I am reading Give Us This Day – The Classic Memoir of the Bataan Death March for many reasons but mostly because I grew up knowing one of these men and what little he told me had a great impact on my life. In reading this book I am discovering something about myself as well, especially the things I take for granted like my freedom.
The following passage really struck a cord with me as we to often tend to blame God for our problems. The following passage takes place a few days before the American soldiers were forced to surrender…
We had lain the whole day in the foxhole, fearing to raise our heads. The fury of death raged above us and as the night drew on, we huddled together. I could hear a man in one of the foxholes near us praying.‘Oh God, don’t let me die. Take care of me. Don’t let me die, God. Please God, don’t let me die.’
Side by side, Rass and I listened to the man’s words. We were used to our own prayers, seldom audible, but prayers nevertheless and fervent. Rass spoke up, speculating.
‘You know Sid, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you come right out and pray to live. I know that you want to live, but I have never heard you ask God to let you live.’
‘No, Rass, I never have asked God to let me live, and I’ll tell you why.’ I looked over at his puzzled face in the faint light. ‘When I was a little boy, at home in Watonga, there was a hardware store that was giving away a little red car. You got tickets on this car with every so many purchases at this store. I have never seen a little car like that since. It had bicycle tyres and it was big enough for three kids to ride in it. It had a real gasoline engine, like a washing machine engine, I guess, because it went “pop, pop, pop.”‘
‘Dad and Mother saved up the tickets they got. I never in my life wanted anything like I wanted that little red car. For a month before the drawing I didn’t think a bad thought. All day long I kept thinking, if I’m real good, God will let me have that car. I’d pray every night for an hour down on my knees beside the bed. I’d pray that I’d win that little car.
‘Oh, the dreams I had of driving around in that little red car. It’s funny, but my mother was running around forcing tonics down my throat. She was sure I was sick because I was so darn good. And as the day came closer, I was more careful for fear I might even think something bad, or do something bad, and then I wouldn’t get that car.’
‘I’d go down in the afternoons and look at it and run my hands over it and her the sound of the motor going “pop, pop, pop.” The I’d go home and pray for that car.’
‘Finally the day of the drawing came and I stood with all the other kids and their folks. My dad had the tickets all laid out. I waited as a blindfolded little girl ran her hand down in a cage and drew out a number. When the number was announced–why dammit, Rass! I didn’t get that car. One of the meanest little kids in town got that car. And he never did anything good. I felt cheated. I felt that God had cheated me, Rass, because I didn’t win that car.
‘As I got older I used to think about it. The worst thing that could have happened to me was if God had let me win that car. I learned right then that a man hasn’t got a right to ask God for little red cars, because that’s not what we’re here for. God doesn’t go around giving little boys or grown men little red cars just because they ask for them. Men get little red cars because the work.
‘Since then I’ve seen so many die. Good guys too, Rass, guys that believed in God stronger then I do. When I see those guys die, I think, well, life is a luxury. Even if it isn’t a luxury I haven’t got the right to ask God to live. I’m not going to ask him for a little red car. With all these shells bursting around me I’ve got the feeling that my life is just like that little red car.’
My mind flew back to the day the war started and the prayer I had made after seeing the wounded lying in the hospital yard. God had given me what I asked for and Rass knew about that prayer. Things in my personality too weak for my control I had begged God to help me with. But life, no. It was a tangible, precious thing that I wanted with every breath. But hadn’t better men then I died praying to live? And God is great and I knew He wept for them and suffered their pain.
‘I do ask God to give me strength to take all this, to be a better man and to help me make myself a better man. If God wants me to live, if He’s got anything He wants me to do with my life, He’ll help me do it. If He wants me to live, He’ll let me. But I’m not going to ask for any little red cars.’
In my mind, Sid demonstrates a much stronger faith then he gives himself credit for. In ever battle, in every struggle, in every pursuit, if we can understand that we are not truly in control, that we cannot be, we will be more able to cope with fear. We can only control our inner self, to try to control more then that is futile and a waste of energy. We can choose to be one of two men who falls from a boat in deep water. One man struggles and splashes about in the water in a fearful attempt to not drowned only to exhaust himself and seal his fate. The other man, relaxes and does a back float accepting his state and waiting for what comes next, rescue or land. A proper faith in God helps us to accept those things which we have no control over. Faith is a formidable force.
I highly recommend this book: Give Us This Day – The Classic Memoir of the Bataan Death March. It is told in the first person with vivid details that capture your attention and make real this period of history. If you are at all interested in history or in the Japanese culture at that time this book is a must read!