This past Memorial Day was filled with parades, concerts, and grand tributes to men and women who’ve sacrificed for our nation’s freedom. As I celebrated this year, my thoughts were focused on one special man. This is his story.
Years ago, I sidewalk-counseled outside an abortion clinic in Hartford, CT. Early Saturday mornings I would head to the clinic with my mom or friends to speak with those seeking to abort. In addition to us, there were a few faithful Catholics who stood outside the clinic holding signs of aborted babies and praying the rosary. Among them was an elderly man named John.
John was tough. Though his body was hunched, skin leathered with age, I could tell he was strong. I’d watch him leaning on his cane in the freezing cold New England weather. Regardless of the conditions, John didn’t leave his post. In the snow, he was there; in the rain, he remained; the heat didn’t deter him, and the winds couldn’t keep him away.
John was a WWII vet. He served in the Marines and was in the battle of Okinawa. John understood loyalty, and he wasn’t afraid of taking a public stand for what he believed in. Even when people screamed, harassed, or threatened him, he wouldn’t budge.
I enjoyed Saturday mornings with John and his younger friend Andy. Andy was a middle-aged married man whose friendly demeanor and upbeat personality won me over. John and Andy had a great rapport. They could easily transition from joking with each other to soberly warning people of the dangers of abortion.
After months of sharing the sidewalk with these great men, I felt a leading to do pro-life work full time. In September of 2005 I left Connecticut to move to Washington, D.C. and join a ministry that focused on praying for the government and the ending of abortion. I took my prayers for the unborn from a clinic in Connecticut to the steps of the Supreme Court.
Fast-forward six years to 2012. After spending two years in D.C. and three in Atlanta, I decided to come back home to New England. One day as I was driving through Hartford, I got lost and passed the street where the clinic used to be. I was angered to see that it was still there, six years later, continuing to destroy lives. I knew I had to go back. However, when I researched the place online, I found out that the clinic had recently closed and that its business had been moved to another location. All that’s left of the place now is an empty building. Their patients are directed to a clinic that’s thankfully right across the street from a crisis pregnancy center.
I decided I’d go pray and counsel women at the open clinic. Last Saturday I was standing outside the entrance with a few others when a car pulled up and a man got out. He was a friendly man who came to pray with us. He went up to everyone individually to say hello and introduce himself. “Hi, I’m Andy,” he said. I looked at him. He looked back at me. We thought the same thing, but finally he broke the silence and said, “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
My memory’s not the best. It’s hard for me to recall what happened last week, let alone six years ago. But in that moment, it all came back to me. Andy. John. The now closed abortion clinic in Hartford. A man I hadn’t seen in six years was standing right in front of me. “Boy, has he been faithful to this cause” was my first thought. Second was “How is John?”
I kind of knew what he would say. John was an old man when I met him. He was tough, but his body was weary from years of wear and tear. I looked at Andy, semi-hoping he’d give me good news but waiting for what I assumed was coming. “John passed away a few years ago,” he said. “I did the eulogy at his funeral.” I sighed. I had to know the details. I asked how he died and whether anyone had been with him when it happened. Andy shared that John lived alone and broke his hip after a fall in his apartment. Later he was transferred to an elderly home, where he spent his last days. Eight people attended his funeral, including his son, who flew in from out of state.
“Eight people?” I thought. The number was so small. It wasn’t that I imagined that John had a lot of friends. I didn’t think he had any family close by. Yet eight people seemed like such a minuscule number for a funeral. Weren’t there more people who loved him?
We continued to share memories of John. It just seemed right to. Andy shared a story about the time an enraged man outside the clinic got in his face and tried to punch him. The guy hated John’s pictures of aborted babies and wanted to hurt them both. Andy chuckled as recalled the way John stood right behind the man, cane held in the air, ready to hit him if necessary. The man eventually settled down and talked to the guys calmly. Andy said when he saw John lift his cane, he knew John would risk his own safety to defend him. That meant so much to Andy. John had a heart to protect those in danger, just like a WWII vet and a pro-life warrior would do.
I asked Andy if he knew how John got involved with reaching out to people at the abortion clinic. Andy told me John had had a hard life, including a drinking problem and a divorce. Yet somehow after that, Andy said, “Jesus whispered to him” to go to the abortion clinics. John never came with a church or a ministry program. He came alone because God had led him to.
John gave his final years to engaging in one of the greatest wars on American soil. He battled to save lives in the war on the wombs of women. Some call the battle of Okinawa the “bloodiest battle of the Pacific war.” Over 12,000 American men were killed in it, and 38,000 wounded. Yet John survived and lived to fight in the battle against abortion, the bloodiest battle of the globe.
John is a hero. He may have died with eight people surrounding his casket, but I believe he had a great welcoming in heaven. I can only imagine Jesus, surrounded by little children, holding out his arms and saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” John ran his race and finished well. His death leaves an absence in front of those clinic steps. If he were alive and well, he would be out there fighting for those babies. Who will take his place and give time to pray for the unborn?
I’d love to see an army of young people take the place of this elderly man and fill the streets outside clinics in our country. I’m sure that that would cause John to look down from heaven and smile.
John may be gone, but he won’t ever be forgotten. Goodbye, faithful solider and pro-life warrior. Thank you for your service.