Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A time of memorial - as we remember it

There was only one duty I disliked as a young pastor. It was a time when a lot of bodies were being brought back home from overseas, as well as older veterans passing away. In these small rural churches I was serving, at the graveside some fellow from the local Legion Post would sidle up to me and hand me the flag. I would have to go over to the family and begin the words, “On behalf of the President of the United States and its citizens…” I used to frequently sit in Rotary with a former Marine officer whose assignment during Vietnam was to walk up to doors with the dreaded announcement and knock. He always appeared to me to be a kindly and gracious man and I admired him.

But Memorial Day memories are not always so. There was this weekend when our Marine reserve outfit assembled on the runway of Travis Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas. It was on one of those July afternoons you sometimes get in central Texas in late May. It was a couple of days until June 1st and we were still in our winter greens. We had brought along our 155s and they caught more sun than admiring eyes. Just to my left was an old Sherman tank that the 36th Texas Division must have brought home with them from Italy. Someone had thoughtfully put it as far away from them and as close to us as they could. That old engine just lay there on its tracks and went brupt, brupt, BLUP,  brupt, brupt. BLup… A blue haze slowly covered the apron of the airport.

We were standing at attention and the golden mouthed orator was doing his thing. So was that old Sherman: brupt, brupt, BLuppp, etc. After about fifteen minutes I heard a bonk. It was followed by another bonk and another as knees buckled and a head bounced off the concrete.

When I was with them the only casualties that outfit ever suffered was entirely due to friendly back fire.

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