Whenever people asked Mike Novosel how tall he was, he always said 5 feet, 3 and 7/8 inches.
That was his way of reliving the moment when he was declared too short to be a combat aviator in World War II. The Air Force minimum was 5 feet 4 inches.
But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, that eighth of an inch suddenly didn't seem to matter quite so much. America desperately needed pilots. Within a matter of weeks, Novosel, the son of a shoe repairman, got his wings. He ultimately flew for America in three different wars.
After piloting bombers in the conflicts against Japan and Korea, Novosel said goodbye to the military. He got married, had four kids, and flew commercial planes.
Then he heard President John F. Kennedy's stirring call to action in his 1961 inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Novosel was now 42 years old, but he re-enlisted so he could fly in Vietnam.
Mike figured that he would deployed as an instructor. Instead, he was almost immediately assigned one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. Novosel became a "dustoff" pilot, flying medevac helicopters into active battle areas to recover injured soldiers.
Dustoff pilots have to hover motionless at ground level while their human cargo is being loaded. That makes them sitting ducks for enemy snipers and machine gunners.
Incredibly, Mike flew 2,543 missions. He brought home 5,589 wounded or stranded soldiers.
His most famous mission was in October 1969 in Kien Tuong Province, where he was tasked with rescuing a platoon of South Vietnamese fighters.
The official account of that day declared that he "unhesitatingly maneuvered his helicopter into a heavily fortified and defended enemy training area... Flying without gunship or other cover and exposed to intense machine-gun fire, Chief Warrant Officer Novosel was able to locate and rescue a wounded soldier."
That was just the start of what became one of the most daring rescue operations in military history. Over the next 13 hours, Mike performed 15 extractions. He took bullets into his right leg and shrapnel into one of his hands, but managed to save the lives of 29 men.
Two years later he would receive the Medal of Honor, America's highest award for bravery, from President Richard Nixon.
What made that moment especially sweet was that his son, Mike Novosel Jr., stood beside him in the White House. Mike Jr. had followed in his father's footsteps. When he graduated from Army Flight School, he had asked to be assigned to his dad's unit, the 82nd Medical Detachment. It was the first and only time in U.S. history that a father and son flew together in the same combat unit.
As it turned out, each would save the other's life.
When Mike Jr.'s copter was forced down by enemy fire, his father came to rescue him. Less than a week later, he himself flew into danger to retrieve his dad.
Mike Novosel reminds us that you don’t need to be tall to be a giant. This Veterans Day weekend, thank God for those who willingly choose to go into harm’s way. Better still, if you can, offer a personal word of thanks to someone who has been there and done that.
Again and again, Mike was called alongside people in the midst of crisis. From a biblical perspective, that makes him a paraclete.
The Greek noun parakletos is a mash-up of the preposition para (which means “beside” or “alongside”) and the verb kaleo (which means “to call”). A paraclete is someone who is called to come alongside someone in need.
That’s the primary job description of the Holy Spirit. This is not to suggest that the Spirit is far away and needs to come running. As we noted yesterday, the Spirit indwells everyone who follows Jesus. The Spirit’s “coming alongside” happens, therefore, within our hearts.
Jesus said, during the course of the Last Supper, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete [usually translated Advocate or Helper or Counselor] to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17).
Notice that Jesus says “another” Paraclete. He is the original. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ stand-in, so to speak. In Jesus’ absence – since none of us was privileged to be alive during his ministry on earth – the Spirit now comes alongside us “forever.”
What service does a paraclete render?
In the Jewish tradition, a paraclete might be an angel providing protection. Or a prophet reminding people of God’s presence and power. A paraclete was also someone who might stand beside us in a court of law – someone who testifies on our behalf so we might receive appropriate justice and mercy.
In older English versions of the Bible, parakletos was translated “Comforter.”
Nowadays we think of “comfort” as providing words of encouragement or consolation after a difficult experience. But the original meaning of the word is much more powerful. In Latin, com (“with”) combines with fortis (“strength”) to mean “coming [to someone] with the gift of strength” before a difficult experience. A comforter is someone who readies us and steadies us for whatever challenges lie ahead.
And that makes the Holy Spirit the Comforter Supreme.
Are you exhausted? Stressed out? Crushed in spirit? Flat on your face?
Take heart. You’re not alone.