Leadership in Troubled Times

cowpie21 commons.wikimedia org
Photo Credit: cowpie21 via commons.wkimedia.org

The Civil War was a bloody and vicious war. At least 618,000 Americans died and some say the toll reached 700,000. Casualties exceeded all of America’s other wars from the Revolution through Vietnam.

In the winter of 1862, General Robert E. Lee’s forces had claimed several key battlefields in the Eastern Campaign. One of those key battles was as one-sided as a battle could be. It was the Battle of Fredericksburg. On December 13, 1862, Union forces began what was termed a desperate and eventual doomed assault on a heavily fortified position known as “the stone wall at sunken road.”

After crossing a river, the Union confidently took the town of Fredericksburg with little resistance. The Confederate army had voluntarily given up the town so that they might fortify themselves along a stone wall at the base of a sloping hill. As the Union army began to approach the wall, they were attacked and by the morning of December 14th over 8,000 Union soldiers had been shot in front of the stone wall. Many of those remaining on the battlefield were still alive, but suffering from their wounds, the cold, and thirst.

During the night, both sides were forced to listen to the cries and moans of those soldiers for hours. A Confederate soldier stationed near the wall later stated that it was “weird, unearthly, and terrible to hear and bear the cries of the dying soldiers filling the air – lying crippled on a hillside so many miles from home – breaking the hearts of soldiers on both sides of the battlefield.”

Richard Rowland Kirkland, an infantry sergeant for the Confederacy could not rest or sleep due to the suffering of the Union soldiers and that morning he asked his commanding officer if he could scale the wall and, the shooting stopped. provide water for the suffering Union troops. The commanding officer was reluctant at first because of the danger to Richard but later allowed to do so. As Richard climbed the wall, several shots were instantly fired thinking that Kirkland’s motives were to wound more, but after realizing what was happening, the shooting ceased. Richard Rowland Kirkland made his way to each soldier comforting them the best he could by laying his jacket over one and providing water to the thirsty lips for all. For the next hour and a half, he would scale the wall several times with his canteen to get more water for his enemy.

It was a moment that temporarily stopped the Civil War.

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You see, Mr. Kirkland showed an incredible sense of courage and leadership to his men and the enemy in an extremely adverse situation. He most likely was very scared and fearful knowing that his decision to help others might have been his last…but he made a commitment and stuck to it to its conclusion.

How much more should people, as leaders, step up, stay focused on the task at hand and work together with others, to achieve their goals! There is a huge difference between a Boss and a Leader…a Boss has people work for THEM to get a job completed, while a Leader works together with people, to accomplish a task. I doubt very much that anyone will experience a situation as extreme as Mr. Kirkland, but will have the opportunity each day to demonstrate their leadership skills to those around them.

Finding Strength in Difficult Times: The Story of the Hero and the Coward

Arash Hashemi
Photo Credit: Arash Hashemi via Wikimedia Commons

We all experience difficult times throughout our lifetime. Some are more trying and problematic than others but through them all, we can learn from those experiences, either in a negative or a positive manner. Legendary NFL football coach, Bill Parcells, once told the following story (paraphrased a little) that illustrated the power of perseverance and determination of an athlete that experienced a grueling and challenging situation and emerged a winner because of it.

More than 30 years ago, there was a well-known, hard hitting boxer named Eugene “the Cyclone” Hart. Hart was heavily favored to win his next bout against a supposedly ungifted puncher, Vita Antuofermo. It was said that the only thing that Antuofermo could do was that “he bled well.” But, here’s the important thing, he had good attributes that you couldn’t see.”

During the fight, Hart dominated Antuofermo, knocking him all over the ring, giving him punishing blows and vicious punches. Antuofermo absorbed the punishment that was dealt to him by his naturally superior opponent, and he did it so well, that Hart became discouraged. In the fifth round, Hart began to tire, not physically but mentally. Taking advantage of the situation, Antuofermo attacked and delivered a series of quick punches that knocked Hart down and out, thus ending the fight.

“When the fighters went back to their makeshift locker rooms, only a thin curtain was between them. Hart’s room was quiet, but on the other side he could hear Antuofermo’s cornerman talking about who would take the fighter to the hospital. Finally he heard Antuofermo say, “every time he hit me with that left hook to the body, I was sure I was going to quit. After the second round, I thought if he hit me there again, I’d quit. I thought the same thing after the fourth round. Then he didn’t hit me no more.”

“At that moment, Hart began to weep. It was really soft at first. Then harder. He was crying because for the first time he understood that Antuofermo had felt the same way he had and worse. The only thing that separated the guy talking from the guy crying was what they had done. The coward and the hero had the same emotions. They’re both humans.”

The important question to ask yourself here is this: how did each man respond to the tough situation that they were experiencing? Maybe you are in an arduous position right now or, if not, one might be coming. How will you react? Like a hero or a coward?

Showing Mercy in the Midst of War

Tony Hisgett
Photo Credit: Tony Hisgett via CC Flickr

How many of us have ever known someone that we really didn’t like? They were someone that we considered our rival, our opponent, our enemy. If we were given the chance, we would “take care of them”, hurt or destroy them. But how many of us have ever been in a situation that we could actually take take out our hate and anger on our enemy…then decided to show mercy and take the honorable thing…take the high road and help them?

Today’s tale is a true story that took place during World War 2 in the skies over Europe. It is my hope that you can learn a simple lesson today…that having compassion and mercy for our enemies actually takes more boldness and courage than to take revenge.

Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton, England. His B-17 was called “Ye Old Pub” and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper and deeper into enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.

After flying the B-17 over an enemy airfield, a German pilot, Franz Steigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17.

When he got closer the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he “had never seen a plane in such a bad state”. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, the tail gunner was wounded and the top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage. The nose of the plane was smashed and there were holes everywhere.

Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at the English pilot, Charlie Brown, and saw that Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.

Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn around 180 degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane back to the North Sea and to England. He then saluted Charlie Brown, turned away and headed back towards Europe.

When Franz landed he told his commanding officer that he had shot down the B-17 over the sea, and never told the truth to anyone.

Meanwhile, back in England, Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told everyone at their briefing what had happened, but were then ordered never to talk about it.

More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the German Luftwaffe pilot who had saved his crew. After years of research, Franz was finally found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions. The two pilots met in America at the 379th Bomber Group reunion…together with 25 people who are now alive…all because Franz showed mercy and compassion and never fired his guns that day.

When asked why he didn’t shoot them down, Stigler later said, “I didn’t have the heart to finish off those brave men. I flew beside them for a long time. They were desperately trying to get home and I was going to let them do that. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting a man in a parachute.”

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“Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.” ~ Dalai Lama