Monday, June 13, 2011

Bob Goldsmith: Tribute to a Tail Gunner


He has showed you, O man, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8 NIV)

There are some important words that are slipping away from us. We just don’t use them much anymore, I think, because we no longer see many good examples. No one seems to live up to these words, and so we may grow skeptical and decide that these words are antique, out of fashion, out of date, even extinct.  

But for me, Bob Goldsmith has been that example, a constant reminder that some of these words still hold value and can still be lived out by people today. Here are some of those nearly forgotten words that Bob Goldsmith defines for me.

The first word is Gentleman. Some rare men have an intangible quality. I’m not sure whether to call it a bearing or a style or a persona. I think it is a special grace and when they enter a room or a meeting these gracious people change the whole atmosphere of the room. You know almost instinctively that this is person of sincerity and truth, love and gentleness, and great strength of character. A true gentleman can raises the moral tone and climate of any meeting or conversation. Bob was like that for me. He was a gentleman in the best sense of the word.  

“A gentleman is one who puts more into the world than he takes out.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.” –Theodore Roosevelt

We know that there is such a thing as a true gentleman, because we have known Bob Goldsmith.

Here’s another old word, Hero. Bob Goldsmith is one of a remarkable generation of men who accepted enormous challenges, carried heavy responsibilities, accomplished unbelievable things, and did it all with no thought of recognition or reward.

Could there be a more dangerous and frightening assignment in World War II than to be a tail gunner in a B-17? Here’s a little background. One third of all B-17s were shot down, nearly 5,000 planes. The average life expectancy of a B-17 crew was 12 to 14 missions. When enemy fighters attacked a B-17, they almost always attacked from the rear, and their first goal was to take out the tail gunner. Tail gunners averaged 20 years of age and two thirds of all B-17 tail gunners did not survive the war.

There was also no heat in a B-17 and in the high altitude, the temperature plunged far below zero. The crew kept warm by wearing electric suits and boots to help them survive the frigid temperatures on those long bombing runs. On one mission, Bob’s electric boots failed and his feet froze, because he could not leave the tail of the plane undefended, even for a few minutes. When he got back to base he had to be carried off the plane and hospitalized to treat his severe frostbite. But soon, just a few weeks later, he was back in sky, back in his B-17.

Bob said that it was not uncommon, returning from a bombing mission, to see the lights of England through the bullet holes in the fuselage.

Bob Goldsmith flew twenty-four missions as a B-17 tail gunner. He didn’t get his 25th mission, and always said his 25th mission would be his final flight to Heaven.

A day before his final mission aboard a B-17 bomber another young tail gunner, Norbert Swierz, sat down on his bunk and jotted down a poem for his mother back in Michigan.

I go so gladly to my fate, whatever it may be.
That I would have you shed no tears for me,
Some men must die, that others must be free.
And only God can say whom these shall be.

Bob believed that God had seen him through the ordeal of war and preserved his life for a purpose. It was by the grace of God that he did what he did and was able to come home and marry Francis and raise a family. The word is Hero.

And here’s another forgotten word, Integrity. Integrity means that there is no disconnect between faith and practice, no hypocrisy. Someone once put it like this: “A gentleman would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words.”

Bob was always scrupulously honest and true. That’s the way he did business, and that’s how he handled the store and all of his work. I think that’s why our church asked him to serve as treasurer and kept him at the task for 35 years. Here was a man of integrity, a man you could trust without hesitation or question.

Beth has been helping Francis with their bill paying since Bob has been so ill. She was telling me that Bob has maintained a detailed ledger of every dollar he has spent since 1957, even down to the tips he left in restaurants. And he has not only been a meticulous and faithful tither, he has instilled this discipline of faithful stewardship in his children and grandchildren.

We were laughing the other day, that it wouldn’t surprise us if the Lord decided now to put Bob in charge of the Lamb’s Book of Life. He couldn’t find a better man for the job. A man of integrity.

One final word, certainly one of God’s favorites, Faithful. Bob was a man of great faith and faithfulness. He was a man of the Book, a daily student of the Bible. Bob believed in prayer and made it the pattern of his life and faith. He served as a deacon, faithfully and well for so many years.

Bob kept faith with his family, as a loving husband and father, and he kept faith with His God. These verses from Proverbs set the compass and course for all of his life:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
   and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways acknowledge him,
   and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

I guess every little girl begins her life thinking that her father is the biggest and strongest, the wisest and kindest man in the world. Little girls always believe their dad is special, their dad is the best man in all the world.

Then, as little girls grow up, they begin to notice the weaknesses and shortcomings and limitations of their father. He’s not quite the hero he used to be in their eyes.

But for Janet and Melody it was different. Janet and Melody started off that way and amazingly, they never had to change their opinion. They never had to reappraise their father. He is still the best man they have ever known. And Natalie feels the same way. What a blessing!

Now I know that Bob would not be entirely comfortable being remembered and eulogized like this. Bob would want me to remind you all, that he was the kind of man he was because of the Savior he loved and served.

Christ made the difference in Bob’s life, all the difference in the world. It was God who forged this man, reaching down deep into his willing heart to shape and create a gentleman, a hero, a man of integrity and faithfulness, a wonderful husband and a loving father.

Christ made the difference in Bob’s life and he can make a difference in yours as well. All it takes is step of faith, turn to God, confess your need, claim Christ and His cross for your salvation, and God will begin to do His wonderful work of grace in your life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV)

And now the time for his departure has come. Bob Goldsmith has taken flight once more, flying his 25th and final mission, this time landing in Heaven, in the presence of God and all those who have gone before.

Do you remember these words of Charles Wesley from the old Easter hymn?

“Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head,
Made like Him, like Him we rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.”

Bob Goldsmith has taken his ultimate honor flight, arriving to a hero’s welcome, a victor’s crown, and his Savior’s words – “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If I were able to wipe the tears from my eyes, then perhaps I would write a comment. "Dear Bob, you will never be forgotten." Best wishes from a complete unknown stranger.