What freedom is all about


My maternal grandfather, Dr. Alexander R. McKinney (1885-1964), was a kindly, good-humored ophthalmologist – an eye doctor – in Saginaw, Mich.

He was also a field surgeon with the U.S. Army in Europe during World War I.  Among the personal effects my family received after his death was a duffle bag containing various army artifacts – gas mask, dough-boy helmet, knapsack, a cartridge belt and a physician’s “black bag” imprinted with “Capt. A.R. McKinney.”

In 1964, I was 10-years-old and the “real army gear” served as coveted playthings for my younger brother Joe and me. But the most special item showed up years later in the mail from my older sister Linda, who had sorted through my mother’s things after she died in 2003. It was “Grandpa Doc’s” 1917 army field version of The Gospel of St. John, a shirt-pocket-sized inspirational booklet distributed to millions of soldiers around the globe during “The Great War.”

This particular, apparently well-used artifact has “Dr. A.R. McKinney, MD” written inside the cover, in pencil, in a doctor’s scrawl, just below what appears to be a blood stain at the top of the page.

The small booklet, “Dedicated to Our Soldier Boys,” was British in origin but distributed by The Free Tract Society of “Los Angeles, Calif.  U. S. A.” On the cover is printed, “Send for samples of literature and as you go, PREACH.”

This “Special Features Edition” contains the fourth Gospel, the 23rd Psalm, a four-point Plan of Salvation, the Lord’s Prayer (“debts” not “trespasses,” if you’re wondering), hymn lyrics (“Just as I Am,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “Rock of Ages” and others), and “Testaments on the Battlefield”: some words of both courage and encouragement meant for soldiers, sailors and mothers.

“Seventeen millions” Khaki (army) and blue Navy editions, plus other books, were distributed worldwide. The tract’s stated purpose was to encourage others “to accept not only these Gospels but Jesus Himself as their personal Savior.”

What I don’t know exactly is how this tract book got into my grandfather’s hands, but I have a strong hunch – in fact I have no doubt – that the United States Army was enthusiastically complicit in the books’ arrival into Grandpa Doc’s possession.

With groups today trying to make any witness of Jesus Christ within the U.S. military a court martial offense, I have this thought:

On Memorial Day, we honor those who died for our freedom. At the top of that list, for all of mankind, is Jesus Christ. As long as America trusts in God, its defenders must be allowed, if they so choose, to trust in Jesus Christ.

That’s what freedom is all about.


Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that Grandpa Doc was a devout, teetotaling (non-drinking) Presbyterian. 

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