brav·er·y (ˈbrāv(ə)rē): courageous behavior or character. Synonyms:courage, valor, intrepidity, nerve, daring, fearlessness, audacity, boldness, dauntlessness, stoutheartedness, heroism.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
The closest I ever got to serving in the military was when I was drafted for the Viet Nam War and took my physical. At the last medical station I told the doctor I wanted to be a missionary. He looked at my file and said he would declare me 4-F (unfit), exclaiming: “I think God’s army needs more soldiers than man’s army.”
Thus my missions career was launched.
Now forty-five years later, I still have great respect for the military which we recently honored on Memorial Day. As we visited the grave sites, I thought deeply about the only uncle I’ve never met. He gave his life for his country in World War II.
He was the bravest Boehme.
My father was the oldest of six children, born and raised in Akron, Ohio. The second child born to Herman and Lucille Boehme was Richard. I am told that he was smart, athletic, and religious (in their traditional Lutheran home). While in his early twenties, “Uncle Dick” joined the US military and headed out to fight the Germans in the western theatre of World War II.
One day in the spring of 1945, a somber member of the US Army knocked on my grandparents’ door and informed them that Dick was missing in action in Europe. For over a year, my grandmother dried her tears with the hope that Dick would be found and come home. Then came the heart-breaking news. He had been shot down and killed on February 16, 1945–just seven months before the war ended.
For decades, our family was given little information on Dick’s death. Then, in the early 2000s, a man named Jerry Whiting tracked down my father to let him know that he was writing a book in memory of his own dad and all those that served in his squadron–including my uncle. (The book is called I’m Off to War, Mother But I’ll Be Back.)
Jerry Whiting would answer many questions about Dick’s last months on earth.
Whiting spent decades combing through military files and collecting information. He traveled to Europe to interview folks who’s met his dad and “band of brothers” and knew something about their story. They included soldiers, villagers, and even a Catholic priest.
When the book arrived, our family was ecstatic. Finally we would learn what had happened to “Uncle Dick”– a brave member of the 485 Bomb Squadron stationed in Italy. The biggest revelation? He had been shot down three times in the space of five months.
It takes great bravery to keep going under those circumstances. Here’s the story.
October 16, 1944
Dick was captain of a B-28 Liberator that bombed some German military factories in Austria. After failing to fire on the first target due to clouds, the squadron went on to their second priority, the Neudorf Aircraft Factory at Graz. Upon finishing the assignment, they were running low on fuel and would not make it back to Italy. They’d also been hit by incoming “flak” from German guns.
Uncle Dick put out the Mayday signal and all of them parachuted out of the plane as it crashed into the waters off Yugoslavia. One of Uncle Dick’s mates hit the water, swam to shore and was found by a village girl named Narija Glavan who gave him clothes to wear and hid him in a hole in the ground from the occupying Germans.
Uncle Dick landed in the water a few miles from his buddies. The Germans saw his parachute descending and fired at him in the air–but missed. He started swimming, but was caught up in the parachute. Two local Yugoslav cousins, Niko and Nikica Peros, jumped into action from shore. Here’s how Whiting tells the story:
“The Peros cousins saw Boehme struggling in the water…They swam out to Boehme and Nikica cut Boehme free from the parachute lines and both helped him to shore. As they swam, the Germans started shooting at them with machine guns. The Germans were less than a mile away, so the three men got out of the immediate area as quickly as possible.”
“They took Boehme to the village of Zaton. The villagers gave him civilian clothes and hid him from the Germans who were searching the entire area for missing flyers…The villagers refused to betray Boehme, so the Germans shelled the village, ultimately killing a young girl in the barrage.”
Helped on by the locals, Uncle Dick walked, hid, and traveled north for a week staying near the coastline. He was finally smuggled onto some islands and evacuated to Vis. From there he returned to Italy where he was awarded a Silver Star.
November 17, 1944
Three weeks later, Uncle Dick volunteered for another combat mission. His plane was again shot down while returning from Blechhammer, Yugoslavia. Details are scarce are this mission, but he eventually found himself in the midst of a battle between Chetniks and Partisans. On the run for a month, he finally made a safe return to Italy one month after his second crash.
