By Curtis K. Shelburne
During one of the most famous battles ever fought, the World War II “Battle of the Bulge,” the Germans made use of a battalion of men commanded by Major Otto Skorzeny, “the most daring commando in the German army.”
According to author Stephen Ambrose in his book “Citizen Soldier,” 500 or so volunteers from that battalion were dressed in American uniforms and dispatched across the lines to wreak havoc and confusion, perpetrate mischief, and cause misery and mayhem in any way possible. They spread misinformation about German strength and troop movements to lower morale among the American troops, misdirect the Allies, and generally spread seeds of panic. They shifted directional signposts to wrong directions to cause further confusion.
Ambrose writes that once the American troops realized what was happening, the word spread amazingly quickly: “Trust no one!” American soldiers, particularly Military Police, began to quiz anyone who looked suspicious or who was crossing a barricade, with such questions as, “Who plays center field for the Yankees?” (I’d have been shot as a spy if they’d asked me that one!) “Who is Mickey Mouse’s wife?” “What is the capital of Illinois?” (Ambrose says that even General Omar Bradley was detained for answering correctly, “Springfield.” The MP was sure it was Chicago.)
But the spy-detection gambit that most caught my interest had to do with a proofreading mistake (and proofreading mistakes are the bane of this minister/writer/editor’s existence!).
It seems that a German in an American officer’s uniform was stopped at a roadblock. The man’s English was flawless. In fact, many of Skorzeny’s men had spent some time living in America or Britain; one wonders how much trouble we could save ourselves if we just quit training our enemies?
This guy’s identification papers were also perfect. In fact, it was the perfection of the German forger who produced his papers that cost this man his life as he was later shot as a spy.
Ambrose says that the authentic Adjutant General’s I.D. card that all American soldiers carried had at its top these printed words: “NOT A PASS. FOR INDENTIFICATION ONLY.” But the German forger had corrected the typically efficient bureaucratic spelling mistake and taken out the offending “N” so that the spy’s card read, correctly but fatally, “IDENTIFICATION.”
I am thankful that God the Father has no problem at all correctly identifying his children. We may get our bloomers all bunched up and fuss about various rituals and rites, some of which are beautiful, meaningful, and God-prescribed (but not for arguing about).
But the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear (read his letter to the Galatians!) that THE proof that we’re
God’s children is not ritual-based: it is that his Spirit lives in our hearts giving us life and producing wonderful “fruit,” proof positive that we’re God’s people.
Oops! Did I say God has no trouble “identifying” his children? Maybe you better make that “indentifying.”
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at