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  • Writer's pictureMark Alan Williams

This WWII Soldier Died That I Might Live

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

An odd but true story of my family history.

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A WWII soldier died that I might live, in a strange but true way. Many who know our family aren’t aware of this story. That’s understandable, it was not the kind of story we necessarily wanted to remember or celebrate. In fact, it was a little awkward for me.

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You see, soon after high school my mother married a young man also living in upstate New York who soon went off to the war. His name was Robert Cotanche.

I don’t know much of their story. Apparently they met in high school. Based on a very brief conversation with someone who knew them, I understand that mom’s parents, (grandpa was a pastor) thought they were too young and weren’t too happy with the marriage. But marry they did, and then soon he was off to war in Europe.

Both knew there was a chance he wouldn’t return. Sure enough that soldier died, like so many others, in WWII.

We still have the explanation letter my mother received from a Chaplain. According to the letter, Robert was killed, not by a bullet or bomb, but in a Jeep accident, when it slid on ice.

One of my childhood memories is visiting his parents when my mother drove us kids to New York state to visit her parents. About all I remember was the awkwardness of seeing Robert’s parents, who were somehow related, but not really, and were connected to the story of my mother’s first marriage.

My dear mother was probably only about 20 years old when she got the news that her soldier husband had died in the war. Wow, I wonder, what was that like? Did she think that life was over? Did she feel like God had abandoned her?

Mom eventually died in 1995 at age 69 and I’ll never get to ask her, until perhaps in heaven. And maybe I’ll meet and chat with Robert there also. Maybe I’ll get to thank him for serving our country.

But life wasn’t over for mom. She enrolled in Houghton College in Houghton, New York, and there met my father, Claude Aaron Williams, Jr. The story is that he was a real jerk—a soda jerk that is. That was the term for someone running an old-fashioned soda fountain. He worked in the college soda fountain and snack bar.

Their romance grew, and they were married August 28, 1949. I was born March 15, 1955.

That’s the family history, and here’s the interesting insight for me: If Robert hadn’t died in the war, I wouldn’t be here!

I wouldn’t have had a chance to exist as…

  • Mom would be married to Robert and not my dad

  • They would have likely had little Cotanche babies

  • She wouldn’t have gone to Houghton College

  • She wouldn’t have met my dad

You see it’s literally true, that soldier died that I might live. My head spins a little as I contemplate the implications.

So, what can you and I learn from this true story?

Here are 3 things I realize as I think about how this soldier died that I might live:

1. I’m deeply grateful for all those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

It’s great that we have a Memorial Day to remember. It’s good we have memorials in various places around our country to help us recollect the sacrifices, such as those in Washington DC.

It’s easy to forget and there’s a price for not remembering the sacrifices of the past. We ALL lose a piece of ourselves when we forget.

2. I am also deeply grateful for those who have served, and not given their lives.

One soldier died that I might live, but others have also served sacrificially, for which I am grateful:

  • My dad Claude served in the Navy in WWII, in battles in the Pacific.

  • Carolyn’s dad Stewart Fox served in WWII, in the US Air Force.

  • My grandpa Williams served in WWI, in the US Marines.

  • My brother Brian currently serves in the US Coast Guard.

  • My brother Jonathan has served in the Air National Guard in Operation Desert Storm.

  • Our neighborhood just welcomed a Wounded Warrior, Brandon Dodson, into a home on our street, two doors from our own home. Brandon is a double amputee from the recent war in Afghanistan. You can see a short news video about the dedication ceremony HERE and the Gary Sinese Foundation video HERE. Very inspiring.

3. While it is mind-boggling to think that a soldier died that I might live, it is even more mind-boggling that Jesus died that all people might live FOREVER.

Many things in this universe are mind-boggling:

  • The size of the universe

  • The process of reproduction which brings new lives into the world

  • The instinct that tells animals to nurture and train their young

  • X-rays, radio waves, laser rays (my wife Carolyn is a laser RN at Dermacare)

  • Black holesThat life on this earth exists at all is miraculous

I could go on, but I imagine you agree—the universe is full of almost unbelievable things that are real and verifiable.

One of the most extraordinary facts is that God Almighty came from heaven, was born and lived as the God-man Jesus Christ and then died on the cross for our sins and rose again, to give us eternal life after life on this earth.

Most wonderful of all is the fact that we simply have to receive Jesus’ free gift of salvation to have eternal life after we depart from here!

If you have received this gift, praise God for the One who died that you might live eternally.

If you haven’t yet found assurance of your eternal home, click HERE to learn how to receive this amazing gift.

My parents, Claude and Barbara Williams, early 1950’s. Mom normally signed her name Barbara C. Williams, with the C to honor her first husband Robert Cotanche, who died that I might live.

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