Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

One Gave All

I just came home from the funeral service for Corporal Michael D. Anderson of Modesto. This Marine was twenty-one years old when he was killed clearing bad guys out of buildings in Fallujah two weeks ago.

To my knowledge, this is the first service member killed in action in the Modesto area. Since I’ve been serving around the globe myself these last two years, I don’t know how true this is. However, if the turn-out for Mike’s funeral is an indication, I’d say this information is correct.

On Saturday, Christmas afternoon, I put on my Navy blue uniform and drove to Salas Funeral Home in Modesto. When I drove into the parking lot, I noticed a news crew interviewing someone out front. I walked inside to meet any family that might be present. I was told the father, Mike Sr., was being interviewed outside. I didn’t have long to wait before he came in. I expressed my condolences and appreciation for his son’s sacrifice and offered to help the family in any way I could. He asked me if I would share some words at the funeral service Monday morning. I was honored.

Driving home I couldn’t help but marvel at the courage of the family. It’s painful enough to have the responsibility of burying your son, but to also have his viewing on Christmas Day and the day after seems unbearable.

This morning I dressed once again in my Navy blues and made the ten-mile drive to Calvary Temple. I met with the pastors who would be officiating, and we made the necessary arrangements to be certain everything was covered. Turned out I would be sharing my remarks just before Pastor Joe Wright gave the message.

From where I sat at the base of the steps leading to the platform, I immediately noticed that the entire ground floor seating was filled. Calvary Temple is a big church. The service had a number of testimonials, scripture, prayer, and a video of Mike. When Pastor Joe had put the amen on his sermon, the people began the slow process of passing by the casket, greeting the family and others who had come to show their respects and honor this fallen Marine. There were, of course, Marines present in their Dress Blue uniform, and several Navy personnel, also in uniform. Units from the Modesto Police Department, California Highway Patrol, Stanislaus County Sheriffs, Modesto Fire Department, members of the Marine Corps Club of Stockton, and a number of other individuals representing a cross-section of military/law enforcement agencies. I was told there were some eighteen-hundred in attendance.

Pastor Joe invited me to ride with him in the funeral procession which would take us through a major part of Modesto before arriving at Lakewood Cemetery. As we drove out of the church parking lot, we followed immediately behind one of the two stretch-limousines carrying the family; I began to realize just how important this service was to our community. The limos were flying American flags from each side of the vehicles. The intersection where the church is located is one of the biggest in Modesto. Fire trucks with lights flashing were positioned in the intersection to block traffic for the funeral procession. As we drove through, the firemen, dressed in their fire-fighting gear, stood in a row and saluted. This took place at every major intersection we were required to pass through. Cars all along the route were pulled to the side of the road on both sides out of respect.

Once we pulled into the cemetery, we were led to the grave site by a riderless horse, with boots turned backwards in the stirrups, indicating a fallen warrior. Despite the cold, rainy conditions, several hundred people came to honor a young man who gave all.

This young man wanted to make a difference in the world. A difference that would last well beyond his earthly years. A difference that would speak volumes about honor, courage, and commitment. A difference that would resonate in the hearts of his family and loved ones down through the ages. By so doing, he leaves a legacy for those of us left behind to emulate.

Twenty years from now, ask an Iraqi about the gift of freedom they were given and there will be a look of awe pass over their face. They will speak in hushed, holy tones, recalling the bravery and courage of Americans who came to liberate them from the ravages of a maniacal dictator. They will pass on to their children and grandchildren the stories of foreigners, strangers, who came to their land to die for them so they could be free.

Standing on the beaches of Normandy in 1984, President Ronald Reagan said, “The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or the next. It was the deep knowledge – and pray God we have not lost it –that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest . . .We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.”

Thank God for Corporal Michael Anderson, U.S. Marine Corps. He can never be forgotten, because he made a difference with his life.

Be proud, America. May God ever grant us such brave hearts to carry on the torch of freedom.

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Monday, December 27, 2004

Funeral for Cpl Mike Anderson, USMC, at Calvary Temple, Modesto, California. Mike, Sr., the father, is on the left. I am in back, saluting. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Reason for the Season - A Reprise

The United States of America is arguably the most religiously tolerant nation in the world, probably in all of history. I would even venture to suggest that we are not only tolerant of all faiths; we encourage the free expression of those faiths.

I believe I can speak from a certain level of experience here. Having now served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-one years, I have had the distinct privilege of knowing ministers of a variety of religious faiths, several who are close friends. Within the Navy Chaplain Corps alone, there are represented a couple of hundred religious groups. Most are from various Protestant denominations (everything from Episcopalian to Four-Square Gospel), along with Roman Catholic priests (I even served with a priest from the Liberal Catholic Church. “Liberal” is a misnomer. They are far more conservative in theology and philosophy, following the teachings from the First Vatican Council, 1869-70), Jewish rabbis (Reformed and Conservative), those religious groups that are considered “cults” (Latter Day Saints, Christian Scientists, and other religions that have the trappings of Christianity, but misinterpret the faith on some major doctrinal point – such as the deity of Jesus Christ), in recent years we have added Muslim imams (the two I have met and spent some time with have been delightful people), and just a few months ago the Navy commissioned the first ever Buddhist priest (She is in my reserve unit – yes, I said “she.” And she is a former Marine! Oorah!).

