Much has been written about the power of faith during times of struggle, including and especially during times of war.
The saying that "There are no atheists in foxholes" holds almost universally true, though the soldiers, sailors, or airmen (or -women) may call their god by different names. It is the provenance of those called upon to fight for their country, or their deity, to find strength in faith (if they so desire), even if it is a faith they had previously forgotten or held with little regard. While in the words of General William Tecumseh Sherman "war is hell", God has the capacity to help the individual warfighter (and civilian) experience the help and strengthening hand of Heaven during his or her service.
The inspirational servant Mother Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, honored in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, once said, "There's nothing more calming in difficult moments than knowing there's someone fighting with you." Anyone who has "felt the rumble of the guns", "heard the snap of the bullets" or "fired in anger" knows intimately the comfort that comes from knowing that you are not fighting alone, and what greater "foxhole buddy" can there be than God?
Countless soldiers can testify as King David did that during their time in combat, "The Lord (was) my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I (was) helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him." (Psalms 28:7).
One such witnessing veteran was my grandfather, 1LT Andrew Carrico, who during World War II was a paratrooper in the famed 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division. As a platoon leader in Company D, Grandpa saw some of the worst fighting in the Pacific Theater on Leyte and Luzon and after nearly of month of brutal and bloody warfare he wrote home to his wife Lois, "I heard more than one man say, 'If I didn't learn anything else I learned how to pray.' I don't want you to let me forget God when I come back, honey, because He certainly hasn't forgotten me." (letter, December 28, 1944)
Indeed, the fires of war forged a strong faith in Grandpa, and many of his young comrades. The average age in the 511th PIR was just 21 and their legendary commander, Colonel Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen made sure to keep the fires of faith burning bright. While the regiment was still training stateside, Hard Rock made Sunday service attendance mandatory and the cocky paratroopers came to trust and love the chaplains who would soon go with them into combat, to the very frontlines themselves.
Known as The Angels, as the young paratroopers prepared to enter the jungles and mountains of Leyte, D Company's PFC Everette M. Hagemeyer pulled items from his overloaded pack and called them out as he heaved them away. The final item raised several eyebrows when he cried, “Goodbye, Good Book!” before gingerly setting his Bible on the ground.
Chaplain CPT Lee Walker made sure to remind the boys that God would go with them, even if their Bibles did not (many did take their Good Books, but Leyte's rains soon ruined them). Chappie also packed his own Bible as well as a .32, a .38 and a .45, which led some of the Angels to say that Walker was the most heavily armed chaplain they ever saw.
Grandpa and the 511th PIR would soon encounter Japan's 16th and 26th Infantry Divisions in those mountains, all while enduring "the worst conditions imaginable" Grandpa noted during Leyte's torrential monsoon season. The Angels would suffer from hunger, thirst, exhaustion, tropical diseases, exposure and, of course, the nightmares of close combat with their enemy.
Even so, Chappie Walker and the divisions seven other chaplains (not to mention the paratroopers' parents) would have been proud to see how the young Angels, who were known to fight at the drop of a hat, shared scriptures and thoughts of faith with each other. Prayer, both private and together, became an unbreakable source of strength and comfort and led to one of the first miracles that the Angels would attest to for the rest of their lives.
Here are two verifiable stories from the division's history that the Angels felt demonstrate times when their prayers were heard and Heaven intervened.