Adventist Noncombatant Honored for Service Without Weapon Former U.S. Army medic Charles Shyab gets long-overdue Bronze Star
By: Taashi Rowe, Columbia Union Visitor, and Adventist World staff
Sometimes the most important heroes in wartime are those who choose not to defend themselves.
For some, full recognition of their heroism may take longer than it did for others.
Many Seventh-day Adventists are familiar with the story of Desmond T. Doss (http://bit.ly/UpZrLu), the conscientious objector who was awarded a United States Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor in saving lives during World War II. Doss, an Adventist, never carried a weapon, and was ridiculed by his peers. After his heroic act, however, Doss’ bravery was quickly recognized, with then-U.S. president Harry S. Truman presenting a medal months after the May 5, 1945, battle for which Doss was honored.
VALOR RECOGNIZED: U. S. Army Col. Jeremy Martin, left, looks on after Army veteran and former Specialist 4 medic Charles Shyab was presented the Bronze Star Medal for valor by U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski during a formal ceremony Nov. 9, 2012. Roughly 250 family members, community leaders, Defense Information School staff and students attended the ceremony. Shayb, a Seventh-day Adventist, was a noncombatant medic in the Vietnam War.The principle of noncombatancy has a long tradition in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Members of the church from the United States, in particular, have often served as medics and other nonfighting personnel when conscripted, often, like Doss, distinguishing themselves in difficult situations.
Charles Shyab, a Seventh-day Adventist from Silver Spring, Maryland, waited a bit longer for his recognition than Doss did. For Shyab, it happened on November 9, 2012, more than 44 years after a chaotic battle in which he was credited with saving dozens of lives. Shyab received his long-awaited Bronze Star Medal from United States senator Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, in a ceremony at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade.
According to online reference sources, the Bronze Star Medal is awarded by all branches of the United States armed forces, “for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone. . . . The medal is sometimes referred to as the Bronze Star and is the fourth-highest combat decoration and the ninth-highest U.S. military award in order of precedence.”
Karnik Doukmetzian, general counsel for the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church and a friend of Shyab’s, said, “Recognition of his heroism as a medic [is] significant, especially as a reminder in this day and age when war has been glorified and our young people choose to enlist for combat rather than choose to request conscientious objectors status. Charlie has, over the years since his military service, continued to serve his fellow man and countless students with the same commitment he showed during his service to his country.”
Shyab, 68, said he was in one of three companies ordered to ascend Chu Moor Mountain, where Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet. They faced a battalion of enemy forces.
We were in [the enemy’s] backyard, he said of the fight that April day in 1968. Once they found out we were there, . . . that’s when I got wounded.
Shyab’s Bronze Star for valor was authorized in 1968 after he saved many American soldiers’ lives and was wounded on Chu Moor Mountain in Vietnam near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Thirty men were killed in action during that firefight, Shyab said, and another 70 were wounded and 15 were evacuated off the mountain.
About an hour before I was hit, I read from my Bible, and had [done] some meditation, recalled Shyab, who served as a medic. Then I prayed to the Lord. I said, I can’t save myself. I’m not going to live through this unless You protect me, Lord. If You see fit, I will turn my life over to You and become a teacher.
Shyab was wounded in both arms and legs, evacuated from the battle zone, and eventually taken to a hospital in Japan. When he got out, he had less than a year to serve, and worked in the emergency room at a military hospital at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, United States.
After he completed his degree in education from then Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park, Md., Shyab made good on his promise to the Lord in that foxhole and in 1970 began his teaching career. He taught in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Virginia.
“Being in Vietnam helped me keep order in my classroom and taught me empathy,” he said. “I became a witness too. I still have that Bible that I had in Vietnam with my blood on it and a piece of shrapnel. I’ve brought it to the classroom and talked about God’s love and protection.
“Every day to me is a gift and [an opportunity] for me to do the Lord’s will and be a witness,” he says.
Alan DeSilva, pastor of the Takoma Park Seventh-day Adventist Church, said it was a privilege for him to be present at the ceremony. “I’ve known Charlie for 16 years. He’s a very outstanding Christian,” he said. “I was impressed by the speech he gave and how he testified about the Lord. He’s a prime example of the priesthood of all believers.”
—with reporting by American Forces Press Service