As chaplains we serve in the military to represent our individual religious faith groups. We respect each other; share a collegiality; encourage one another in the performance of our ministries; and even call upon each other when that particular faith group requires a minister to provide services. Let me give you two examples: When I was the command chaplain on one of our Navy ships, and before we would sail from port for a long deployment, I would contact the Catholic priest on base to come and hold a pre-deployment Mass for the Catholic sailors, usually held in the hangar bay. Or last year when I was the command chaplain at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, East Africa, my chaplain boss at Marine Forces Pacific (MarForPac) in Hawaii informed me he was sending me a Jewish rabbi (Navy chaplain) to provide ministry to Jewish military personnel and civilian workers during the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yum Kippur. This is all a marvelously enriching experience, serving beside those that I would probably never see in a civilian setting, let alone befriend. Theologically, we are miles apart. However, our respect and friendship is not based upon religious assimilation.

Diversity is foundational to us as Americans. We are diverse in our politics, diverse in our religious expression, diverse in our culture, and diverse in our philosophies. This is normally a healthy situation. But in recent days we are experiencing an orchestrated attempt to remove religious expression, particularly Christianity, from the public sector. No Nativity Scenes, no Ten Commandments, no “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, no religious expressions allowed on t-shirts worn in school, no teaching of Creationism alongside Evolution as a world philosophy in our public schools, and no tolerance for open debate on such issues as: abortion, public prayer, abstinence, use of condoms, parental rights, homosexuality, alternative lifestyles, child discipline, or euthanasia. The list could go on.

America was founded upon the teachings of the Christian faith, using the Holy Bible as the cornerstone. Our laws are based upon the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule – Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Those who claim to be Christian, who live their faith, who have had an encounter with Jesus Christ, who have been “born-again,” are the most tolerant people I have ever known. Why do I say this? It’s quite simple, really. When you’ve been confronted with the claims of Christ, you quickly realize you are utterly incapable of changing yourself. If change in you is to ever occur, it must come from outside you. That’s where Jesus literally comes in. He does not force you to bow before him in homage, all the while glowering with a threatening countenance that veritably shouts, “Or else!” Instead, he asks you to allow him to change you, to invite him into your heart, to be the Lord of your life.

That simple truth is what Christmas represents. It is the reason for the season. And it is also why it scares so many people. Change of any kind is threatening. For most, to even consider being changed into a better person, a godly person, a humble person is frightening to the extreme.

Make no mistake – Jesus came to change you. And he will, if you let him.

Once you’ve experienced this change, you’ll truly have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Reason for the Season

This is Christmas. And there’s a reason for this season.

It appears today that using the name of God, or making reference to God in general, or the Christian faith, or the name of Jesus in particular, is considered to be taboo in our present cultural climate. It is thought to be most “un-PC like.”

Are there other events going on at the same time as Christmas? Sure. You’ve got the Winter Solstice (, normally recognized on the 21st of December (The Summer Solstice is the 21st of June). This is no religious event. Instead, it is recognition of the sun reaching its southernmost point. Man, being the spiritual creature that he is, will make a religion out of anything. Thus, revelry, often leading to debauchery, is the result of this “religious” experience. “Winter Solstice also known as Yule, Christmas, and Saturnalia, occurs in mid December. It celebrates the birth of the new Solar year and the beginning of Winter. The Goddess manifests as the Great Mother and the God as the Sun Child. The God also appears as Santa Claus and Old Man Winter. Colors are Red, Green, and White. This is a festival of inner renewal. Do magic for a more peaceful planet.” The primary dates are December 21st, the first day of winter, and January 1st, the beginning of the New Year.

In the Jewish religion, the festival of Hanukkah ( is an eight-day celebration which includes the lighting of the menorah for each night of the festival. This is in commemoration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees following their victory over the Syrians under Antiochus IV. “The celebration also reaffirms the continuing struggle to live by God's commandments and to lead Jewish lives.” As you read this article, Hanukkah (December 7-15) is coming to a close for this year.

Then there’s the more recent development of Kwanzaa (1966). On a web site ( the following is a description of Kwanzaa: “Kwanzaa is a unique African American celebration with focus on the traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement. Kwanzaa is neither political nor religious and despite some misconceptions, is not a substitute for Christmas. It is simply a time of reaffirming African-American people, their ancestors and culture.” The celebration lasts from December 26th through January 1st.

