Written by Sgt. Justin Harding
“Private First Class Andrew Halverson, 19, of Grant, Wisconsin, died as result of enemy action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California. Died on October 9, 2004.”
That was all it said in the Stars & Stripes newspaper.
Memorial Day is not just a national holiday to me but also, a personal Holy Day at which time I reflect upon how my inner sphere of life is matching up with my public sphere of life. If the terrorist wielding the rocket-propelled grenade had been on the opposite side of the street, the bio in the death notification would have been mine. No wife to love, no kids to help with homework, no teens to teach at Sunday school: an end to my Central Blessed Life on earth.
Rev. In Jin Moon recently shared from the pulpit of her Lovin’ Life Ministry America’s origin in religious freedom. Heaven truly has protected and sustained America through many sacrifices. On Memorial Day we put a human face to this deep love Heaven has for America. We remember friends, grandparents, and neighbors who have sustained this freedom with their lives. In short, as Unificationists we try to comfort our God by taking our mission a bit more seriously each day as we personalize the struggle for our ideals.
A contingent of the next generation of the Unificationist community is taking up military service. By my own informal count, more than 40 are serving or recently have served. Of these, about a dozen are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. I feel it is only a matter of time before the names of Unificationists are added to the roll call of the dead in Arlington National Cemetery or face a challenging recovery at Walter Reed Medical Center. On this Memorial Day, let us all join in a collective prayer of protection, gratitude, and thanks to those in uniform, their families, and the lineage of families who have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to preserve the ideal of religious freedom. May this day help us reflect and rededicate ourselves to the noble goal of “One Family Under God.”
Before I am a Marine, I am a Unificationist—a proud Unificationist brother who is grateful to have been called out of the Wilderness and taught the Divine Principle by True Parents. The vehicle I chose to establish myself as a Tribal Messiah—military service—led me to Al Anbar Province in Iraq several times. I was confronted with a war zone in Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar Province, 80 miles west of Baghdad. In Ramadi, organized hate, murder, and intimidation were being personally orchestrated by a fanatic so-called “Holy Warrior” named al-Zarqawi and his Mujahiddeen Shura Council. They openly backed groups such as Ansar al-Sunnah [Group of Followers of the Faith], Jaishe al-Mohammed [Soldiers of Mohammed], Hamas of Iraq and many others united in declaring the province of Al Anbar the Islamic State of Iraq.
Our enemy deeply believed in God, heaven, and salvation. They saw us as Crusaders and infidels, a cancer in their newly declared Islamic state. I was at odds. And in the quiet moments between patrols and shootouts, as a Unificationist, I had many questions. Didn’t I believe in God, heaven, and salvation as well? These weren’t the God-denying communists our movement took on and defeated in the 1970s and 1980s. No, they believed in God, but they also believed in torture, murder, and suicide bombing. The street fight for Ar Ramadi was on. What could I possibly do to represent Reverend and Mrs. Moon in the midst of this impossible situation? My first goal was, yes, to stay alive.
Once I tried to chat with an Iraqi engineer who came to our camp to make repairs on a dam on the Euphrates. He was perhaps 30 years old and spoke decent English. He told me he just wanted his kids to be safe, go to school, and have a better life. The man then informed me that he couldn’t be seen talking to me for fear of being killed. Yet, we wanted the same things for our children.
Over seven long months, my close friends were dying or being wounded, and the local civilians caught in the cross-fire were often killed or horribly maimed. I can’t describe the twisted heart I felt.
Father Moon has said in his peace messages:
In this age, war is the most primitive and destructive means of resolving conflict and will never lead to lasting peace. Now is the time, as the prophet Isaiah taught, to beat our swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Humankind should end the perverse cycle of war, which only sacrifices the lives of our children and squanders enormous sums of money. The time has come for countries of the world to pool their resources and advance toward the kingdom of the peaceful, ideal world desired by God, the Master of this great universe.
First Peace Message – September. 12, 2005, on the founding of the Universal Peace Federation
Yet it is a fact that many of my comrades in arms found their faith in that desolate city. The Marines had no bars to go to on weekends, no wives or girlfriends to visit, no place to go except to find comfort in each other and turn to God in whatever way we understood Him. Our existence became very simple: Eat; sleep; clean weapons, gear and ourselves; fight; live; or die. We didn’t really appreciate what America was and who Heavenly Father was—the sacredness of life and our nation. Just how quickly this sacred life could be snuffed out became all too apparent to me on October 9th, 2004, early in the afternoon.
