Comfort for a Soldier

  • Randy Karlberg
Soldier holding a Bible

With Veteran’s Day just passed, I am strongly reminded of my Grandfather.  My Mom’s dad did not have a very glorious military career.  He did not have any commendations for bravery or skill in combat.  He actually never saw combat, and yet his story is very much one of duty, love, and preparation.  I have heard this story for as far back as I can remember.  My Grandfather, Leonard Tunell, was born in Cambridge, Minnesota in 1899.  He was 19 years old in 1918, and he answered the call for military service.  His older brother had been drafted into the Army.  My Great-Uncle Fredolph was married and had a young son.  So, my Grandfather decided to take the place of his brother and sign up for the army.  I was not aware that this sort of thing was permitted, but that is what I have always been told.  

In September 1918 Leonard joined the Army and was going through his basic training.  One of the things that I have treasured about my Grandfather is that he kept track of everything in a small calendar/sales booklet from Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Co.  Some of his entries were clothes that he was issued: an overcoat size 36, breeches size 34, shirt size 15 ½, and leggings 2 pair.  Evidently, the leggings were a valuable item of clothing because he recorded that he later bought 2 extra pairs for $1.20.  He also listed his rifle, Russian no. 1320737, and bayonet, Russian no. 131066.  He also kept track of his paychecks: 1st $7.60, 2nd $18.60, 3rd $12.00, and so on.   He was meticulous in his approach to daily life, reflecting a personality that valued detail.  This side of my grandfather was displayed in his excellent craftsmanship of furniture and bookcases as well as a plethora of other handyman projects throughout his life.  

Soon after basic training, in October of 1918, Leonard came down with Spanish Influenza and was sent to the infirmary at Fort Snelling.  If you remember, the Spanish Influenza of 1918 was a global pandemic that ravaged the planet.  There were an estimated 500 million cases across the globe.  The death toll number was estimated to be between 25-50 million, and some think as high as 100 million.  We can now have a special appreciation for what that felt like after our recent Covid-19 battle.  The “World War” was going on and a major health pandemic at the same time!  And this was almost exactly 100 years before the Covid-19 pandemic.  Anyway, Leonard was given three vaccinations (he says in his left arm) and was soon released back to his assignment.  

Leonard included in this Journal/Personal Records book some important dates to remember.  He recorded the 1st Aeroplane Show in Boston on Feb. 16, 1910, the Enumeration of the 11th Census beginning April 15, 1910, the Decennial Passion Play beginning on May 11, 1910, and President Roosevelt flying in an aeroplane on Oct. 11, 1910.  But in my opinion one of the most interesting dates he listed was as follows:  Armistice signed by Germany with Allies on Nov. 7, 2:00 PM 1918.  Now if you know your WWI history, you know that that date is not correct.  A day later he wrote: Above, Rumor.  Germans given 72 hours to sign Armistice or war continues.  His next entry read: Armistice signed Monday, Nov. 11, 1918.  He also included that there was a parade held on University Ave, Central, and Nicollet, ending at Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis.  Leonard included this entry as well: Discharged, honorably from the U.S. Army Dec. 12, 1918, 2:00 PM at the Armory, University of Minnesota.  It seems the exact time of this event was very important to him!  

I would not be doing my Grandfather’s memory an accurate representation if I did not include some of the other writings he included.  I can close my eyes and just imagine this 19-year-old young man realizing what he is about to encounter and writing down things that he knows he will need to remind himself of in the days, weeks, and months to come, especially if he was to be on the battlefield.  On one page he titles “Selections for Emergency.”  In this he writes, “When lonely or fearful Read Matt. 6:19-34, Luke 15.  When in trouble or sorrow Read John 14, when in danger Read Matt. 11:28-30, Assurance of God’s mercy Read John 10, Heb. 11, Assurance of God’s Providence Read Matt. 28:30.”  He also included this sentence: “If you are not a Christian Read John 3:16, Matt. 10:32-33, Matt. 25:31-46, Rom. 10:9-11.”  I can just see him imagining someone finding his body on the battlefield and going through his effects and reading this little record/journal.  It may have been a fellow ally or an enemy soldier, but he wanted them to know what the most important thing in this life is!  That is how my Grandfather lived his life here on this earth.  

The story of the lost sheep is one of the passages my grandfather mentioned from Luke 15.  I am confident you remember Jesus telling this parable.  “So He told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’” It is not hard to see a young man with the reality of war before him, taking comfort in this passage, seeing Jesus as a caring shepherd who is not only taking care of His sheep but pursuing those that belong to him and are astray.  What a comfort the Word of God is to us.  We just need to remind ourselves of what God has written for our good and for His glory!  

Leonard Tunell was a man of few words.  He did not say much, but I remember many times seeing him quietly laughing in the background at either his son’s or his beloved wife’s antics.  They loved to tease!  I think it was their spiritual gift!  However, the quiet life he lived was a loud shout to God’s grace in the life of a man that quietly but confidently trusted in the sovereignty of his Savior Jesus Christ.