Date: May 30, 1943

Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us; for Thou also hast wrought all our works in us. – Isaiah 26:12

God of Our Fathers, Ruler of the Nation:

We thank Thee with all our hearts for the multiplied mercies which have made America the land of liberty, the haven of refuge for the oppressed, the commonwealth of unparalleled opportunities. Particularly do we praise Thee today for the heroic men and women, both military and civilian, who laid down their lives in our defense and in the protection of our freedom. Keep us mindful of their suffering and sacrifice! Help us follow their devotion to the best interests of our country! Teach us with Thy Spirit’s help to obey Thy Word, accept the Gospel, intercede for those in authority, and live in honest loyalty to our beloved homeland! But, O God of mercy, keep us humble! Banish all pride and self-glory! Bring us down on our knees in repentance, and turn us to the Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior, in whom alone we can find pardon for our sins, the pledge of inner peace, and the promise of eternal life! Guard our military youth against enemies from without and within! Make them loyal and trustful, clean and courageous! O Father of mercy, let the hour come soon in which Thou wilt send them home across the seas, with the triumph of truth and the promise of real peace! We ask it all in the Redeemer’s precious name. Amen!

ABOUT seven hundred thousand Americans have been killed in the defense of their country. They lie buried from Valley Forge to Bataan, from Flanders’ Fields to Guadalcanal, from Gettysburg to Tripoli, from the Aleutians to Tunisia; they have gone down with their ships on the seven seas; they have died in plane crashes half the world away. From the Revolution and the War of 1812, through the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish War, and two World Wars, soldiers, sailors, marines, almost three quarters of a million of them, have made the supreme sacrifice, offered the only life men can ever live on earth for their country’s freedom, union, and defense. They have given everything they could give for America.

What, we ask on Memorial Day, has America given them? A military funeral in a national cemetery, with a few square feet of native or foreign soil as their last resting place—in many cases only a shallow grave in distant sand! How have we remembered our dead? With a wooden cross or a small stone on which their names have been inscribed; yet too often these markers bear the three words, “An Unknown Soldier”! What have we done for our departed heroes? We have granted posthumous medals, named ships after them, listed their deeds on bronze tablets, and once a year, on this Memorial Day, the graves of soldiers are decorated and wreaths are dropped on the ocean in tribute to our departed men of the sea. Oratory, patriotic exercises, parades, mark May 30 as veterans of past wars, their ranks continually reduced, march together with our new armed forces.

Yet too often, when the processions, the unveiling of tablets, the launching of ships, and similar commemorative services are over, the masses forget the brave men who died that a free, united America might live. For millions of our countrymen Decoration Day is only another holiday, without the slightest personal recognition for those who helped write our history with their blood. How quickly our brave men are forgotten! Captain Colin P. Kelly was among the first American heroes in this World War; and gratefully we recall how, just before taking off in a successful flight attack which destroyed a Japanese warship, he said, “I know I am going on a tough job; but I am ready to go, for I am ready to meet my Savior.” He did not return; and his name was emblazoned in the headlines of every American newspaper. Hardly a year later, when his widow and his baby sought an apartment in Los Angeles, they were told repeatedly, “No children wanted!”

What can we offer our dead defenders? A crippled, almost destitute Ohio mother, whose only son was killed in action on the Pacific, writes me, “I hope that the Government will give me some support”; and a political organizer now proposes that we grant every soldier in World War II a bonus of $7,500. Of what good is this to the dead in their graves? You bereaved parents will protest that no amount of money can compensate for the loss of your sons. The mightiest tribute we can pay those who laid down their lives is the grateful determination that, under God, their sacrifices will not be useless. On this wartime Memorial Day we should repeat the resolution voiced eighty years ago by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, “that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Could the three quarters of a million who fell in battle speak from their graves today, they would plead with us: “Work and pray that the cause for which we sacrificed ourselves may not collapse! Strive with all your might for a better nation, a God-pleasing victory, a quick, just peace!”

Now, if we are truly grateful to these heroes, if the achievements won at the cost of their bleeding and dying are to be maintained, we must defend our country from within. We must have the Almighty on our side. We must recognize what God has done for us in the past and implore His guidance for the future. We must cry out—and this is our Memorial Day and Navy Church Sunday message—

AMERICA, REMEMBER YOUR GOD!

