I wish I had met Walter “Smokey” Gordon, one of the original Band of Brothers. He died on April 19, 1997 at age 76. His life story, as remembered by his children, is recorded in my book, A Company of Heroes.
Those that knew him say he was an elaborate prankster, an intelligent conversationalist, and a courageous soldier.
He was wounded at least three times.
Smokey parachuted into Normandy on D-Day where he was first wounded in the leg. He healed, rejoined his unit, and later fought valiantly in the battle of Operation Market Garden.
|Walter "Smokey" Gordon with his twin sister, Cleta.|
Smokey slowly recovered stateside, but for the rest of his life he suffered with chronic back and shoulder pain.
His children described how whenever someone greeted their father with a pat on the back, unaware of his disabilities, you could see a wince in his eye or face. Yet Smokey Gordon would never mention it.
A third wound came to plague his life. Although Smokey’s parents were never particularly religious, he had become a faithful Episcopalian, lay reader, and altar boy on his own as a child. But as an adult Smokey’s faith would suffer a terrible blow.
He had a twin sister, Cleta, whom he adored. Tragically, Cleta died in her early thirties of breast cancer, leaving behind a husband and small children. It was this wounding that became the turning point of Smokey’s religious life.
Following his sister’s death, anytime Smokey was asked about his faith, he would reply, “Any God that could take away the most beautiful creation to walk this earth, I want nothing to do with.”
I mention this third wound because it’s one that others can relate to, including me. God is all-powerful. Yet grief comes to all of us. So when prayers aren’t answered the way we hope, it’s common to question God, even to turn away from him.
Did Smokey Gordon ever heal from his third wound?
The family has deeply religious relatives with whom Smokey would engage in conversations and debate. Even late in life he could quote scripture chapter and verse.
His children once wondered how a person who had lost his faith could know scripture so well. They asked him, and his reply was typical of this untypical man, “Don’t you know that the Bible is the greatest book ever written?”
Due to his deep admiration for scripture, I like to think Smokey Gordon eventually found peace with God, although I’m not certain.
Scripture teaches how God is good regardless of life’s circumstances, and that God has reasons for allowing tragedies to happen beyond what we can fully understand. One day God will set all things right, either in this life or the life to come.
The writer of Hebrews offers this invitation:
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can’t see.”
This Easter season, if you’re struggling with similar questions of faith, my encouragement is to not let disappointment with God go unanswered.