were in the lead aircraft. The airplane on the left side, we were flying vee's in those days, broke a guidance cable. It dropped off to the right. The pilot just barely gained control of the aircraft without hitting the plane I was on, and pulled in below and behind us. Just as he pulled in, the green light came on. The men on the other side of the aircraft from where I jumped came out and went through the propellers of that C130 turbo-prop. The assistant jumpmaster was killed, the man that changed us. The captain that took my place died, went through the propeller. The other half of my observer team went through the propeller. The two guys who had been in front of me went through the propeller. All dead. Nobody alive knew that we had changed. So they had me down as dead.
I went out in area "J" and I went walking around. It was a training area. While I was out there, I had my road to Damascus experience. I came back in real early in the morning and I called my mother who'd been worrying, who had know there'd been an accident, who had been trying all night to call Fort Bragg to find out if I was all right. She got through one time, and that one time she was told she would have to talk to the chaplain. And then the phone was disconnected and she couldn't get back through again. Convinced that I was dead, she finally, after praying all night long, told me later that she prayed, that she let go of me. She said, "Okay, God, he's yours. He's always been yours. And I'm going to stop praying that he's alive and safe and just turn him over to you." She felt a peace. About that time, I guess I came out of the field and made my phone call. The phone rang, and she picked it up and I talked to her and told her I was all right.
I had that experience where I asked, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" It's a redundant question. I knew what I had to do. There was no question what I had to do. I got out of the Army. I went to college. I trained to be a minister. I took a cal to Northern California Conference. I took my first pastorate in Ukiah, California. I went to Andrews University. Then the General Conference called me to be a chaplain in the United States Army. I've never regretted it. The Lord had been good to me. I've seen the world. I've ministered in many places. I've baptized soldiers in the Jordan River. I've been all over the world: South America, Central America, Asia, all over Europe, Mediterranean, Israel, Egypt. I've been a lot of places.
I stand before you now as a Seventh-day Adventist minister, as a chaplain in the United States Army, representing you to our young men and women who serve in the armed forces, there to protect their interests, care for them, and carry our message around the world. But now, I no longer ask, "Lord. what wilt Thou have me to do," but rather from Philippians 3:13, Bretheren, I count not myself to have apprehended but this one thing I do, "This one thing I do." I am a servant of the most high God with the privilege to be able to speak His massage to His people and to a lost race of His children. To redeem them and restore them in God's image, to give them the joy of the message of eternal life and of heaven, where we can spend the time with our Lord and Savior and walk those streets of gold with others who served in the armed forces of God, you His children.
"This one thing I do." I challenge you, stay the course, do not look for retirement, take responsibility in leadership when asked, serve as faithful soldiers that we may return home, home to heaven, home to be with our Lord and Savior, to be with our God. Be faithful.
Hymn of Praise: Scripture:
Lieutenant Colonel Larry Smedley is an active chaplain in the United States Army, and a Seventh-day Adventist.
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