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Encore : Beyond Valor: The 'Red' Erwin Story - Interview with Jon Erwin - II

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie
The Truth Network Radio
August 19, 2020 3:00 am

Encore : Beyond Valor: The 'Red' Erwin Story - Interview with Jon Erwin - II

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie

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August 19, 2020 3:00 am

The Congressional Medal of Honor is America’s highest military honor.  And Wednesday on A NEW BEGINNING, Pastor Greg Laurie interviews Jon Erwin—who tells of his grandfather’s heroism, and how it prompted the fastest presentation of the Medal of Honor in history. 

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A New Beginning is the daily half-hour program hosted by Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California. For over 30 years, Pastor Greg and Harvest Ministries have endeavored to know God and make Him known through media and large-scale evangelism. This podcast is supported by the generosity of our Harvest Partners.

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Today on a new beginning, a story of extraordinary heroism, sacrificial love and a race against time. Pastor Greg Laurie invites author John Irwin to bring us the riveting story of his own grandfather, World War Two hero Henry Read Irwin on a routine mission to Corey Omma Japan.

A bomb erupted in his face on border between Super Fortress and that plane began to go into an immediate dove.

My grandfather in that split second moment had a choice to make save himself or try to save the lives of his crew.

His answer to that call and the choice that he would make would define his life and generations of lives and lead to the fastest presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

We know of in our nation's history. Glad you're along today for a special edition of a new beginning. Pastor Greg Laurie is in studio with his friend, movie director John Erwin. John and his brother Andy brought us such great films as Woodlawn. I still believe and I can only imagine he's a storyteller. And John has just written a new book that tells the story he's heard since childhood. It's the story of his own grandfather at a remarkable moment from the Second World War.

It's a discussion you won't soon forget.

You know, I think we throw the word or the term hero around rather loosely. If a guy knows, you know, five chords and a guitar, he's a guitar hero. If he can drop a ball in a basket or kids. He's a sports hero. But though those are impressive acts, they're not really heroism. A hero is someone that sacrifices some of the puts the needs of others above himself. And your grandfather was a real hero. Tell us what he did, this act of heroism that caused him to be awarded this incredible Medal of Honor by the president of the United States.

Well. In the Medal of Honor is is our nation's highest military honor. And he was a radio operator on board to be nine Super Fortress. They called him Retter when it scraped red hair, looked a lot like Matt Damon before going off to war. He basically wanted to be a fighter pilot, couldn't get the landing, and he became a radio operator on a between A super forces. The B 29 was the most extraordinary aircraft of the day is illumined. It was beautiful. This glass knows how many crew members would be on one of those. There'd be 11 crew members on a B, 29. And one of his jobs as the radio operator was to drop a phosphorus flare when they approached the target and signal all the other planes into formation. And he had done this many times. Phosphorus is terrible, terrible stuff. It can burn up to 2000 degrees. It burns through steel. You can't put it out of burned water was just horrible stuff and burns white hot. And so the other planes could see it and come information. And on this particular raid, April 20th, 1945, a radio in Korea and Japan. He did what he always did. And it was his job to drop that bomb. And they hit an air pocket. And instead of the bomb deploying, it shot back up into the plane and exploded in his face and filled the plane with toxic smoke. And the plane went into an immediate dove and there were only fifteen hundred feet. And it was really just a question of whether they were going to crash into the ocean and die or whether it was going to erupt. The six tons of bombs on the plane. And, you know, explode all the planes around them. And my grandfather was very devout. And he said on the plane he felt a presence with him on the plane. It blinded him. It it severely burned him, just that first explosion. And in some sort of a superhuman shouldn't have been able to do it act. He just felt at peace and a presence with him, felt God with him on the plane. And he went for the bomb instead of away from it. And he found it, clutched it like a football and began about a 20 foot march to the front of the plane and just erupted like a human fireball and moved at a moving navigator's table at Sirota's handprint and an AMP Navigator stable and got to the front of the plane. And there was a colonel onboard. Colonel Strauss was sitting in the copilot seat very calmly said, excuse me, sir. An over his shoulder. He got the bomb out of the plane through the window. Smoke cleared the plane and they pulled up at 300 feet just seconds from disaster. My grandfather collapsed in flames. Everyone thought he was going to die. And so they landed the plane. We were jema the airstrip. It would seem it just opened. And they had to cut a hole in the plane to get him out. And that night, the captain, Sumrall and Strauss wrote the citation for the congressional and of honor. The sort of the word was, we're going to give the Medal of Honor to this war hero posthumously. Again, everybody those in day and. He clung to life. Had already had several surgeries. Got home. My grandmother had only really been informed that he had been injured. She didn't know the extent of it. And she came in and he clutched the bomb like a football. So the whole right side of his body, his arm was fuzed in place, the right side of his face. You think Phantom of the Opera. He had a hard time eating, so he's done 85 pounds and she found the only unburned portion of his cheek. On the other side, and just immediately, without hesitation, kissed him, said, welcome home. I love you. I'm here. And that gave him the will to live. And he endured, I think, 40 surgeries at all. And they had five kids after the war. My dad being the second. And he he worked for four for the V.A. for over 30 years, helping other other veterans get their benefits. And that's the story.