As I speak to you from the United States Naval Air Station here at Lambert Field in Saint Louis, addressing not only these cadets, but also large numbers of military men and women throughout the country and as far distant as the Pacific islands, I give you as our text the ancient words spoken by God’s Prophet in a national crisis, Isaiah’s faith-filled confidence (chapter twenty-six, verse twelve), “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us; for Thou also hast wrought all our works in us.”

I

REMEMBER GOD FOR HIS PAST BLESSINGS!

On Memorial Day we should recall personally and unmistakably that the men whose patriotic devotion we commemorate were among the human instruments in making the United States the most blessed of all nations. They were largely influential in building America to its present size—a land so immense that European nations like France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, could almost be lost in our vastness. Under God, the fearless sacrifices of our soldiers and sailors secured and preserved our liberties. Their bravery, persistence, self-denial, helped win every conflict in which we have been engaged; and the United States is the only large nation which has never lost a war.

How forcefully should the graves of our soldiers and sailors remind us of the fearful price with which our freedom has been purchased! The sunken battleship Oklahoma, recently raised in Pearl Harbor, with its 1,038 corpses, gives ghastly testimony to the harrowing death that can overtake our defenders. A thousand and thirty-eight men left homes like yours and mine in high hopes of a quick return and a happy reunion with their loved ones. Volunteers—boys seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old—wrote eager, happy letters to their parents. Young officers waved farewell to their sweethearts. Husbands kissed their wives and little ones goodbye, and all sailed out on the blue Pacific and into treacherous attack, sudden death. Promising, achieving lives were cut off, families broken, generations deprived of their existence!—Yet some of you, making two and three dollars an hour in safe defense work, complain of food rationing and travel restriction!

On Memorial Day we recall others whose supreme sacrifice has had a part in maintaining our material blessing and freedoms. Sixty-four thousand seven hundred and sixty-four coal miners, the men who produced vital fuel for our industries, were killed or injured within one year. When we consider the danger and death daily confronting these men, we ought to conclude that they are not unreasonable in requesting more pay. Then, how many have been the martyrs to medicine and science, the physicians, nurses, and experimenters who were struck down as they unselfishly sought to reduce human suffering and make life better for us! Thank God for their service and achievement!

Nor should we today overlook those who live in perpetual anguish: military men so hideously mutilated that no visitors may see them, the incurables, the shell-shocked, the mentally torn. An Illinois boy in my Church was honorably discharged after being torpedoed four times—a veteran at nineteen! What a price he has paid! When his pastor privately asked him for the details of those four sinkings, the lad was so agonized that he bit his tongue until the blood streamed from his mouth. Keep these sufferers constantly in your prayers! Ask God’s guidance for all war prisoners! Few of us can understand their sorrows. On national holidays like this we should take our American histories and read what happened, for example, at Andersonville, Georgia, during the Civil War, when 32,000 Union soldiers were kept in a twenty-three-acre camp with no protection against the elements save that which they could dig or make with their own hands! We should study the newspaper accounts of our men in North Africa, who were forced to sleep in their clothes and go unbathed for a whole month; the record of amputations without anesthesia; the reports of harrowing death. Let America pause today amid baseball double-headers, horse races, picnics, house parties, to honor the memory of those who surrendered every blessing for their country’s cause!

All their bravery and sacrifices alone, however, could not make, mold, and preserve the United States. Behind their living and dying for this nation is the almighty God, the marvelous mercy, the divine providence, the overabundant provision with which He has blessed our forty-eight States. If Memorial Day is to bring benediction to us and our cause, we must subscribe with whole hearts to the Prophet’s word in our text, “Lord, . . . Thou also hast wrought all our works in us.” Why have we more wealth, more gold and silver, more natural resources, than any others? Are we better than the rest of the world? Great Britain lists only one tenth as many criminals as we. Why are our homes more comfortable, our standards of living higher? Are we more honest, upright, sincere? With the exception of heathen countries and Russia, family trouble is more frequent and sinister here than elsewhere. Have we been placed in the first rank among the nations because we are more religious, more humble, deserving, than other people? A glance at our empty churches, the growing ranks of infidels, the increasing apostasy and disloyalty, answers that question. This commonwealth is great and glorious not because we Americans are a superior race, a morally perfect people, but because, despite our failings and shortcomings, God has chosen and exalted us.

