Note: The following appeared in the Sept. 1, 2005 print edition of The Christian Index after the funeral of U.S. Army Spc. Joshua Dingler in the Iraq War. Today, Aug. 15, marks the 11th anniversary of Dingler’s death in Iraq.
I have a great love for my country, but I have never served in the military, never seen the rockets’ red glare or bombs bursting in air, never smelled the ominous stench of war hovering over a country marked by death and destruction, never fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion in a foxhole, never been startled into consciousness from the sound of a rocket propelled grenade exploding just over the horizon.
Yet, the war in Iraq was brought home to me in solemn, heartbreaking reality last week at the funeral of Spc. Joshua Dingler of the 1st Battalion, the 108th Armor Regiment of the United States Army.
Dingler, 19, son of Tommy and Karen Dingler of Hiram, died on the second anniversary of his enlistment when the army vehicle he was riding overturned into a canal during a night mission in Iraq.
Two other Georgia Baptists, Sgt. Thomas J. Strickland, 27, of Fairplay in Douglas County and Spc. Paul Saylor, 21, of Bremen were also killed in the same accident.
I have known Joshua’s father, Tommy Dingler, for at least ten years and have always had the deepest respect and admiration for him. He served as the pastor of several Georgia Baptist churches and is now intricately involved in the ministry of Pickett’s Mill Baptist Church in Dallas.
Danny Watters, GBC’s specialist in Church-Minister Relations, and I attended the funeral, which was held at Pickett’s Mill. We got there early, but the church was already filled to capacity and many were being directed to the fellowship hall where the service could be seen and heard via live telecast. We were ushered to the choir loft and that became our vantage point from which to witness a most remarkable memorial service.
At least one hundred students from the Hiram High School ROTC stood in attention as the family arrived for the funeral. Scores of military personal were present for the service, some who had received injuries in Operation Enduring Freedom as well as former POWs.
Honoring a fallen soldier
The church was decorated with United States flags and floral arrangements of red, white and blue. At one point I could look through one of the wreaths and see Tommy Dingler on the front row bravely singing with the choir “We are marching to that glorious city of God.”
LTC Bernie Booth, representing the military, spoke of Joshua’s involvement in the High School ROTC program and said, “He gained the respect of his superiors and his subordinates. He made a positive impact upon so many of us. He was an outstanding leader.”
Tony Samples, Pickett’s Mill pastor, said to the hundreds of people gathered in the crowded church, “You have come to honor a fallen soldier, but Josh died doing what he loved to do.”
Samples told of Josh’s commitment to Christ and presented a video of Josh giving a FAITH testimony to the congregation at Picketts Mill. In the video Dingler testified, “I used my FAITH training to talk to one of my friends and led him to the Lord last night.”
One of the most touching moments of the service was when Samples read part of a letter Josh had given him to read to his fiancé, Katelyn Wood, in case he did not return from Iraq. The pastor read, “If you are reading this, I haven’t made it home to you. Please don’t let my passing be the end of your life, too. Grief is fine, just don’t let it rule your life. That would be the real tragedy. You are a wonderful woman and God has something amazing planned for you. Just trust Him and your family and you’ll get through.”
On the 10-12 mile trek from the church to the cemetery American flags were planted in the grassy median of the highway. For miles the flags waved and I was moved to great emotion as I saw hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, people standing by the side of the road holding American flags, some saluting and others with their hand over their heart, but all paying respect to a young man who had died in a valiant effort to help stem the tide of terrorism and preserve our freedom.
At the graveside the silent city of death was suddenly disturbed by the 21-gun salute. Then there was the lone trumpeter’s somber sounding of “Taps” wafting over the cemetery. An officer in the U.S. Army presented Joshua’s parents with his Bronze Star and Good Conduct Medals. Then there was the presentation of the flag with the words, “On behalf of the president of the United States and a grateful nation we give you this flag to honor the memory of your son who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.”
A just cause
Cindy Sheehan may shout her protestations of the war, call for the president’s impeachment and vow not to pay her taxes. Jane Fonda may plan a cross-country anti-war tour on a bus that is run on vegetable oil to take up where she left off in 1972 when she incited controversy by being photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. But, I believe this war meets the criterion for a “just war.”
St. Augustine was the originator of the “just war” theory. He believed that the rulers of nations have the obligation to maintain peace. He believed that the restoration of peace to be the main motive of war. He said, “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.”
Joshua Dingler believed he was fighting for a just cause and gave his life to preserve our freedom. At the funeral Pastor Samples reminded all of us of the words of Jesus when he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That is what Joshua Dingler did, and he will not soon be forgotten.