The year was 1943. A bitter winter had settled over Camp Barkeley, Texas, where thousands of young military men began a journey — one that would change their lives.
But before recruits could join American forces overseas in a war to halt Nazis or bring down Japanese invaders, another enemy crept into camp — influenza. Attacking at random, the enormous 5,000-bed hospital filled with soldiers struck down with the stealthy sickness.
However, it is one 20-year-old Army private whose story still resonates today. In the book, Return from Tomorrow, George G. Ritchie, who went on to become a medical doctor, tells his life after death account that has captivated countless readers in nine languages.
I still remember reading the story when Guideposts magazine first offered the book to readers in 1978. Since then, I have reread it several times, always feeling the reassurance and awe of what waits for us beyond this life.
Ritchie tells how he died from pneumonia in the Army hospital and nine minutes later returned to life. But it’s the journey after he stepped out of the physical world and into eternity that is riveting. From the moment the intense bright light enters his room, Ritchie recognizes the radiant presence to be the son of God, filled with power. Even more awe-inspiring is the unconditional love.
“An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining,” Ritchie wrote. “This love knew every unlovable thing about me — the quarrels with my stepmother, my explosive temper, the sex thoughts I could never control, every mean selfish thought and action since the day I was born — and accepted and loved me just the same.”
His clinical death and encounter with Jesus Christ left this young man forever changed from a self-centered existence to one filled with altruism and love. Later, as an accomplished physician, he founded the Universal Youth Corps that became the inspiration for the Peace Corps, offered medical service without pay to the poor and reached out with a helping hand through charities.
By walking to death’s door, Ritchie’s life opened to a new way of living: “learning to love in this world to prepare us well for the next.”
This inspirational doctor became head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center and later retired from private practice. Part of the late Dr. Ritchie’s legacy is the firsthand account of his amazing journey — one that changed his life. Perhaps, after reading Return from Tomorrow, it will change yours.
“Death is nothing more than a doorway, something you walk through.” — Dr. George Ritchie (Sept. 25, 1923-Oct. 29, 2007)