The armor-piercing round went right through his chest just a day before his twentieth birthday. After it was done, I sat stunned in the bloody Humvee. Two of my five-man team were on their way to a medical aid station, another was bound for a hospital in Germany, and Andy was dead. I sat in this bloody and burnt Humvee being towed back to base, trying to be useful turning the wheel. Suddenly, I felt Andy’s spirit sitting in there, alone and confused. He had died minutes earlier. I started to pray out loud for him to not be afraid and just cried trying to get composure and somehow offer this situation.
This common suffering led to a common Marine faith; we watched each other’s back. We keep care and concern to this day, calling one another, asking about family, children, and old buddies. It was easy to make sincere relationships as we started to appreciate one another. Conversations about God were commonplace. I was actually the chaplain’s assistant for my platoon. And one day the chaplain, “Chaps,”- called me into his office. He told me that if I was going to represent him, I couldn’t talk about Reverend Moon so much and that I had to clean up my foul mouth!
Heaven was still trying to work on the details of my character even in such a place! At first I thought, “This is a freaking combat zone! What am I going to say ‘Excuse me, Private, could you please pass the ammo? I’m out!’” As always Chaps was right. I needed to set a higher standard. So I agreed to not curse so much, but there was no way I was going to stop sharing my faith.
To be honest, I didn’t stop cursing so much. It was hard to suppress my anger at some of the locals. “Why didn’t the Iraqi people warn us?” I kept thinking. “They knew where the bombs were and where the terrorist live! Why didn’t they help us?” Their fear and hate led me to hate also, to feel I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot an old man if he came through one of our checkpoints. I guess the children saved me. How could you hate a child? I have three of my own.
They smiled, these children. What the hell were they smiling about? They saw us in our combat gear and smiled, oblivious to the tools of death we kept on our person. They sincerely came up and asked, “Mister, chocolate? Mister, water?” And in that moment America’s mission to serve and bless the world crashed on my soul like a ton of bricks. We must do something to help these kids improve their future.
Generally, if kids were around, you were safe; if they weren’t, it was time to flip off the safety and get ready. I thought deeply, what could I do for these kids? The love of these Iraqi moms for their kids struck a nerve. I saw one mother running out in the street with lead flying everywhere to cradle her lifeless daughter to her chest. The mom was shot and bleeding out herself, still trying to save her child. All the intellectual and political theories of why we fight melted away in the heart of the parent. How can I comfort Heaven in this impossible situation, with my heart twisted more tightly?
I have often seen photos of G.I.s giving candy to kids during World War II or a Marine spoon-feeding a kid during the Korean War. I would treat these kids as my kids, the best I could. Somehow that parent–child love melted this twisted heart.
Three years later, Gen. David Petraeus hailed Ar Ramadi, Iraq, as a bastion of hope and change. The tribal leaders united to form the Awakening Council and stood up against the terrorists. This Awakening Council spread, uniting the Sunni tribes to take part in the election process with their Shia and Kurd brothers. Cain and Abel had put down their guns and were talking. Now parents could send their kids to school and play soccer down the block. Hope for a better future seemed possible. What of the costs? So many died.
Upon returning safely home I was so heartbroken at the loss of my friends. My company had ten KIAs [killed in action]; two were in my platoon of twenty-five guys, and eight others in my platoon were wounded. I felt strongly I had to do something, but what? My wife and I decided we would pray for the fallen Marines in my unit. These include Captain Patrick Rapicault (by suicide bomber), Lt. Mathew Lynch (by roadside bomb), Sgt. Doug Bascom (by small arms fire), Corporal Mark Ryan (by suicide bomber), Corporal Lance Thomas (by suicide bomber), Corporal Baro (by roadside bomb), Corporal Hubbard (by roadside bomb), Lance Corporal Chad Clifton (by mortar), Lance Corporal Sean Langley (by roadside bomb), and Private First Class Andrew Halverson (by rocket-propelled grenade).
I share their names with you on this Memorial Day to bring us closer to one another and to personalize this day. You can look them up online and read the news articles about their lives, think about your own kids, and allow that all-powerful, all-knowing parental heart of God to lift you up and guide you in your family, work, and mission to expand and grow our “One Family Under God.”
Justin Harding joined the Unification Movement in 1989. In 1992 he received the marriage blessing with Yuriko Harding. He graduated from the University of Bridgeport in 1998 and enlisted that year in the United States Marines Corps. He has served with the Second Battalion Fifth Marine Regiment, "The Most Decorated Infantry Battalion in the USMC" for the last 10 years as an Infantry Antitank Assaultman, including four tours of duty in Iraq. His highest personal awards include a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor in combat, the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and the Combat Action Ribbon.