I have lost count of how many sermons and talks I have prepared and given for patriotic holidays. It is has been close to a dozen, from this pulpit alone.
I have talked about the origin and purpose of Memorial Day. I have compared and contracted it to Veteran’s Day. Several years ago, when the worship committee said “Tell us how veterans celebrate Memorial Day” We even brought a part of the VFW Ritual for a Memorial Service to FUUNCO. It made for one of the most emotional services we’ve ever had, and I should tell you, we are going to bring some of that back today.
In all of these services there were several goals. First, to educate those present about military members and veterans, their lives, and the gifts they gave the nation. Second, FUUNCO is a church and this is a church service – imagine that. So, we want to touch the spirit or soul of each person present.
But, there has always been another goal I’ve had for these services, one I am not sure I have always accomplished. That is to make Memorial Day more than a date on a calendar. To make the gifts, sacrifices and lives of the individual members of our military, and our veterans, more than cold hard facts. To make the gifts, sacrifices and lives of these people personal. Because they should be. Because they are.
I want you to take part in this service also. Unitarian Universalists are not known for being overly shy, so this should not be too hard for anyone. When you came into the sanctuary today you were given a flower. These are the same white flowers we use to recognize those who have passed from us in the formal VFW Memorial Services I officiate at annually. They are sacred flowers, and we will use them for their divine purpose again. After the sermon there will be a brief time for those who choose, to place their flowers on the altar. And, if you choose, make a brief comment.
At the turn of the century, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a young man who was living in Massachusetts. Little is known of him. We do not know for sure if his parents died, or if he was taken from them by force, because he was Native American and that was common practice at the time. Either way, he was adopted by a family in Nantucket and raised by them. When he became old enough, he joined the U S Army, the horse cavalry, and was a blacksmith’s helper. For many years he moved around the frontier sections of our country, helping to protect the citizens and helping those in need. Rumor has it; he fought in the Spanish American War. While we don’t know for sure, he could have fought in World War One.
In late middle age, he went ‘back east’, found a much younger wife and settled down to enjoy family life. It is told that while he was rough around the edges, he cared for others, including animals. I have been told that once, when he saw a man whipping a horse needlessly and unmercifully, he took the whip from the man and showed him the error of his ways by allowing the man to feel the whip’s bite. It is safe to say that man never whipped a horse unnecessarily again.
Our veteran was not perfect, and few veterans are. War has a way of changing all of us. Today we might well have problems with his techniques. But, he fit his time. He defended his country and cared for those around him. His concern for life around him might be considered very Unitarian for his time. Who is this man? His name was William Law Hughes Perkins; he was my father and he was the grandfather Kim never knew – he died in January 1947.
We have many other very personal examples of military members and veterans around us. Among the few families of this congregation, we have Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force veterans. Among those same few families we have numerous stories of family members who put on the uniform of our country and served with pride. Not all of them were always comfortable with their service, but all of them served.
Let me give you another example. I have been told of another veteran; he served on active duty in the U S Navy from 1950 to 1952 then served in the reserves for several more years. This veteran was very patriotic; but like many, needed discipline in his life. So, even though he had a young wife he entered the military. Also, like many, military life didn’t agree with him. But, he served his country faithfully and while stationed on Guam his oldest son, Kane, and his daughter Karen Jean where born.
When our veteran came home and was released from the service he entered UCLA where he completed a psychology degree Cum Laude. From there he grew to be highly respected by his family, friends, and his church. In his church, he helped develop a tutoring program for troubled youth, spending untold hours helping these kids so they struggled less to become a success. When he passed in 2002, our veteran was given the military honors he so richly deserved, and in an email his relative told me, “It was a moment of tremendous pride for me at his funeral when the veterans presented us (his family) with the flag that had lain over his casket.”
Who is this veteran? He is Arthur K. Crawford, father to Tom Crawford and grandfather to our own ‘Crawford Kids’.
I have another example of making Memorial Day Personal. Many of you know I have been Geocaching for the last year or so. Going out with a Hand-held GPS and looking for statches others have hidden. What you might not know is that I’ve started hiding my own series of caches. Called the Veteran Cacher Series, they are all located on or near VFW and American Legion Posts. Well, last evening I came home and checked my emails. This one was waiting for me.
“You are receiving this email because you are the owner of this listing.
