He Never Spoke A Word To Me - May 26, 2018
James Collins

“Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.” Jeremiah 22:10

His name was Pickering. Everyone called him “Pick.” He never spoke to me even though I spent three days and nights with him. I talked to him. That was all I could do. Just talk. He never answered me. Pick never said one single word to me. But I feel like he was a friend. I still grieve his loss. I cry for him today.

On July 9, 2010, I was serving as the Combat Army Support Hospital (CASH) Chaplain at Contingency Operating Base (COB) Adder in Southern Iraq. That was the day that Pick came into my life. He was brought into the hospital by air ambulance. He was unresponsive. I stood at the head of the gurney while the doctors and the hospital staff worked to save Pick. I leaned in close to his ear and said, “I’m Chaplain Collins. You are at the hospital. The doctors working on you are the best in the Army. Don’t worry. You’re in good hands.” He never spoke back. His eyes remained closed. His expression never changed. I have always heard that before someone dies, their hearing is the last of their senses to go. I believe that. So I prayed for Pick. I whispered in his ear. Only he could hear me. The medical personnel were oblivious to my prayer as they frantically worked to save Pick.

I realized that I didn’t know his name. The field medics had cut his uniform off. But a silver chain hung around his neck. On that chain were his identification tags and a little silver cross. We called identification tags, “dog” tags. I reached down and took his dog tags in my hand and read his name. Horace Pickering. I leaned into his ear. I said, “Hello Horace.” I smiled and joked, “What kind of a name is Horace. Who names their kid Horace?” Then I said to him, “I bet they call you Pick. Can I call you Pick? We can forget rank and you can just call me James. I am glad to meet you Pick.” The expression on his face never changed.

One of the medics who came in with Pick screamed, “We are losing him again.” I thought, “Again?” I later learned that Pick had died twice in the field and the medics had resuscitated him. The crash cart was wheeled over and his heart was shocked. Pick started breathing again. I whispered to him, “That a boy. Hang on. Stay with me.”

Pick was finally stabilized. But he was in very bad shape. A ventilator breathed for him. The doctor believed that he had been too long without oxygen. The prognosis was not good. The doctor said, “He’s already dead. The machine is the only thing keeping him alive.” I whispered to Pick, “Don’t pay attention to that. What do doctors know anyway? I work for the Great Physician.” I prayed again. I asked the Lord Jesus Christ to save this man’s life.

I pulled a chair up next to his bed. I sat there all night and just talked to him. The next day, four soldiers from Pick’s unit came to the hospital. We stood around his bed and prayed and cried. They said “goodbye” to their friend and went back to the war. I stayed by his bedside. Pick had nobody else there with him. I was determined that he would not die alone. I sat with Pick for three days. I held his hand. I talked to him. But he never said a word to me.

On July 12, 2010, three days after Pick was brought into the hospital, the doctor walked in and pulled a chair up next to me. He said, “Chaplain, I have been on the phone with his family. We are going to turn off the ventilator.” Hot tears rolled down my face. I nodded in agreement. I stood up and moved back around to the head of the bed. I whispered to Pick while the medical team turned off the machines. I said, “It has been a pleasure. I will see you again.” Then he was gone…

The point is: This is Memorial Day Weekend. Many people will come up to me and say, “Thank you for your service.” But this weekend is not about me or my service. Memorial Day is about a young man named Horace Pickering and the many, many other men and women like him who left their country to never return. Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor the fallen. Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

I hope that you enjoy your weekend cookout. I hope that you enjoy a Monday off of work. I hope that you enjoy weekend activities with your family. I will enjoy all of those things too. But, God willing, I will spend some time on Monday at the National Cemetery. I will honor those who are buried there. And I will cry for my friend, Pick, even though he never said a word to me.

James Collins is a retired Army Chaplain. Serving God and Country have been the greatest honors of his life.

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