NORTH READING, Mass.- His first glimpse of the United States came from an airplane above New York City. He was 7 years old and amazed by what he saw: so many skyscrapers, so little rubble. He asked his mother, "Why are these buildings still standing?"
"Because the war never came here," she answered.
It was 1949 and Kristian Scheuermann was on his way to Worcester, Mass., where he would live with his mother Mary and her new husband, American Army Lt. Earl Mineau. Kristian's father had "disappeared" during World War II. His mother married Mineau after he helped liberate the small town of Tützing, Germany, where they lived.
Born in Berlin in 1941, little Kristian knew nothing but leveled cities and bombed-out buildings. When he first saw New York City, he thought to himself, "This must be a wonderful land."
Kris Mineau's brown hair has since given way to gray, but his admiration for his adopted country is as fresh as it was in 1949. Now a retired Air Force colonel and decorated Vietnam War veteran, Mineau has new war zones to think about: The tall, lean 65-year-old president of Massachusetts Family Institute currently is one of the state's most active political operatives and a linchpin in the next round of the state battle over same-sex marriage.
In 2004 Mineau led the largest citizen's petition drive in Massachusetts history, collecting 170,000 signatures in support of a ballot initiative for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The proposed amendment comes before Massachusetts lawmakers June 14 and requires one-quarter of the legislature's approval to be placed on the 2008 ballot.
At least 27 other states have passed similar amendments, but Massachusetts is the only state where same-sex marriage is already legal. "After four years we're fighting to reverse the status quo," said Mineau.
Not surprisingly, the approaching state legislative session has ignited passion on both sides of the marriage debate. MassEquality, the lobbying group trying to block the marriage amendment, launched a $750,000 publicity campaign in May to try to sway votes on Boston's Beacon Hill. National Democratic political figures have also weighed in, exerting pressure on state and local legislators to change their vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, and U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts have all stepped up their efforts to stifle the amendment, both with public statements and private arm-twisting.
The ballot measure passed its first of two required consecutive legislative sessions in January with 62 votes, 12 more than necessary. Mineau believes he has at least 57 "solid votes" heading into June 14. Five votes were lost to retirements from the legislature at the end of its regular session, he said.
Mineau's call to the political arena came after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage in November 2003. "Everything I believed in-marriage, God's word, the stability of society around the world, a husband and wife in a committed relationship to raise children-to see this affront happening in our own country was just absolutely incomprehensible."
At the time Mineau, who holds a master's degree in world missions and evangelism from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, was working as assistant pastor for Trinity Evangelical Church in North Reading, Mass.
"The first thing that came to my mind was, well, what have you been doing about it?" Mineau began to work with Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), a nonprofit public-policy organization broadly committed to strengthening families and promoting Christian values, and since May 2004 he has led the organization. He has put MFI at the forefront of the battle not just over same-sex marriage, but abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and abstinence education in Massachusetts.
Mineau's Christian faith guides his activism, but that hasn't always been the case. Like his introduction to America, Mineau's first encounter with God was sudden and dramatic, and it happened in the air.
On a "gloomy, overcast" day in March 1969, midway through a routine training mission over England, the flight controls of Mineau's Phantom F4 jammed. The supersonic jet began plummeting toward earth at 750 miles per hour.
In seconds the U.S. Air Force captain and combat-experienced fighter pilot had broken through the low-lying clouds at 5,000 feet. He ejected his navigator but his own ejection seat wouldn't fire.
Out of options and just two or three seconds from impact, Mineau cried out to God for help. That's when Mineau says he was saved-body and soul. The ejection seat fired, the canopy opened, and the parachute, which normally needs three or four seconds to work, opened in just half a second. The windblast broke both Mineau's arms and legs. "When I hit the ground," he says, "they broke some more."
Within five minutes Mineau heard the crunch of footsteps and the voice of an English villager saying, "I say mate, are you hurt?" Mineau spent the next three months unable to move, both arms and legs suspended in traction, before being transferred back to the United States. Back home Mineau learned that most of his fractures hadn't healed properly and that surgery was needed to re-break and repair the fractures.
He recalls the doctors telling him, "You can forget about flying-you'll never fly again. We're not even sure that we can save your left leg."
Until that instant Mineau had been using the "power of positive thinking," but now the self-described "brash" pilot didn't know what to think. A "divine appointment from God" with one of the Air Force chaplains that Mineau had become accustomed to brushing off began a spiritual transformation that Mineau says continues to this day.
After five years and multiple surgeries, left leg still intact, Mineau was well enough to take an assignment teaching engineering at the Air Force Academy in 1974. But the assignment didn't last long. Mineau knew he wanted to get back in the air when another pilot challenged him, "Hey Kris, we know why you're a Jesus freak, you're a grounded pilot and Jesus is your crutch."
So six years to the day and hour later, Mineau was behind the controls of a fighter jet again. He completed his Air Force service in 1992 with the rank of colonel.
"Which is amazing," he says, "for a guy who was in limbo status for six years. All the glory goes to God."
Mineau applies the same energy and commitment to his work with MFI, and military experience has trained him to be a fighter for the protection of traditional marriage. With no shortage of foes, Mineau counts on support from Lura, his wife of 42 years, whom he describes as "feisty, opinionated, but extremely loving, gentle, and caring."
Lura copes with the stress and long hours of her husband's work, as well as the unending interruptions at their North Reading home-the phone is constantly ringing, she says-knowing they are surrounded by people who "cover us in prayer all the time."
Were it not for her, Mineau says he probably wouldn't be doing what he's doing. "The primary reason that I'm in this battle for marriage is because of my wife, what she means to me, what my children mean to me, what my grandchildren mean to me-that's all marriage."
-Heather Scarano is a writer living in Wakefield, Mass.