The Empty Helmet

On a shelf in my office is a WWI helmet. It belonged to my great uncle, Orlin Eastman, who brought it home from the trenches. But there was someone else who wore a helmet just like this.

His name was Johnny Dellinger.

Johnny grew up in my high school hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho. I visit His grave in Lakeview Cemetery off Division Street every time I’m up there. I have something in my heart for a young man I never knew – but wished I had.

I honor him.

Here’s the story:

Johnny grew up with another lad named Ray Racicot, who was the husband of an adopted grandmother of mine back in high school. She told me this story one day. Johnny and Ray grew up as best friends amidst the rugged beauty of North Idaho. When WWI came along they joined the army together. This was back when an entire regiment would be recruited from an area. It was a practice that stopped with the trench warfare and brutal carnage of the front when the youth of an entire town might be obliterated in a few hours battle. After this, regiments were mixed to prevent this. But Johnny and Ray went thru training together and shipped off to France together – where their lives became entwined in an even more poignant way.

During a particularly devastating barrage and battle in France, the two were side by side. Shells rained down and bullets cut the air. As usual, Ray and Johnny were side by side when a German grenade landed next to Ray. Johnny, in an incredibly selfless act of devotion, jumped on the grenade, taking most of the blast but saving Ray’s life. Ray was also gravely wounded and carried the reminders for the rest of his life.

He also carried the memories of his dear friend who selflessly sacrificed his very life so that Ray might live. Johnny’s love and protective instincts required no thought, just instant action.

On Johnny’s stone is a ceramic photo of him in his doughboy uniform. The photo is clear and there is a twinkle of youth in his eyes. It’s sort of haunting. It could have been taken yesterday.

Every time I go there, I stand by his graveside and say a few words – words of honor and awe to someone who knew what true love was.

The Bible says:

John 15:13 (KJV)

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

The helmet reminds me.

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