He was born and raised in Tucumcari, N.M., then moved to Mexico City at a young age. He came back to Tucumcari and joined the Army at the age of 18, and fought in France and Italy in World War II. He was wounded in action fighting in France. He later received his Purple Heart and his Combat Infantry Badge. Someone once told me when soldiers receive that badge, they are true war heroes, since that badge is not given to the average soldier.
I decided to research it a little more and found out the Combat Infantry Badge recognizes the distinct sacrifices of infantrymen. They face the greatest risk of being wounded or killed in action. He not only fought the battle, but he also knew he was offering himself for his country. He performed duties while under fire and engaged in active ground face-to-face combat in order to destroy the enemy with direct fire. He was in the battle!
He recovered from his wounds and planned to attend Southern Methodist University on the GI Bill. He stopped at Waco to see a friend and happened to meet his future wife. He decided to stay in Waco and graduated from Baylor University in 1952. He went back to Tucumcari again to teach, but fought another battle, the battle of racism—even in his hometown. They eventually hired him after a few years, and he stayed and taught there 30 years.
During that time, he fought the battle of surrendering his life to Christ. At the age of 40, he was once again called into duty—to sacrifice his life to preaching, to active combat against the enemy. Face-to-face while under fire, he preached for 37 years. There were times he was wounded and hurt, but he knew God had called him, as God calls us all, to not be average soldiers. He offered himself to God, to be in the battle.
He fought one last battle, the battle against diabetes. Once again, he fought bravely, never backing down, never giving up. He faced it to his last day and offered himself to God.
His story has encouraged me and given me strength. It has helped me to understand that we are always in the battle. We are called to be front-line soldiers, on the ground, in direct contact with the enemy. We are not to be fearful of the duty, but be reminded of for whom we fight.
He was a wonderful example for me. He was a soldier, a teacher, a pastor and a dad. He was my father, and I celebrate his life, Eleazar Maciel.
René Maciel is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and president of Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio.