By DANNY MINTON
April 6, 1945, brought a fierce battle off the shore of Okinawa, Japan. The American fleet consisted of three large carriers, a dozen destroyers, four light cruisers, and a couple of light carriers. It also included three battleships, of which one was the USS North Carolina. Onboard the BB55, North Carolina, was my dad, Smitty Minton.
The day would be filled with 182 kamikazes in 22 groups attempting to attack and sink the carriers guarded by the rest of the fleet. My father was above deck when the first kamikaze planes began their attack. Leaving his post, he made his way across the deck to head into the ship’s lower decks to man his battle station. A buddy of his stayed at the port side 5-inch battery with the two operators to watch the action.
The action was intense and heavy as the kamikazes filled the air. The entire fleet filled the air with tracers and shells attempting to down the suicide pilots infiltrating the skies. Around one o’clock in the afternoon, as my father raced across the deck, an allied ship chasing one of the bombers fired too low and into the USS North Carolina, hitting the 5-inch battery, killing the three men it held. Shrapnel flew through the air as the blast devoured the area around the battery.
As my father reached his battle station, his commander looked down and saw blood flowing from his leg. Unknowingly, he had been hit in the leg and knee by the flying debris. When the damage was assessed, three sailors were killed, and another 44 were wounded. After the investigation, the record reported that those killed and injured had been the victims of “Friendly Fire.”
The term “Friendly Fire” made me think about how sometimes what people say to each other can cause damage. I have received a lot of criticism over the years. I have been called names. I have faced some dislike and hate. Most of this comes from people I don’t know and who don’t even know me. The negativity usually comes because of how I voted, the fact that I’m a Christian, maybe because I’m Caucasian, or a man, or even the fact that I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan. You know what, none of this bothers me. When it comes from someone who doesn’t know me, it makes no difference.
It’s different when it’s “Friendly Fire.” Times occur that those close to us and who know us say things that can be damaging. Sometimes the hurt is small and quickly forgotten. Other times the hurt can go deeper and “kill” relationships. Most of the time, the comments of friends exist with no intention of hurting. They often think they are helping, but their criticism has the opposite effect. We had a very nice neighbor lady years ago who my wife would sometimes share what was going on with our disabled child. One day, she asked her not to tell her some things because “it made her feel bad.” I had a preacher early on who told me we should give our adopted son back because of the damage it could do to our marriage. These simple statements were not meant to hurt, but you can see how they would make a young couple feel.
Years ago, I was in a position where we did not get raises for several years due to tight money. Inflation was high, making it difficult to make ends meet at times. When raises finally occurred, I received a small one, and another man received one more substantial. When I questioned why the big difference, I was told, “Well, you have to pay a good man to keep him.” I know it was not meant to hurt me because I knew the man who said it was a good man. However, that was “Friendly Fire” that made me change some direction in my life.
We all face “Friendly Fire,” but how many of us are on the other end of the firing? Do we find ourselves saying things that hurt instead of build-up? I know over the years that I’ve said something that I wish I could have taken back once they left my lips. There are times that I can see where what I said was not as compassionate as it should have been. We often use the word “constructive criticism.” Too often, we do the criticism part, forgetting the constructive or positive part. Criticism from people we don’t know can be ignored; criticism from our friends can leave us wounded. “Friendly Fire” is unintentional with no intent on harming someone, but it can if we are not careful.
James tells us, “be slow to speak.” Our words and the way we use them are the most powerful asset we have. We must learn to manage them to encourage without leaving hurt or giving a death blow to relationships. Sometimes it’s best to hold our tongue and listen. We should learn to control those unsolicited opinions or be careful how we word them to others. James adds in chapter 3, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, “If a snake bites before it is charmed, the charmer receives no fee. Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. At the beginning, their words are folly; at the end, they are wicked madness— and fools multiply words. No one knows what is coming— who can tell someone else what will happen after them?” Ecclesiastes 10:11-14 (NIV2011)
“Friendly Fire,” even though well-intended, can be hurtful. Before speaking, we should ask ourselves how we would feel if someone talked to me about what I plan to say to someone else. Remember the words of the Psalmist, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock, and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV2011)
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