Given the fact you lay out it's really a miracle he didn't die within minutes. The closer he came to death, the less likely it would be that you would ever be here. And it's obvious God had a plan for your life. I mean, look at the lives that he's touched through your films. And his plan to get you here involved a plan to get your grandfather the medical care he needed.

Absolutely. Absolutely. It was. It was a miracle that I'm here on multiple levels.

And y'all actually read an excerpt from the book at nine thirty a.m. on April 12th, 1945, at a point 225 miles south of Tokyo and fifteen hundred feet over the Pacific Ocean, Sergeant Henry Read, Irwin had held the lives of 12 Americans in his hands, including his own.

He also held in his hands the existence and potential of the hundreds of descendants those airmen were destined to have if God were to bless them with children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The officers and crew were like brothers to him, and now their lives depended on what he did in those few seconds. Retter when prayed to God for a miracle. And it happened. That night, as Red lay in a hospital bed with severe life threatening burn wounds, another series of miracles would be needed if he were to survive.

Yeah, and those miracles are, of course, outlined in the brand new book Beyond Valor. We are speaking with John Irwin, who is the author of the book. Normally, we refer to him as the director of whatever film we're talking about. In fact, we talked about his film last month here on a new beginning. I still believe and we're just so happy to be making his book available. This is your first book, though, right?

John, first book. Yeah. Yeah. You know. Yeah. I remember doing Steve McQueen, American icon with Greg. And he was writing the book with with Marshall. And and that sort of gave me the idea to sort of pair up with a historian and and get my granddad story told in book form. And William Doyle's fantastic and amazing author and has been written many amazing books. And. And but it's my first book, so I've got a lot to learn. But I love telling story.

You read a lot of screenplays, though. I've read John screenplays. And so he's a writer. He's a communicator. He's a storyteller. And he knows how to get to not just the facts of a story, but the heart of a story. And it takes you there where you experience it with him. And so I think that's why him telling this story is more effective than someone who maybe never knew his grandfather personally or was as connected to the story as John is. Because, bottom line, if if if Henry Irwin didn't do what he did, there wouldn't be a John and Andy Irwin. Yeah, but because of his act of heroism, so many lives have been impacted in the years that followed. But so it's personal. But in a good way because he took the time to go the extra mile and then some, like his own grandfather, dead and get captured the stories from the people that were there, from people that were eyewitnesses. And so you're going to be riveted by this book and inspired by it. And I think in the times in which we're living, we all can use a little inspiration and see the good that people can do because we see so many acts of selfishness. It's great to reflect on an amazing act of selflessness.

Yeah, I think that, you know, I love books. That's one of my my hobbies I love. You mentioned Louise MPRI in his book Unbroken. Just such a I remember just reading a book and crying, and I just love a good story in book form and I love biographies and there's so much to learn. And I love it when they can point to higher things. And I think it is a time where we really have to be reminded of the virtues that bind us together as Americans and and make sure that those things are passed down from generation to generation. And and I think that that's the goal, hopefully to entertain. And again, it's a very entertaining war story, but there's so much to learn and so much truth that is biblical, you know, in it. And so he has a privilege to write it.

And I can if people read it, you know, my experience in reading the book was you get so wrapped up in the story and the details and the background and and I felt like I was Reg's family member myself. You know, I felt like I was I was relating to him as I would a family member in all the research you did. And in fact, I think you commented in the book that you've been working on this for something on the order of 15 years with all the research you've done. What surprised you the most in your investigation into your grandfather's experiences?

Well, first, that makes me feel old now. It's yeah, I'm going. I'm approaching 40.

