Where does faith go when the blue skies disappear, when battles rage and God seems strangely absent? Retired Col. Jeff O'Leary examines this question and more in Brave Hearts Under Red Skies: Stories of Faith Under Fire. Whether it’s the struggle of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, the Union Army at Gettysburg, a lone American soldier storming German guns during World War I, or any of the selfless heroes acting out their faith in the past up to modern tragedies like September 11, readers will be comforted with the fact, that like the Apostle Paul said in Romans, “tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, hope.”
But this is not merely a book about the red fires of battle – this is a book about believers whose trust in God has produced great courage—enough to endure war's crucible. O'Leary has gathered a powerful array of personal war stories from America's beginnings through September 11th. These stories reveal a powerful and affirming theme of authentic faith under fire, spanning more than two centuries.
O’Leary, a Legion of Merit holder, longtime member of the United States Air Force, humanitarian, and consultant for Fox Television, understands what it means to trust in God in faith-trying circumstances. While serving as a Peacekeeper in Northern Israel during the Gulf War, he survived a nightly Iraqi missile barrage and a café bombing while evacuating innocent civilians. O’Leary recently spoke with Crosswalk.com about war, spiritual struggles and Veterans Day.
Crosswalk.com: First, can you address why is it so important for the nation to observe Veterans Day?
O’ Leary: Because we’re a nation with a very short memory. We’re a nation of sound bites, of moments, and we quickly move on and we forget. We forget what God has done and the blessings that we’ve been given and the price that has been paid by so many millions of people that came before us. And that we would not be here today standing under a free sky without their sacrifice.
And it’s easy to forget. We’re all guilty of that. And if we can occasionally go back and touched the stones of those who have laid there and given their fullest for our sake, it reminds us of the preciousness of what God’s given our country.
When we look at what we’ve just gone through in Iraq – despite that fact that we’ve taken out this terrible leader, they are not going to revert and become American. They are not going to have this precious gift of freedom and peace that we have in this country. That is a gift of God and it’s a special blessing and you don’t find it in many places in the world. As long as we cherish that and understand what it takes to preserve that, then this nation can continue.
But when we forget who it is that gave us that blessing, and when we decide that it’s not worth standing up and defending, then we will lose it. What has happened in so many places around the world will happen to us. So I think it’s something of a way of passing on the torch of freedom of one generation to the next as we remember that and those who have become before us.
Crosswalk.com: It seems fitting to discuss your new book as we approach Veterans Day. Can we start by talking about how faith and war can coexist?
O’Leary: This was kind of a follow-up book to my first one (Taking the High Ground). But in this book we really tried to take people on the edge of the battlefield. Give them a real sense of “Here it is in the darkest hours of people’s lives, in what I call the hours of desperate prayers.” Where is God when the blue skies disappear and are covered with red skies of war? That was kind of my theme, you know, from Francis Scott Key talking about “the rocket’s red glare.”
When the blue skies are blown away by the angry winds of war what happens to people’s faith? How do you live through those dark times? We’re certainly doing that in the last couple of years in this nation. And we see that in Iraq, where even in what should be peace, you have these angry incidents. Or like when I was a peacekeeper in Israel, there were shootings and car bombings and different things like that. What about the people’s faith in those times?