Courage under fire: Do we have it?

By Curtis Shelburne

In his book, “Citizen Soldiers,” author and historian Steven Ambrose tells the story of the pivotal days during and after D-Day in World War II as the Allies landed what would be the decisive blow against the Nazis. Ambrose tells much of the story from the perspective of the soldiers who fought in those battles.

I suppose all guys have wondered about how they would react in battle. Would I have the courage needed to get the job done or would I turn tail and run? I suppose no one can know for sure until the time of testing really comes. To actually know the answer to that question is a fearful and costly thing, and whether that knowledge is worth the pain it takes to possess it is very much open to question. Most men have no choice: they are either there at the time of testing or they are not.

My wife’s father knew. And, like most of the guys who were in the thick of battle and who stood the test, he didn’t much like to talk about it. I don’t know what he’d had to see. I don’t know what he’d had to do. But his silence probably said more than words could. Learning the answer about the depth of his own courage was expensive to him.

Ambrose writes:

“About themselves the most important thing the majority of the GI’s discovered was that they were not cowards. They hadn’t thought so. That had fervently hoped it would not be so. But they couldn’t be sure until tested. After a few days of combat, most of them knew they were good soldiers. They had neither run away nor collapsed into a pathetic mass of quivering jello—their worst fear, even greater than the fear of being afraid.

“They were learning about others. A common experience: the guy who talked toughest, bragged most, excelled in maneuvers — everyone’s pick to be the top soldier in the company — was the first to break. While the soft-talking kid who was hardly noticed in camp was the standout in combat. These are the clichés in war novels precisely because they are true.”

Courage under fire. Would you have it? Would I? No one really knows until he is tested.

Most of us will not be tested on a battlefield in Normandy or the Mekong Delta or outside of Baghdad. But you can be sure that tests of courage will come.

You may not be breaking through a hedgerow in France when the bullets come; you may be waking up after cancer surgery and hearing the verdict.

You may not be lying in the snow bleeding with shrapnel wounds from a mortar explosion; you heart may be bleeding because of painful “explosions” in the life of a child.

Tests of courage on the battlefield of life will come. But God’s children never face their enemies alone, and because they know their King will win, they fight in the sure knowledge that, even though the struggle is long and difficult, the victory is theirs in Him.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at