But I did start this very early in about 2005, sort of going around and interviewing people as a very young filmmaker at the time and and just getting that story documented. And then over the years, just pursued it. I remember just before my grandfather died and before we had it, he had had a stroke. And so I would stay up late with him. And that's when he began to quote scripture right there at the end. But I remember my grandmother coming in and they just caught each other's eye. And here's a guy that is, you know, disfigured like and he would always he was photographed with almost every president and photo him in JFK.

And he's always sort of favoring that side that wasn't as as burned, but his arm was fuzed in place. He's horribly burned at the time. He had trouble with mobility because his stroke and, you know, he talked slow and yet they just caught each other's eye. And I was blown away by how much these two people obviously loved each other.

And for a moment, it was sort of like they were teenagers again or, you know, and it was this beautiful thing. And my grandmother had this stack of love letters. She kept everything. In fact, I remember going over to her house after she had moved out of her home that they lived in in Leeds on the highway that bore his name, Molvar Highway there in Birmingham. And I told the whole family, just can nobody by touching me. She'd taken her clothes and I went over. And just start and found boxes of stuff, and she was real sort of packrat, and so in her closet underneath like receipts for the 1960s were all these manila envelopes. And I open them up and I was my dad and I instantly was like, Dad, is this what I think it is? And it was my grandfather's original citation for the Medal of Honor signed by Harry Truman. It was his original crew photograph. It was the original photograph of him receiving the Medal of Honor, which was the cover of the Ceridian post. And. And it was all these original things. This one of the excerpts she gave me from Laura's, that general what was the original was there. And they were all framed and it was unbelievable. But there was this thing that my my grandmother kept that she wouldn't let us read until after she died. And it was the love letters that he wrote her. She had kept them all. Many of which are in the book. And they're just beautiful. And after she died, you know, she had given them to us to finally read and. And it was just to see the way they loved each other and how much they loved each other. It was just beautiful. And many of them are in the book. And it was this amazing thing. And just to see a daily what he was going through and just how much he loved her and how much character he had. And there's this beautiful thing. And so we put a lot of them in the book. And to hold those was truly extraordinary. And I think those are some of the surprising things that fell on the way.

You know, you mentioned General Nastasi just a minute ago. You quote one of the accolades that General and NORAD extended. Yeah. To your grandfather. Yeah.

He said on April on April twenty sixth, just after the event happened, he wrote to my grandmother. He said, outstanding among all of the heroic acts achieved by members of the 20th Air Force in over a year's operation is the glorious self-sacrifice of your husband. Staff Sergeant Henry Irwin, he continued and said his transcendent heroism moves me as a professional soldier to pay him tribute. His deed lifts him to a place with the bravest men in all history. And as we consider the courage he displayed, we gain a new and humbling appreciation of the valor inherent in mankind.

So that was one of those things that I. That I found. And in the end, Hap Arnold General generally Army said, I regard your act as one of the bravest on record in this war. And that was original in her closet as well. It was just this amazing discovery of these things, these real gems. And and yet you would talk to him and he would say, I'm not the hero. You know, the guys that didn't come. They all do. They all do. There's this humble many can't bear the weight of the Medal of Honor because it really you are now a symbol of something and an icon of something. And many found it difficult. But he walked humbly with it. And again, you know, worked for the V.A. hospital to help other veterans get their benefits. And, you know, people loved him. And and I just think that it was so interesting. Every recipient of the Medal of Honor I've ever talked to instantly says I'm not the hero, but I knew some. And it's the guys that didn't come back as the men and women that didn't return. And that's very powerful statement.

You know, there's there's a lot in the book about heroism. And certainly your grandfather was a hero by anyone's definition. I mean, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. What, John, would be your definition of a hero?

Well, I mean, we're so many we have so many heroes among us. I mean, ultimately, I think heroes are those that have the courage and the character to choose others above themselves in moments of extreme pressure. It's a moment of self-sacrifice. It's a moment of, you know, as Jesus said, there is no greater love than the one that would lay his life down for his friends and all of these acts. They're driven by love. They are extreme acts of love is what I've found. And so I think that there are extreme acts of love anywhere. I love the definition of the Medal of Honor in terms of of of heroism, because it applies to us all. It's and it's a biblical concept. It's to go above and beyond what is required of you. Go further. Do more. As Jesus said, if someone asks you to walk a mile. Go to. And. And the idea that our nation and our faith compels us to. To go beyond. And. And that should be one of the marks of a Christian, you know. And is a mark of a hero. Is to do more than is required of them. And you don't have to be, you know, a soldier to do that. There can be heroes among us anywhere. And again, I just think that it's such a statement in the sort of self-serving, narcissistic generation that I that I grew up in, honestly, and and the my children are growing up in. And just to see that heroism is to try to put things that are more important above yourself, to serve a purpose in a cause greater than yourself. And to put the needs and lives of others ahead of yourself and serve that. That's something that I think we all need to be reminded of, you know. And that's one of the virtues that make us American.

