Saturday, May 22, 2004

Sat. May 29 Advocate Church Page message
“Memorials take many forms”
Rev. Jeff Gill, pastor
Hebron Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

This Memorial Day weekend, many Licking County communities like Hebron conduct solemn ceremonies marking this time-hallowed and sacrifice-marked day. But a few veterans and others who normally are present will be somewhere else.
Washington DC always attracts many with monuments and memorials, from the Iwo Jima Memorial across the Potomac in Alexandria to Washington Monument itself. At the foot of that obelisk is the capitol’s newest place of memory, the World War II Memorial. This year’s “Rolling Thunder” with thousands of motorcycles passing the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in review will now come to a plaza facing the Reflecting Pool leading to the Lincoln Memorial, a plaza with twin towers marked Atlantic and Pacific for the two theaters of the globe-spanning war. Between the towers is a wall of 4,000 gold stars, just a token representation of the 400,000 lives this nation lost as over 50 million died worldwide between 1939 and 1945.
This oceanic, continent-hopping war brought 16 million Americans into service. Too few of them lived to see this day, and this long-overdue monument in our nation’s heart. My own family echoes the impact of the war and its aftermath: my dad’s two older brothers served overseas, one in the infantry fighting across Europe to Berlin itself, the other in the Army Air Corps keeping bombers in the air over enemy naval bases. My dad’s nickname as the child he was then, “Butch,” even graced the nose of a bomber over the Pacific theater. Just among my two uncles, the lesson of those two towers is made real. And one is gone, while the other is still with us.
It is well less than half of those WWII vets are still here, and we lose a few more everyday, but they continue to shape our communities and institutions, not the least in our churches.
One of the great privileges of ministry is the chance I have, in homes and hospitals, in living rooms and nursing homes, to learn small pieces of this story that so shaped all our lives.
Without knowing it, I’ve found myself suddenly in the middle of conversations with holders of the Navy Cross and Silver Star, of submariners on diesels under the Pacific and deckhands in the cold North Atlantic. I’ve been given nuggets of the tale that held freedom together by Marines and Air Corps pilots, Coast Guard sailors and Seabees, holders of the CIB and Ranger tabs.
My own WWII memorial consists of recollections not my own from Camp Lee and Fort Hood, of wave top views in Leyte Gulf, vistas across North African sands, and tunnel vision through island jungle roads. And much more.
In some way, I believe that those memories have an essential character that will endure long past the life span on Vermont granite or Hoosier limestone. My prayer this Memorial Day is that our thankfulness for their service will last as long as well.

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