Spilled Blood

By JIM NICHOLS

The local church I attend shares weekly Eucharist. The pattern, as in many churches, is to pass a communion plate containing bread and another container with individual plastic cups of wine/juice. With the onset of COVID, that pattern changed. Now, upon entering, each individual picks up a two-in-one item consisting of a small disposable cup of juice with a wafer of bread attached to its top with plastic. Ideally, pulling back the plastic exposes the wafer without opening the liquid. Mechanically, this has been a problem for me. 

It took me several tries to successfully tear back the plastic over the bread without opening the liquid simultaneously. Frankly, I finally had to have someone show me how to do it. I am not proud of that, just honest. Before learning, more than once I dripped the liquid out before I was ready for it. In a couple of cases, it fell onto the floor and, once, onto the empty chair beside me. The blood of Jesus spilled on the church chair.

The van dipped and swerved around the country lanes of the Normandy, France area. On this paid tour, my wife and I were visiting major sites from the June 1944 Allied invasion. I do not need to tell those of you who have taken such a tour that it was a fascinating and painful experience. Standing on Omaha Beach and walking through the American cemetery were strong sensory and memorable times.

Just as I thought we had completed all the major tour stops, the driver/guide seemed to add almost an addendum as she drove away from the coast area about two miles. “I want to take you to an out-of-the-way special place.” That place was Angoville-au-Plain with a 2017 population of 101. The guide had a story to tell us.

All the action in the past was not on the beach. On the night of June 5/6, American soldiers parachuted inland behind the defending Germans; their objective was to destroy a route used by German reinforcements. This little village, located 39 feet above sea level, was in the landing zone.

Among the parachutists were medics Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore, along with officer Ed Allworth. They located a small eleventh century church building in Angoville-au-Plain and set up a medical aid station there.

This was a hotly contested area of the battle. It seemed that the Allied force moved the Germans backward and then the movement stalled and went the other way. The church was in the middle of the action. At one point, the Americans were forced to withdraw from the area and officer Allworth went also, leaving the medics and the wounded. Moore later reported that they had 75 wounded personnel plus one local infant.

Now in German territory, a German officer appeared in the church and asked if his wounded could receive medical attention too, a request to which Wright and Moore agreed if weapons were left outside. 

As this three-day battle continued, German troops forced their way in.  Seeing the wounded as a mixture of soldiers from both sides, they withdrew and placed the international symbol of medical aid on the church door, the red cross flag.

The medical help offered was rudimentary. At one point a rocket came through the roof and landed, unexploded, on the stone floor of the church; the cracks on the tiles have never been repaired and remained for us to see.

Most memorable to me were the wooden church pews. Lacking beds for the wounded, the pews were used to align injured Americans and Germans together. Those who were clearly dying were moved to the front so they could be closest to the altar. The mixed blood of all the soldiers fell onto the pews and soaked permanently into the wood. In a stroke of divine intervention, apparently no effort has been made to remove those stains; they are clearly seen today. They have also been photographed often.

Spilled blood. Sometimes it occurs accidentally. Sometimes it occurs purposefully with the hopes of one nation achieving some supposed advantage over another. Notably, the blood of every person appears the same when it soaks into the carpet or into the pew.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain

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