See how the Almighty directed America’s course from the outset! He kept this continent undiscovered, preserving it for us. We might have come under Spanish rule, but He directed birds which led the ships of Columbus to the West Indies. We might have been brought under French rule, but God’s wind destroyed a mighty armada of French ships which set sail from Nova Scotia to capture the New England colonies. We might have stayed under British rule, but He gave unusual strength to the ragged regimentals, preeminent wisdom to our leaders, and we became a free, vigorous people. We might have been split into two or three opposing nations, but the Lord kept us together. God also fixes the dates in our country’s history. One of the highest governmental authorities on military preparation assured me that if the Pearl Harbor attack had come only one year before December 7, 1941, the United States, with its inadequate supplies of munitions and war materials, might have fared badly. God likewise regulates the forces of nature to serve His purposes. As I recently surveyed the flooded portions of Central Illinois near Peoria, where tireless workers piled millions of sand bags to check the swollen streams, people told me: “God saved the city. For weeks the winds had been heavy. If they had continued during the flood crest, the water would have ruined us, but when the river rose, the Lord suddenly stopped the winds.” Every page in our glorious history is emblazoned with marvels of divine providence so great that they fairly shout, “What wonders God has done for us!”

In past generations our country recognized the Lord’s loving guidance. Go back to our early days, and as you read the name of Christ in the charters of our Colonies, in the regulations for their government, in the letters of these early settlers, and study their zeal in building churches, converting the Indians, training their young in Christian truth, you find a fundamental reason for America’s greatness!

We have lost much of this devotion. We still keep the motto, “In God We Trust,” on our coins, but have we preserved it in our hearts? Scripture warns us, “Beware that thou forget not the Lord, thy God . . . and . . . say in thine heart MY power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth!” Too often, in the spirit of power-mad Nebuchadnezzar, people survey our country and declare, “This is the great America that we, our engineers, our industrial leaders, our farmers, our business men, our laborers, have built.” Flushed by recent military successes, we are ready to give sole credit for those triumphs to our leaders, our superior tanks, our more powerful guns, our better supply and communication systems, our amazing production power; but we have little to say of Heaven’s help. A special Sunday was set aside in Great Britain as a time of prayer and thanksgiving for the African victories. The United States had no such observance. Have we begun to think that we do not need God? Such ingratitude and forgetfulness of the Almighty would be an insult to our dead, the most fatal error the country could make. Scripture declares and history agrees, “The nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish.”

Therefore, if we would continue the task begun by those whom we memorialize today; if we would earnestly declare, “They have not died in vain,” we must recognize the Lord, His power and His love. Some of the most penetrating perils in the United States today are unbelieving churches, ungodly homes, unscriptural policies in Government circles, unholy living, unthankful practices; just as our strongest assets, our mightiest defenses, are penitent trust in the Triune God, humble acceptance of Christ’s Gospel, fervent faith in Scripture, and sincere determination to pattern our lives after the Savior’s.

All this puts personal issues before every one of you: Are you doing your share in guarding our liberties by strengthening the country’s spiritual foundation? Have you found your God in Christ? Do you worship and adore Him as your Savior? Do you show your loyalty by a life of love? Not only America’s welfare, but your own eternal salvation is involved in these questions. Therefore I repeat, “Have you welcomed Christ into your heart?” If today we honor the men who died for this nation, how much more should we acclaim as our God and Redeemer Him who died to save our souls and to bring a world lost in its trespasses back to the heavenly Father! Make this a spiritual Memorial Day as you reverently commemorate the most sacred and salutary death in all human records, Jesus’ self-sacrifice on Calvary’s cross! The Colonial troops of 1776 shed their blood to save this country from foreign rule; our Lord shed His blood to save you from Satan’s rule. The blue-coated troops of the Civil War died to free a race enslaved in human bondage and to keep the Union unbroken; Jesus died to free all races from eternal slavery and to restore the union between the holy God and sinful mankind. Men of the air, land, and sea were struck down as they sought to make the world of this age safe for democracy; Christ was crucified to make the world of all ages safe for a blessed eternity.

Jesus has no grave which we can decorate today, for, mighty God that He is, He has risen from the dead. You may have hated Him until this moment; you may have felt that there could be no forgiveness for your transgressions, terrifying, destructive, innumerable, as they are; but no vice is too vile, no wickedness too great, no crime too horrifying, to be pardoned freely, without price or payment, when penitently laid at the foot of the cross. If you want the blessing of faith, without which you will be eternally lost; if you want the power and strength for our nation, lacking which even a country as great, as wealthy, as strong, as resourceful, as the United States cannot indefinitely prosper; if you want to help avoid the supertragedy by which these brave dead will have died in vain, accept the Lord Jesus as your own, your very own, your eternally own Savior!

