Untold Stories of Heroism
About the Guest
This Memorial Day Weekend hear stories of lesser known, but no less valiant soldiers--and families of soldiers--who sacrificed for our freedom.
This Memorial Day Weekend hear stories of lesser known, but no less valiant soldiers–and families of soldiers–who sacrificed for our freedom.
Untold Stories of Heroism
Michelle: It’s on a weekend like this, Memorial Day 2019, when we realize, in a fresh way, that freedom isn’t free.
Male #1: For those who fight for it, liberty has a cost that the protected will never know.
WWII Radio: “Soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, you are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemies will…”
Male #1: For those who fight and almost die, freedom has a flavor or a taste that the protected will never understand.
Male #3: All of a sudden, I noticed that I am down below in the tank; and I notice I am being covered with blood. I look up, and I see my tank commander hanging over the side of the tank. He had been shot in the face. I got out of the tank, and, as I started to run from the tank, another shell hit the tank. At that point, I just, literally, crawled to a ditch alongside the road. It was just bedlam!
Michelle: Wow! The realities of battle and of war serve as such a stark reminder to the price of our freedom. So, today, we’re going to remember those who have shown great valor on our behalf. We’re going to hear their stories on this episode of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the United States; and for some, it’s an extra day off of work and school. For others, it marks the beginning of summer and those lazy evenings outside. But for many, it’s a reminder of a life or lives that have sacrificed much for the freedoms of that day off of work or the barbecue with friends this evening.
Today, I wanted to call attention to the fact that there is a price that is paid—not only with those who leave a family and go overseas and defend our freedom—but there’s a price that’s paid on the home front. That cost is very real.
John Goyer: There was a lot of loneliness, actually, in that time of my life.
Male #5: Of course, there was a feeling of loneliness there/a feeling of emptiness.
Male #6: But it was difficult.
Andrew: I could tell my dad was filled with anxiety/worry, you know.
Michelle: John Del Santo served in the Army in World War II. His wife Olga remembers him being gone/his being in harm’s way. It was a trial for her.
Olga: He was inducted into the service ten days before Sandy was born, my oldest. He went overseas when she was four months old. That was hard—I’ll tell you! My sister and I lived together after her husband went just about the same time you did to Japan.
John Del Santo: Yes; about three months before I did.
Olga: Yes; well, anyway, it was hard on us because we got $50 a month to live on and rations. At the time, it was hard/really hard.
Michelle: Military service can be challenging from a financial standpoint, but it is obviously challenging from an emotional standpoint. Dennis Leake is a Vietnam veteran, and he understands the emotional pain men and women in the service face.
Dennis: My mother’s reaction to me getting inducted into the service was probably just a kind of numbness. I think we were all scared in a certain way, but we really didn’t know “…what of?” I remember, very well, the morning my mother dropped me off downtown in Memphis. I got out of the car to walk in and be in the Army. She wrote me a letter later and talked about how she just sat there in the car and cried for a long time before she could even drive home.
Communication with folks back home was a lot different then, of course, than it is now; so I regularly wrote letters to my mother. In fact, I had a little reel-to-reel tape recorder that had quarter-inch tape on three-inch plastic reels.
Dennis: “Well, there it is again—Friday night in Vietnam.”
Dennis: I recorded audio tapes of my voice, just describing what life was like and sent those to my mother.
Dennis: “I’ll give you some kind of an accurate report of what’s been going on here the last few days. I haven’t had a chance to write; we’ve been so busy on alert and all.”
John Goyer: There was a lot of loneliness, actually, in that time of my life.
Michelle: This is my friend, Tricia Goyer’s, husband, John. He served with the United States Marines in the mid-‘80s.
John Goyer: I look back and, actually, it was probably one of the few times in my life I did any journaling. I kind of looked at it—there was a lot of time to think when you’re just out at sea. I was, you know, half a world away from everybody I knew. I had a girlfriend at the time, that—unlike today, when you can get emails and communication pretty regularly—all we got were letters. The letters were usually a couple of weeks’ old.
I remember getting one comment from her that said, “Well, I was really thinking about suicide, and I almost did it; but I’m doing better now.” I’m thinking, “Okay; by the time I got this, I didn’t even know what’s going on with her: Is she alive?—is she dead?—you know, is she better?” You’re helpless, because you’re half a world away.
I wrote back to her, you know, knowing that, when she got my letter, it was going to be another week/two weeks before she even saw my letter, trying to encourage her and see what was going on, but it was a pretty helpless and lonely time. It was a little frustrating, in that way, actually.
Michelle: Technology like video chats and texts have helped to shrink the distance between servicemen and -women and their families and friends, but John Goyer says that the physical separation does take its toll on everyone—those who serve and their families.
