Our lives are in the hands of our God, who will cause everything to work out for our good.

Bill J. Tackmier

1945 was a pivotal year for our country and for my family.

My family’s history

That was the year my dad, Vernon Tackmier, was drafted into the US Army. Dad was 21 years old at the time. He was the typical Depression-era kid. When he graduated from grade school at the age of 12, he had to stay home and help on his parents’ farm instead of going to high school. When the attack on Pearl Harbor happened in 1941, he worked on many of his neighbors’ farms to help produce food for the war effort. But in 1945 his turn came to help overseas.

Earlier in that pivotal year, his grandfather had died. His grandpa, August Polzin, had come to America from Germany in 1881 at the age of 20. I don’t know what prompted him to come, but many young German men of his generation came to America to avoid service in the German army. He had grown up in the far eastern part of the German Empire in Pomerania. He came to America as an apprenticed shoemaker with his brother Franz. Franz died on Christmas Eve their first year in America. When August  arrived in the “land of opportunity,” he bought a farm in northern Wisconsin, got married, and raised a large family. After becoming a citizen in 1906, he watched the news with horror as World War I broke out and turned into a deadly stalemate. Trench warfare devastated the armies of both sides. New weapons of war destroyed his homeland and large sections of Europe. At the end of the war the dead numbered nearly 20 million people.

The 1930s Depression and a humiliating treaty for Germany after World War I contributed to events that turned into an even more desperate world conflict—World War II. My great-grandpa August must have had many moments when he thanked God for leading him to a place where his family had been able to plow, harvest, and grow in peace. But at the end of his life, he probably was not aware of what was happening in his homeland and the mounting death toll of American soldiers or even the signs of a coming victory in Europe and the Pacific.

My family’s destiny

He died at the advanced age of 84 in May of 1945, less than a month after Hitler committed suicide and a matter of days after the Germans surrendered to the Allies. In the winter and spring of 1945, the Russian army had swept through his home state of Pomerania on their way to capturing Berlin. Millions of Germans fled in front of the advancing Soviet army. Contemporary accounts describe how the country roads of Pomerania and Mecklenburg were jammed all day everyday with traffic the likes of which today’s big cities experience at rush hour—cars, trucks, and mostly horse-drawn wagons filled with families and possessions. The people were fleeing to the east in front of the advancing Soviet army, which was rumored to steal anything that was of value, to rape any women who were left behind, and to murder indiscriminately.

Little did my father and his family suspect the fate they would have experienced if his grandfather had not immigrated to America in 1881. If Dad’s Grandpa August and his other grandparents and great-grandparents had not immigrated to America, my father would no doubt have grown up under Nazism. He likely would have been drafted into the German army and become a casualty of Hitler’s desire for a Third German Reich. His family would have been displaced at the end of World War II. And I—if I had even been born—would most likely have grown up under communism in post-war East Germany.

But God did not only spare us this.

In October 1945, Dad was drafted into the Army and stationed on the island of Okinawa in the Pacific. The island, just south of Japan, had been secured by the US armed forces that summer at the cost of 12,500 American lives. Plans for the invasion of Japan estimated tragic death tolls for Americans. In August of 1945 President Truman decided to drop two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. At the time, it was felt that it was the only way to keep the Japanese from continuing the war in the Pacific. Estimates for an amphibious assault and invasion of Japan would have cost the lives of one million American soldiers—in addition to an untold number of Japanese lives—if the atomic bombs had not been implemented. My father’s life would probably have been one of those casualties of war.

1945 was a pivotal year.

God’s hand in our lives

When we look back on history, it often takes our breath away. We see in hindsight how things could have turned out. It raises questions in our minds: Why are we the ones who are left alive after all the violence that sinful men have brought upon our world? Highly developed nations like Germany, Japan, and America with all their education, technology, and industrialization could not prevent getting into world conflicts that brought death to millions of their citizens.

The economic, educational, and social advances of modern nations have often complicated life for children of God. So often these advances inflicted more harm than the good they’ve promised. But amidst it all, God makes these developments work out for good—to accomplish his purposes.

It’s humbling to think that an all-knowing God has guided the destinies of individual people and families to survive the atrocities that were perpetrated in the 20th century. It’s disturbing to consider how human greed for power produced leaders who were so blind to the well-being of their own people that they were willing to sacrifice their young, promising next generation. As we look back, the most amazing thing of all is how God guides and directs the paths of individuals to maneuver through such dangerous historical events. While we mourn the dead, we know they too fit into God’s plans to change the world.

How comforting to know that we have a personal God who knows each of us by name, a God who has promised to work all things out for good to those who love him. This God speaks to us through his Word and says to us so intimately, “I know the plans that I have for you, . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). The God who guided his Son through the plotting of sinful human beings and their most evil purposes guided events so that all worked out for our eternal good.

With that in mind, we trust he will continue to guide us through the tortuous twists and turns of this life and bring us to the home of the Son he loves.

Bill Tackmier, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Author: Bill J. Tackmier
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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