Three Stories for Memorial Day

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Three Stories for Memorial Day

A letter to Major General Cliff Capps, Korean War airman, member of my church in Northbrook, IL. Cliff will be on an honor flight this week to Washington, DC.

Memorial Day, 2018

Dear Cliff:

When Barbara and I were in Washington, D.C.  last October we walked the length of the mall.  We came to the Vietnam memorial and as I always do when I go there, I searched for the name  AJerry Hunnyecutt.@ Jerry was a high school pal.  His father  was our  pastor in Winston-Salem, N.C.  Jerry was shot down while flying an F4C over North Vietnam in November 10, 1967.  His remains were not found and returned to the states until September, 1989.

After that we walked the short distance toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Sitting on benches and wheelchairs in the shade were a lot of old men along with younger men and women as their chaperones.   Without asking I knew who they were but I did want to know where they were from.  They all were  part of an honor flight from Minneapolis for World War II veterans.  It was very moving just to see them there, all of them old and frail.  I could just imagine how hard it was for them to get out of bed, make it to the airport, fly to Washington and get on a bus to get to the Lincoln Memorial.  I spoke to a couple of the men.  I said, AThank you for your service to our country.@  I know it=s trite but what else can you say when you feel such profound gratitude.  I said to one man, AI wish my father were still alive to be here today.  He fought with General Patton=s Third Army in France in 1944 and 1945. But I=m glad you are here.@

We left the old soldiers  behind and climbed the 58 steps from the plaza to the chamber.    You see old Abe, gazing  across the 2.3 miles to the capitol building.  Two of his famous speeches are inscribed on the wall in the chamber. On the south  wall is the Gettysburg Address. On the north wall is  the II Inaugural Address, which ends with these 75 words: AWith malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.@

Cliff, you and millions of others, have lived and died for the ideals expressed in the II Inaugural Address.  You have left a legacy for our nation which has  enabled us to have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and freedom of assembly.  I thank you. We thank you.  You are an honest-to-goodness, died-in-the-wool American hero.    I am privileged to know you and call you my friend.

With every blessing,

Terry V. Swicegood


There is no higher expression of love then to give up your very life B to be willing to leave family and friends behind, knowing death is immanent. To the many brave heroes who have gone before, thank you for your sacrifice of love.

Story Number Two: On Palm Sunday 1994 we took our daughter to the D-Day beaches.    I wanted her to see two things: the cemetery above Omaha beach, but most of all I wanted to take her to Pointe Du Hoc,   a high promontory not far from Omaha Beach.  Barbara and I had gone there in January, 1994  where there is a museum in honor of the 225 U.S. Rangers who stormed Pointe Du Hoc on D Day.  Using firemen’s ladders and grappling hooks they scaled the cliffs to silence the German guns.  225 Rangers landed on the beach that day; only 92 returned to the states.  As a rock climber, I could sense what it was like to scale the muddy, crumbling cliffs in the face of machine gun fire, and attack the German bunkers, which even today look impregnable.  So on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, 1994,  we drove back to Pointe Du Hoc to show Amie the bunkers, the bomb craters, still so evident, and the museum in tribute to the Rangers.  While we were walking inside one of the bunkers we saw a t.v. crew filming the site.  We heard them speaking English.  I asked them where they were from.  They were from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and they were filming a documentary for D Day, which was to air about this time.  The producer introduced me to James Spivey, from Shelby, North Carolina.  James Spivey was a man small in stature, and he spoke with the rich drawl of those from my home state.  He was a veteran who had landed on Utah Beach and had fought throughout Normandy.  He had taken them to the sites where he had fought half a century before.  I noticed that James Spivey had a prosthesis for a right arm.  He volunteered that he had lost his arm in Cherbourg, several weeks after landing on Utah Beach.

I began to wonder, “What is it like to go through life with an artificial limb?  What is it like to lay in the mud with your arm half blown off?  What is it like to be carried by your buddies, placed in a jeep, and carried off to a field hospital, where you are one of hundreds of maimed and wounded men. What is it like to come home to your wife and family, and feel like half a man?  What is it like going through life having to shake hands with your left hand, since your right arm is a metal claw?  How many stares has he gotten these past fifty years?  What kinds of adjustments did he have to make when he returned to his farm?

As he talked about some of his experiences in Normandy, I wanted to say something to him.  I guess I wanted to say, “Thank you,” although those words didn’t seem big enough or profound enough.  I wanted to say, “You are a great man, James Spivey, even though you don’t realize it.”  I wanted to say, “I am deeply honored to be in the presence of a very brave man.”

I want to say to you that my heart is full today for all the James

Spiveys who sacrificed on D-Day and many other days not noted but equally important.    For everything that you and I take for granted in this country has come about because of courage and sacrifice of the the paratroopers who dropped by night behind German lines and the men who stormed the beaches at first light, and all the many others at sea and in the air who supported them.  When you read their accounts of that time, very few of them think of themselves as heroic.  Not many of them ever mention the word patriotism.  Hardly any of them consider themselves courageous.  But as someone said, “Courage is taking the risk when you know the odds are against you.”  In that sense, these men were heroic, and patriotic, and courageous.

Story Number 3:

Every year at 8 pm on 4 May, the Dutch commemorate both civilians and soldiers who have died in the Kingdom of the Netherlands or elsewhere in the world since the outbreak of the Second World War , both in war situations and in peacekeeping missions,    There are two minutes of silence exactly at 8 pm.  Everthing stops; cars on the freeways pull over.  People in restaurants stop eating and stand.  People leave gheir home and comee outside with hands over their hearts.  Everything stops.

In Amsterdam in the public square the king lays a wreath.  Before he does that there are speeches and the tolling of bells.  .

107,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands and German prisons to concentration camps, then Auschwitz. Of these 107,000, only 5,200 survived..

More than 500,000 Dutch citizens were forced to work in Germany during WWII.

More than 30,000 perished through hunger, sickness, maltreatment and acts of war.

On Remembrance Evening we went with our Dutch family to a park near their house.  People were streaming from the neighborhood for the gathering.  Children, parents, grandchildren.  At a quarter to eight a ball began tolling.  At 5 to 8 a brass band played hymns.  At eight two minutes of silence.  No sounds except the chirping of birds.  And when the silence ended an old man spoke. Of course, I didn=t know what he was saying.  Afterwards, as we left the park, I asked Amie=s neighbor what he said.  The gist of it was the importance of remembering.  Particularly for the younger generation who did not live through it.

AFor the dead and the living, we must bear witness.@ B Elie Wiesel

Categories: Weekly Sermon

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