Private First Class Alan Barton, an American soldier fighting in the Vietnam War, was reported missing from his base in South Vietnam on July 28, 1970. Thirty-two days later, his commanding officer notified his mother that her son was now officially classified as a deserter. Since Barton’s father was a twenty-year army veteran, the news of the desertion was especially embarrassing for him.
In reality, though, Alan Barton had not deserted. He had been killed by the steel pellets from a landmine or a booby trap hidden along the perimeter of his base. The problem was that his skeletal remains were not discovered until March 28, 1972, and even then the army was unable to identify the soldier to whom they belonged. Consequently, those remains were sent to a military morgue in Honolulu, Hawaii. Meanwhile, Alan continued to be classified as a deserter.
But Alan’s mother never gave up fighting to clear his name. She didn’t know what had happened to him — she suspected that he had been captured and was being held in a prisoner-of-war camp — but she could not make herself believe that he had deserted. For thirteen years she fought until finally the army rechecked the Honolulu morgue records and were able to correctly identify Alan’s remains by use of dental records. Truth be told, various personal belongings that would have helped to identify him had been found with his remains in 1972, but the army had somehow lost them. All that was left of those belongings was a fragment of an envelope that was postmarked from Alan’s hometown in Michigan.
In February of 1983, Private First Class Alan Barton was finally given the full military funeral that he deserved. A twenty-one-gun salute was sounded, taps was played, and his mother was handed the folded American flag that moments earlier had draped her son’s coffin. Her fight was now ended. She had her closure. Her son’s good name had been vindicated.
The story of Alan Barton reminds us that this world is filled with injustices and false accusations. Unfortunately, Christian, you are not immune from such things. You can take heart, though, in the promise that God always knows the truth and in eternity everything will be revealed, classified accurately, and set right. As Jesus said of eternity, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30, N.K.J.V.). That means that this world’s distorted allotments will not continue into the afterlife. I, for one, am grateful for that and long more and more each day for that better world to come.