Men and women in our military forces, for your own salvation, for the continuance of the blessings purchased by the blood of America’s heroic dead, do not try to fight two wars without Christ: the conflict with your earthly enemies and the struggle against your spiritual foes! You need Jesus for both! You dishonor the memory of those who in past crises battled and bled for our cause if you live ungodly, unbelieving, unholy, unchaste lives. Give yourself to the Lord! Become new creatures through Him! Fight the good fight of faith! Triumph over sin! Spurn lust! Remember your parents! Avoid profanity! Then, indeed, having found your Ruler and Redeemer in the Crucified, you will understand on Memorial Day how, with God’s help, the nation’s fighting forces have assisted in establishing, preserving, and defending our country.

II

REMEMBER GOD FOR HIS FUTURE BLESSINGS!

Memorial Day asks that we remember the Lord also for the uncertain years before us. If He alone made us great in the past, only He can insure our prosperity for the future. How urgently we need superhuman, divine help for the perplexities ahead! Even now it is estimated that our postwar public debt will be $300,000,000,000. For a family of six this means an indebtedness of almost $14,000. We have a peace to win against selfish, overreaching interests, which will try to grab more than their share and thus begin the unrest which may result in a third world war. Before us lies a new social order with reconstruction problems, particularly for our youth and our laboring classes. I know that men speak glibly and enthusiastically of an easy, golden, overflowing tomorrow with the promise of plenty and the pledge of peace; but I fail to find any such warrant in God’s Word or in history. How, we ask eagerly, is this utopia of universal happiness to be established? Can we secure prosperity by economic planning? Again, we should wisely use the resources and the manpower which the Almighty gives, but we cannot solve a single problem against His will. With more financial advisers, economic experts, commercial schools, industrial specialists, and banking authorities than ever previously, the country suffered its worst money collapse and business depression. Can we successfully outlaw war by peace conferences, peace palaces, peace treaties? The age that has seen the most widespread effort to establish international harmony has likewise witnessed the most destructive and extended warfare. If human ingenuity alone could banish bloodshed from the earth, the last conflict would have been concluded years ago; but men make their plans for peace without considering God.

This generation should learn the lesson Isaiah expounds in our text. He lived in a darkened day, when human plans supplanted divine wisdom and men’s proposals often counted more than God’s; yet, undismayed, he turned to the Almighty and exclaimed, “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us.” Listen to those words again, “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us,” for they ask us to recognize that peace and victory ultimately lie in our heavenly Father’s hands; they are His to grant or to withhold. We may have the most efficient and the most numerous airplanes, the biggest and the best ships, the largest and longest-range cannon; but if God is not for us, all these are not enough. On the other hand, we may be undersupplied and underequipped; yet, if the Lord of hosts is with us, we can have the assurance of invincible power according to His will. If only throughout this broad land men would come to a personal recognition of this truth, “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us,” and trust the Almighty’s ability to “break the bow and spear asunder,” to bum the chariots of war in fire; if only America would contritely, sincerely, wholeheartedly, turn to the Lord of glory, He could stop this conflict, cut off the massacre of human lives, call a halt to the aggression of warmongers, and send our men home. The omnipotent Creator, who spoke but a word and the vast universe sprang into existence, can stop this struggle with another of His divine fiats. If He wills it, the war can end tonight. Yet, with men rebelling against Him, blaspheming His Son, resisting the Holy Spirit, continually transgressing the divine Law, can you expect that He will remove this visitation before we have learned its lessons and humbled ourselves under His almighty power? Do you really think that the Lord will force peace on us if millions in the United States are not willing even to hope for it, pray for it, work for it; if many do not want peace because they are earning too much money in war?

However, as we who know the Lord Jesus resolve on Memorial Day to do what we can in saving lives and souls for Christ, let us daily, persistently, humbly, beseech God, according to His will, to make the forces of justice and righteousness prevail, to protect our country’s youth, to give our enemies a full understanding of His ways and truth, and in the earliest possible hour to stop this killing! In the name of the heroic dead we plead with the patriotic living: Repent! Return to God! Reaffirm the faith of our fathers! Rededicate yourselves to Christ! Pray to the Almighty constantly in the words of the ancient seer, “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us!”

