158 Years Ago Today: The Civil War Maggots That Saved a Soldier—and Our Family

His name was Michael Link.

• He was a Private in the 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers regiment.

• He came from a family of German coal miners who immigrated to the United States in the early 1800s.

• He was a blacksmith by trade, but he was also an excellent musician. He played the French horn, the violin, and the accordion.

• When the Civil War began, Michael enlisted. He was a 24-year old bachelor at the time.

• On the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863, the PA 151 was involved in the fight at McPherson’s Woods—where General Reynolds was killed by a sharpshooter.

• Michael Link’s unit saw their beloved leader carried from the battlefield that day, mortally wounded.

• A few hours later, Link himself was shot—right in the face. A bullet entered his left eye, went under the bridge of his nose, and then exited his right eye. The blow knocked him to the ground, leaving him unconscious for several hours.

• When he finally came to, he made the horrifying discovery: “One of my eyes had run out, and the other was hanging down my cheek.” 

• “The last thing I remember seeing,” he said, “was the rebel flag, and I was shot just as I was leveling my gun to fire at the enemy.”

Michael’s hometown newspaper gave this account of his ordeal:

“There in that field, under the hot sun, with his eyes shot out, Private Link laid for two days. Initially he prayed for death to relieve his agony, but soon enough he found the strength to go on, even though he was sightless, delirious, and near death’s door. Rebel soldiers passed him, but they thought he was a corpse. His damaged eye sockets had been eaten away by maggots as he lay helplessly on the battlefield. Then on the third day some Boys in Blue came along. They heard Link’s groans and conveyed him to the field hospital.

“Weeks later, upon being discharged from a Philadelphia hospital, the former blacksmith returned to Reading. Undaunted by his disability, Link gained admission to an institution for the blind to obtain training and vocational skills. With his full pension of $72 per month, Michael built two 3-story brick homes on Penn Street. At one of these locations, he opened a shop where he cane-seated chairs. He never gave up, and he never quit. Instead, he entertained his friends by playing his music.”

Several years after the war, Michael got married to Margaret Krebs. Mike and Margaret had a baby girl by the name of Rosa. Here’s how the rest of the family tree unfolds:

Yes, Michael Link was my great-great grandfather.

Had he thrown in the towel on hope as he lay there on the battlefield, had he dropped out of life when recovery from those terrible wounds was long and hard—I wouldn’t be here today.

Do you see the importance of perseverance, of pressing on when you feel like giving up? Generations not yet born are affected by the decisions we make right now—whether to fight to the finish or to throw in the towel. I can’t help thinking of St. Paul’s final words to the church: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7a).

Remember those maggots? The doctor told Link that the maggots had actually saved his life. Those disgusting, filthy maggots that made him want to give up—they had eaten away the infection that otherwise would have killed him.

Got any maggots in your life these days? Any nasty worms chewing on your heart? It might be a difficult person. It might be a family challenge. It might be a terrible situation. It might be a broken dream.

Could it be that those maggots are designed by a loving God to cleanse your soul of spiritual infections and conform you to the image of Christ?

Could it be that “what the maggots meant for evil, God meant for good” (cf. Gen 50:20)? Paul reminds us: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Fighting to the finish—come what may—is our heritage.

May it be our legacy as well.

Image Credits: Some pictures from gettysburgpa.gov; others from personal collection.

Throwback Thursday: Where My Swimming Career Began

My introduction to swimming pools began a long time ago in Reading, PA. My brother and sister and I grew up in a row home with a very small backyard, but it was big enough to accommodate an inflatable pool. My Nana, who lived just a few houses down the street from us, also had a blow-up pool. We eventually graduated to the real thing, as the East Reading Swimming Association featured an outdoor pool that was only a few blocks from our house. Neighborhood kids loved it, even though it was an odd size for racing (33-1/3 yards instead of 25 or 50 yards/meters). The faded color of these Kodak snaps shows how long ago they were taken.

