“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
“What about you? Do you have any tattoos?” This question comes up often in the conversations I have with people about their ink and the stories that go with their artwork.
My answer is always the same: “No, I haven’t got any tattoos myself. But I’ve thought about three tattoos that I might have an artist look into creating.” If they’re interested, which they often are, I’ll take the time to describe the three tattoos and share the stories that they would signify. I’ll say more about these in upcoming posts.
But I’ve recently added a fourth, and that’s the one that I’d like to talk about now.
My name is John, which comes from a Hebrew word meaning, “God is gracious.” My father was a pastor and a biblical polyglot, so I figure he knew exactly what he was doing when he gave me a name that says something about God. In my teens, I learned that I was also named after someone. I already knew that my middle name, Carl, was carried down from my maternal grandfather, but now I was told that my first name came from my father’s cousin, John Lloyd Madvig, who was killed in the Korean War. He was just 20 years old.
Recently, while checking his online military obituary, I made an incredible discovery: a military collectables site had somehow acquired the Purple Heart medal given posthumously to John Lloyd’s family. I contacted the owner of the website and he agreed to return it to our family for the cost of what he had paid. The price was significant, but the items we received were priceless. In addition to the medal, there was a three-ring binder filled with family memories of my father’s cousin. The binder included newspaper clippings, photographs, telegrams, letters, documents, and even the stripes from John Lloyd’s field and dress uniforms. There was also a typed copy of some of John Lloyd’s journal entries and correspondence.
I showed the collection to my father on Memorial Day weekend. He too was amazed at my discovery. John Lloyd, born in 1930, was a year younger than my father and had been one of his best friends.
One of the documents informed us that John Lloyd Madvig “…embarked on board USS BAYFIELD, APA-33, at San Diego, California and departed therefrom 1Sep50. Arrived and disembarked at Inchon, Korea, on 21Sep50.” On September 4, the young Marine wrote in his journal about nightly Bible studies on board the ship, and his faith can be seen growing from one entry to the next.
In the first entry, he noted that he and two other Marines “…had a discussion with the Chaplain about the ‘why’ of this conflict. The more I see and hear the more I wonder if this couldn’t actually become the conflict which means the end of the world. It may not happen now, but it could be sort of a preamble.” Three days later, he wrote, “Three added to Bible Class making 26 present. We sang for 20 minutes before reading. One song was ‘Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.’ I haven’t got courage yet to show my colors, but the last verse hit home as far as I am concerned. It fits almost perfectly as to what is going on. ‘The strife may not be long.’ I am praying that it won’t. ‘This day the noise of battle – the next the victor’s song!’’’ And then he added, “Tomorrow night will be communion. I’ve never gone before, but I am going now and I am going to make any vows I make from now on good.”
It wouldn’t take him long to begin standing up for Jesus. It can be difficult to share our faith with anyone, but sometimes it’s even harder with our own family members. On September 15, John Lloyd wrote to his older brother back home: “Don’t forget you accepted Christ as your personal savior. I’m beginning to see that there’s more to it than just standing up before people and telling them. You also have to live it.”
The USS Bayfield arrived in Inchon two days after the five-day amphibious landings and beach assaults that constituted the Battle of Inchon. The next day, he wrote to his family: “The main reason for writing this letter is to tell you not to worry. It may seem an odd thing to say, but I really mean it. There are a few verses in Philippians that have meant much to me: ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ and ‘do all things without murmuring and disputing.’ These verses I think answer any fears you, me or anybody could have.” Soon he and his fellow Marines would join the United Nations forces in recapturing Seoul from the North Koreans.
Another document from the three-ring binder declares, “13Oct50 embarked on board USS Q082, at Inchon, Korea, and departed therefrom 15Oct50. Arrived and disembarked at Wonsan, Korea on 26Oct50.” The Marines were intended to be part of another amphibious assault at Wonsan, but during a five-day wait to clear mines in the harbor, the North Korean Army withdrew from the area. While they waited onboard the ship, John Lloyd wrote in his journal, “It’s about the second week I’ve been called ‘the reverend’.” Quoting Matthew 5:16, he continues, “‘Let your light so shine among men.’ It’s odd that it took so long. It started because I didn’t drink or smoke under almost forced conditions.”
After John Lloyd’s ship finally disembarked at Wonson, he and his fellow Marines became part of an operation to secure a 78-mile supply route from the eastern coast into the mountainous heart of North Korea. On November 1, 1950, as they began their journey northward, they heard news that the Red Chinese were now entering the war. The news was confirmed the next day, as they encountered the new enemy, whose quantity was unknown. At 11:00 that night, the Chinese began their attack, raining down on the Marines from the ridgelines. John Lloyd’s company was overrun, and sometime after midnight on November 3, my father told me, John Lloyd was killed while trying to save his commanding officer. He stood up for Jesus by laying down his life for his friends.
Three days later, John Lloyd Madvig was buried in a temporary cemetery in Hungnam, North Korea. There he would lay for four years, until his parents received his remains on January 7, 1955, and had him buried at Crystal Lake Cemetery in Minneapolis. Here his grandfather’s body already lay, as would his father, who passed away in 1980.
They too were named John.
So I am named after someone. I was given my name twelve years after a family lineage was violently interrupted on a steep hillside in North Korea, by someone who never knew his name, by a nameless someone who was likely killed on that same hillside.
For that reason, my fourth tattoo—if I were ever to get any tattoos—would be an image of the Purple Heart I had the good fortune to discover.
The one belonging to my father’s cousin and best friend.
The one with my name on it.
Additional historical information from US Marine Operations in Korea 1950-1953: Volume III – The Chosin Reservoir Campaign (Illustrated Edition), by Lynn Montross and Captain Nicholas A. Canzona, USMC. Pickle Partners Publishing, 2015.