Our son, Gary, began clashing with authorities at 16. In 1966 he enlisted in the United States Marines-his ticket, he thought, to get away from home.
Gary graduated from boot camp with honors as a machine gunner, a dangerous position during the Vietnam War. Just before he left for Vietnam, his grandmother, Clara Merritt, gave him a small Bible with a note: "Gary, carry this with you always. Please read it every day."
Gary was ordered to a convoy of seven ships and assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines in the Demilitarized Zone. As the young Marines hit the beach, they ran into the jungle to dig foxholes. Seven Marines at a time went deeper into the jungles on search-and destroy missions.
Our prayers followed Gary.
I was teaching in St. Louis, Mo., when the principle came to my room and quietly said, "There is a Marine officer waiting to talk with you."
"Mrs. Bucher," the officer said, "your son has been seriously wounded in Vietnam and has been taken to a hospital in the Philippine Islands."
Gary had been assigned to the Chinook Operation when he was shot. Thirty Marines were protecting a tank full of ammunition. As Gary was approaching the bunker, a voice shouted, "Gary!" He turned. If he had not turned, the bullet would have pierced his heart. A 30-caliber slug ripped through his bulletproof vest, missing his ammunition belt and spine by one-eighth of an inch.
The bullet exploded as it exited his chest.
Gary lay semi-conscious in pain, crying, "Jesus! Help me. I'm dying." As bullets flew overhead, Gary's buddy crawled to him, took the little Bible from his shirt pocket and read Psalm 91.
Seven surgeries were performed in the next several months. When we finally saw him at Great Lakes Hospital near Chicago, he weighed 110 pounds. His feet had jungle rot. One kidney remained, and part of his liver and colon had been removed.
Like the prodigal son, Gary paid a great price for his freedom; but because of God's grace and much prayer, he came home from Vietnam a humble soldier of the Cross.