There are a few marks on the metal covering of the small Bible my father carried in his left shirt pocket during World War II. He never talked to me about it or told me why there were tape marks on the outside. I didn’t even know that he had it until almost 20 years after his death. I came across it one day when I was packing up my family’s belongings two years after my mother had her stroke. I didn’t want to close off my mother’s Pennsylvania connections until she realized that I couldn’t take care of her if she moved back to her home.

There are seven words engraved on the Heart-shield Bible’s metal covering: “May this keep you safe from harm.” Even if I didn’t know what it was when I first saw it, I could have figured it out. G.I.s carried the metal-covered Bibles in the left breast pockets of their uniform shirts. I guess my dad had taped a covering of some sort over his Bible to keep it in such good shape. His heart would stop beating on Jan. 4, 1974, but not because of an enemy bullet. The Soldier’s Pocket Bible did its job.

In matters of faith, my mom has often repeated one of my father’s favorite lines: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Dad never elaborated on that line. It wasn’t his line, but it was a line he shared with the family quite a bit. The line is most often attributed to famous World War II correspondent Ernie Pile. Dad never claimed authorship, but he subscribed to the notion.

For the past few months, I’ve been keeping my dad’s pocket Bible on the shelf next to my desk at home. I brought it here to work with me when I knew I was going to write this column. Bo Harmon’s letter about how a pocket Bible saved his life during World War II made me think about my dad’s Bible. Mr. Harmon’s Bible was a regular government issue pocket Bible with no metal shield, which made his story even more remarkable.

It is still hard for me to imagine that for almost three years of his life, my dad had to carry a Bible with a metal covering in his shirt pocket to protect his heart from a bullet aimed by an enemy.

I’m glad that my dad brought his Bible back home with him safe and sound. I see the direct relationship between my dad surviving World War II and my ability to write this column today. I also see the direct relationship between the efforts of every veteran of military service and the First Amendment freedom that protects my position as a newsman and enables me to serve my community every day.

This morning I will have the honor of driving down to Welch to cover the annual Veteran’s Day Parade. I have worked weekends and have been off on Monday and Tuesday for the past 18 months, so I had to ask City Editor Charles Owens if I could work Monday and take Tuesday and Wednesday off. He didn’t mind. I always enjoy visiting with friends at the parade.

As a kid growing up in Claysville, Pa., my hometown observed Memorial Day with special reverence, but it usually got pretty cold in Pennsylvania by mid-November, so the observance of Armistice Day up there was usually an evening event and often indoors. I remember traveling through snow and standing in the cold of one Nov. 11, morning in Welch back in the late ‘80s, and being amazed that the parade wasn’t canceled and people still lined McDowell Street.

Since he didn’t talk a lot about it, I can’t say for sure how military service changed my father, but as I grew up, I learned that my father emerged from the experience with a collective concern for everyone.

The guys in his squad were our family, but dad extended that spirit of caring to everyone he knew. He was known for that. I always thought I would be in the service until I split my knee in half as a high school senior and the surgeon told me just before he operated that I would never be drafted.

That moment changed my dreams ... all of them. However, as I matured, I started to recall how my father extended his love of the freedom he defended to everyone, regardless of who they were or what they did.

I learned from my dad that all Americans can join in the universal fight to protect American freedom, and that openly supporting all those who served in the military in peace time or in time of war is something that all citizens can do.

Service in the military during World War II shaped so much of the man my dad was, but his example of life in a time of peace helped me find a personal context for citizen service.

I owe everything to my dad and to all veterans.

Bill Archer is senior writer for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at

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