Men such as these: a Memorial Day reflection

Like most denizens of Washington, I pay too little attention to the sites other Americans make sacrifices to visit. Earlier this month, though, prompted by reading James Scott’s Target Tokyo, a comprehensive history of the famous Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, I strolled through Arlington National Cemetery in search of three graves.

They were in Section 12, side-by-side, each marked with a headstone identical in its simplicity to so many thousands of others: William G. Farrow, Dean E. Hallmark, Robert J. Meder. Hallmark was the pilot of the sixth B-25 to take off from the pitching deck of USS Hornet, seventy-three years ago; Meder was his co-pilot on the plane they dubbed Green Hornet. Farrow was the pilot of Bat Out of Hell, the last of the sixteen planes to roar down the flight-deck of what President Franklin Roosevelt later called “our secret base at Shangri-La.” Captured in Japanese-occupied China, Hallmark and Farrow were shot by their captors on October 15, 1942, after months of torture and deprivation and a bogus “trial”; Meder died of starvation in a Japanese prison on December 11, 1943. All three were cremated, their names deliberately falsified on the urns that bore their ashes. The urns were properly identified after the Japanese surrender and returned to the United States, where they now rest, sheltered under a tree, down the hill from the equally simple grave of the flyers’ commander, Jimmy Doolittle.

Target Tokyo is harrowing in its description of what these men, and four of their fellow-airmen whose death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment, suffered in Japanese prisons. One day, however, the imprisoned Doolittle Raiders were given an old Bible, which they began to share, taking turns reading in their cells. As Carroll Glines, another historian of the Doolittle Raid, writes, “Up to this time, each man resorted to various methods to pass away hundreds of lonely hours….[But] it was the Bible, they admitted unanimously later, that had a profound impact on their respective outlooks…None of the four men would have called himself religious and none had ever read the Bible through before…[Yet] they attributed their survival to the message of hope they found in its tattered pages.”

That hope, I suspect, would not have been nourished so well, had the imprisoned, emaciated Raiders been given The Origin of Species or the Critique of Pure Reason; a death-defying hope might not even have been nurtured by David Copperfield or Pride and Prejudice. It was the Psalms, the Hebrew prophets, and the Gospels that inspired in these men, living under extremities of cruelty that beggar the imagination, a life-sustaining hope; a willingness to forgive their captors; gratitude to God for their survival – and for one, a new vocation. Jacob DeShazer, the bombardier on Farrow’s plane, became a Methodist missionary, returned to Japan, and converted Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese pilot who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, to Christianity.

Where did America get men like the Doolittle Raiders? Jimmy Doolittle was already a world-famous pilot (with a doctorate from MIT) when he talked his way into leading the raid that will forever bear his name. The seventy-nine other Raiders were known to few others except their families, friends, and fellow–soldiers. The Hollywood gloss of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo notwithstanding, they weren’t all handsome and they weren’t angelic. But they believed their country was worth defending, and that its defense was worth risking their lives on a volunteer mission that wasn’t even disclosed to them until Hornet passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, steaming west in harm’s way. 

I think it’s safe to say that none of the Doolittle Raiders thought America an ill-founded republic or the source of the world’s ills, although many of their families had struggled through the Great Depression. They were brave men and patriots, the products of an imperfect but intact public culture that nurtured millions of heroes like them. Standing under that tree in Arlington, I could only wonder what Bill Farrow, Dean Hallmark, and Bob Meder might say about American culture today.


COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”