L to R: Me, my mom (with her beehive hairdo), my younger sister Ronni, and my older brother Bobby. (Presumably that’s my dad’s finger on the far right.) Bob and I are preparing our containers to squirt our sister.
Me going solo in the inflatable pool at my Nana’s house. Apparently, we had a cookout that day. And, apparently, I was up to something sinister, as indicated by my tongue sticking out.
My first time off the 1-meter diving board at the East Reading pool. The following year I tackled the 3-meter board behind me.

Family Update: Just a Handful of Nice, Nutty People on the Journey of Life

The Five

Tim, Sonya, Andrew, Bethany, and Micah. That’s our immediate family for now, and we’re exceedingly glad that God has decided to put us together for this life. We’ve had plenty of good times over the years, and a few challenges, too. But through it all, we’ve loved each other without limit and have encouraged each other always to make Christ our highest treasure. We’re not batting a thousand on that, but we’re still in the game.

We like to think of ourselves as just a handful of “nice, nutty people on the journey of life,” though lots of people probably think we’re more nutty than nice. We’re not inclined to argue the point. We just soldier on, trying to answer the call that God has placed on each of our lives as best we can. Our extended family is likewise precious to us, though they’re far too numerous to mention here.

valentino-family-2017-01

Tim Valentino

I was born in Philadelphia, PA and adopted 13 months later by Carl and Cherie Valentino, of Reading, PA. Dad was a blue-collar worker for the Reading Eagle newspaper, and mom went to work for the same company after all three of us kids started junior high. Our parents provided us with something of a middle-class upbringing, and our youth was filled with myriad sports, school activities, and trips to the emergency room.

In earlier days, my brother called me, “Harry Homework.” The nickname was well deserved, though I didn’t like it very much. (I wanted to be cool, not geeky.) Our challenges were many, but we pressed on together when life was tough. Today I’m a grace-loving husband, father, pastor, seminary professor, conference speaker, swimmer, and incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan. I have an odd sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

Sonya Valentino

I was born in Marietta, OH and spent much of my young life in that state, where mom and dad served as church planters with the Southern Baptist Convention. My siblings and I moved around a lot, helping our parents start new churches in new towns. On several occasions we served as the nucleus of a new children’s ministry or youth group, learning to do Christian ministry firsthand from mom and dad. Eventually we wound up in West Virginia, where I went to college on a music scholarship.

My school days were filled with lots of joy, laughter, music, church activities, and homework. Mom and dad taught me to love God and put him first in my life, which was easy to do since they didn’t just preach the Christian faith, they lived it in front of us. Today I’m a faith-filled wife, mother, ministry leader, and development assistant in Christian higher education. I also provide daily care for my mother, who has mid-stage dementia. Unlike Tim, I have a normal sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

valentino-family-2017-02

We have two adult children, Andrew and Bethany, and a son-in-law, Micah, whom we claim as our own.

Andrew Valentino

Our son Andrew holds a film and media arts degree from Temple University and currently works as an Emmy-nominated videographer for WFMZ-Channel 69 in Allentown, PA. He also does photography and videography on the side. His interests include film, anime, screenwriting, voiceover, science fiction, apologetics, philosophy, and music. For better or worse, he looks like Tim and acts like Sonya.

Bethany White

Our daughter Bethany holds a speech language pathology degree from Bloomsburg University and currently works as a psychiatric assistant at Pennsylvania Counseling Services in Lebanon, PA. Her interests include worship, dance, discipleship, and sharing her faith. She also helps lead worship at her church. For better or worse, she looks like Sonya and acts like Tim.

Micah White

Bethany’s husband, Micah, holds a psychology degree from Kutztown University, and a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Evangelical Seminary. He currently works as a therapist at Salisbury Behavioral Health in Wyomissing, PA. His interests include music, worship, guitar, computers, woodworking, and car repair (thankfully). For better or worse, he doesn’t look or act like Tim or Sonya at all. Yeah, that’s probably for the better.