I’m in the middle of reading Lone Survivor, and the author’s spent a decent amount of time explaining that Navy SEALs don’t ever give up. They always think they can win, they can make it out. There’s no quit in them, no matter how bad it gets. For someone like me whose “struggles” are much more mundane (though often very soul-sucking in their mundane-ness), this resonated. Very often, I look back and wonder, “what good came of that?” So when a friend recently told me the following story, it felt very timely.
In 1942, Robert Leckie enlisted as a marine. His first assignment was to a tiny little “insignificant” island somewhere in the pacific that nobody had ever heard of. They trained for many months, and in August of that year they were deployed on this little island to fight an entrenched and veteran enemy. After fighting their way ashore, they watched in horror and helplessness as their supporting navy was driven off. Some ships were sunk, while others – carrying their reserves of food and ammunition, as well as any hope of escape should things go really bad – disappeared. The marines were now completely cut off, with no way to even contact their superiors, they were left to fend for themselves against thousands of enemy troops.
The inevitable counterattack came. The marines were bombarded from the sea and shot at by ground troops. Leckie describes the battle from a very narrow point of view. He had no idea what was going on fifty yards away. It was dark; the weather was horrible. But they kept fighting. Men were dropping all around him, but the marines that were left kept fighting. How long would it be until he was taken out by a mortar shell or machine gun bullet? But the marines kept fighting.
I wonder if they ever thought, “what are we fighting for?”
In the end the marines were stuck on this insignificant island for almost six months. I want us to just put ourselves in their worn out boots for a moment. It would be safe to say that their view was myopic. They only knew what was going on in the immediate vicinity on that little island. They had no idea how large the enemy force was and no idea what was going on in the rest of the war. Many were diseased and emaciated; all were very hungry. When the navy finally returned with reinforcements and took the surviving marines off the island, many could not climb up the rope ladders onto the ships. Soldiers trying to ascend the side of the ship fell into the ocean with pack and rifle. Leckie was one of the marines that had to be lifted onto the ship by the sailors.
But as it turned out this little island was not so insignificant after all. It’s name was Guadalcanal, and on it was an airstrip that the Japanese intended to use to attack Australia. The marines had taken it. Some have called the battle for Guadalcanal a turning point in the war.
Leckie described one of his first experience back on the ship:
Once belowdecks, Chuckler and I set out for the galley for cup of coffee. We walked in and sat down, just as the last [replacement] soldier who had been aboard this transport was rising to leave. He looked down at us as we sipped the coffee from thick white mugs.
“How was it?” he said, jerking his head shoreward.
“Rough”, we answered mechanically. Then Chuckler spoke up, “You mean Guadalcanal?”
The soldier seemed surprised. “Of course I do.”
Chuckler hastened to explain. “I wasn’t being wise…I meant, had you ever heard of the place before you got here?”
His astonishment startled us.
“Hell, yes! Guadalcanal. The First Marines—Everybody’s heard of it. You guys are famous! You guys are heroes back home…”
We did not see him leave, for we had both looked away quickly—each embarrassed by the quick tears.
They had not forgotten.
We have such a limited perspective here, don’t we? This is real life in a fallen world: full of disappointment and pain. I see my own struggles, and often, it feels like my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, like God’s dropped me here and then gone on vacation. Do you even hear me? Am I fighting for nothing?
For me, Leckie’s story is a punchy reminder: keep praying! Sometimes “victory” isn’t glorious, and it’s definitely not quick. It’s simply not giving up. Keep “fighting the good fight,” as Paul put it (2 Tim 4:7) – even when it feels futile, like a complete waste of time and effort. Someday after all this is over, we may be having coffee up above wondering about these days of unceasing prayers that seem to bounce off the ceiling, and some eavesdropping angel will say, “You were the one God enlisted to pray for that? We watched you. All of heaven was cheering you on! You are a hero!”