The Final Mission: February 16, 1945
Uncle Dick was once again captaining the squadron when, after bombing their target, they came under heavy anti-aircraft fire in the vicinity of the Italian/Austrian border. Whiting describes the scene as two aircraft were fatally hit:
“Both planes broke apart after the mid-air collision. The tail was sliced off Tomhave’s plane (piloted by Uncle Dick) and part of the nose broke off. Major Olen Cooper Bryant (the navigator) was thrown through a hole in the nose of the plane, unconscious from the concussion of the direct hit. He fell from an altitude of about 10,000 feet without a parachute, landing in heavy snow.”
Miraculously, Bryant survived! Others parachuted from the two doomed planes–but not my uncle. The planes crashed near each other below the crest of Mount Belepeit, near the Slovenian border in northern Italy–west of the village of Chiusaforte. Those who lost their lives were John Carmody (navigator), James Cahen III (navigator), Marvin Woodcock (bombadier), James Dixon (flight engineer), Bruce Graves (radio operator), and Captain Richard Boehme (pilot).
Uncle Dick was 23 years old.
On February 27, 1945, after ten days of severe weather, Father Giovanni B. Lenarduzzi led twenty-five local villagers up the mountain to locate the remains of the American airmen and give them a proper burial–near the summit of Mount Belepeit. We, their relatives, are deeply grateful.
In the past forty years, a number of the villagers have made an annual trip up the mountain to honor the American flyers were fought for their freedom. My dad’s letters contain e-mails from those folks–one as recent as 2005–which shows the tree-lined hillside of the mountain (in summertime) and numerous remains of the crash that are buried beneath the leaves and vegetation.
My uncle was a hero. He loved his God, family, and nation and gave his life that we might enjoy ours.
I think now of what Uncle Dick might have done if he lived past 23. Would he have become a doctor, pharmacist, office manager, or logger like his older brothers? Would he have moved to the west coast with the rest of his family? Had children, grandchildren? Lived into his nineties like his older brother, my dad?
How would he have continued to serve the God of his fathers? He never had that chance. He laid down his life for others–just like his Lord did for the sins of the world.
Let’s never forget the heroes. Let’s emulate their faith and commitment. In my latter years, I want to be brave like my Uncle Dick.
I’ll always consider him the bravest Boehme.
He also lived the shortest life–23 years.
Dick was a fighter pilot in Europe during World War II. We found out sixty years after his death that he was shot down three times in his service of America. The first was on October 16, 1944 after a bombing mission over Austria. He parachuted into the Adriatic Sea, was miraculously rescued by a local villager, and hidden from the Germans until he escaped to safety.
One month later, on November 17, 1944, he was again shot down over Yugoslavia and had to spend a month running from the Nazis before making his way back to Italy.
On February 16, 1945, his squadron was hit for the third time and one of his own aircraft tore off the wing and tail of his plane. One of the crew members was thrown from the burning cockpit and fell 10,000 feet without a parachute into a snowbank high in the Alps–and lived! He told the story of the squadron that was published in two books sixty years after these heroic young men gave their lives.
Dick died in the third crash. His body was buried on the hillside by grateful villagers and some of his remains eventually returned to the United States. He gave his life for our country just fourth months before V-E day.
He never got to see it.
But he lives on–and so do the rest of my family and friends who put their trust in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die” (John 11:25).
As I stood by my father’s grave, and thought about the sacrifice that Dick had made for our family and nation, a deep sense of gratitude and resolve rose up within me. There are things worth living and dying for.
Memorial Day reminded me, once again, of that important truth.
All of us who are still alive in this busy and distracted 21st century must slow down, think deeply, andremember.
Especially the heroes God wants us to follow.
Six months ago Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke prophetically before the United Nations about the scourge of militant Islam. At the time, I called him the Lone Prophet.
Yesterday, that same lone prophetic voice of our time spoke to a joint session of Congress–boycotted by 50 cowardly Democrats.
I wish there was a strong American prophetic voice in the world right now.
There is not.
There is a Jew. He is warning us about a potential apocalypse. We had better listen.
Here are his words.
(I have edited Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to make it shorter. You can read the entire speech here. I’ve also BOLDED the main points if you do not have the time to read it all.)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 3, 2015 – Joint Session of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Thank you, America. Thank you for everything you’ve done for Israel. My friends, I’ve come here today because, as prime minister of Israel, I feel a profound obligation to speak to you about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people.
Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
The plot was foiled. Our people were saved. Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated — he tweets.
