Yesterday I attended the funeral of Charles Bledsoe, a WWII veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was one of the first US troops to meet Russian soldiers at the River Elbe, and survived being run over by a tank. After returning from the war, a job as a door-to-door Bible salesman brought him to South Dakota where he soon married. Charles and his wife, Marian, got involved in archery and pioneered the sport of hunting and target archery in South Dakota. Charles taught archery to South Dakota youth for 35 years and was inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 1990.

I got to know Charles when I was chaplain resident at the Sioux Falls VA Medical Center. Charles had been awarded numerous medals for his military service, but when he tried to join the Order of the Purple Heart he discovered that it was missing from his military records. One of the greatest honors in my life was giving the invocation at a ceremony where US Senator Tim Johnson awarded Charles the Purple Heart as well as the Bronze Star for his World War II service 68 years earlier. Charles told me many stories of his life before, during, and after the war. He personified service and sacrifice in ways that I cannot imagine.

When he found out that I’m a writer, he asked me to write his story. During one of the retellings of his military service, he paused, looked away for a moment, and then said, “Do you have to write about the killing? There was so much killing. So much killing.”

I miss you, Charlie.