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Almost Home


     One Sunday morning, on a barren point of land on the southwest shoreline of the Bataan peninsula, Private 1st Class Wilfred “Chick” Mensching of Gun 3 was on patrol when a barrage of bullets tore into his tender flesh. Just nineteen and far from home, he fell to the ground covered in blood. Shortly after the Japanese machine gun nest opened fire, seventeen of the twenty-two in his Marine patrol fell wounded or dead.


     “Take care of Chick first, he doesn’t look like he’s going to make it,” a badly wounded Marine told the corpsman. Chick yelled in reply, “you bet I’m gonna make it.” In the field hospital, he later told the surgeon, “If you’re gonna cut my leg off, let me die.” Mensching survived his wounds, plus an astounding thirty-eight bouts of malaria. He lived, only to endure three and a half years as a prisoner of war, suffering beatings, severe malnutrition and unspeakable horrors. His physical body, and perhaps his mind, never fully healed.


     The Chick I knew in the early 1990’s, was a gentle man and faithful Christian. He bore neither self-pity nor vain pride. At first, I was only vaguely aware of his service. I’ve since learned: thirty years a Marine, two wars, two Purple Hearts, and a Bronze Star. As with most brave men, he didn’t seem a hero. One day, we learned that Chick was in the hospital. Our church family in California prayed for him and his wife, Hazel. We feared Chick would die from his illness and the lingering effects of his wartime wounds. He didn’t. We were overjoyed.


     After regaining strength and energy, Chick shared a lesson with the congregation. We waited with love and great anticipation for him to speak. The first words from this seventy year old man, from so long ago, bring a surge of emotion still. “I was almost home,” he said with regret. I was stunned by his words!


     The text for Chick’s lesson was the first chapter of Philippians: 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.


     Like the apostle, Chick spoke with confidence that dying would place him in the presence of Christ. Our Marine hero was caught in a dilemma between seeing Christ or continuing life with his loved ones in this world. He so clearly, so vividly, saw the advantages of both death and of living. The peace of God that passes all understanding gave Chick the ability to say, with confidence, “I would be better off to have died." Our hero had self-assurance in his conduct and confidence in the promises of our Lord. Chick had nothing to fear. In fact, he desired to depart.


     This faithful servant’s words shocked me then and still linger in my memory. I can’t forget. I don’t wish to forget. When I think of him and this passage, Chick still ministers to me. His words were saying in effect what the apostle said to the young preacher, Timothy: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8).


     Our heroes of faith live within us, even though they may have passed from this life long ago. Chick died in 2007 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was wed to Hazel for sixty-one years. But he survives still! Wilfred Mensching lives in a world not made with hands. And he lives in my mind, in my heart. He still speaks to us today. Will we listen? Whose hero will we be?


Danny Pickett