3 Leadership Lessons From a Soldier I Barely Knew

What I Learned From a World War II Top Turret Gunner

My grandfather died from lung cancer when I was young. I have no vivid memories of the times we spent together, just pictures. The only stories and details I know about him are those that have been told to me.

It’s unfortunate. From what I have been told, he was a good man. And a great leader.

My grandfather fought in World War II. He was a top turret gunner on a bomber plane. He was the one on which the rest of the crew counted for protection. He flew several missions and earned the Purple Heart for being wounded while serving.

After the war, he became a bank president and mayor of the small town where he lived. He was the town’s leader.

On this Memorial Day, I find myself recollecting the stories others have told me about my grandfather. I can learn a lot from him and others who have valiantly fought to defend our nation’s (United States) freedom. Let me pass on a few.

Here are 3 leadership lessons from a soldier I barely knew:

  1. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. My grandfather fought, not just for his own freedom, but also for people who did and would call themself a U.S. citizen. And, in the midst of battle, he fought for his crew. His other-centered focus earned him the loyalty and respect of his crew and those waiting for him back home. After all, if you knew that a person’s sole mission was to care for you and everyone else around him, would you not be loyal to him as well?
  1. Be willing to sacrifice for the cause. The Purple Heart demonstrated my grandfather’s commitment to his crew and the people of the United States. It demonstrates his commitment to freedom. If you desire to lead well, I don’t know what kind of sacrifice you will have to make. But here is what I do know—sacrifice will happen. If you are leading others to pursue a mission that is bigger than any one person, you will sacrifice something. It may be ego. It may be perception. It may even be position. But you do it all for the cause.
  1. Your faith must influence your leadership. After the war, my grandfather became mayor of his small hometown. Being in the South, it was in a place and a time when race determined where you would sit in a movie theater, from what water fountain you could drink, and what restroom you could use. My grandfather took an unpopular stance as mayor. He saw black and white as equal. Because he saw both as being beautifully made in the image of God. You see, your faith cannot be sidelined as you lead. If it is, what kind of faith do you have? Your faith must your influence leadership.

I am thankful for the men and women who have sacrificed time with family, their physical and mental health, and, sometimes, their lives so that we can have the freedom we enjoy today.

And I am grateful for my grandfather. Though I barely knew him, I learned a lot from him.

Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Be willing to sacrifice for the cause. And let your faith influence your leadership.

Not too bad for a World War II top turret gunner from a small town.

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2 thoughts on “3 Leadership Lessons From a Soldier I Barely Knew

  1. Well said. My father was a Colonel in the Infantry and fought in WW2, Korea twice and Viet Nam. He was devoted to the cause and enlisted (!) his family in the cause too. We traveled the world with him in peacetime, where I attended 9 schools in my 12 years of primary and secondary education. Dad knew when to stop being a commander and start being a father- usually!
    Dad died last summer at a ripe age of 93 and was buried with full military rites. Very proud of him.
    I’m a pastor and learned a lot about leadership from dad: how to delegate, don’t touch the women or the money, concentrate my ‘firepower’, earn respect through sacrifice…