Today our family is going to the funeral of our friend Buck Bunn who died at age 90. I first met Buck when he was a Sunday School teacher at Providence Baptist Church here in Raleigh, where we attended when we first moved here 25 years ago. Little did I know that he would figure into our lives in some very interesting ways over a decade later. Below is a chapter from my book, “Preparing Boys for Battle” which tells part of the story and the significance of Buck Bunn in our family’s life:
Handling Dire Straits
How will you help your boy look back on the trials and the sometimes monstrous situations he will experience? If he is going to succeed, a father must help his son get his doctrine in order. A boy must know the God of the Bible—the true God who knows the number of the hairs on his head, his thoughts before he thinks them, and his steps before he takes them. He must know the God who is sovereign over all of His creation.
When difficulties arise, the normal human reaction is to cultivate blame, bitterness, and regret and to see oneself as a victim. This happens because of the common temptations to sin which accompany trials. It is here, in our weakness, where the Devil may be able to storm the doors of our hearts, for the history of our lives is often littered with incomprehensible situations that sometimes include the evil actions of other people.
How do you prepare sons for a life where looming threats so large and evil are clearly at work? How do we respond to this world in which we are strangers in a strange land, in which lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), this world where “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
In short, preparing our sons to look back on difficulty begins with the communication of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, which is the bedrock of a biblical philosophy of history.
A person’s philosophy of history is of enormous significance. Whether one views history like a Marxist, or a Hindu, or a Christian, creates tremendous differences.
In the same way, a soldier’s view of history will have a dramatic influence on how he understands the battle for Iwo Jima and all that took place there. If he looks back at that battle as a collection of chance events dictated by the whims, passions, and the powers of men, he will think about it in a fatalistic way. But if he looks at it with an awareness of the orchestrating sovereign hand of God, he will come away with different interpretations and convictions about God’s purposes in that important event.
When our boys went ashore on Iwo Jima they met a ferocious enemy. The protective fanaticism of the Japanese during World War II can be documented in a number of ways. To put this into perspective we need first to remember that no foreign army had set foot on Japanese soil for 5,000 years. When Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay in 1853, he was very seriously and carefully rebuffed. Second, the Bushido Code (“Way of the Warrior”) demanded “no survivors.” For this reason, while 12,864 bodies of dead Japanese soldiers were counted on Iwo, only eighty-one soldiers surrendered, and forty-five of those were Koreans—they fought to the death. Third, the purpose of the battle for Iwo Jima, from a Japanese perspective, was to scare America away from its march toward Japan. The Japanese knew that much more was at stake than this small island. General Kuribi- yashi believed that if he could kill enough Americans, Washington would reconsider the invasion of the Japanese mainland.
The Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima knew that they were under a death sentence. They were told that they would never leave the island alive and therefore, they must each kill ten Americans before they perished. The enemy was in a death grip and everyone knew it. General Kuribiyashi spent some of his time writing letters to his family instructing them in the way they should go since he knew he would never return home. He had carefully reconciled himself to his own death.
Our troops also knew the internal conflicts that went with such devastating circumstances. According to General Graves Erskine, “Victory was never in doubt. Its cost was. What was in doubt, in all our minds, was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate our cemetery at the end, or whether the last Marine would die knocking out the last Japanese gunner.”1
How should the boys who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima look back upon such a terrible situation? They had to look back terror and heart wrenching choices and compromises that were forced upon them. What would be their view of the fanaticism of the enemy that they encountered on Iwo? What kinds of conclusions should they draw from such a barbaric experience? Many men dealt with it by stopping up their experiences inside themselves up for fifty years and never speaking about it. Others grew bitter against the Japanese. Some were never able to shake it. Stories of this are myriad and common.
One thing is certain: If you maintain a truly biblical understanding of history, the difficult stories transform from dead-end tragedies. They are transformed by a sovereign God who oversees all and controls even the weather. Not only will they give you insight into the past but steadiness for today and hope for tomorrow.
Consider the amazing providences of God in the midst of the B-29 bombing raids:
My friend Buck Bunn recalls the amazing phenomenon that he was able to observe in these bombing raids. Those familiar with the history of warfare know that there are countless stories showing that small changes in the weather can make the difference between winning and losing. This was par- ticularly true in the final year of WWII as strange wind patterns improved the effects of our bombing efforts.
The B-29 bombing raids against Japan were often exponentially effective because they were fueled by winds that whipped up just at the right time. Those winds caused massive firestorms that swept through the cities, destroying the infrastructure of the country, finally breaking Japan.
Just to give a statistical picture, consider the following facts.