It's right that we shouldn't forget. You know, I thinking of how your grandfather was humble and he didn't think of himself as a hero. And I thought of Mike his sixth. They were the Lord says he has shown you all men what is good and what the Lord requires of you to do justly to love mercy. You know what comely with your God. And you know what is God really want us to do? He wants us to do justly, to do the right thing, to love mercy and walk in humility. And, you know, a true hero won't go around and tell everyone they're a hero. They'll just do what they do. And then they'll move on with their life and live their life and and give credit to others. And and I think that even that is another mark of true character and true heroism that you're not, you know, shouting it from the rooftops, but you're just a doer. It's done shown by action, not just by words. Yeah. And so if you're moved by this story, and I'm sure you are of a John Irwin's grandfather, Henry Irwin, known as Red, because he had a thick mane of red hair, this man who threw himself on a what would you call it, a phosphors flare?

Is that the it's a phosphorus bomb. Yeah, it was really pound phosphorus bomb. And and again, phosphorus is just it's awful erm to everything. Think it just yet. You can't put it out and it spews almost a jelly. It shouldn't have been possible for him. And yet God gave him the strength and the courage he needed to, which is one of the interesting things about the story. He just said that he literally felt a presence on the plane telling him to go and that and that he felt that that an angel or God was with him in that moment and and gave him what he needed in that moment. And I think when God calls us to two things, he gives us what we need in the moment. And it was interesting, too, that he was filled with with the ability to do something he should not have been able to do. And that's really the things that I learned from the story. But but, yeah, it's it's a I just can't recommend enough. My generation taking a look at the greatest generation and the importance of that. You know, I can't recommend that journey enough because it'll change you and you'll understand your legacy.

Yes. You know, it's I remember hearing Ravi Zacharias say once history is old news happening to new people. And I think it's good to go back in the past and learn from it. There's so many great lessons to learn.

And I think as we've talked about, as we've been working on this Cheesus Revolution story, John, for a feature film, the theme of revival spreads the flame of revival. And I think when we hear a heroic story that inspires us, the heroic acts, maybe not on the scale of Henry Irwin, but there are many acts of heroism that we can all be engaged in each and every day, putting the needs of others above ourselves. And so if you want to be encouraged and motivated and inspired to live a heroic life, a godly life, then you want to get a copy of this brand new book by my friend John Irwin called Beyond Valor.

You know, John, I'm a grandfather and pastor. Greg is a grandfather. What do grandfathers need to know about sharing with their grandkids? You know, be it faith or. Street smarts or just who they are as people, what do we need to know?

You know, what's interesting about my grandfather is like when I was seven years old, I was I was around that age and I held the Medal of Honor. Mm hmm. And he said over my shoulder, freedom isn't free. Wow. I had no concept of what he meant. Yeah. So I think a lot of the times grandparent should know beyond just loving your grandkids. My mom and dad, I love it. They are the best grandparents. And and, you know, Bethany have four kids and and eleven to three. And so grandparents are our assets.

You know, it's helpful, thank God. But, you know, beyond just the love and you know.

And boy, did they spoil my kids. Gladly.

That's our job, John. That was quite to spoil it. All those Neulander Sentinel, which gives us a date, which is great. It's a good sign.

Anyway, you know, I think even though I was not yet in a place to really value and understand his story, those words were still there when I needed them. And I think that that if you speak truth to your grandkids in bite sized snippets, just trust that when the time is right, those seeds will will sprout. And that's what happened in my life. And, you know, I think I finally when I was ready to understand what he meant. Those memories were there and they came flooding back. And so just trust that even if in the moment, you know, they don't understand. They will they will later.

You know, Pastor Greg, that reminds me of the scripture train up a child on the way he should go. And when he is old, he will not depart from it. Maybe that's part of that equation, that those things that we share with our grandkids early on, that that's diction their mind and they marinate and germinate and that they're just the right time, though, sprout. They'll they'll begin to grow roots. Yeah. And that will begin to influence and affect their character.

