(for a better reading experience, press play on the video first and read to the music)
There’s an epic scene (click here, but not yet) in the final moments of the movie We Were Soldiers, capturing the end of an absolutely ruthless battle in the thick of the Vietnam War. With perfect timing, this Scottish song (bagpipes and all) kicks in, a deep male voice, haunting and rich, backdrops the moment as Hal Moore leads his men in a do-or-die charge that will end the very bloody Battle of la Drang, November 14, 1965.
Here’s some of the lyrics to “ Sgt. Mackenzie” (translated from Scottish):
Lay me down in the cold cold ground, where before many more have gone. When they come I will stand my ground, stand my ground I'll not be afraid.
What’s really fascinating is the story behind the song, written to honour a Scotsman who fought in World War I. The story goes that 35 year old Sgt. Charles Mackenzie of the Seaforth Highlanders was fighting in France and was shot and grievously injured. Upon returning to Scotland the doctors realize that he needs to have an arm amputated. He refuses, saying that he needs to get back to his men on the frontline. They couldn’t keep him home. The last photo ever taken of Sgt. Mackenzie sees him standing on the steps of the hospital, shoulder in a sling, in full uniform, preparing to return to the battlefront.
What?! It’s almost hard to comprehend that kind of wreckless abandon to even death, for the sake of a concept like "freedom", and other's freedom at that. Especially in a day and age like ours, where the highest aim of life is comfort and dare I say, survival. Look out for yourself - that's our primary agenda.
I'm once again sobered by the sacrifice so many men and women have given (and continue to give) that we might live the lives of free people.
MacKenzie died in the war not long after.
"One of his close friends fell, badly wounded. Charles stood his ground and fought until he was overcome and died from bayonet wounds. A few years back my wife Christine died of cancer, and in my grief I looked at his picture to ask what gave him the strength to go on. It was then, in my mind, that I saw him lying on the field and wondered what his final thoughts were. The words and music just appeared into my head. I believe the men and women...who are prepared to stand their ground for their family - for their friends - and for their country; deserve to be remembered, respected and honoured.” — Joseph Kilna MacKenzie
I can't help but think that the “passion” of Sgt. Mackenzie to fight even to the point of death at the end of a bayonet, actually reflects beautifully the greater Passion of Christ to save mankind, even if it would cost him his own life on a bloody Roman cross.
And here's the thing: as a follower of Christ, I too am called to pick up my "cross" and follow Him into the sobering reality of living (or dying) for the sake of others and their freedom. Actually, from a Biblical perspective, death (or martyrdom) is much preferred to compromise, passivity, idleness, or a pointless, self-serving existence.
Am I willing to go there?
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? ~ Jesus (Matt. 16:24-26)
This is the question that haunts me:
Could the film of Tony’s life fit the song of sacrifice, of abandonment, of willingness to risk all, even unto death?
Or would the day-to-day goings-on of my world make the song of freedom seem silly, like a cheap gimic to heighten emotion over nothing?