Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fallen Heroes, Iraq War 03/19/03

Jason G Pautsch

Davenport, Iowa

April 24, 2009

Age Military Rank Unit/Location
20 Army Cpl

1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division

Fort Carson, Colorado

 Killed when their military vehicle was struck by a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in Mosul, Iraq.

A Gospel Story

On Good Friday my nephew, Jason, gave his life fighting for his country in Iraq. The details are familiar. We read about them in the papers too frequently. IED. MRAP. Suicide bomber. American soldiers killed. The difference this time was that it hit close to home. It was my nephew, the son of my brother, someone who had sat on my husband’s motorcycle when he was six and had swum in our pool, someone I had written letters to. This story was about us.

Then to my surprise the story began to be about something way more than Jason. There began an outpouring of honor and gratitude beyond expectation. There were the three star generals at Dover Air Force Base who kindly spoke with each family asking about the soldier they had just lost. There was the solemn dignified transfer of his flag-draped transfer case to the mortuary van. There were students from all his schools in Davenport lining the route of the hearse as it drove from the airport and countless others along the motorcade route for every trip he made. Mothers pulled back the curtains, pointed to the flag-draped coffin in the hearse, and explained to their children. People held flags and saluted. Policemen stood at attention at every intersection and saluted the passing hearse. Men stopped their work and put their hands and hats over their hearts. On the other side of the road, cars stopped, people got out and rendered honor. At the viewing at the high school over 2000 people waited in line to greet the family and pay their last respects to Jason, some of them waiting in line for over two hours and well over half of them having no personal acquaintance with Jason. Old veterans in American Legion hats and young soldiers and sailors in uniform stopped solemnly in front of the casket and rendered a slow honoring salute. As the hearse proceeded to the funeral service, vehicles on the opposite side of the freeway stopped their cars and paid respect. Those arriving at the church were greeted by hundreds of American flags installed in the middle of the night in the rain by one man who did not even know Jason. Two state governors attended the service along with hundreds of others. On the trip to the cemetery in the Rock Island Arsenal, all the Arsenal employees lined the streets, paying honor, holding flags, many wiping tears from their eyes. Flags all over the state of Iowa flew at half mast that day.

Why this massive outpouring of honor and respect? Some came from people who were personally touched by Jason’s death and whose lives would be changed by this loss. Still I think the massiveness of this display came because God made our hearts to respond to a Gospel story. What is a Gospel story and how is a soldier’s death in Iraq a Gospel story? A Gospel story is a good news story, a story of grace, a story of sacrifice for another. The people who lined the streets and stood in line at the high school knew something deep in their hearts. Jason had died for them. He had died instead of them. He had died preserving their way of life. And for that they were profoundly grateful. Perhaps some of them sensed the disproportion of it all. It was his 20 year old life for their 60 year old life. It was a young man in his prime dying so that the elementary kids at Harrison Elementary School could go on to high school and college and productive life. Perhaps some of them sensed that they didn’t deserve it, that it was more than any family should have to give for their sakes. And so they honored Jason, and by honoring Jason they were honoring so many others who had died for them that they might live in peace and security: people like the 4 men who died with Jason that day…. the 4300 who have died so far in the Iraq War… the many thousands who died in Vietnam, Korea, Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Normandy … The Bible says, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 RSV We love a Gospel story.

On another Good Friday long ago, another son died for his people. B ut there was no honoring that day except by a very few, and even they had no sense that he had died for them. The sacrifice was great that day and the suffering beyond comprehension. Most didn’t know that the very Son of God had humbled himself to become a man, to take the punishment due for their sins. The sacrifice was disproportionate: the perfect Son of God for the wicked mass of sinful humanity. We certainly didn’t deserve it. Jesus died not to preserve our present way of life but to make possible a new life for us, which in part we taste now and then completely in all eternity. Sometimes it seems odd. Even though we love a Gospel story, we often don’t love this one like we should. Why would this be? To receive Jason’s sacrifice, does not require us to admit our great weakness and spiritual neediness. To accept Jesus’ sacrifice demands that we acknowledge that there is no good in us and that without Jesus we are nothing. It is not a partial humbling, but a complete one. Even though Jesus’ sacrifice demands more, it also provides more. It provides for more than political freedom; it provides for our every spiritual need and for the forgiveness of sins that gives us an everlasting relationship with a most gracious and loving God. Jason was not the only person or the last person to die to preserve and defend our national freedom. Jesus’ sacrifice, on the other hand, was made once for all and will never be repeated. 

As we honor Jason and other soldiers like him who gave their all for us, let us pray that this Gospel story would help us to see and believe and better grasp the ultimate Gospel story, the death of Christ for us on the cross. It is more costly to our pride, but of greater benefit to our souls. Jason would be honored by that, for he once said in defense of Christianity, “It’s like this. All the other pretend gods want you to die for them, but instead Jesus died for you!” 

“We love, because he first loved us.” 
1 John 4:19 RSV

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast. 
Ephesians 2:8-9 RSV

Ruth Burge
May 2009

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