Yeah, I think so. You know, I think on on you know, I think symptoms a grandparent can be a different voice in the life of a grandchild, even then a parent. Our role is different. You know, we're not there to raise the child in particular, though, in some cases, sometimes some parents abandon their responsibilities. Grandparents step in and raise their grandchildren. But if that's not the case, you're there to reinforce, of course. But I think there are you can have a special bond because, you know, I know my grandkids with me. My job is not to discipline them per say. It is to love them and it's to enjoy them. And it's to pass on things that I've learned. And sometimes, you know, like I have a granddaughter, Ali, and she's always wanted to know stories pop up. She'll say, tell me one of your childhood stories. I think she's going to become the family historian. I've told her every story. Then I'll start to tell her one and still say, Poppy, you've told it wrong. Ali What do you mean? I told her. She goes, Well, the first time you told it beat to me, you said this and that. And doggone it, she's right. But, you know, it is a wonderful thing to tell these stories and pass these things on. And even when it seems like they're not listening, they are because young John Irwin vividly remembers he was young then. He's still young now. He just doesn't know it. He's 40. He thinks he's old. He's still young. But anyway, John is a young men looking that his grandfather's Medal of Honor was heard, his grandfather say over his shoulder. Freedom isn't free. That's stuck with him. So grandparents encourage you to pass the truths you've learned, especially spiritual truths on the your children and your grandchildren. And this is the way it's done. The Christian life is like a relay race. We carry the baton for a time in our generation. Then we pass it on to another and we leave a legacy and certainly read Irwin as he was known. Henry Irwin did that with his family. And you need to do that with yours. And we have an inspiring story to tell you. They help me. They did. That is, you'd learn what one man did in this tremendous act of sacrifice and heroism for others. And the book is called Beyond Valor. We'd love to send you a copy. It's brand new hot off the presses, as they say. And I think it's going to be a real page turner. That's going to not only, you know, I think there's entertaining elements to it, but it'll move you deeply. And like John, my favorite kind of book to read is a biography. I love to read true stories above all stories, because these are people just like us that did amazing things and God can use the stories to inspire us.

Yeah, yeah, that's right. And this story will inspire you like few others. The full title of the book is Beyond Valor A World War two Story of Extraordinary Heroism, Sacrificial Love and a Race Against Time. There's so much going on in our world right now that despite. Points us, that frustrates us and discourages us. Well, let us put fresh wind in your sales. And we'd like to send you this brand new book to thank you for your donation that helps these daily programs to continue to come your way. It's an investment, an investment in your own spiritual edification and also in bringing the gospel to those who don't yet have a relationship with the Lord. So ask for beyond valor when you send your gift today to a new beginning. Box 4000, Riverside, California, nine two five one four. Or call one 800. Eight to one. Thirty three hundred. That's one eight. Eight to one three three zero zero. Or go online to harvest dot org.

Our life is like a movie. And where the star evangelist Craig Lord, we have questions about this movie we're in. Is it a love story? Is this movie a tragedy? What is the meaning of my life? An online event is coming that can change your life. We can all use a rush of hope.

Russia, of course, the world's first online cinematic harvest crusade on your favorite social media platform. Labor Day weekend, September 4th, through September seven, invite a friend to tune in for a message of hope from evangelist Greg Laurie and exclusive performances by Jeremy Camp Disaster.

Mercy me. And for King and country.

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Next time, Pastor Greg addresses a question many people have asked during the pandemic. Is the corona virus a sign of the end times? Important insight coming next time. But before we go, a final comment from our special guest, John Irwin.

I would just like to say to all those listening and supporting a harvest where it's our privilege to to be storytellers, it's a privilege to tell stories. And Jesus told stories. And Andy Niah are called to be storytellers and to spread the gospel through stories. And whether it's I can only imagine or I still believe or this book Beyond Valor or the movie that we're going to make as soon as the world allows us to make movies. Jesus Revolution. It's a privilege and honor to tell stories that draw people to Christ worldwide and to everyone that supports them.

Thank you. And you're a part of setting the gospel on the world through the entertainment industry. You know, the gospel never changes, but the way we get it to people does. And God's doing a great work in Hollywood. And you're a part of it. When you buy the films and when you when you watch them. And in this case, you read them. And it's our privilege to tell stories that matter. Thanks for being part of what we do.

The preceding message from Greg Laurie was made possible by harvest partners helping people everywhere, no God sign up for Pastor Gregs free daily email devotions at Harvest StarTalk.

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