In Doug Munton’s excellent book, “Seven Steps to Becoming a Healthy Christian Leader,” I was fascinated by an account of Colonel Lucien Greathouse, a Union officer in the Civil War. Munton was speaking in Vandalia, Illinois, and while browsing the old cemeteries there he ran across the tombstone for Col. Greathouse.
That gravestone must have been rather wordy because Munton reports that it says Greathouse “led his command in forty pitched battles,” and quotes two generals with strong endorsements of the officer. General William Sherman, under whom Greathouse served on the march into Atlanta, said, “His example was worth a thousand men,” and General John Logan called him “The Bravest Man in the Army of Tennessee.”
On July 22, 1864, on the outskirts of Atlanta, Greathouse was killed, holding in his hands the American flag. Then, the kicker….
Munton writes, “And when he died in July of 1864, he was two months past his twenty-second birthday.”
This week, I shared that story with a couple of young pastors in my office. I said to them, “There’s a sermon illustration there. I don’t know what it is, but there’s one there.” We spent the next few minutes analyzing this brief account of the young officer’s life and untimely death, and finally figured it out.
What made this man so remarkable, of course, is his youthful age for that high a rank. As uncommon as that seems to us, it appears to be the rule that in wartime, rank advancements can occur at lightning speed. We recall that George Armstrong Custer was made a general in the same Union army at the age of 23. Then, when the war ended, he was dropped back to the permanent rank of captain, a real comedown. When he died at Little Big Horn in 1876, I think he was a lieutenant colonel.
Back to the story of Colonel Greathouse and the point our young pastors came up with: In wartime, the usual rules go out the window and you take drastic steps to accomplish daring purposes.
I asked the pastors if any had heard the news that morning. The FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge of the New Orleans office, Jim Bernazzani, was reporting a new initiative his office is conducting against the drug trade in our city. The night before, in cooperation with the New Orleans Police Department, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, and ATF, the FBI had arrested some people who were selling the purest of heroin to students at one of our inner city high schools.
A 15-year-old student had died from the heroin, and the men who had sold the drugs were caught and charged with her murder. The FBI agent told his audience that law enforcement officers were horrified to find our teenagers messing with the hardest of drugs. Then, he told what they’re doing about it.
“My men are going to see the parents of these schoolkids. We’re knocking on their doors and telling them what their teens are up to, and calling on them to get involved in their lives.”
“Isn’t this unusual?” he was asked. “Absolutely. We’ve never done anything like this before. But we are in a war on drugs, a war to save our kids, and we’ll do whatever it takes.”
There it is: in wartime, you take extreme measures to accomplish drastic purposes. Nothing routine applies any more.