In this newsletter, John Hamilton reflects on the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, offering insights into history and the power of encouragement during conflict.

The eyes of the world are on Ukraine as men and women engage in an epic struggle not only for Liberty but for life itself. These days will eventually be chaptered in the book as old as man; good versus evil. Stories of the statesmen and issues and strategies will recede into all the other dusty histories, but the memory of the innocent and the courage of those who stood fast in these hard minutes and hours and days will forever shine like the noonday sun.

When President Zelensky addressed the United States Congress earlier this month, he compared the onslaught his country faces, rightfully so, to September 11th and Pearl Harbor. Citizens and policymakers may have honest disagreements about the best way to materially and strategically support Ukraine, but there should be no doubt about the clear choice between right and wrong. The solidarity of America’s elected body after his address was on full display in a way that echoed the night of 9/11, when members of Congress sang “God Bless America,” on the steps of the Capitol. Remember the days that followed? American flags proliferated, we all sought to help neighbor in word, spirit, and deed. Recapturing this post 9/11 unity was one of the reasons for originating the 9:57 Project, to enlighten future generations by showcasing the best of humanity seen especially on the darkest of days.

And how do we respond now, as our neighbors in Ukraine know the terror of a hundred 9/11s in one day, for days on end? Just as the passengers and crew of Flight 93 faced their enemy in the cockpit without the help of the American military, Ukrainian freedom fighters face their enemy alone, without the direct intervention of American Warplanes or troops. The battle is not fully joined for different circumstances, strategic in nature, in want of avoiding global catastrophe. And while we can and should provide what material assistance we can, there are two very important other things we can do.

In a March 21 CNN interview, a Ukrainian Fighter Pilot, callsign “Juice,” described the air war. (During training in America, California Air National Guard friends assigned him this name for his preference for non-alcoholic beverages at the beach). When asked how it felt to bravely face the enemy for his countryman, Juice replied that he was only “doing my job.” I was struck by it; he was speaking as I would about going to my job tonight. Individually, few among us have a job as consequential or dangerous as Juice will have on his next mission. But collectively, all of us have a job to do that is important to the future of our country and freedom. We must teach our young people that freedom, the rule of law, and civil discourse in a democratic republic are special, rare, and must be protected. Those things only exist in a society where the spirit of good prevails, the same good we saw in the days after 9/11. It’s the same good we saw whenever right prevailed over wrong, whether it was in Normandy when our grandfathers came to rescue Europe, Selma Bridge, when our fathers and mothers pursued justice, or tonight when Juice pursues the Russian Mig. Our job is to talk about and hold forth these things — and to never let our kids, and their kids, forget them.

There is a second thing we can do — something that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 did have the benefit of — we can offer encouragement and hope to those in the fight. Verified historical evidence attests that several of the forty heroes were able to make phone calls to people on the ground, receiving encouragement, information, and affirmations of love. During the conversations, passengers passed word back that they had voted to take action, and were composing a plan for battle. Just as most of us are personally unknown to the Ukrainian people, GTE Operator Lisa Jefferson was unknown to passenger Todd Beamer when she took his call, but on that day, she prayed with and for Todd, reciting the Lord’s Prayer with him, right before he and his fellow passengers counter-attacked. So the second thing we can do is to offer encouragement to the people of Ukraine however you feel fit to do so, whether that be through thoughts, words, flags, or prayers.

During the last century, as a different and far larger conflagration raged in Europe, liberation forces descended upon the continent on the morning of June 6, 1944. Their commander, General Eisenhower had exhorted them that “the eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of Liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” The hour had finally come for deliverance; when Anne Frank heard, she wrote, “there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” There were more battles to come and suffering to be had, but on that day, the victory was begun. And what did Americans at home do on D-Day? They gathered around the radio that night and heard their Commander-in-Chief continue as encourager-in-chief. According to historian Alex Kershaw, “Families all across the nation listened to the broadcasts. In Bedford, Virginia, population 3,000, families gathered around radios and really prayed as they listened because they knew their boys were in the invasion. They did not know that 19 were already dead on Omaha Beach.”

The only way to encourage anyone is to be encouraged. I ask that you check out President Roosevelt’s prayer, if not from a faith context, then a historical one. Think about those families in Bedford decades ago just as you would about your most beloved when their safety is in serious jeopardy. Can you imagine how it must have felt? … Then, the President of the United States comes into your home and offers such words that are so personal, so direct, to your very plight, and the plight of the world. The conflict played out not only on the beaches of France but in the hearts of everyone who cared and loved.

I want to offer the same words FDR used, but for a different band of brothers, in a different European war. For Juice, his fellow Ukrainians, and especially his fellow Fighter Pilots, “Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith,” and protect them, their loved ones, and freedom. Of this, I ask in and of the same spirit that President Roosevelt broadcast his words to our nation at 9:57 pm, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

(That prayer will be featured in a major new addition to the World War II Memorial, which will be dedicated on June 6th of this year, you can read about the new addition and hear the entire prayer here.)

John Hamilton

Stinson Ukraine Embassyjpg
A picture of the Ukrainian Embassy taken by 9:57 Project veteran volunteer Rogers Stinson. View
more of his work here.