John Goyer: I think that was probably the hardest part, particularly for us then. Relationships kind of cool off quite a bit. It’s one of those reasons why, I think, my relationship with my girlfriend didn’t work, and why many people [find it] so difficult to their marriage relationships—to keep the home fires burning, per se. Just because you’re apart, your lives are going in two different directions.
You know, your mission objectives, if you will, for the military are completely different than your mission objectives for caring for a home, and caring for your children, and your wife, and setting a course and direction there. They’re really completely different from what I’ve seen, because one is a matter of immediate life-and-death and responding quickly to orders. The other one takes a little more love, a little softer touch, a little more patience in working through it with people. It’s completely different, in my mind, as far as to be successful in both.
Michelle: It’s not uncommon for folks back home to wrestle with anxiety as a loved one—a husband or a wife/a son or a daughter—is serving in the military. That was certainly the case for John and Sue Stokes, whose son, Andrew, was deployed two times to the Middle East.
Sue: He went in October 9, 2001,—
Sue: —right after 9-11.
Andrew: Yes; I remember the night that my recruiter came to get me to take me away to Boot Camp. It was, I think, probably the first time I had seen sheer terror on the face of my mom. I could tell my dad was filled with anxiety/worry, you know. And that was definitely different; because he’s always, you know, the big, strong dad.
John Stokes: Well, I knew that the Marine Corps was very much different than the Navy; so I, initially, spoke to Andrew about: “What was it that was really interesting him in the Marine Corps?” and so on. After speaking to him for a while, I realized that he was very, very committed. I remember telling Sue that we either needed to get behind him or get out of his way.
Michelle: With Andrew fighting in Iraq, his mother, Sue Stokes, had to learn how to do what the Bible calls all of us to do—cast her cares on the Lord.
Sue: I can’t imagine anything worse than having some Marine standing on our doorstep, at three o’clock in the morning, telling us the news. I pray that doesn’t happen; but I often feel like Abraham, bringing Isaac to the altar; but I think God calls us to do that with our children, regardless. This is part of worshipping God—is to give Him control and to trust Him.
Female: God has him right where He wants him. We talked about, “Keep your eyes open to how He wants to use you.” I mean, he’s right in the trenches right now. We just trust the Lord that He has a reason for him to be there, and He’s going to use him in a mighty way.
Michelle: There is something about being, face to face, with life and death every day that causes any soldier to have to consider eternity/consider what life is really all about. Marine Andrew Stokes remembers how the heat of battle can have that kind of impact on a young man or woman.
Andrew: I remember a buddy of mine, Jimmy—his Humvee was blown off the road and it flipped over off a cliff. He could not get off the machine gun in time, and his gear got caught up in it. It landed on him, and my squad had to perform the Medevac for him. I remember, when I finally realized it was Jimmy, it was—just hit me like a rock—that he was not a believer. He died just as we were hitting the base. It really makes you real conscious of the short amount of time that you have, period; not even in war, but everywhere, you know?
Michelle: Can you imagine the weight that was on Andrew? You know, every soldier who signs up knows that he may be called to make that ultimate sacrifice. It’s another thing to come, face to face, with that as a reality. We’re going to talk about that reality next with Leslie Ponder. She is the wife of the late Sergeant Trey Ponder. I need to take a break, but I’ll be back soon. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. A few months ago, a family member was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. As I walked in that field, marked with gravestones of men and women who have given their all—who have sacrificed so much—it was awe-inspiring to me. Have you visited a National Cemetery and just felt the weight of lives who have given their all for you?
We are hearing stories today from the “unknown warriors,” who have served our country/who have stood in harm’s way for us—men and women, whose stories haven’t made it to the nightly news, but whose story is still one of bravery; and it’s worthy to be told. One of those stories is the story of Sergeant Trey Ponder, who was a night stalker with the Seals. He is no longer with us to share his story; but here’s his widow, Leslie Ponder.
[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]
Leslie: It was about eight o’clock on Wednesday morning that the green suits—two of our really good friends, wearing their dress greens—I saw them walking up the driveway. When they walked through the door, my legs gave out. One of them, practically, carried me to the couch and told me that the aircraft went down; but they didn’t know the fate of any of them. They told me to have hope, but I didn’t have any. I didn’t want any, because I didn’t want to be disappointed.
Then, Thursday afternoon, the green suits came back and told me 16 were on board; 16 remains had been recovered. Then, Friday, they came back and told me a positive identification had been made.
Male/Memorial Service: The crew of Chinook 146 are the latest soldiers in the regiment to pay the price for defending freedom.
Leslie: There were four Seals on the mountaintop. They were surrounded by enemy fighters and called for support. They needed to be extracted.