Before the Enola Gay dropped the ultimate weapon of the war—the atomic bomb—we had already destroyed sixty-five of Japan’s principal cities. Here is how the USAF describes the damage: “602 major war factories destroyed… 1,250,000 tons of shipping sunk by aerial mines…83% oil refinery production destroyed and 75% aircraft engine production destroyed…2,300,000 homes destroyed…330,000 killed…476,000 wounded.” B-29 attacks resulted in more civilian casualties than the Japanese armed forces suffered in three-and-a- half years of war with the U.S. 8,500,000 people were rendered homeless and 21,000,000 were displaced.
Japan’s largest cities were already in ruins when we dropped the bomb. It is startling to understand that 39% of Tokyo (the size of New York City) was completely destroyed, as well as 57% of Yokohama (the size of Cleveland); 55.7% of Kobe (the size of Baltimore); 44% of Nagoya (the size of Los Angeles); and 35% of Osaka (the size of Chicago).2
The B-29 was a fearsome weapon. An enemy who heard the roaring sounds of its engines overhead was stabbed in the heart with fear. And for good reason. They were big, they were loud, and they carried destruction in their wake.
And Buck was a B-29 bomber pilot.
Buck Bunn was just a boy when he became a B-29 pilot—seventeen years old. But it was Buck who led me to an amazing discovery about my father’s experience as a P-51 Mustang pilot and taught me about the role of the B-29 in the Pacific War.
I met Buck as a result of a conversation I had with Bill Henderson; I met Bill Henderson because my friend Jim Dyer told me about him. It was a chain of events and relationships that only God could have linked together arranged. My meeting up with Buck happened as a result of a lunch I had with Bill one day. I asked if he knew any other men locally who had been on Iwo Jima. He said, “Buck Bunn was a B-29 pilot, and he lives right here in Raleigh.”
So I called up Buck to see if he could get together with me. When my son and I met him for lunch I asked, “Buck, what were you doing on May 29, 1945?” I asked him because this was the day my dad was shot down while escorting B-29s on a bombing raid to Japan. He said, “I was on one of the biggest raids of the war over Yokohama.”
I said “Really? My dad was flying a P-51 Mustang on that raid, and he was shot down outside Tokyo Bay.”
He replied, “No kidding! I saw a guy bail out of his P-51 Mustang outside Tokyo Bay that day and have never forgotten it. I always wondered what happened to that guy. I thought that it may have been my gunner that shot him.”
I thought, “Is it possible Buck Bunn saw my dad bail out of his plane on May 29?” And, what’s more, “Could it have been Buck’s gunner that shot my dad?”
I hurried home, got out my history books, and made some phone calls to see how many Mustangs went down on May 29, 1945. Here are my findings: this was the last long-range mission and the most tactically successful of that month. During a very heavy incendiary attack, two Mustangs were shot down. One was piloted by my father, who bailed out; the other guy’s plane plummeted straight into the ocean and he was killed. That flyer was Rufus S. Moore.
One of the interesting puzzle pieces of my dad’s story is that he was shot down by “friendly fire.” The term describes an unintended attack from your own countrymen. In other words, my father was shot down by another American plane. Most likely, it was one of our own B-29s that shot my father down.
I was stunned at the thought that living right here in my hometown was the man who saw my father bail out of his P-51 Mustang. But it was even more amazing to think that Buck Bunn’s gunner may have been the one who blew my father out of the sky: Buck’s gunnery records show a kill on that day— friendly fire—on a P-51 Mustang.
Perhaps one of the truly interesting and humorous encounters I have ever seen took place on my farm, between Buck and my father. Fifty-nine years after the incident, the two men met for the first time and recalled the events of May 29, 1945. They laughed as the one pilot turned to the other with an apology—“Bill, I’m sorry if I shot you down,” Bunn said.
“No problem,” my dad replied. “Don’t worry about it.”
In the years since I met Buck, he has been a great source of information about the B-29, and he has even given a couple of lectures on the subject at our annual Memorial Day Picnic. He shared with us that Iwo Jima was a critical staging point for the final blows that brought the Japanese to surrender. The three airfields on the island of Iwo Jima were located in perfect position to make the final knock-out punch. None of our fighter planes was capable of the long trip from Saipan and Tinian to the Japanese mainland, but Iwo Jima’s airfields brought them within range of protect- ing the long-range B-29s. The mission of the P-51 on these raids was to keep enemy fighter planes away from the B-29 bombers as they flew over their Japanese targets. This was a challenge since fanatical kamikaze pilots in Japanese Zeros would crash into the B-29s.
Since the B-29 bases were on Saipan and Tinian, the bombers would leave and head for Iwo Jima where the P-51 Mustangs would meet them in the air at ten thousand feet and escort them to Japanese targets.
Buck commented to me that it was remarkable to him that nearly every time they went on a mission to bomb Japanese cities, there would be a roaring wind that would arise unexpectedly to fan the flames the bombings generated, destroying much of the landscape. Sometimes the firestorms were so fierce that pilots reported that getting too close to the heat during a firestorm would make them lose control. Sometimes the rising hot air would turn the airplane upside down.
