No One Gets Left Behind
Private Stephen Jones cringed. He could see Captain Stark coming his way and knew that meant more ridicule. Jones wasn't the only one to receive it. No one in his division liked Captain Stark. He had tried to pray about his dislike for the Captain, but it seemed that his prayers were in vain. With a war having begun a short time before, it wouldn't be long until the entire division was shipped to the battlefront, but Jones wondered which would be worse, the war or the Captain.
"Hey, Preacher," the Captain said, "what happened to the front of your shirt?" The Captain always called him "Preacher" because he was religious. Jones looked down at his shirt. Apparently he had dropped some food on it at dinner without realizing it. The Captain gave him a condescending look. "Clean it," he barked.
Jones gave his rote answer and went off to clean his shirt. As he scrubbed it, he wondered how long it would be before the division would be shipped out. Little did he know how close that day was.
Private Jones and his division were deployed days later. Scared, and feeling very far from everything he loved, he prayed. He prayed to be brave, to obey orders, and to give his future to God. Captain Stark walked up to him, "Well, if it isn't our dear little preacher boy praying up a storm." Jones looked up at him. "I'm giving my future to God," he replied. Stark smirked, "Prayer's not going to save you, boy. Not when there's no one listening. Keep praying, and you'll be fodder for the enemy."
When they landed on the beaches, it was hit and run. People were dying everywhere. Jones put his faith in God and kept going. Finally, they knocked out the enemy pillboxes and went further in. After all he had been through, Jones was unharmed. His comrades gathered around him after they made camp and spoke excitedly about his bravery. One man created a big fuss, "Everyone was falling back. The Captain couldn't keep us charging, but someone spied you as you kept going, and your courage was enough to keep the rest of us moving forward." The Captain came up as this little tirade was playing out. "Basking in the glory, huh Preacher? Don't get used to it. You know what they say about war."
Jones was far from basking. People he knew had died; friends had died. He had grown up in a family whose motto was, "No one gets left behind." The Captain overheard him telling one of his friends about it and mocked. "This is the Army," he said, "You can't bring your preferences here." Before Jones went to sleep, he swore he would do the best he could to not leave anyone behind.
As the war continued, Jones found his vow harder and harder to keep. He had helped several people hobble off battlefields, but he was heartbroken that he couldn't help more. He was sometimes torn between his duty as a soldier to keep fighting, and his conscience that told him to help the wounded. "I'm not a medic, I'm a soldier," he would tell himself, but he couldn't tell himself to shut out the cries of the injured and the dying.
Several months later, the soldiers assembled once again to receive their orders from Captain Stark. "If we do our job right," he said, "this could very well be the last battle of the war." A great cheer rose up from the men. They would get to go home. They would see their families again. Stark continued, "We are going to go in and create a diversion attack while the main force enters the compound to capture the leader. Without their leader, the enemy won't fight. We have to keep fighting as long as we can to give the main force enough time. We'll hold out as long as we can, then we'll retreat. So, let's get out there and make this the last battle of the war."
The battle lasted all morning. By the afternoon, it was finally time to retreat. Bullets flying past him, Jones prayed that they had given the main force enough time. The compound would have been highly secured, although security wouldn't have been as tight because of the diversion.
As he ran, Jones let his thoughts flood over him. He thought of the people who had died in this last battle. That morning they had cheered with everyone else; they had rejoiced at the thought of returning to their families. Instead, their souls had returned to their Creator. He thought of those who were not saved, for there were few in that division who were Christians in the true sense of the word. They would have gone from one torment to another. The thought made him wince.
Suddenly, someone running past him shouted, "The Captain's been hit!"
"To the devil with him," someone said. "I'm not going back," shouted another. Jones stopped dead in his tracks, at war with himself. Why should he go back? The Captain had never liked him, in fact, he had gone out of his way to make Jones and everyone else feel miserable. Then his mother's words came back to him, "No one gets left behind." Jones turned and ran back onto the battlefield. Shouts followed him, "Jones, come back! He's not worth it! You'll get yourself killed!" He didn't care. He would try his best to save the Captain, just as he had tried to save others.
The look on Captain Stark's face told Jones that he was the last person the Captain had expected to see. "What in the world are you doing? Didn't you hear the command to retreat? Get out of here before you get yourself killed." Jones didn't speak, but quickly took in the severity of the Captain's wounds. If Jones could get him back to the aid station, Captain Stark would probably live. Jones looked at him, "Can you stand?" The Captain looked like he hadn't heard right. "Well, yeah, I–I think so," he stammered as he slowly and painfully got up. Jones put his arm under the Captain's shoulder and helped him slowly across the battlefield. Everyone else had retreated back to camp, so enemy fire was less frequent, but more accurate. An enemy bullet whizzed past the Captain's head. "Leave me," he said, "go back to camp. You'll get yourself killed out here." Jones looked him in the eye, "No one gets left behind."
Slowly, they continued on. Captain Stark had never known kindness such as this, and it boggled his mind. Enemy fire had all but ceased now. Finally, the Captain decided to ask the one question that was foremost in his mind. "Jones, why are you doing this?"
"Sir, when I was young, I couldn't have been more than 6 or 7, my younger brother and I were playing in the woods. Somehow or other we got too close to a mother fox's den and she came out armed for bear. My brother and I took to our heels, each trying to save ourselves." Jones expression became much more serious now, "I was older, I should have been trying to protect him, but instead I was focused on saving myself. I didn't look back until I was inside the house. My brother was not behind me. The whole family went out looking for him. Turned out, the fox had gone back after chasing us a certain distance, but my brother had got lost. He wasn't hurt at all, just a little shaken.
"As you can imagine, when we got home Mom and Dad had a nice little talk with me. I don't remember everything that was said, but I have always remembered what my mother told me. She said, 'Stephen, in this family, no one ever gets left behind.' So I guess you need to thank my mom for your getting off that battlefield alive." For the first time in all the years they had known each other, Captain Stark smiled.
They could see the outline of the aid station now. It wouldn't be long, and they would be safe. Then, out of nowhere, a shot rang out. Jones shouted and fell to the ground, taking Captain Stark down with him. The Captain got to his knees and looked at Jones. Jones was dead.
Not long after, the war was over and Captain Stark was home, but he did not rest for long. He discovered the town where Jones had once lived and went there in search of his family. The family was very kind and befriended him immediately. He went to Church with them and soon became a baptized member, but he was still restless. What was it that kept him so uneasy? Finally, he figured it out. He felt compelled to preach the Gospel.
Years later, as the preacher of a small church, Stark gave a special sermon. "Today," he said, "I'm am going to tell you about an extraordinary young man I once knew. Most of you know that I was a captain in the Army years ago and that I was not someone you would want as your commander; but there was one man who changed my life completely, a man who gave his life to save me. This man was Private Stephen Jones, and he truly went the extra mile in his life. Indeed, his last act was not only an extra mile, but a personification of the words of Christ found in John 15:13, 'Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.'"