You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed. For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. He said: If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.
But Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. The 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed in World War II. So, too, Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world. To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime.
The people of Iran are very talented people. They’re heirs to one of the world’s great civilizations. But in 1979, they were hijacked by religious zealots — religious zealots who imposed on them immediately a dark and brutal dictatorship.
That year, the zealots drafted a constitution, a new one for Iran. It directed the revolutionary guards not only to protect Iran’s borders, but also to fulfill the ideological mission of jihad. The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, exhorted his followers to “export the revolution throughout the world.”
I’m standing here in Washington, D.C. and the difference is so stark. America’s founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Iran’s founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad. And as states are collapsing across the Middle East, Iran is charging into the void to do just that.
Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Back by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Back by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply.
Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped Al Qaeda bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C.
In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. So, at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations.
We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.
Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation!
Iran’s regime is as radical as ever, its cries of “Death to America,” that same America that it calls the “Great Satan,” as loud as ever. Now, this shouldn’t be surprising, because the ideology of Iran’s revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America. Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America.
Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.
In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone. So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.
The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. We must always remember — I’ll say it one more time — the greatest dangers facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen.
But that, my friends, is exactly what could happen, if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them. Let me explain why. While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record. You don’t need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it.
Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran. The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb. Break-out time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb.
According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed. Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.
And if — if Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that break-out time could still be shorter, a lot shorter. True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.
Now, I know this is not gonna come a shock — as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them. The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught — caught twice, not once, twice — operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.
But the second major concession creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade.
Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could product many, many nuclear bombs.
Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.
And by the way, if Iran’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is not part of the deal, and so far, Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Well, Iran could have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reach corners of the earth, including to every part of the United States.
So you see, my friends, this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb. So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse?
Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would wet appetite — would only wet Iran’s appetite for more. Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger?
If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism? Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both world’s: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?
This is a question that everyone asks in our region. Israel’s neighbors — Iran’s neighbors know that Iran will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and it’s been given a clear path to the bomb. And many of these neighbors say they’ll respond by racing to get nuclear weapons of their own. So this deal won’t change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse.
A deal that’s supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet. This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox.
If anyone thinks — if anyone thinks this deal kicks the can down the road, think again. When we get down that road, we’ll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve come here today to tell you we don’t have to bet the security of the world on the hope that Iran will change for the better. We don’t have to gamble with our future and with our children’s future. We can insist that restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world.
Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second… Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.
If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires. If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.
My friends, what about the argument that there’s no alternative to this deal, that Iran’s nuclear know-how cannot be erased, that its nuclear program is so advanced that the best we can do is delay the inevitable, which is essentially what the proposed deal seeks to do?
Well, nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesn’t get you very much. A racecar driver without a car can’t drive. A pilot without a plan can’t fly. Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons.
Iran’s nuclear program can be rolled back well-beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.
Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff. They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.
And by maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more. My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.
Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends.
A better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb. A better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally. And no country… … no country has a greater stake — no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat.
Ladies and gentlemen, history has placed us at a fateful crossroads. We must now choose between two paths. One path leads to a bad deal that will at best curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a while, but it will inexorably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war.
The second path, however difficult, could lead to a much better deal, that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclearized Middle East and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity.
You don’t have to read Robert Frost to know. You have to live life to know that the difficult path is usually the one less traveled, but it will make all the difference for the future of my country, the security of the Middle East and the peace of the world, the peace, we all desire.
My friends, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace. But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.
We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.
This is why — this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel. You stand with Israel, because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.
Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this (inaudible) chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land. And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years.
I leave you with his message today, (SPEAKING IN HEBREW), “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.” My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope.
May God bless the state of Israel and may God bless the United States of America.
While visiting Los Angeles this week, I read a copy of Peter Bergen’s Man Hunt: The Ten Year Search for Bin Laden from 9-11 to Abbottabad. It’s a thrilling account of the teamwork and courage of both CIA operatives and the US military in bringing the world’s most wanted terrorist to justice. It seemed a fitting read for Memorial Day week.
There are a number of lessons we can learn from the killing of Osama bin Laden. More importantly, Bergen’s book gives us pause to thank the men and women of our incomparable armed services for what they do to protect and defend our freedoms on a daily basis.