The equipment was available. The pilots were ready and able. The protective P-51 Mustangs were in position. But the final victory was from the Lord who took all of the resources under His command and controlled the weather, multiplying all the human effort beyond measure.
Scripture records instances where God controlled the winds. For example, in Egypt, He caused an east wind to arise and then he caused it to shift from the west,
…and the Lord brought an east wind on the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts. And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt and rested on all the territory of Egypt. They were very severe; previously there had been no such locusts as they, nor shall there be such after them. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb of the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. So there remained nothing green on the trees or on the plants of the field throughout all the land of Egypt… And the Lord turned a very strong west wind, which took the locusts away and blew them into the Red Sea. There remained not one locust in all the territory of Egypt. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go. (Exodus 10:12-20)
We must realize, and we must help our sons realize, that the success of all our plans and stratagems are dependent upon the sovereignty of God. He controls the wind, the rain and the waves. He determines all outcomes, and we are but dust. The words of Proverbs 21:30-31 express this perfectly:
There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD. The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.
There are hundreds of passages of Scripture defining the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Here are a few:
GOD GOVERNS THE HEARTS OF KINGS AND ALL IN AUTHORITY.
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will. (Proverbs 21:1; cf. Ezra 6:22)
GOD CONTROLS BOTH SIDES OF THE PROBLEM.
The deceived and the deceiver are his. (Job 12:16)
GOD DESTROYS OR MODIFIES ANY PLAN HE WISHES.
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nought; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10-11)
GOD USES EVIL FOR HIS OWN PURPOSES.
Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the Lord has ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come? (Lamentations 3:37-38)
Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it? (Amos 3:6)
GOD CAUSES ALL THINGS TO WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD—EVEN WHEN THEY ARE MEANT FOR EVIL.
And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor har- vesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:4-8)
Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:18-21)
GOD HARDENS THE HEARTS OF WHOMEVER HE PLEASES.
But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 2:30)
GOD TESTS HIS PEOPLE WITH TRIALS.
And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20)
GOD RULES EVERYTHING.
In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? Does not the ear test words and the mouth taste its food? Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding. With Him are wisdom and strength, He has counsel and understanding. If He breaks a thing down, it cannot be rebuilt; If He imprisons a man, there can be no release. If He withholds the waters, they dry up; if He sends them out, they overwhelm the earth. With Him are strength and prudence. The deceived and the deceiver are His. He leads counselors away plundered, and makes fools of the judges. He loosens the bonds of kings, and binds their waist with a belt. He leads princes away plundered, and overthrows the mighty. He deprives the trusted ones of speech, and takes away the discernment of the elders. He pours contempt on princes, and disarms the mighty. He uncovers deep things out of darkness, and brings the shadow of death to light. He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them. He takes away the understanding of the chiefs of the people of the earth, and makes them wander in a pathless wilderness. They grope in the dark without light, And He makes them stagger like a drunken man. (Job 12:10-25)
These statements may not conform to a popular understanding of God, but they are what the Bible says of Him. This is where we must begin, for our vision of God is the foundation of our view of history, defines our lives, and affects every relationship we will ever have. Our denial or acknowledge- ment of God’s sovereignty will either make us wring our hands in worry, or cause us to lift them up to heaven and say, “My times are in Your hands” (Psalm 31:15).
A Father Must
1. MAKE CLEAR THE TRUTH OF GOD’S SOVEREIGN POWER
Fathers need to make several things clear to their sons as they prepare them to contemplate their lives:
First, the events of the past are not accidents.
Second, the events of the past are ordained by God for His glory.
Third, the events of the past will work together for His people’s good.
The truth of Holy Scripture is that God will always give His children a way through whatever dire straits He ordains.
This understanding of history filled the heart of Joseph. After all the wrongs committed against him, he seemed completely absent of distress, anger, or bitterness from the difficulties he experienced. Joseph was trained as a youth with severe testing as a despised brother, a slave, and a prisoner (Genesis 37-50). He was wrongly accused by the promiscuous wife of his master and then left to rot in prison. But, he didn’t rot his youth away in prison. Instead, he became the caretaker of the prison – the direct result of his lifestyle of faithfulness. He spent his entire youth, from age seventeen to age thirty-two, either as a slave or a prisoner. And when he looked back upon it all, he saw the mighty hand of God at work. Joseph knew and obeyed a big God, the one who controls everything. This providential view of history implanted within him a fearlessness that was the secret of his usefulness. He was not frightened by any fear, because he saw the hand of God moving in history.
Fathers, don’t let your sons leave home without bearing in hand and heart the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Say to them, “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged!”
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
“Son, Trust in the Sovereign Hand of God”
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