Celebrating one of these events is every person’s right. Just remember, if you want to celebrate Winter Solstice, it’s not a religious event. You’re simply recognizing the passage of time and seasons.

If Hanukkah is of interest to you, you may want to convert to Judaism since this celebration is a reaffirmation of being Jewish and living Jewish lives.

And Kwanzaa is for African Americans who wish to return to African traditions, but it is not religious in nature. Unless you are African American, this does not apply to you.

But Christmas “is a unique holiday, for it is both sacred and secular in nature: a Christian holy day commemorating the birth of the Christ Child, and a social and family holiday with family gatherings, gift giving, entertainment, and feasting.” This bit of information comes from:

It’s important to remember that Christmas has not always been recognized in America. The Pilgrim Fathers passed a law banning the celebration of Christmas and all other holidays. Only the Sabbath was to be honored.

In 1831, Louisiana and Arkansas were the first states to make Christmas a state holiday. By 1870, all states in the Union had passed a law recognizing Christmas as an official holiday.

Can the law be changed? Of course, but not likely. Would that stop people from celebrating Christmas? No. First, those who claim to be Christian will always recognize the birth of Jesus. Second, Christmas has become way too large an economic boon for retailers, wholesalers and economists to allow for it to be dismissed.

Despite the crass commercialization of Christmas, it remains the singular event of the season, not only in North America, but around the world. So why has this celebration attracted so much venom and vitriol lately? The short answer is: Jesus.

I’ll conclude this next week. Until then, have a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

October 15, 2003 - An evening soiree at the Catholic church in Djibouti City, Djibouti, Africa in honor of Pope John Paul II's twenty-five years as the pontiff. I am greeting the secretary to the Papal Nuncio. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Price of Freedom

There I was, flying the friendly skies last week, traveling to News Orleans and Las Vegas for military workshops. I know this sounds strange, but despite the reputations of these two cities, we actually have big military installations. Since I am working with the Marine Reserve, our Reserve Headquarters is in New Orleans, a.k.a., the “Crescent City.” Over in Las Vegas, we have a large Armed Forces Reserve Center across from Nellis Air Force Base. Seeing the opportunity to take advantage of attending two conferences back-to-back, I jumped on it.

Of course, attending such events, you are required to wear your uniform. In my case, I was wearing the Marine “C,” called “Charlies.” This is a comfortable working uniform consisting of dark winter-green trousers, and a short-sleeved khaki shirt. The fore-and-aft cover is green like the trousers, and the shoes are black.

I left home on Wednesday evening flying out of Sacramento (my airport of choice), arriving in New Orleans the next morning. I grabbed my rental car, drove to the Naval Support Activity and sat through two days of conferences. Flew out Friday night to Las Vegas, caught a couple of hours of sleep, and sat through another conference.

I had to leave the Vegas conference on Saturday a bit early to catch my flight home because our church was having its annual mission’s auction that night. My plan was to change into my civilian clothes once I arrived at the airport. However, I had to scrap that plan because yours truly had difficulty locating the rental return facility. So, when I arrived at the ticket counter, I had to put my bag in right away in order to make the flight.

The ticket agent asked me if I would be willing to sit in an exit row seat. I said that would be fine. Once on board, I strapped myself in and settled down with my book. The plane was not nearly full, so I even thought I might stretch out on the three seats in my row once we were airborne. Already deep into my current book, Battle Cry of Freedom (about the Civil War – can’t get enough of that subject!), I faintly heard a woman’s voice asking a question. It took a moment for me to realize that the woman’s voice I had heard was coming from one of the stewardesses, and she was talking directly to me. I apologized and asked her to repeat her question. She said, “Would you be interested in moving up to the first class cabin?? I said, “Sure. Thank you.”

Feeling conspicuous, wondering what other passengers might be thinking, I then remembered I was wearing my uniform. I again plopped into a seat, only this time in first class in the first row. As we began to roll toward the runway, both stewardesses (Janel and Nancy) seated themselves in their drop-down seats for the take-off. We chatted until we were at cruising altitude, at which point they busied themselves with providing snacks and beverages for the passengers.

Shortly into the flight we experienced a small amount of turbulence. This meant everyone needed to stay strapped in their seats, including the stewardesses. I thanked them again for their kind offer of asking me to sit in first class. Nancy explained that she has a soft spot for the military. She had a loved one who served in Vietnam. Just before deplaning, I promised to send each of them one of my Iraq military coins as a gift of thanks, and a reminder to pray for our men and women serving in harms way.

As if to emphasize the point, I was walking through the Sacramento airport when I spied two Marines in their dress blue uniforms. Not only is this the best looking uniform on planet earth, but these two Marines were standing stock still while being checked by airport security. I stopped to watch this evolution, trying not to laugh out loud. You see, the Marine “dress blue” uniform is festooned with brass buttons and a large brass buckle. The hand-held metal detectors must have been going off the chart! There these two warriors stood, patiently waiting while being “wanded.”

