My father-in-law, Lonnie Ray Browne, served in Vietnam and is the only casualty of war I’ve ever known.
He used to tell stories about things he experienced overseas. He was an aircraft mechanic meaning he had the good fortune not to be on the front lines of combat. But he did see fire and would recount sometimes how the enemy planes would come flying overhead shooting and bombing. He spent a year in Japan and even thirty years later still answered the phone in Japanese when he was in a playful mood.
At some point over there he was exposed to Agent Orange. Later in his life this would take a toll as diabetes – linked by the Veteran’s Administration to Agent Orange exposure – began to steal his vitality. He lost part of his foot and with it his ability to stand for long periods. His capacity to work the kind of jobs he had built a life on was gone. His eyesight was another casualty so jobs using a computer were difficult at best (try finding one that does not use a computer but is not on your feet).
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13
There was a period of about five years immediately after his amputation that was the hardest I have ever seen someone struggle. Lonnie (I never did take to calling him “dad”) kept finding jobs and was willing to do almost anything but job after job ended in disappointment. Still, he kept on. His belief in himself was fierce; his determination to take care of his family deep. He had something to prove, to fight for. That’s how I prefer to remember him.
Once when the pressure was building and obviously weighing on him I took Lonnie out for a beer. No wives. No kids. Just guys hanging out in a booth with some good beverages. We talked and laughed. He had a funny laugh and his whole face lit up when he did. Laughing took the load off for a bit. As we were leaving he looked at me and said “Thank you for this, Eric. I needed it.” We were never extremely close but I hold on to a few moments like that one to remind me he loved me and I him. I’ll never forget it.
When he finally broke down and applied for disability it was admitting defeat but he knew it was the right thing to do. He had to do it to take care of his family so he did. It humbled him but he was willing.
Lonnie’s confidence in God never wavered though I know he had periods when the questions outweighed the answers. My favorite artifact from his life is a large print copy of the New Living Translation we gave him ten or twelve years ago. It contains notes and highlighted verses by the hundreds. He obviously spent plenty of time with it. “I realized I couldn’t raise you kids myself,” he would say. So he put his faith in God.
Just a month before he died we sat on the front porch over coffee, Lonnie remembering his time overseas, his childhood, and his own father. He was proud of his dad because he turned down a job taming animals with the circus at an incredible salary of $25,000.00 per year (serious cash in those days) to raise a family of his own. Lonnie beamed like a little boy when he told that story. No wonder he always put family first.
Lonnie Ray Browne went to be with the Lord in the early morning of September 27, 2011, the years of struggle finally finished. It was too soon and we all thought to ourselves perhaps it would not have been so early but for his time serving Uncle Sam. We’ll never know.
This Memorial Day, I’m remembering his service to our nation and devotion to his God and family, sacrifices that prove greatness still lives in America.
Many have sacrificed much for our freedom. I think especially of those killed in America’s wars.
War of 1812
World War I
World War II
Persian Gulf War
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation New Dawn
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
Total = 1,010,389 paid the ultimate sacrifice.