I dedicate this blog to them–our truest heroes. We salute you with our prayers and thanks.
Lessons from Bin Laden
There are a number of insights to glean from the life of one of the most evil men of our generation–Osama bin Laden. We must understand him, because according to a 2007 Gallup Poll taken in ten Muslim nations, over 100 million of the estimated 1.2 billion Muslims on earth “whole-heartedly endorse bin laden’s rationale for 9-11 and the need for Islamic revenge on the West.”
That’s very sobering. And bin Laden’s death doesn’t solve the problem. If bin Laden has his way, more of them are coming because he believed like Muhammad that Muslims should “marry and increase in number because that increases the nation of Muslims.” Thus, bin Laden himself had over twenty children and a total of five wives (four at a time).
Lesson One: The Western world had better start valuing children more than radical Muslims and discipling them better than our adversaries. (We can do that with only one wife each.)
Following bin Laden’s escape at Tora Bora, little is known about his whereabouts. In 2006 he had a compound built in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which also was home to the Pakistani Military Academy. The 8000 square foot, 3-story residence housed three of his wives and about twelve of his children. The children sometimes went hungry in the austere environment.,
Bin Laden lived exclusively on the third floor of the residence from 2006 to 2011 with his youngest Yemeni wife, Amal, whom he married when she was seventeen (and he was forty-two). The accommodations were primitive in keeping with bin Laden’s frugal nature and the drying up of Al Qaeda funding.
Bin Laden spent his last years reading books in a Spartan office across from his bedroom, monitoring the news, giving a daily “jihad” speech to his family members, “pacing” in the vegetable garden each afternoon, and sending messages via the courier to his lieutenants. Bin Laden even cut his beard short and died it jet black to hide the effects of middle age.
To the end, he was confident that America would withdraw from the Middle East because we were soft. “Americans love life like we love death.” But the opposite proved true. Instead of America retreating, the 9-11 massacre served more as a 21st century Pearl Harbor that mobilized the nation against the evils of terrorism.
Lesson Two: We need to be more committed, informed, and devout in our faith in the loving God than bin Laden was to the cause of jihad.
Interestingly, Osama bin Laden was an Islamic version of a liberal politician. According to Bergen, he railed against the US dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he was anti-big business, he lamented the savage treatment of Native Americans in the colonial period, and he disparaged America for not signing the Kyoto treaty (affirming a commitment to global warming).
Bin Laden was simply a “green progressive” who handed out suicide vests. For six long years he lived peacefully in his Abbottabad compound trying to ignite the fires of terrorism worldwide.
The “lead” that brought about Laden’s death was a man named Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, “the Kuwaiti,” who had taken an oath to be loyal to bin Laden. After five grueling years of intelligence gathering, the CIA was able to identify (through enhanced interrogations) the man who carried bin Laden’s messages from the Abbottabad compound to the world. A number of agents perished in pursuit of bin Laden’s trail–including a woman CIA operative with three young children.
Now let’s turn to the heroes who ended the life of the world’s most wanted man.
Saluting our Soldiers
Emblazoned in the marble floor of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia are the following words: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It was a courageous commitment to that principle that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. We first salute the CIA who did the “finding.” Without their tireless efforts, bin Laden might never had been seen again.
Next we salute the entire US military–especially the Navy Seals, who are a part of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) located in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They include the Army’s Delta Force, Rangers, and the Air Force’s Special Operations Air Regiment.
They were linked to this vision of Major General Stanley McCrystal who felt that the US needed to become more like Al Qaeda to defeat them–in his words “to be a network within a network.” It was all about winning, as McCrystal said: “making as few trips to Arlington Cemetery en route to that objective.”
SEAL Team 6, also called DevGru, is the elite portion of the JSOC–250 commandoes out of two thousand total specials ops. They are battle hardened and usually in their thirties. Their base is called Dam Neck which is near Virginia Beach. Basic training remains the hardest in the military and includes a “Hell Week” in which they swim fifty yards underwater with their hands tied behind their back and their feet tied together. The dropout rate is 90%.
Everything they do involves “relentless perseverance.” After Hell Week, they are required to use scuba gear underwater where instructors rip off their masks and flip off their oxygen tanks. Those who make the cut have to figure out how to remain calm and reestablish their lines to the life-giving oxygen. The point to all this is: “You are going to push people as hard as you possibly can. You push them to their mental, physical, and emotional limit so that when combat happens, they are ready.”
