TWO STORIES FOR MEMORIAL DAY
Dr. William Wilson served as President of the Center for Congregational Health until 2014. In January of that year he founded The Center for Healthy Churches. The following story came from his blog (http://chchurches.org/blog/). It is about an experience Bill had at gate A3 in the Charlotte airport.
“As I approached the gate, I saw that my flight was delayed. Slightly annoyed, I sighed over the coming inconvenience. I noticed a cadre of Transportation Security Administration agents in uniform standing in the gate area, and assumed they were in training, as the senior member of the group was clearly giving instructions about some pressing issue.
“Eventually, I wandered over to the windows to look out at the arriving plane we were to board, and was stunned to see that, as it arrived, it was being surrounded by five fire trucks. A crowd was gathering with me, and someone wondered aloud what was going on. A quiet voice said: “there’s a fallen warrior on board this plane”. In the cargo hold was a casket of a member of the military who had died in Afghanistan.
“Suddenly, the mood in gate A3 shifted dramatically from annoyance to stunned silence. About then we noticed a small crowd gathering below us on the tarmac. A hearse arrived. The TSA agents formed a cordon through which walked two dozen members of the soldier’s family and friends. Dressed in black, they formed up into a small congregation alongside the plane. It was easy to tell the parents, and if there were any doubt, when the cargo door opened and the casket appeared, the mother’s knees buckled and she crumpled to the tarmac. Everyone in the gate area gasped as she went down. Immediately, her husband and daughter and their pastor all surrounded her and helped her to her feet and embraced her.
“Tears were flowing in a silent gate A3, as this family struggled to get through the hardest day of their life. It was a holy moment as men and women, weeping openly, some reaching out to embrace or take the hands of strangers, murmured words of blessing and encouragement through the glass windows to those gathered below.
“At that moment, a military honor guard walked up to the plane, surrounded the casket and lifted it from the plane. With majestic precision, they marched to the hearse and placed the fallen warrior there. His parents and family trailed them, touching and kissing the flag-draped coffin.
“Slowly, the hearse pulled away and the family turned to leave. Their path from the tarmac led them up into our gate area and through those of us who had gathered to watch the events unfold below us. As they walked through the crowd of tear-streaked strangers, many of us reached out to touch and encourage them on their journey into the rest of their life.”
The second story was sent to me several years ago by my cousin, Captain Jim Hudson. I’m not sure where he got it, but it is certainly worth sharing for Memorial Day.
“Kevin and I, volunteers at a national cemetery in Oklahoma, had suffered through a long hot August day. We wanted to go down to Smokey’s and have a cold one. The time was 16:55, five minutes before the cemetery gates closed. My full dress uniform was hot. The temperature and humidity were both high.
“I saw a 1970 model Cadillac Deville pull into the drive at a snail’s pace. An old woman got out so slowly I thought she was disabled. She walked with a cane and carried four or five bunches of flowers.
“The thought came unwanted to my mind; she’s going to spend an hour or more here! This old soldier was hot! My hip was hurting, I was ready to leave, but my duty was to help any visitor needing assistance.
“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: a middle-aged man with a pot gut and half a limp. Though I was in Marine full-dress uniform, it had lost its razor crease about thirty minutes after I began my 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?’
‘Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I’m moving a tad slow these days.’
‘My pleasure, ma’am,’ I lied.
She looked again. ‘Marine, where did you serve?’
‘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.’
‘No hurry, ma’am.’
“She smiled and winked at me. ‘Son, I’m eighty-five 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.’
“In the World War I section, she stopped by a stone, placing one of the flower bunches on the marker. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918.
“In the World War II section, she paused at another grave. With a tear running down her cheek, she laid flowers above the name Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.
“Just up the row she placed another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC, 1944.
“She paused, wiping tears from her eyes. ‘Just two more, son.’
‘Yes, ma’am. Take your time.’
“Walking down the path in the Vietnam section, the lady stopped at several stones before she found the ones she wanted. She placed flowers on Larry Wieserman, USMC, 1968. The last bunch was for Darrel Wieserman, USMC, 1970.
“She bowed her head in prayer and wept openly.
“After a few moments she was ready to leave. ‘Please help me back to my car. Time to go home.’
‘Yes, ma’am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?’
“Yes, Donald Davidson was my father, Stephen was my brother, Stanley was my husband, Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines.
“Whether she had finished, or couldn’t finish, I don’t know. She slowly made her way to her car. 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 gate quickly. I have something I’ve got to do.’
“Kevin drove us to the gate down the service road fast. We beat her there. She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.
‘Kevin, stand at attention next to the gatepost. Follow my lead.’
“I hurried 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!’
“Mrs. Wieserman drove through that gate with two old soldiers giving her a send-off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing duty, honor, and sacrifice far beyond most Americans.”
On Memorial Day we remember, not only those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in military service, but we also remember the families who will always grieve their passing.