For Benjamin, On Your 13th Birthday

by Rich on March 14, 2018

(The following is a letter I wrote for my nephew Benjamin. My sister, Benjamin’s mother, said I should post it here. This was not intended for my blog, but with her blessing, I am posting it. Along with this letter, I gave Benjamin the knife and picture of my grandfather pictured below.)


This is a KA-BAR knife, the military issued knife for generations of service men and women who laid their lives on the line to serve a greater good.

If you look closely at the base of the blade, you will see on one side it says “KABAR”. On the other it says “USMC”.

This knife belonged to your great grandfather on your mother’s side, Mimi’s father, Larry Voigt. I knew him as “Granddaddy Larry”.

There are a lot of things I want to say about this knife and what it represents, and what lessons we can learn from it.

I’ll start with Granddaddy Larry…

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, pulling the US into WWII, Granddaddy Larry (GL) was well past draft age, and as a married man with 2 children, was under no obligation to serve. But he did. He enlisted in the Navy and served on the aircraft carrier USS Hancock. The Hancock was deployed in the Pacific and was a part of the “island hopping” campaign that US forces engaged in, pushing the Japanese back, one island at a time. It was dirty, horrific, terrible work that had to be done to win the war. This is part of your family heritage.

“But Uncle Rich, this is a USMC knife. A Marine was issued this knife. Why did GL have it if he was in the Navy?”

Great question.

GL was a pharmacist mate. His job was to work in the ship’s hospital, helping medics and doctors care for the wounded. The war in the Pacific was fought primarily by Marines. And when those Marines were wounded, they would be sent to the nearest ship to receive emergency care. Your great grandfather saved a lot of Marines. One of them gave him this knife, I assume as a way to say thanks.

I have one just like it that was issued to GL. It says US NAVY on it and he had his name engraved on it as well, along with his ship’s name.

So that is the history of this knife. So why did I give it to you? Another great question.

This knife is a tool. The Marine used it to defeat an enemy. GL used his to save lives. Lesson #1: the tools that God gives us in life can be used to hurt or heal. Be aware of how you use those gifts. And also know that there will be times when God calls on you to use those tools in ways that may seem painful and uncomfortable to you. His plan is bigger. The Marine didn’t know why he was on that island. GL wanted to be at home with his family. Both used their tool to further a greater good beyond their understanding. Staying close to God through prayer and his Church will help you discern how to use your tool.

This knife is old and rusted, but be careful… it can still hurt you. Lesson #2: the tools that God gives us must be cared for, maintained. A dull and rusty knife will neither effectively defeat an enemy, nor cut cleanly to help save the life of a patient. What a dull, rusty knife most likely will do is hurt the one who wields it. Keep your knife sharp and clean, ready to use as God calls you to use it, whether that is to defend or to heal… or both. Do that by reading His word and having an open heart to hear the wisdom of His priests and the people He puts in your life.

While over 70 years old and in disrepair, this knife still has value and worth. With skilled cleaning and sharpening, this knife can still be a useful and powerful tool. Lesson #3: in life, we often disregard the tools that God gives us. There will be times when you feel you have failed to follow His call, to use the tools that He has given you. But know this, Benjamin… there is never a point when God discards you because you are no longer clean and sharp. No matter how rusty and dull your blade becomes, He never tosses you away. You are too valuable to Him. There will never be a point where hard and skillful work, along with loving care, won’t bring the tools He has given you back into perfect condition. Don’t give up on yourself, because God never does.

The Marine who wielded this knife in battle has long passed. He may not have lived to see victory in battle. He didn’t live long enough to know me, or you. But his actions, his skillful use of this tool helped save mankind from years of war and death. Lesson #4: you may never see the results of what God calls you to do with the tools He has given you. Don’t let that stop you. Even when you don’t see the end, know that what you do and who you interact with on a daily basis has a real and tangible affect on those around you. YOU MATTER! The most inconsequential interaction could change a life.

This knife was issued to a Marine, but he gave it to GL. Lesson #5: the gifts and tools that God gives us do not belong to us, they belong to Him. Our job is to use them and pass them on to those in our lives. Even if we think we haven’t used them to their full potential or in the way God intended, sharing His gifts with others is what He calls us to do.

You have many tools, Benjamin. All of them are gifts from God. Your tools are individual to you. Your knife is like no other knife on earth, and it is intended for His specific purpose. Keep your knife sharp. Use it wisely. Never discard it. Believe in its purpose. Share it with others.

Life is more than your school, your job, or where you live. Those things are important, but if you only focus on them and not on honing the blade, on using the tools He has given you, then you will always feel lost and powerless.

I am so proud of whom you are and the young man you are becoming. God has created you because the very idea of YOU pleases Him.

And for what it’s worth, I think you’re pretty cool too.

I love you, bud

Uncle Rich

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John H March 14, 2018 at 1:40 pm

Awesome post, and what a great birthday gift. Nice piece Rich!


John March 14, 2018 at 6:32 pm

Outstanding. Your writing skills never cease to amaze me.


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