To practice for their Abbottabad mission, JSOC built a life-size replica of the suspected bin Laden compound both in Virginia and also in New Mexico where they practiced the raid at night in desert conditions.
Operation Neptune Spear took place in the dead of night on May 1, 2011. That particular evening had been chosen because it was a moonless night when the sky would be dark. (The next occasion would be thirty days later and the Administration felt their cover might be blown by then.)
CIA operatives inside Pakistan had also found a way to cut off electricity to the neighborhood for the raid–so bin Laden would have to meet the American’s who would bring him to justice in nearly absolute darkness. (The SEALS wore night-time goggles.)
The first helicopter on the raid nearly compromised the mission when it made a hard landing due to the desert heat. The tail of the helicopter broke off by hitting the stone wall that surrounded the compound and the chopper had to be shut down. The second one, which wanted to drop SEALS on the third story roof, had to land in another part of the compound.
SEALS from the downed helicopter first stormed the small house that was separate from the compound that housed the Kuwaiti courier and his wife. When the courier poked his head out through an iron gate he was shot twice in the chin and killed instantly. The silenced weapons made little noise.
Other SEALS secured the grounds by using a highly trained Belgian Malinois dog (similar to a German Shepherd) named “Cairo.” Cairo’s job was to track down any human beings who tried to escape. None did.
The SEALS then blasted one metal door to the compound, but found a solid brick wall behind it. Having no knowledge of the actual layout of the compound, they entered another door and ran up to the second floor where they encountered bin Laden’s 23-year old son, Khalid, who was shot and killed on the stairwell.
On the third floor, in pitch darkness (there were only two small windows on the floor where bin Laden lived with his 29-year old wife), bin Laden stuck his head out through a metal gate to see what was going on–then drew back inside. Fatally, he left the gate unlocked which gave easy access to the approaching SEALS.
According to military protocol, if bin Laden had said “I surrender,” the SEALS would have honored his request and taken him prisoner. But he did not. As three SEALS rushed into his room, bin Laden’s wife Amal shouted something in Arabic and threw herself in front of her husband. The first SEAL shoved her aside, assuming she might be carrying a suicide vest. Amal was shot in the calf by one of the SEALS and fell unconsicious onto their double bed mattress which lay on the floor.
Bin Laden himself offered no resistance. He was killed instantly when a double “tap” of shots hit him squarely in the chest and left eye–some of his brains splattering on the ceiling and oozing onto the bed.
Bin Laden was fifty-four when he met his Maker–and not the seventy virgins he had promised his henchmen. A measure of justice had been served to a man who authorized the killing of thousands of innocents.
The SEALS immediately radioed the Administration officials watching the raid on closed circuit television in the White House Situation Room. Their code words of triumph were “Geronimo”–meaning they had found bin Laden. The White House immediately asked in return, “Was bin Laden captured or dead?”
A few seconds later, the reply came back, “Roger, Gernomio EKIA (Enemy Killed In Action). There were gasps but no high fives among the officials at the White House. President Obama quietly said, “We got him, we got him.” Hours later he would announce to the world that Osama bin Laden was dead.
The SEALS then dragged bin Laden’s corpse down the three flights of stairs and loaded it into one of the awaiting helicopters (a third helicopter had arrived to take the place of the downed craft.) At this point, only about ten minutes had passed from the initial arrival of the SEALS. The final step, which took about 25 minutes to accomplish, was to wire up the downed helicopter and set it ablaze to not allow the secret stealth technology to get into enemy hands. The burning helicopter exploded in a fireball which began to draw neighbors to the site.
But the 25 SEALS were already gone. Bin Laden’s body was eventually buried at sea in a weighted body bag provided by the USS Carl Vinson. Photos had been taken for verification purposes and DNA samples eventually proved his identity. Because his visage was marred from the gunshots, the first “proof” that they’d gotten the right man was determined when a six foot four sailor laid out by the corpse to measure bin Laden’s height.
Six foot four inches–a rarity in the Middle East. The courageous SEALS had gotten their man.
In conclusion, we must be as devoted to changing the world for good as Osama bin Laden was to promoting jihad. And next time you see an American soldier, give him or her a firm handshake of appreciation.
We salute their dedication and sacrifice this Memorial Day week.