From Chains to Spiritual Liberation – A Hero’s Story

I have just had one of those life-changing moments, which called on me to reflect and tell the story. It’s only been a few days that my brother in-law passed away to a better place.

Joe was a quiet man just 60 years old. He was a highly decorated veteran from his war days.  He was even decorated before the President of the United Sates, yet very few people ever knew. Joe was that kind of man.

All of his days he kept the war in Vietnam in his soul and it weighed heavily in his heart.

All of his days he was ashamed for the human tragedy that occurred in the work that he did in defending his country with honor.

Joe was a farmer, he knew how to grow, cultivate and nurture; he found it strange and it did not sit easily with him to destroy things.

All of his days his heart was heavy with the chains of guilt of that distant time.

By day, Joe was a successful patent design engineer in the auto industry and by night he was  “Joe the farmer”. You see Joe came from a farming family and work was just what he did.

For Joe his life could never be deemed a success. In Joe his heart was always heavy.

I was there when he passed away at the VA hospital from the effects of  “agent orange”.

I was there when the palliative care chaplain helped Joe come to peace with himself and help Joe understand that it was ok to know that he had had a good life, as family man, an award winning patent engineer, and highly decorated soldier. It was ok for Joe to feel good about himself!

That it was ok for Joe to take off those chains of guilt and sorrow that he had carried around his heart all of his life, and that God would forgive him. Joe you are not a bad man!

People simply could not understand that it was difficult for him to go see young kids who had been hurt and were in hospital or talk about much that was personal.

People simply could not ever fathom that Joe’s soul was tormented all of his days with the flashbacks of a war some 40 years ago.

People simply could not understand that the medals Joe received reminded him not of glory days but days of sadness and the horrific effects of a war that no one seemed to want and war heroes that many turned their backs on.

Joe should have been proud of serving his country in a far of foreign land. No one was there to liberate Joe though, and I saw many others in the same situation when I visited the VA hospital. Strange that we expect and ask much from those that serves others. Where are we for those who serve us?

Joe should not have had to wait until his dying moments to be liberated and to come to his God not knowing that it was ok to ask forgiveness for yourself.

So as I sat quietly, and heard Joe tell the stories he had kept in his heart for so long. I had the privilege to see a man come to peace with himself and to see a man transformed by the gift of the palliative care chaplain prepare Joe for his final journey.

The weight that was lifted from that man showed in the relief in his face. Joe looked strangely younger then the sick man he was.

Coming to terms with your life does that to you. Why did Joe have to wait until then?

I write this homage to Joe and the work of the VA hospitals across the USA and the sacred work of the chaplain who took Joe’s hand and said its ok, you have permission to forgive yourself in the eyes of the Lord.

I wonder though…..

I wonder what more can we do to help all of the “USA Joe’s” who fought for their country and who suffer from pains and terrible images and memories of a long gone war.

I wonder what we have to do to lift those heavy chains from the souls of those gentle folks who simply did what they were asked by their country and help liberate their spirit.

After all liberation is why they were fighting for their country.

Thanks Joe, I am so sorry that we could not have helped you with your pain during your lifetime.

I salute you and all the of men and women who protect and defend the American homeland.

I don’t wonder any more I know there is more to do. Thank you for being the hero you are.


About HRMexplorer

Managing Director - Human Capital Europe and USA - My ability is to recognize ingrained assumptions and patterns of operation that aren’t productive, and offer practical, cost-effective and value-based solutions.

Posted on May 21, 2010, in HRMexplorer Blogs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Phuong Callaway, PhD

    Thanks for sharing your blog. This story is heartbreaking. Freedom comes with a heavy cost!