Until the glorious moment when the “Cease firing!” order is flashed over the battlefields, and forever after, every one of us can have precious peace in his heart through our Savior. In all the centuries He alone is the true “Prince of Peace,” who refused to take up the weapons of war, the only Comforter in all the ages who could tell His worshipers, “My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you,” the one Peace Bringer who died to give men eternal rest, comfort, and salvation. The calm and quiet He grants is the inner peace of a soul once at war with God, but now reunited with the heavenly Father; the peace which makes us children of the Kingdom; the reconciliation with God which enables us to repel the charges of our conscience that we have sinned too often and too heinously to be pardoned. It is the joy which comes with the forgiveness and removal of our sins, the harmony with Heaven promised by the Apostle in the pledge, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God,” the assurance and comfort won for us in that most sure and sacred of treaties, the treaty at Calvary, where Jesus, as it is written, “made peace through the brood of His cross.”

When men possess this “peace which passeth all understanding,” they can resolutely face every obstacle. A few days ago a burdened sufferer in Saint Paul wrote me: “I have been ill for a long time, confined all winter because of heart trouble, but thank God I was saved through your broadcast. I was about to take my own life when I heard your voice, and now I am a member of your church here.” Every week similar letters, sent by those who were snatched from the brink of despair and hell, come to our desk. Whatever your burden is, however hard and dark the road ahead, turn to the blessed Savior, who never refuses to help a searching, inquiring soul, and say, “O Jesus, by Thy blood and death and resurrection ‘Thou wilt ordain peace’ for me, for Thou art my Savior!”

You can have this assurance even in the midst of the most turbulent destruction, for even then the Lord can marvelously grant you confidence. One of our missionaries in China reports that when the Japanese were bombing Hong Kong, his house was singularly spared. When enemy troops looted the city, his apartment was not entered. Why? Directed from above, a Japanese officer sought to repay some Christian kindness by protecting the building. In the same way, no matter how dangerous your pathways, God can put peace into your heart since you know these two sustaining truths: first, since you have been redeemed by Christ, every burden comes from divine mercy, directed to your eternal good; and second, your Savior loves you so devotedly that His heavenly powers can miraculously support you. Hundreds of our military men, fliers, sailors, report twentieth-century miracles of grace by which their lives were saved. Through faith you know that Christ can “ordain peace” for you in your home. Three years ago a woman wrote me of her husband’s disinterestedness in religion and his lack of trust in the Bible. We counseled her and prayed for her. Last week she sent a joy-filled letter. Her skeptical husband has been baptized and is now an ardent believer. In gratitude this Christian wife sent us a check of $1,028 to help maintain the broadcast. No matter how hopeless the conversion of someone in your family may seem, look constantly to Jesus, pray, “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us,” and then trust Him with whom “nothing shall be impossible” to answer your pleading!

Men and women in the nation’s armed forces, you particularly need the Savior. We have been greatly encouraged by the response with which those in the Army and Navy receive our message. Special arrangements have been made in more than sixty military camps to have these broadcasts reproduced by special amplification. The Lutheran Hour is available for your camps without charge. If you want the broadcasts for your military or naval group, post, submarine base, battleship, write us! We are here to serve you. If you are troubled with religious questions; if you want to get right with God; if you need a Bible, a prayer book, or Christian literature; if we can do anything to help bring you to the Savior or strengthen your faith—men and women of our fighting forces—write us at once! We recognize no duty and privilege as greater than serving you who have left everything to protect us.

While taps now sound at this Naval Air Station in tribute to our departed defenders, may God grant us a reverent Memorial Day! From the Atlantic, where officers in convoys tell us that they tune in our messages, to the islands of the Pacific, where, as your letters reveal, our radio mission is heard in house after house, may this prayer now arise in the name of the Lord Jesus:

O God, true and triune, we thank Thee that Thou didst preserve our national liberties and blessings. We praise Thee also for the men and women, soldiers and civilians, who laid down their lives in freedom’s cause. We resolve that, Thy Spirit guiding us, we will so believe and live that these martyrs to America’s liberties shall not have died in vain. We ask Thee, Father, that this may also be a spiritual Memorial Day for many who will acknowledge Thy Son Jesus as their Redeemer. Help us, God our Father; help us, God our Savior; help us, God our Holy Spirit, to find Christ, to cling to Him, to live and die with Him, and thus strengthen our beloved nation with His exalting righteousness! “O Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us,” for we pray in Jesus’ name! Amen!

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.