Have you ever heard the phrase, “There are no atheists in fox holes”? I cannot remember exactly what movie I heard it in or recall the book I read it in, but it has stuck with me for years.
“There are no atheists in fox holes” is a saying used to argue that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as during war, all people will believe in, or hope for, a higher power; therefore, there are no atheists when the bombs are dropping. It can also be used when you are 30,000 feet in the air, and you feel turbulence. Even if you are a devout nonbeliever, after the first tremble, you will believe in something.
It was not until I went to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, that I truly wondered about that saying for the first time. To a 19-year-old boy in Hawaii for the first time, “seeing the sights” meant the memorial would be just another stop on the tour, along with the volcanoes and beaches.
To a 19-year-old sailor who came to Hawaii to be stationed onboard a nuclear submarine, thousands of miles away from his family and joining the long list of men and women who volunteered to serve their country, much like the crew of the USS Arizona, this was more than a stop on the tour. It was something that would forever be intertwined in my soul.
At the memorial, I listened to the tour guide read from her notes about the lost souls of the USS Arizona on that fateful day, Dec. 7, 1941. I wondered what those young men and women were thinking as the bombs fell. How many of them went to bed non-believers in God, but now amidst the chaos, they believed everything their pastor told them at Sunday school and just wish they had one more chance?
I teared up and I was embarrassed because I was with some shipmates. I wiped away my tears, and I looked around. I saw the young men I was with heads down. You could tell some were crying and others were on the verge of doing so.
That is when I knew: I was proud to be a sailor. I was proud to wear the same uniform as those young men next to me. I was honored to be a part of the legacy of the people who are forever entombed in their metal grave, down there in the clear blue sea.
Every Memorial Day, I remember that time in my life. In the years since, there have been many more memorials, many more graves, many more sad and proud times; however, whether rain or shine I say to myself with pride:
God bless the United States of America.
God bless the men and women of the armed forces.
God bless those who led the way.
God bless those who are leading the way now.
And God bless atheists in fox holes.
“And those who know your name will put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” – Psalm 9:10
Written by Derone Martin, executive chef at Buckner Parkway Place, a senior living community in Houston, Texas. Derone spent six years as a mess specialist third class submarine qualified for the U.S. Navy.