  2. So beautifully written and what a tribute to not only Joe, but all those that sacrifice their lives for our country. Thank you for reminding us of those that have been affected and who will continue to be affected for the sake of our freedom and the oppressed. Blessings

  3. Thank You! Peter for this beautiful story, Joe, (my brother) was an awesome, caring, intelligent person. Everyone he met became his friend. The last seven weeks of his life was about releasing the troubled heart into a peaceful soul. I am so honored that I was a part of this mission with him. I have been so blessed to have the opportunity to be with him until his passing into a world of no pain. I am remind of him often, every flag, Veteran, John Deere tractor, bean field, old pickup truck, rock in the field, airplane, wrench, and so on.
    Wife of Peter Lanc, Sister of Joe

  4. Wow Peter. Amazing post, clearly written with a heavy heart but filled with admiration. It is sad that Joe carried his burden for so long but there is comfort in the fact that he did eventually find his peace… yes it “should have” come for him sooner.

  5. Wow Peter, this is very moving. You are an awesome man with an awesome heart. This story is heartbreaking, yet I am so thankful to hear that the chaplin helped Joe find that peace from God that passes all understanding. It will be a privilege to honor all the men and women that have served us to give us freedom.

  6. Amanda Kimbel

    It always saddens me to hear of the burdens these soldiers carry for so many years. Beautiful tribute, Peter.

  7. Laurie A. Cross

    I sit here also with tears, thinking of a man that had every sign of outward blessings, and yet inside was broken from memories of war.
    As we celebrate this up and coming memorial day we need to be mindful of those that have experienced the same feelings as Joe has.
    Thank our veterans, appreciate our veterens because the service they gave then, provides us the lives we have now.
    I am thankful there are chaplans available that understand the needs of many of these men and women who served in active duty. I am so thankful the VA has such a palliative care program that was able to set free Joe’s tourment and help him pass peacefully into his eternal reward that Jesus secured for us.
    Thank you Peter for this article and for sharing the story. My hope and prayers are for those in similar situations to receive the help as Joe had.


    the full verse of that poem by Laurence Binyon is

    They shall not grow old ,as we grow old
    Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We shall remember them


    just a little story about my uncle , who lied about his age to go and fight for his country . so at the age of 17 was sent with other men from my village to BURMA to build the railway and bridge over the river kwai , he was tortured spent weeks in solitary confinement had all the diseases you can think of . another man from my village used to be heard screaming in the night by his next door neighbours when he had night mares years after and the lash marks could still been seen on his back 20 years after ,my uncle died in his early 50’s due to all he suffered in the war due to one thing and another .we all have stories to tell .
    I used to sit in front of a very unassuming gentleman in church he never talked about his war experiences i knew him to speak to but not WHO he was or what he had done but he was knighted on the field of battle and took the japanese surrender instead of Montgomery , when the general reached his 100th birthday he was honoured by a fly past by the Royal Air Force , and he returned the Samari Sword to the Japanise people that was given at the surrender .
    I also had a patient who was a double agent for the German’s and the French resistance now did he tell some stories .
    When the general election was taking place a lot of people would’t vote i was asked if was i said of course, why was the reply , because i said a lot of people gave up there lives to give me the freedom to vote .
    every year at the cenotaph they say ” they do not grow old as we grow old and at the going down of the sun and in morning we shall remember them” My uncle was captured by the Japanese then taken to a prisoner of war camp

  10. Linda Kimbel

    Thank you Peter for recognizing your Brother-in-law, Joe’s inner struggles dealing with the memories of a nearly forgotten war. It must of have been terrifying to be fighting for your life and ordered to do things that your own nature told you was was wrong and reprehensible.

  11. With tears in my eyes I sit here typing my response.
    What a beautiful tribute to Joe as well as all the other men and women who fight for our freedom. So sad that in the end we are the ones with freedom and the soldiers are the ones still fighting…with their inner demons of war!
    I have lived the military life and am as patriotic as they get. I know what it is like to send a loved one off to fight. I know what it is like to pray at night that they will come home safely. I know what it is like to fear the unknown.
    I do not know what it is like to come back from war and try to act as if nothing has happened, that is what we as “free” Americans need to figure out so we can help those who have helped us!
    This is a fabulous tribute to Joe. Great job Peter!

  1. Pingback: Palliative care is for the soul and for the living. « HRMexplorer's Blog

  2. Pingback: 2010 in review- My First Year of Blogging – Thanks Everyone who came to my coffee house! « HRMexplorer's Blog

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