Surviving a War Zone
Being faithful when the stakes are highest
What? This is a war zone, private! You aren’t getting your Sabbath off! Your request might be valid in America, but we aren’t in America anymore!”
Reeling from this response, Private First Class Donald Vixie stood in front of his master sergeant wondering what to do next. Choices. It didn’t seem like there were many of those lately. As thousands of men before him, Vixie had been drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict of 1950-1953.
Out of a college class of 113, Vixie ranked fifty-seventh. If that number had been 56, he would have missed the draft completely and been able to stay home. As it was, he was drafted in 1952, sent to boot camp, put through medical training, and found himself in Korea awaiting assignment. The sergeant was right about one thing: this wasn’t America; this was a war zone that would see the U.S. lose some 36,000 men in combat.
What the sergeant wasn’t correct about, however, was the fact that Private First Class Vixie, or any other soldier, was entitled to having a day of worship in order to follow their religious convictions. Back at home Vixie and three other Adventist soldiers had requested leave for worship services, which had been granted. They had been able to leave base, go to services and come back when they were over. Things didn’t seem to work that way in Korea.
The valley of decision can be a difficult place to find oneself. From a human perspective it would seem somewhat justifiable for Vixie to follow his sergeant’s order and report for duty on Sabbath. After all, it was a war zone. Why should Vixie ask for something other soldiers weren’t asking for? Furthermore, it wouldn’t be a good thing to get on the sergeant’s bad side. That would mean a miserable time in an already-unfamiliar place. All these things played in Vixie’s mind as he stood in front of his sergeant.
Accustomed to Answers
Donald Vixie was the son of American missionaries. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, he had spent most of his life, until the age of 16, in that beautiful country. He had seen what it meant for a family to sacrifice for the work of God.
Vixie had seen his father, Levi, travel the continent of Africa to support the work of spreading Christian literature, and had heard the miracle stories again and again about how God, through His providence, had brought his father through challenge after challenge.
He had heard his father share how God had guided him on a journey from Finland all the way to southern Italy at the beginning of World War II. His father was attempting to find a way to the United Sates to meet up with his family, who had left England some time before. As he stood at the port in southern Italy, he knew it would take a miracle.
As he approached the clerk who was allowing passengers to board, he stated his name, only to have the clerk explain that 400 other people were ahead of him. Vixie’s father respectfully pointed to the dock and asked, “But where are they?”
As the clerk looked around, he saw that not a person was waiting to board ahead of Vixie’s father. With that, he beckoned him to board.
The stories of faith told by his father convinced Vixie that God honors those who honor Him. At the core of this situation was the simple truth of doing the right thing because it was the right thing. Yes, excuses could make a person feel justified in the moment, but at the end of the day doing regular duties on the Sabbath would be choosing human authority over God’s. If Vixie had been at his post of duty, helping wounded solders and caring for medical needs, there would have been no question. But this was different, and Vixie knew what he had to do.
He told the sergeant that he was entitled, through government legislation, to a day of worship, and that he would not be able to perform his requested duty on that day. The sergeant was furious. “Fine,” he said. “You can have your Sabbath off, but you aren’t going to spend it in this camp!”
With that he ordered Vixie to leave camp and not to come back until his Sabbath was over.
Korean winters can be snowy and cold. As Vixie trudged out of camp he realized that he was going to have to spend hours outside in the elements without the shelter or protection his camp afforded him. He was not deterred. With Bible in hand he trudged around in knee-deep snow until he was able to find a place where he could carve out a snow cave. There he spent the Sabbath reading his Bible.
When he returned to camp at sundown, the sergeant put him to work in the kitchen all night. As morning dawned, the sergeant informed him that he would have to do his regular Sunday duties. This treatment went on for several weeks.
Vixie lost a rank because of his “uncooperative” behavior related to the Sabbath. In spite of the difficulties, he stayed true to his beliefs and continued to spend the entire Sabbath outside camp. Everyone in his unit knew what was going on.
This became apparent when the captain came before the group to ask for volunteers to go to the front lines. Vixie’s hand shot up immediately. Everyone around him laughed because they knew the difficulties he was experiencing were bad enough that a change, no matter where it would be, was looked at with relief.
Saved for Service
On the front lines Vixie carried out his duties with excellence. He saw God’s protective hand one day during the lunch hour when a mortar round landed only six feet away from his bunker. Shrapnel from the blast hit the man in front of him and the man behind him, but it did not do anything more than graze his cheek. Vixie was able to dress the wounds of the two fallen comrades.
Once when Vixie and his platoon were out on patrol, they stopped to rest, huddled against a mountainside. Suddenly one of the other members of the platoon yelled, “Let’s run!” After running about 100 yards, the men looked back to see a mortar shell land in the exact spot where they had been resting.
As Vixie’s tour was about to end, a new captain placed over his command called him into the office. By this time Vixie had earned back his lost rank because of exceptional performance. The captain told him that he knew what he had been through.
The captain commended Vixie for how well he had done on the front lines, and told him that if he was willing to sign up for another tour of duty, he would give him the rank of sergeant. Vixie declined because he wanted to resume his education.
Perhaps if Vixie had signed up for another tour of duty in Korea I would have lost out, because Dr. Donald Vixie eventually became my father-in-law! After leaving the Army, Vixie went on to complete medical school, and practiced as an internist for more than 30 years in Flint, Michigan, where he and his wife, Lee, now live.
Vixie’s example of faithfulness and dedication to his heavenly Captain is an encouragement to us all as we seek, by God’s grace and power, to be as faithful to God as the needle is to the pole.
Jeremy Hall is an associate education superintendent for the Michigan Conference. He and his wife, Donna, have four children: Olivia, Sofia, Maia, and Josiah.