In the meantime, a young woman approached me wearing civilian clothes and asked if I was a Marine. I smiled and said that I used to be, but that I’m presently a Navy Chaplain serving with the Marines. As we chatted a bit, I discovered that she is in the Army Reserve, and her unit is heading to Iraq. She’s also a single mom. Her baby is one year old. She had flown to Sacramento to leave the child with the baby’s father. I asked her how long she was going to be overseas. With tears welling up in her eyes, she said her unit would be gone eighteen months! I reached out and gave her a hug, fighting back my own tears, offering a word of prayer.

It was about at this point the two Marines (one a Staff Sergeant and the other a Lance Corporal) were putting their shoes back on and exiting the security area. We shook hands and then engaged in some swapping of military tales, usually greatly embellished. I was sharing with them how amused I was watching them as they went through the metal detector. The Lance Corporal was laughing because the security guy kept waving the wand over his left leg, setting it off. He explained that he’d been wounded last year in Iraq and now has a permanent metal plate implanted in his leg. When I asked what the occasion was for them to be traveling in their dress uniform, they said they were returning from the funeral of one of their fallen comrades recently killed in Iraq.

Reflecting on those brief encounters, I realized once again that while I was traveling to attend yet more meetings, I am most fortunate, for my family is still intact and safe at home, I bear no life-long wounds from hostile enemy fire, and despite all the warfare the men in my family have participated in, not one has even been wounded.

Please remember in prayer this Christmas those who pay the price for our freedom.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

God Save the Queen

I was making a phone call this morning to one of our military bases to take care of some Navy business. The chaplain I reached had a distinct accent identifying him as an Englishman. Well, I couldn’t let that go by without a comment, so I asked him if he was here on the exchange program. He said he was. By explanation, the exchange program is when one of our chaplains trades places with a British chaplain for a year.

I began to reflect on my experiences serving with military chaplains of other nations. Last year when I was the command chaplain for Camp Commando in Kuwait, I met Ron Martin, a chaplain with the British Royal Marines. Ron is a Scotsman. We had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time together. He and his “mates” (Royal Marines) invited me to share dinner in their chow hall. British food being what it is, the British troops often tried to eat in the American chow halls. Serving alongside these British warriors made a lasting impression on me, driving home the fact that this War on Terrorism is affecting more than just Americans. The same young faces of these Royal Marines could just as easily be the faces on our own U.S Marines.

A few weeks later we had a most unfortunate incident take place. One of the recently arrived Royal Marines suffered from dehydration in the intense desert heat of Kuwait, collapsed, and shortly died. I visited with these British comrades-in-arms to share in their grief over losing one of their own. Before the body was to be shipped back home on a C-130 Transport, I was told they were going to have a brief funeral service at the airfield on the tarmac. I was invited by the senior British Chaplain in Kuwait, Stephen Ware, a Roman Catholic priest, to assist him in the ceremony. A special detail was provided to line the way into the rear cargo area of the aircraft. The priest and I stood by the back hatch. All those assembled maintained a solemn presence while awaiting the arrival of the casket containing the remains of the fallen Royal Marine in the back of at stake-bed lorry (British for “truck”). The honor guard marched in two lines in typical British military fashion – long-legged stride with arms swinging from the sides up to shoulder level and down slightly past the waist before swinging up to shoulder height again. The casket was slowly and carefully hoisted onto the shoulders of the honor guard and reverently marched to the rear of the plane. Once there, the casket was placed just inside the plane, at which point Father Ware began the eulogy. I then offered a prayer. When we had finished, the casket was pushed on rollers deeper into the belly of the aircraft where it was secured firmly for the long flight back to England.

As I watched this procedure, seeing this plain, ordinary casket sitting alone in the middle of this aircraft, I couldn’t help but reflect on the loss that the family of this young man would be experiencing. He, along with his mates, joined their American cousins in fighting against a band of terrorist thugs on the other side of the world. None could possibly know the outcome of such a decision. I remained standing in my place as they finally closed the back hatch. Reluctantly, I moved away from the plane as the engines began to turn. We stood together and watched as the plane slowly taxied to the runway and then lifted into the evening sky. I was struck by the fact that the body of this Royal Marine was the only “cargo” on this flight.

So, as you hurry about your various holiday activities, parties and shopping, be sure to pause frequently and offer a word of thanks to God for not only our American service members, but those thirty other nations that have joined us in the fight. Yes, you can sleep more securely because these warriors are doing the hard work.

And offer a prayer of thanks to God for the families of both the fallen, and the ones who continue to press hard against a ruthless enemy. This is a fight we must win.

God bless America. And God save the Queen.