Location: Texas, United States
MudPuddleGirl found Veteran Cacher 3 (Traditional Cache) at 5/29/2010
Log Date: 5/29/2010
Had to get out before the heat so decided that some early caching would do the trick. This one was another one that I'd been needing to grab since it published. Not a soul around although it might have been nice to run in to a Veteran on this Memorial Day weekend. We always used to call my Daddy, who was a Marine machine gunner in the Korean Conflict - my kids would all tell him 'thank you Grandpa for going to war even if it was real scarey'. He told me that that always made his day. Dad left us in 2004 and was buried in his Marine Corp uniform that he loved wearing while doing all sorts of community work in his later years. Dad's most honored task he said, was standing at attention at all the local military funerals for his Brothers in Arms. When Dad was buried - 50 of his 'Brothers' were there and stood at attention, never flinching, in the pouring rain as a lone bugler played taps. He loved this country and taught us to do the same. God Bless America. Miss you Dad >>> Once A Mirine, always A Marine - Joel Sanchez Rodriguez 1931-2004. Semper Fi TFTC and Thank YOU.”
One thing we learn in the military, for sure in combat. It doesn’t matter where you come from, no matter how great or lowly your home; you can do great things and bring honor to your family and country. How many lowly, abused children have you met? How many shy kids who did poorly in school and paid the price for it? How many chicken pluckers? When they take up the uniform of our country, even chicken pluckers grow to be great.
Now, I am not starting a riot in the congregation. You did not hear me suggest any of our examples above are chicken pluckers. Just that everyone, especially those from lowly means, can serve the country honorable and with great effect.
Several years ago, I read an article written by an Air Force Captain who was tasked as escort for a fallen comrade home. It was the hardest task he was ever given. It was also one of the most rewarding.
This captain spoke of how he knew that talking to the family would be emotionally very difficult. The comrade he was escorting was a 21 year old female Airman First class. Her parents spoke of how she loved being in the Air Force, and how she loved being in force protection; that branch of the Air Force’s police which is responsible for protecting the rest of us and our bases. The Airman’s parents told how she would write that she would volunteer to do the jobs no one else wanted. How her primary duty was to man a guard tower at the edge of the base. But, she continually volunteered to escort convoys. One day, the convoy she volunteered to escort, when she could have stayed in her guard tower relatively safe, was attacked and her vehicle was taken out with an IED. That’s when Airman First Class Elizabeth Jacobson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Jacobson of Riviera Beach, Florida, became the first Air Force female to die in Iraq.
But, the captain goes on to explain how her parents were proud of their daughter, the cute blonde lady who wanted to grow up to be a Chief Master Sergeant, and how they now cared for her comrades.
As all the services do, the Air Force came out in force to recognize their fallen. Not only our captain; but also the Wing Commander, Airman Jacobson’s unit commander and Chaplain Major Peggy Wilkins were all there to support the family. But, the family poured out support to the Air Force members who came to console them. You see, Airman Jacobson’s family and her comrades consoled each other. Each side helping the other to heal. Each side providing warmth, support and respect. Memorial Day is very personal to these people.
Time only allows me to bring you these few samples, but I trust you get the point. Many of those we, as a congregation, and as individuals hold dear to us; many of those we each dearly love have given and sacrificed to defend this country and protect those they hold dear – you and I. If we are indeed living, caring people, and not mere computers in bodies, how can we not recognize the gifts and sacrifices of those we hold dear?
So, what do we do about it? First, at least on days like today, if not year round, make sure those close to you who wear, or have worn, the uniform of this country we live in know you love them and are grateful for the gifts they provide.
There are several slogans with the veteran community which mean so much more than the mere words. One is:
All gave some, some gave all
Every member of the military sacrifices for his or her country and those they hold dear. The airman who served one tour in peace time and never left their home state willingly sacrificed just like the marine who was killed on the battle field. I would never belittle a veteran’s service because of when and where they served. Unlike 87 percent of the citizens of this country and most of the people in this church today; they served.
What is the second thing we can do? Let the other veterans around you, and that you come in contact with, know you care. Again, mean it. Sometimes when I am out in the community, or with other veterans, I am reminded of the ten year old who recites a table prayer before dinner because he is expected to. No feeling, just words. A person comes up to you and the “Thank you for your service” is recited like that ten year old. Others, you know they mean what they say. You feel it in your gut. The emotion is there.
