When I met Thomas Bernauer, he never left his plush, recliner chair. His house was quiet but for the rise and fall of the oxygen machine that kept him breathing. He was old, and he was dying, but he had a story to tell.
I was there to record an interview to feature veterans in the local newspaper for Veteran’s Day. He was volunteered by his family for the interview. They wanted his story shared. He wasn't so keen on sharing.
Thomas had served in the Navy on the U.S.S. San Francisco in World War II as an electrician mate officer. He was also taken captive as a prisoner of war, something the many medals on his wall heralded.
I had done several other interviews before this one for the same Veteran’s Day series. They were straightforward interviews. The men wanted to talk, and I barely had to ask any questions. They shared about the friends they made who became brothers. They talked about some of the destruction they saw, destroyed buildings and bridges. Some talked about the food they had, that was sometimes scarce. They smiled often. Most had an overwhelming sense of pride.
He didn't want to talk about his time in the war. It wasn't pride in his eyes when asked about his military service, but fear that reflected from his gaze. I hadn't put my finger on just what it was he had to fear by telling his story. I soon realized it wasn't so much telling the story that he was worried about, but seeing those images in his mind again.
What he did want to talk about, though, was his beautiful wife of 71 years, Ruby. He said it was her face that kept him going through the worst of his time as a POW. I let him share about her as much as he liked. I knew I was settling in for a long talk, which I was more than happy to do. It was nice to see the fondness in his eyes every time he looked her direction.
Every time I brought up his time in the war, though, he would shake his head. That look of fondness glazed over to fear once again, and his gaze moved absently to the window outside.
He was searching to see anything of the outside world that would distract him from the images that were obviously haunting him. Just the thought of his past time in the war was tearing at him from within. Without a word, I knew that this man was still hurting from the things he had seen or had to do while he was in the military. My heart broke for him.
After about an hour of talking about his wife and family and brushing on topics like where he did his basic training and where he traveled to, he finally stepped over that line to share some of his past he would rather forget.
He was quiet for what seemed like minutes before he began reliving some of those moments.
He was one of the first sent to Pearl Harbor after those attacks, I found out. He said he saw men strewn all over, on land, floating in the water, many killed in their sleep.
He wouldn't even describe the things they had to do to survive being prisoners of war. He said it was horrible, and that was all he needed to say. He was still upset his superior officers commanded an attack on an island as the tide was going out. That is how they got stuck on the reef and that is how they were taken captive in the first place.
But the words that cut me the most were when he relayed his intense desire to somehow find peace of mind when all he saw when he closed his eyes was horror.
“The sooner I can get it out of my mind and forget, the better off I’ll be,” he said, pausing long and hard before continuing in tears. “I’ll never do it. This here, it’s burned on my heart —forever.”
I told him before I left, that one day he would finally find peace. He didn't seem too convinced.
Thomas died shortly after that interview. And while I cried and mourned for the family, I couldn't help but have an overwhelming sense of peace knowing that those images he saw were no longer tormenting him. He was at rest. And I knew that in his next moment, he would have the opportunity to live and be transformed forever.
That scar he thought was so permanently burned onto his heart will be healed by a loving Father who never wanted us to be scarred or burned by life.
If you are called and have answered God’s call today, sometimes we get really excited about our resurrection into eternal life. It is indeed incredible that we are offered such a gift, one I pray I can receive. But one of my favorite days in God’s festival plan, which you can learn all about in the booklet, God’s Holy Day Plan, is the Eighth Day—sometimes known as the Last Great Day.
Every part of God's plan leads up to this Eighth Day, to every person finally having life and having it more abundantly (John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
American King James Version×). It is, after all, God's great desire, that all find the truth (1 Timothy 2:4 1 Timothy 2:4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×). This is the day that pictures a time in the future when all those who weren't called in this life will finally have a chance at true peace through God’s way of abundant life. It is a time when everyone from all walks of life—whether liberals, conservatives, atheists, veterans, war protesters, everyone—will have the chance to change and live in the peace of God’s government without fear of death or pain or any more of the sorrows of this world.
After this future time, pictured by this Holy Day, we see a wonderful transformation. In Revelation 21:4 Revelation 21:4And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
American King James Version×we are given some of the most comforting words: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
I want to be there on that day to see Thomas Bernauer, not the way I saw him when I interviewed him, but clean, purified, removed from the horrors and atrocities of this world and finally able to have a new heart, one healed by the merciful hand of God.
And I want to look into his eyes and see his tears replaced by a light, pure and right, and totally free from fear.
God speed that day!