This weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Often this is a time of fun and frolic, sun and sand, time off from school and time packed with celebrations. But today is not a day of celebration but a day of remembrance – a time of appreciation for those who saw their duty to God and country and answered their calling. Today we are gathered together to pause and remember those who gave all of themselves to serve others. Today we take a brief moment to remember the names and faces of those who served in our country’s military and have since passed on to eternal life.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The holiday, which is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May, [was first known] as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. [Source: wikipedia.com]
Out of the pain of loss during our own civil war came a special time of remembrance. Caveat: As we honor those who have died, I have chosen to extend the remembrance to include all who served in the armed forces and have since died, not necessarily only those who died while in service. I think of all the families who have experienced this type of loss. I think of the KAKO officers who are charged with sharing the news with family members that their loved ones would not be returning home. I think of children who grow up without parents or grandparents because their loved ones chose a difficult path to be separated from their families in order to serve their country. I think of all those who have come home with the trauma of conflict surrounding them in a world that can appear hopeless. I think of those who return with injuries and losses we will never be able to truly understand.
At the same time I think of the disciples’ loss while watching Jesus ascend into heaven. As they stood gazing into heaven hoping for a last glimpse of Jesus, I think of those who look heavenward for some kind of solace or sign that their loved ones did not die in vain. How do we honor our loved ones, while continuing to live out our lives without their physical presence? How do we honor their lives of service by giving what we can to make this world a better place for all?
Perhaps it begins with the message of hope Jesus left with his disciples. Jesus reassured his friends that they would never be alone – that he was always with them, even to the ends of the earth. Jesus promises hope for the brokenhearted, peace for the restless, and assurance for all who feel abandoned when every else has moved on and fail to even mention the name of their precious loved ones. Hear Jesus’ words to his disciples as recorded in the gospel of John:
“Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
And you know the way to the place where I am going. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live, you also will live.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Jesus’ promise to never abandon us is real for all of us today, even in the midst of loss. On this day of remembrance, let us all vow to never forget those who gave all in service to their country. Let us continue to live out the ideals of peace, justice, compassion, and hope in a world that often pushes these ideals aside. Let us be Christ’s followers as we live out his message of love for all. I am reminded often of that saying – “All gave some, but some gave all.” We give thanks for those who gave their all. I wanted to close with this story by an anonymous author entitled “Cemetery Escort Duty.”
I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey’s. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 1655. Five minutes to go before the cemetery gates are closed for the day. Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever–the heat and humidity at the same level–both too high.
I saw the car pull into the drive, ’69 or ’70 model Cadillac Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace. An old woman got out so slow I thought she was paralyzed; she had a cane and a sheaf of flowers–about four or five bunches as best I could tell.
I couldn’t help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste: “She’s going to spend an hour, and for this old soldier, my hip hurts and I’m ready to get out of here right now!” But for this day, my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the `In` gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along, we might make it to Smokey’s in time.
I broke post attention. My hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight: middle-aged man with a small pot gut and half a limp, in marine full-dress uniform, which had lost its razor crease about thirty minutes after I began the watch at the cemetery.
I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint.
“Ma’am, may I assist you in any way?”
She took long enough to answer.
“Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days.”
“My pleasure, ma’am.” Well, it wasn’t too much of a lie.
She looked again. “Marine, where were you stationed?”
” Vietnam, ma’am. Ground-pounder. ’69 to ’71.”
She looked at me closer. “Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I’ll be as quick as I can.”
I lied a little bigger: “No hurry, ma’am.”
She smiled and winked at me. “Son, I’m 85-years-old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let’s get this done. Might be the last time I can do this. My name’s Joanne Wieserman, and I’ve a few Marines I’d like to see one more time.”
“Yes, ma ‘am. At your service.”
She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the flowers out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn’t quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC: France 1918.
She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek. She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.
She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC, 1944.
She paused for a second. “Two more, son, and we’ll be done.”
I almost didn’t say anything, but, “Yes, ma’am. Take your time.”
She looked confused. “Where’s the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way.”
I pointed with my chin. “That way, ma’am.”
“Oh!” she chuckled quietly. “Son, me and old age ain’t too friendly.”
She headed down the walk I’d pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She placed a bunch on Larry Wieserman, USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman, USMC, 1970. She stood there and murmured a few words I still couldn’t make out.
“OK, son, I’m finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home.”
“Yes, ma’am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?”
She paused. “Yes, Donald Davidson was my father, Stephen was my uncle, Stanley was my husband, Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all marines.”
She stopped. Whether she had finished, or couldn’t finish, I don’t know. She made her way to her car, slowly and painfully. I waited for a polite distance to come between us and then double-timed it over to Kevin, waiting by the car.
“Get to the `Out` gate quick. I have something I’ve got to do.”
Kevin started to say something, but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her. She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.
“Kevin, stand at attention next to the gatepost. Follow my lead.” I humped it across the drive to the other post.
When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my best gunny’s voice: “TehenHut! Present Haaaarms!”
I have to hand it to Kevin; he never blinked an eye–full dress attention and a salute that would make his DI proud.
She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send-off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing duty, honor and sacrifice.
I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.
I hope you will take a moment to honor those who served in our country’s armed forces and have since passed away. As we close today, I invite all who have had a family member or friend who served in the armed forces and has since died to please stand and share his/her name and unit of service.
[Go through congregation and recognize military]
Let us pray together:
“Gracious God, I thank you for the blessing of all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while choosing to defend our country. On this day we honor all those who served in such a noble capacity, giving their lives in the line of duty. We pray for those here who mourn the loss of each individual named. Comfort us as we remember – help us to feel your presence and hear your voice of strength and encouragement in the days ahead. We recognize that all gave some, yet some gave all. Amen.”