Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book, The Greatest Generation, told the story of the generation of Americans who grew up during the great depression and later served in World War II.
We at Ramona Valley Presbyterian Church are blessed and privileged to have a number of people who are members not only of our church, but also of that greatest generation. They have a great deal to offer, and we truly thank God for them.
A few months ago, one of our precious senior saints, Bill Groves, gave his testimony during our Sunday worship service.
He spoke of how he came to know the Lord Jesus Christ and also of his most memorable experience while serving in the Unites States Marine Corps in Okinawa, Japan during World War II.
Call to Duty
Bill grew up on a farm in Blairsville, GA, just south of the border of North Carolina. To say that it is a small town would be an understatement. As recently as 2010, the total population in Blairsville was less than seven hundred!
He entered the United States Marine Corps in 1944 at the age of 17, going to Basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina and then to extended basic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Sadly, he never even got to have his picture taken in his dress blues (the sharpest looking uniform in all the U.S. Armed Forces).
In early 1945 he was shipped out to Okinawa, Japan as part of the 6th Marine Division. He was one of the many “replacement” troops there. Interestingly enough, the 6th has the distinction of being the only Marine division to have been both formed and disbanded overseas. (It existed only from 1944 to 1946.)
Because of the rocky coral terrain of the island, it was practically impossible to dig a foxhole. So, like many others, Bill had to make do with whatever natural cover he could find or improvise. One night after an intense day of combat, Bill found himself setting up position behind a boulder. He then piled up some smaller rocks around it as cover from enemy fire.
He was all set for the night watch at his forward position, when another Marine came up to him and told him to go back toward the rear and get some rest. That Marine took Bill’s place that night, taking up the forward position where he would be more exposed to possible enemy fire.
Very early the next morning, as usual, the fighting erupted again. The sounds of gunfire and mortar shells filled the air. After the fighting had subsided, the men took to the grim task “counting helmets.” In other words, they were checking to see who had survived the fight. But there wasn’t even a helmet to be counted at the spot where Lcpl. Groves was supposed to have spent the night – there wasn’t much there but a crater from an enemy mortar blast.
That other Marine died in the very spot where Bill would have been. If he had stayed there that night, there is no doubt that he would have been killed by the shelling. But his fellow Marine took his place, and Bill didn’t even know his name.
“He took my place.”
As Bill went on to point out in his testimony, that Marine was not the only person who ever took his place. Bill is quite literally a man twice-saved – once from physical death in the hellish conditions of war, and once from sin, death and hell. Two times someone died in his place to save his life – once during a night watch in Okinawa in 1945, and the other time (even more importantly) about 2,000 years ago on the Cross of Calvary.
Romans 5:6-8 says,
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The memory of having his life spared that day on that island in the Pacific serves as a constant reminder to Bill and those who know him that the Lord Jesus Christ died for the ungodly. He took the place of sinners on the Cross and paid the infinite and terrible price that our sins deserve. And He did that so that we might live.
After the war, Bill came back home to the States, got married, and settled down. He and his family have lived in Ramona for many, many years. They have experienced first-hand the joy of knowing and serving the Lord Jesus Christ and have taken an active interest in supporting Christian missions overseas.
Here is a current photo of Bill & his wife, Mona: