"He Died in My Place"
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
This week I attended the memorial service for 97-year-old Fred Holmes, our daughter Margi's father-in-law. There I was asked to tell the story of a trip to England Walt and I made several years ago with Fred and Nema and Tim and Margi.
Tim had made flight reservations without telling his father. "If I've already spent the money, he'll go." We were happily surprised when Dad Holmes said, "I've heard about a white wall somewhere in England with the names of American airmen missing in action. I'd like to see that."
During World War II Fred had been shipped to England with the crew of their B-24, "The Bad Penny." (Why "The Bad Penny"? Because a bad penny always comes back!) On arrival, Fred was transferred to another plane crew, with whom he flew 32 dangerous missions. But The Bad Penny did not return after one night mission. All crew members were missing and presumed dead.
We learned that the white memorial wall was at the American Military Cemetery near Cambridge. So one morning we caught a train from King's Cross in London to Cambridge. The cemetery lies in a lovely wooded valley, where 4,000 white marble crosses lie in terrible, neat rows. We walked into the visitor's center. The curator, an American, saw Dad Holmes' tears, and he said, so gently, "Sir, come into the office, and let me help you find what you want to know."
The Wall of the Missing, American Cemetery Cambridge Fred told him the names of his crew mates. The curator looked up the flight on his computer. He was able to tell Fred that the mission of The Bad Penny that night was successful, but they'd been hit over the North Sea on their way back home. "Come," the curator said, "I'll show you their names on the Wall of the Missing."
We walked out to stand in front of a wall, again much too long, engraved with the names of more than 5,000 American
men and women lost in action in the northern European theater in World War II. The curator showed Fred the name of the co-pilot of the doomed plane, etched deeply into white Portland stone.
In a voice trembling with emotion, Fred put his finger on that name and said, "He died in my place. . . . He died in my place."
We went into the memorial chapel and sang as best we could through our tears, "Oh, How He Loves You and Me. . . . He gave His life. What more could He give? Oh how He loves you and me!" The co-pilot of The Bad Penny had taken Fred's place in that doomed plane. The dear Lord Jesus took our place on the cross where we should have died. The Bible says,
[Jesus] was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
Recently Fred wrote,"There is not a day of my life that I do not think of the members of my original B-24 crew from which I was granted transfer, only a few days before they plunged into the North Sea, and I only hope and trust that they had time and opportunity to make that decision."
God says He is not willing for anyone to perish, but deeply desires us all to repent so we can be in Heaven with Him. Jesus died in my place. He died in your place. He died to give us His gift of eternal life.