Third, wear a pin or Buddy Poppy to support veterans. I know UUs like pins. We wear them to support hundreds of causes. There was a time, several years ago when it seemed some members of this congregation where having a contest to see who could obtain the most UU pins. All I am asking is to wear one more, to support our defenders. I’ve even thought of designing one. It would say “UUs in support of America’s defenders.”
Finally, teach the next generation. How? By talking to them, sure. By setting a good example, by all means. But, also, tell them the stories. Tell your kids about those close to you, and to them, who served and how important that service is. In many parts of the world storytelling is still the primary way to teach a child; especially if the story does not just come from a book, but is personal.
Memorial Day was very personal to the writer of our second reading. He will not forget his son.
How about you? Is Memorial Day personal to you? Who do you remember today? Whose story are you going to tell?
At this point members of the congregation were invited to come down front and place white flowers on the alter to recognize family members and close friend who where military members/veterans and passed away.
P. S. The phrase ‘chicken plucker’ came from our story for all ages:
Let me tell you, Jesse hated this job. And you would too, I imagine, if you had to do it. Jesse was a chicken plucker. That's right.
He stood on a line in a chicken factory and spent his days pulling the feathers off dead chickens so the rest of us wouldn't have to. It wasn't much of a job.
But at the time, Jesse didn't think he was much of a person. His father was a brute of a man. His dad was actually thought to be mentally ill and treated Jesse roughly all of his life.
Jesse's older brother wasn't much better. He was always picking on Jesse and beating him up. Yes, Jesse grew up in a very rough home in West Virginia. Life was anything but easy. And he thought life didn't hold much hope for him. That's why he was standing in this chicken line, doing a job that darn few people wanted.
In addition to all the rough treatment at home, it seems that Jesse was always sick. Sometimes it was real physical illness, but way too often it was all in his head. He was a small child, skinny and meek. That sure didn't help the situation any.
When he started to school, he was the object of every bully on the playground.
He was a hypochondriac of the first order. For Jesse, tomorrow was not always something to be looked forward to.
But, he had dreams. He wanted to be a ventriloquist. He found books on ventriloquism. He practiced with sock puppets and saved his hard earned dollars until he could get a real ventriloquist dummy.
When he got old enough, he joined the military. And even though many of his hypochondriac symptoms persisted, the military did recognize his talents and put him in the entertainment corp. That was when his world changed.
He gained confidence. He found that he had a talent for making people laugh, and laugh so hard they often had tears in their eyes. Yes, little Jesse had found himself.
You know, folks, the history books are full of people who overcame a handicap to go on and make a success of themselves, but Jesse is one of the few I know of who didn't overcome it. Instead he used his paranoia to make a million dollars, and become one of the best-loved characters of all time in doing it!
Yes, that little paranoid hypochondriac, who transferred his nervousness into a successful career, still holds the record for the most Emmy's given in a single category.
The wonderful, gifted, talented, and nervous comedian who brought us Barney Fife was Jesse Don Knotts.
P.S.S. The second reading referred to above was:
ARE YOU MY LITTLE BOY
ARE YOU MY LITTLE BOY AN OLD MAN ASKED, SOBBING WITH EVERY WORD
ARE YOU MY LITTLE BOY HE ASKED AGAIN IN CASE HE HADN'T HEARD
ARE YOU MY LITTLE BOY WHO I CARRIED HOME IN MY ARMS
ARE YOU MY LITTLE BOY WHO I PROMISED TO KEEP FROM HARM
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY WHO USED TO SWING IN OUR BACK YARD
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY WHO ALWAYS TRIED SO HARD
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY WHO BROUGHT HIS MOMMY PRETTY FLOWERS
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY WHO GAVE ME SO MANY HAPPY HOURS
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY I SAW GO OFF TO HIS FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY WHO ALWAYS FOLLOWED THE GOLDEN RULE
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY WHO I TAUGHT TO DRIVE A CAR
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY WHO ALWAYS CHASED THE DISTANT STAR
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY I SAW MARCH AWAY TO WAR
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY THAT I WILL SEE NO MORE
ARE YOU THE LITTLE BOY WHO'S FINALLY NOW FULL GROWN
ARE YOU MY LITTLE BOY, HE ASKED AT THE TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN