He is a United States Marine.
He is confined to a wheelchair as a result of wounds suffered in Vietnam. The retired lance corporal has given his testimony more than 600 times in churches on both coasts in the 8 1/2 years since his wartime memoir “What a Life” was published.
The title of his message, “Semper Fi,” seemed simple enough, but the two Latin words, “semper fidelis” have a broad meaning: always faithful.
“Always faithful to God, always faithful to country, always faithful to each other,” Kington said. “God, country, each other. Of those three, the easiest one for me as a 17-year-old recruit ... to be faithful to was my country. After all, this is the United States of America, the greatest nation on the face of the earth.”
He was first introduced to the two Latin words on Sept. 3, 1964. The Morristown native remembers that was the day World War I hero Alvin York died. The next morning at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., he was introduced to “quite possibly three of the meanest drill instructors in the entire United States military. That first day, those three ran us into the ground, ran us until we dropped, screamed, hollered, pushed, called me every bad name in the book, even called my mama bad names.
“That night when the lights were finally turned out, I pulled the pillow up over my face and just hoped no one heard me cry like a baby. I thought, what in the world have I done now? This has got to be the worst mistake I have ever made.
“Then there was this tiny light and I thought, maybe tomorrow won’t be quite as bad as today. How can it be any worse? Well, I was wrong.”
Every day for the next 11 weeks was worse than the first day.
Corps leaders say the goal of the Marines is to remove all of the bad stuff — the whining, the back talking, laziness — and replace the weaknesses with strengths like honor, duty, discipline, courage, character, commitment and even love.
“The physical training was absolutely brutal, but the worst part for me was the mental stress which was 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it never let up until the day I graduated,” Kington said.
It was much harder for the younger man to be faithful to his fellow man than it was to be faithful to his country, he said. There is no place in the Marine Corps for a selfish Marine and there is no room in Cleveland for someone who thinks only of himself and not of his fellow man.
“Military training is based on Biblical principles,” he said. “God’s word is all about looking out for others: the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as you do yourself.
“A prayer that went up all over Vietnam and I imagine over every battlefield since the beginning of time was one like this: God, give me the strength, give me the courage to do what I’m supposed to do. Don’t let me do something that would let one of my brothers get hurt.”
Kington shared three life-defining moments. The first was on March 21, 1966, on a battlefield in the jungles of Vietnam, which he called, “The worst day of my life, which also turned out to be the best day.”
The second was June 24, 1967, “the day a beautiful, smart red-headed angel changed her name to Mrs. Randy Kington and my life has never been the same in a really good way.
“From the moment we met, Patty seemed to be on a mission. She was willing to pay any price, make any sacrifice for me to be who I needed to be. She absolutely would not allow me to fail.”
He said Patty has been pouring her life, her dreams, her feeling, her selfless love into a broken Vietnam veteran for 45 years.
“I am who I am today because God chose to send one of the finest difference makers my way,” he said.
The third defining moment took place south of St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 6, 2002, the day he met retired Gen. Gary Brown.
“Thirty-six years before, as a badly wounded lieutenant, Gary Brown saved my life on the battlefield,” he said. “For 2 1/2 hours, it was back and forth — remember this, remember that. It was about the first time either one of us had wanted to talk about the worst day of our lives. We lost 16 dead that day and 79 wounded.”
At the end of their encounter, the general hugged the lance corporal and said, “Randy, I love you. Those words were like hearing, after 36 years, you are forgiven.”
He was 19 years old when he was physically wounded. He didn’t realize until those many years later how much guilt he’d placed on his own shoulders.
“I always knew something was wrong. My emotions were locked up tighter than a drum and all that time, I had not been able to cry, but the words, ‘I love you’ lifted that guilt and here it is 10 years later and that guilt is still gone.”
He went home and began writing down the memories he had just shared. The words flooded from his pen. Wonderfully, story after story, he cried ... and cried. Finally, after 36 years, he was able to release the emotions he kept locked away. After a year of remembering, writing and crying, the book was born.
Westwood Baptist Church invited military veterans for lunch for the 12th consecutive year Tuesday. Senior Pastor Steve Smartt said the annual luncheon is a small way to show appreciation to military men, women and their families for their sacrifices for freedom.
“I hope we never take them for granted,” he said. “We know they are leaving behind a legacy that will stand forever for the freedom they have helped purchase for us.”