’Tis The Season To Be Fort Bend Strong!

Fort Bend Strong by The Honorable Pete Olson

December of every year is a special time in Fort Bend.  We all find some way to celebrate the life we’ve been given, the family and friends who love us, and the blessings we share living in Fort Bend. These celebrations have many names: Bodhi Day (Rohatsu), Hanukkah, the Solstice (Dongzhi), Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, Omisoka and Festivus to name a few.  These are examples of the depths of Fort Bend’s diversity, and that makes us Fort Bend Strong!

These celebrations are normally times of great joy! They sometimes happen in the strangest places. I am a Christian and former United States Naval Aviator, so I’m going to share four Christmas holiday stories of love, hope and faith during America’s wars.

Let’s start with General George Washington. When the Continental Congress declared our independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, Mr. Washington became General Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. It’s hard to imagine a worse unit to command. They were fighting the most powerful army in the world. They were a bunch of farmers who only used weapons to kill animals to eat. Their marksmanship was horrific. They had no military discipline. They didn’t not know basic tactics of combat. The British whipped us every time we fought. Our ammunition, food and morale were fading. The dream of the United States of America was on the verge of extinction.

General Washington had to have one victory! He chose to cross the frozen Delaware River at Trenton on Christmas night 1776 to attack a huge garrison of German soldiers hired by the British to fight us. The attack was a complete surprise.  We routed the Germans. Our morale soared, new enlistees showed up and other European powers started to help us. General Washington knew the victory came from Heaven. That’s why he prayed alone in the snow on Christmas Day. Those brave souls allowed us to become Fort Bend Strong!

The Prayer at Valley Forge. A painting by Arnold Friberg. Photo source: https://www.meetamerica.com/george-washingtons-prayer-at-valley-forge/.

World War I is my second example of life and faith at Christmas during war.  A Serbian nationalist assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 14, 1914.  Seven weeks later, Europe was at war with the Germans and Austrians fighting France and Great Britain.  America entered the war on April 2, 1917. All fighting stopped on November 11, 1918.   World War I gave the world a new, horrific way to kill – trench warfare. Both sides would dig deep trenches, encase them with concrete and barbed wire, and never move. The battle lines barely shifted – 9,700,000 military personnel died and 10,000,000 civilians died.

On Christmas Day 1914, the slaughter stopped for one day. In the dark on Christmas Eve, French and British soldiers heard German soldiers singing Christmas carols from their trenches. A German brass band could be heard. At sunrise, a few Germans crawled unarmed out of their trenches and walked into the dead zone between the combatants, saying, “Merry Christmas!” Seeing the Germans were unarmed, the French and British soldiers left their trenches to celebrate the birth of Jesus with their enemies. There were handshakes, hugs, carols and shared cigarettes until the sun went down. They said goodbye, went back to their trenches and started killing again.  Even in trench warfare, a brief celebration of life happened. The “Christmas Truce” shows us the values that make us Fort Bend Strong!

The Daily Mirror: “A historic group: British and German soldiers photographed together.”
Photo source: https://duluthreader.com/articles/2017/12/21/109786-remembering-the-power-of-the-christmas-truce-of

My next story comes from the Korean War. It’s known as the Hungnam Evacuation – A Christmas Miracle.  We weren’t ready for war on the Korea Peninsula.  Within weeks of being surrounded by the North Korean army on a tiny swath of land near Pusan, South Korea, we had broken out and were days away from reuniting Korea. China refused to let its communist ally, North Korea, disappear, so they invaded Korea on October 25, 1950 with over 1,000,000 soldiers.  Our forces were overwhelmed and got pinned in the Port of Hungnam. We were able to get 106,000 of our troops out, but thousands of Korean civilian allies were left behind. They had no hope until Captain Leonard LaRue sailed into Hungnam on the SS Meredith Victory.

The Meredith Victory was designed to carry twelve passengers. Captain LaRue sailed out of Hungnam on December 23rd with fourteen thousand refugees onboard. Captain LaRue summed up the rescue by saying, “The clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God’s own hand was at the helm of my ship.”   That statement and attitude is Fort Bend Strong!

The Hungnam Evacuation – A Christmas Miracle. Photo source: http://nedforney.com/index.php/2017/12/19/hungnam-evacuation-a-christmas-miracle/

My final story is a personal one. I was blessed by God to have Sam Johnson as my mentor and friend for ten years in the House of Representatives. He was one of the best pilots to ever fly in the U.S. Air Force.  He flew with the Thunderbirds twice and flew combat missions in Korea and Vietnam. On his 25th strike mission over Vietnam, Sam was shot down and captured. Sam resisted attempts by his captors to use torture to get him to confess to war crimes. Other POWs were becoming aware of what Sam was doing. The Vietcong feared Sam may start a riot, so they moved him from the “Hanoi Hilton” to “Alcatraz” with a 3’ x 9’ foot concrete cell where the lights were never turned off. Sam was in solitary confinement for three years and was brutally tortured every day. Many POWs came home bitter with deep questions about the value of their faith. Not Sam – he came home with renewed faith and gratitude for life!  When we talked about his captivity and torture, Sam repeatedly said that, “There were no atheists in Hanoi.” His love of God and his wife, Shirley, got him home. Sam Johnson’s life story is our story – Fort Bend Strong!

Pete Olson and Sam Johnson.

That’s it for this month. If you have any ideas for a future Fort Bend Strong column, please send it to me at pete@absolutelyfocusmedia.com. If your comments are political, they will be quickly thrown in the trash can.

Always Fort Bend  Strong!