It’s a story that bears repeating.
During World War II, there was a group of people known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
They were the first African American flying unit in the United States military.
Their primary job was to escort bombers out of Italy and into southern Germany and back. The airmen also provided ground support and fired on enemy trucks, trains, ground equipment and posts.
One of these pilots was Lt. Col. Charles A. Lane Jr.
It wasn’t easy for Charles and other Tuskegee pilots, who not only faced the enemy, but prejudice from their fellow Americans.
And Charles was a wingman.
His job was to keep the enemy off the leader. He had to stay alert and continually be on the lookout for trouble.
“You knew you had to cover three-fourths of the sky in protecting (the leader) and yourself,” Charles said.
On a mission, the leader would go down and fire on a target. When he cleared the target, Charles would follow and then also fire on it.
I was amazed when Charles told me about the time his group was ordered to stop an enemy train.
Squadron Commander Bill Campbell shot up the train’s engine with Charles right behind him as wingman.
Suddenly, the sides of four baggage cars dropped and out came anti-aircraft guns, which began firing at Charles’ plane.
“I saw a long line of machine guns opening fire on me,” Charles said. “I thought I saw about 45 guns aimed at me. It scared me to death.”
Charles eluded enemy forces, but ended up with about 14 slugs in his plane.
I’ve often thought that God was Charles’ wingman — protecting him as he literally faced the battle of his life.
God had his back.
There was a man in the Bible, who I think had a couple of wingmen, too.
His name is David.
He is the shepherd who killed the mighty Philistine giant Goliath and won many other military victories.
But his leader, King Saul, will become very jealous and fearful of David. Saul doesn’t want to lose the throne and wants to kill David.
This is hard — at first — for Saul’s son Jonathan to believe.
Jonathan and David are great friends. The Scriptures say Jonathan loved David as much as his own soul. Jonathan knows David is loyal to the king.
So why would the king want to kill Jonathan’s best friend?
But as the situation between Saul and David deteriorates, the young shepherd has Jonathan check things out.
In the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 20, David says he’s going to stay away from Saul’s table for three days.
If the king asks of David’s whereabouts, Jonathan’s supposed to say the shepherd-turned-warrior went home to see his family. If Saul thinks that’s a good thing, then Jonathan will know that David is safe.
But if the king becomes angry, Jonathan will know David’s life is in danger.
David and his wingman — Jonathan — devise a plan.
After learning about Saul’s intentions, Jonathan will go into a field where David is hiding by a heap of stones. Jonathan will shoot some arrows at the heap. He’ll then send a boy to retrieve them.
If Jonathan shoots three arrows to the side of the heap and tells the boy “Look, the arrows are on this side of you,” then David will know everything is OK.
But if he tells the boy that the arrows are beyond him, then it means David is in danger.
Sure enough, David doesn’t show up to eat. On the second day, the king asks Jonathan about David.
And when Jonathan says David went home, Saul is enraged.
Doesn’t Jonathan know that as long as this shepherd kid is alive that Jonathan will never be the future king?
Saul wants Jonathan to bring David to him so he can be killed and even hurls a spear at his own son.
Grieved for David and humiliated by his own dad, Jonathan heads out to the field the next morning — and shoots an arrow.
David is hiding in the field when Jonathan tells the boy that the arrow is beyond him.
The boy knows nothing about the secret code, but David knows he must run for his life.
And he’ll be on the run for a very long time.
Eventually, Jonathan dies in battle. Saul commits suicide rather than be taken by their enemies, the Philistines.
David becomes king. And although he has plenty of wives, David later has an affair with a married woman named, Bathsheba.
After Bathsheba sends word that she’s pregnant, David has her husband, Uriah, killed to cover up the affair.
God sends a prophet named Nathan to confront David.
This God-inspired wingman prophet knows how to relate to a former shepherd.
Nathan tells David about a poor man who had a lamb that he loved, while a rich man had a whole flock. Rather than take a sheep from his flock to prepare a meal for a guest, the rich man takes the poor man’s lamb.
David is enraged — saying the rich man deserves to die and needs to give the poor man four lambs for what he did.
That’s when Nathan breaks the news: “You are the man.”
Through Nathan, God reminds David of how the Lord rescued him from Saul, made him king, gave him a house and plenty of wives.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Lord would have given him more.
So how could David have done such an evil thing?
David repents, but will suffer the consequences of his actions. His firstborn son with Bathsheba dies and he has terrible family trouble for years.
Why didn’t Nathan warn David before he had that affair?
Could it be that David never consulted him first? Nowhere does it say David sought out Nathan before sending for Bathsheba.
Therein lies a lesson.
We must communicate often and honestly with our wingmen regularly, keeping them briefed on our situations, just like a squad commander and his or her wingman.
Like David needed Jonathan and Nathan, we need wingmen, who can warn us of danger or bring a word of correction — always speaking the truth in love.
We need wingmen to keep us accountable and on target, because as the Bible says, our enemy the devil, “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
I have some great wingmen and I’m so thankful.
But I know a wingman has a tough job.
Like that Tuskegee airman, they must be ever vigilant.
And they can get shot up in battle, too.
Yet in the end, we win. Just read the book of Revelation and you can see how God defeats Satan.
In the meantime, we must look to our human wingmen and rely very heavily on Jesus.
He’s the ultimate wingman.
Don’t think he’s got your back?
Then look to the cross.
Jesus gave his life so those who believe in him won’t perish, but will live forever with him in heaven.
So my question is this: Do you think Jesus would die a brutal death on a cross and not want to love and protect you?
The Scriptures say he’s always interceding (sticking up) for us. He knows how rough it is to live on this earth, because he once walked it as a human, too.
And after Christ ascended into heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit — our guide, helper, comforter and counselor and — I would venture to say — an incredible wingman.
We need to rely on our wingmen and we need to be wingmen for others.
It might not be easy, but it could just be the toughest job we ever loved with stories that also bear repeating.