Then the officers who were over the units of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—went to Moses and said to him, “Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command and not one is missing (Numbers 31:48).
The Missing Man flyover never fails to lift eyes to the skies. It prompts sobering thoughts.
Reminders of missing warriors often do that.
The historian reports: “Even in World War I the lesson was learned that any unit could endure
severe losses if the vacant seats in the mess were occupied by the following morning. This was
the “full-breakfast-table” policy, and it was one that the Royal Air Force pursued with religious intensity. But the American stations did not fill up so quickly. The VIII Bomber Command in those days simply didn’t have the men to bring in.” Empty seats can disturb us. It was a major concern for America’s Mighty 8th that flew daylight bombing runs over Germany in WWII. In August of 1943, that command lost 88 heavy bombers and 900 men over a three-day period.
Then came Black Thursday, on which 60 planes and 600 men failed to return.
They had been attacking ball-bearing factories. Though seemingly insignificant, the German
military depended upon ball-bearings for almost all of its war machinery. The attacks on places like Schweinfurt were critical. The question was, were they worth the cost?
The empty seats at the breakfast tables and the empty cots in the barracks were blows to the
morale of the airmen who would take to the skies next. Bomber Command was not able to send replacements fast enough to eliminate the disturbing signs of losses. But empty spots are the price of any war. They make us count the cost in human lives. Reminders of the missing bring pain to those who fought alongside them. Civilians may wonder how it can be that the loss of someone the warrior knew for only a relatively short time can hurt so much. To grieve over a family member is understandable. But to mourn the death of someone known only briefly—and still do so 30 years later—is mystifying to them.
To feel sad over the death of someone the warrior never met, whose only connection was the
uniform both wore—that’s even more puzzling! But those who have donned the uniform to protect a nation know that the bond between warriors may be different from that of family members—but it may be even stronger.
Reminders of the missing—be that by names on a wall, pictures in an album, or the flash of
memories old—reopen wounds. The sunlight of happiness dims. In come the dark clouds of
loss. Defenders of ancient Israel also knew how it felt to see signs of missing warriors. But in the last days of Moses, they were reminded that the Lord their God was in complete control of the body count. If it was his will, a major battle could be fought without the loss of even one of
The Midianites had been a threat to Israel ever since the march to the Promised Land. When
the showdown came, the Lord called up 1,000 from each tribe of Israel—12,000 in all—to take
on this dangerous enemy of impressive size. The victory by Israel was more impressive, as was the plunder. But most impressive was this: not one Israelite soldier was missing afterward.
The Lord God had loved each of them. Each one would be ransomed by his Son. The mighty
God would win the war against sin and death for each of them—and for all of us. All those who trust in him will find themselves celebrating the victory in heaven.
And, as it was following Midian’s defeat, not one of his own—not even one—will be missing.
Lord Jesus, you have said that you would always be with us, be with us as we think of those special to us but who are now missing from earth. Let the thought of the missing man formation remind us that you once ascended into those skies to return to heaven. Comfort us with the assurance that none who put their faith in you here will there be missing there. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain
and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military