Male: All of these soldiers served multiple rotations in Afghanistan and Iraq and completed numerous missions in support of joint and combined special operations task forces.
Leslie: There were 16 on board—8 Seals; 8 aviators.
Male: Many of these missions are flown under zero illumination in unforgiving terrain, while encountering enemy fire.
If you were to see Trey, or any other of the crew, he would not stand out as a typical warrior that you would think of. Most of them were thin, unassuming, had slightly longer hair, and would greet you with a friendly smile; but the Navy special forces and these eight crew members died the noble death of a warrior, taking the fight to the enemy and going to the aid of fellow American servicemen, who were in trouble and needed their help.
Leslie: As they were approaching to let off more Seals, the helicopter was struck by an RPG and went down.
He did not have to be on that aircraft. He had moved up where he trained any of the enlisted guys on Chinooks. They were short; they needed him, and he signed up just to crew, which is something he didn’t have to do. I know why he was there—that’s him.
Dennis Rainey: Would you have characterized him as particularly courageous? He was your husband, but you think about doing that every day—that seems, to me, to be heroic—off the charts.
Leslie: They all are!
Male: Major Steven Wright, age 34…
Leslie: I mean, any military—
Male: …Connecticut; leaves behind a wife.
Leslie: —no matter if you’re infantry, aviation, Air Force, mechanic, whatever—
Male: CW4 Chris Shirkenbach, 40, from Illinois—
Leslie: They’re all, in my opinion, heroic, no matter what your job is.
Male: —leaves behind a wife; CW3 Cory Goodnature, 35, from Minnesota: a wife and two sons; Sergeant First Class Marcus Morales, 33, from Louisiana: a wife and two children; Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, 31, from Georgia: a wife and two daughters.
Bob: It’s one thing to receive the news, as a wife, but then to muster all the strength you have, as a mom, and to bring those girls and tell them—how’d you do that?
Leslie: I just brought them in and started crying. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do—I told them.
Male: Master Sergeant James Ponder, III, 36, from Tennessee: a wife and two daughters.
Dennis Rainey: The memorial service that was held in honor of Trey was quite an event; wasn’t it?
Leslie: I wanted it to be a celebration of his life, and I hope it was.
Male: One of the things she told me was that, for Trey, the highest service he could ever do was to sow the Word of God in the hearts of people. Leslie, as I experienced the fellowship at your home, I knew that the seeds of God’s Word had been planted richly in your lives and in the lives of Samantha and Elizabeth.
[Song: Untitled Hymn—(Come to Jesus) by Chris Rice]
Male: Trey was so fond of his two little girls, Samantha and Elizabeth. He was constantly telling me about the two of them and how he enjoyed taking them fishing. His work area was always being updated with new pieces of their art and, of course, updated pictures.
[Continuation of Untitled Hymn]
Male: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You turn men to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, oh sons of men.’ For a thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death. They are like the new grass of the morning—though, in the morning, it springs up new; by evening, it is dry and withered. Relent, Oh Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.”
Leslie: I did do a lot of praying. I haven’t gotten mad at God yet. I haven’t gotten mad at Trey. I know why he was doing what he was doing.
Male: “Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”
Leslie: But I do feel God’s presence. I feel His arm—His arms holding me up.
[End of Broadcast]
Michelle: Thank you, Leslie Ponder, and all of you military spouses, who have sacrificed your loved ones—who have sat by a graveside or sat beside a window, waiting for the green suits to come. Thank you for your sacrifice. And thank you, also, to the parents, who have watched their son or daughter go off to war, and to the kids, who’ve celebrated birthdays without their mom or dad there to celebrate with them. Thank you for the part you play on this Memorial Day.
I want to thank those of you who have served our country; because after all, we know that freedom isn’t fee. “Thank you,” seems so little for all that you have sacrificed.
And a special thanks to those on our team, here, at FamilyLife®—to Marques Holt and Dennis Leake, who have served in the United States Army. It’s a pleasure to work alongside you guys. Thank you!
[Continuation of Untitled Hymn]
Thanks for joining me on this special Memorial Day FamilyLife This Week.
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about discontentment, contentment, and thankfulness. We’re going to continue that conversation next week on FamilyLife This Week. In fact, Jeff and Stacy Kemp will be joining me; and any time Jeff and Stacy are on the other side of the table, it is a lively conversation. Please join us for that.
I want to thank the President of FamilyLife, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Marques Holt, who is pulling double duty; he’s also producer of this show. Bruce Goff is also a producer. Justin Adams is second in command today, and is also mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
Our program is the production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
©Song: Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)
Artist: Chris Rice
Album: Run the Earth, Watch the Sky (P)2003 by Rocketown Records
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