Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Remembered

My wife reminded me of a very special Christmas that took place in 2003. But it was not a Christmas we shared together. During this year I found myself traveling around the world to several different military destinations. I had been called up from the reserves in late 2002 to serve as the Assistant Command Chaplain for the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) headquartered at Camp Pendleton, California.

The I MEF was the main Marine command leading the charge in Iraq, and in particular, the taking of Baghdad. I left Camp Pendleton on the first of May for my new assignment as Command Chaplain at Camp Commando in Kuwait. Sand storms were quickly added to my list of least favorite experiences. I also spent a week in Babylon, Iraq (about 45 miles south of Baghdad) where I MEF was headquartered. Then it was back to Camp Commando where I figured I’d serve out the rest of my time overseas. About a month later I was contacted by the Command Chaplain of Marine Forces Pacific (MarForPac) in Hawaii. He asked me if I would accept a new assignment. I asked where this might be. He said, “Djibouti.” The name Djibouti rattled around in my brain attempting to find a geographic location. All I could remember was Djibouti was somewhere on the African continent. Anyway, the assignment was for me to set up the command religious program for the base. Sounded like a challenge I would enjoy, so I agreed to go.

I was flown back to the States from Kuwait to enjoy a couple of weeks of leave with my family before heading for Djibouti for six months. I had to pick up my orders and plane tickets at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Florida. The day I flew into Djibouti the temperature was 145 degrees. I knew this was going to be a challenging time just adjusting to the climate!

After I was there about four months we were coming up on Christmas. The base chapel was a very busy spot. My RP (Religious Program Specialist) and I brewed Starbucks coffee each morning which soon became a popular item for our military personnel, stopping in for a quick cup before heading for their assigned duties that day. The chapel was constructed of thick plywood in the classic design of the old style churches that had a steeple and pitched roof. For some reason lost to me there were several strands of miniature white Christmas lights in the chapel. This was the first Christmas since this base was established, so you can see why I was flummoxed over having Christmas lights on hand. Other service members had friends and family ship them more lights. We put the lights all along the trim of the chapel. In early December I set up an official lighting ceremony. I arranged to have the Commanding Officer (CO), a Marine colonel, do the honors of plugging in the lights at 9:00 PM. A large crowd of service members had gathered outside of the chapel for the event. When the lights came on, the best way I can describe it is that it was magical! The oohs and aahs from the folks present were proof enough.

      A few days later I ran into the CO. We were discussing the lights on the chapel when he suggested that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea having the lights lit at night on the chapel, especially since the chapel was centrally located on the base and made for a rather attractive target for the bad guys. Djibouti is about the size of Rhode Island and is surrounded by nations that were breeding terrorists – which is why this counter-terrorism base was established. I agreed that the chapel made for a convenient target for the bad guys, but I said, “Sir, they already know we're here.” He agreed and the lights stayed lit all through Christmas. Because we had personnel working shifts around the clock throughout the base, I kept the lights lit on the chapel all night long. It really was a sight to see! The major portion of the base spread out below the chapel, so when the lights were on it was very easy to see it from our tented living quarters. Felt like a bit of home for us all.

I had many service members tell me how much they enjoyed seeing the chapel lit up for Christmas that way. Many pictures were taken, and it was a topic of conversation for weeks.

Next week I will share more of my Christmas in Djibouti with you. It was not only a magical experience, but I got to see God’s people do some amazing things, and to witness something even I could not have anticipated.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trust Betrayed

I can’t help but wonder if we are witnessing the death of a nation. The recent revelations (posited as allegations until presented in a court of law) coming from Penn State are chilling to the soul. We experienced similar rumblings of the soul when the Catholic Church went through a catharsis some years back when priests were identified as having molested children over a period of decades, only to have been covered-up by the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Young children and babies are disappearing almost daily, and more often than not, found dead, tossed aside along some roadway, or deposited in a trash dumpster. Just this week it was reported that a one-year-old boy, missing from his St. Louis home, was found dead in a cemetery. No one has been charged in this apparent homicide, but the mother is considered a suspect.

Like you, I am weary of reading about these young ones being abused and/or killed, frequently by the very adults who are supposed to be protecting them.  

Let me ask you: What has become of us when the very institutions which are designed to cherish and protect the youngest among us fails in this responsibility? The home should be the safest of all places for the young (and the old alike). In the same way our churches and other places of worship should be bastions of safety and sanctuary, followed by our academic institutions. When these vaunted organizations within our society can no longer to be trusted with the responsibility of caring for our children, what’s left?

There will be some who will be quick to point out that such abuses have always happened. I would agree, but in the past the punishment for such heinous behavior was swift and sure. Society would not tolerate such wickedness against our young. Someone else might argue that most of those abuses went unreported. Such a statement is impossible to substantiate, and such an argument attempts to make it seem as if things are no worse now than they have ever been. To this I say: Nonsense! Our nation grew up under the teachings of the Scriptures, and in those days people actually feared the Lord, knowing that their neighbors would bring the terrible sword of justice down on their heads. This is the primary reason why those who even considered harming these little ones didn’t, because they would be found out and dealt with without mercy.

I’m certain there will be much more that comes out from the investigation of Penn State and the despicable deeds of certain deviants and those who were willing to cover it up. What appears to be taking place is an attempt to protect a prestigious university. Bottom line: it’s all about money and the support the school receives. The football program, with an iconic coach, has been a cash-cow elevated over the years to the level of a golden calf – a thing to be worshipped and protected. Never mind that there is the collateral damage of young lives in the process – the institution must be sheltered at all cost.

A number of verses from Scripture come to mind when I read such stories. I would like to share two of these with you. First, James 4:17, “Remember, that knowing what is right to do and then not doing it is sin.” Second, even more pointedly, Jesus has this to say concerning those who might harm children in Luke 17:1-3, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! If he were thrown into the sea with a huge rock tied to his neck, he would be far better off than facing the punishment in store for those who harm these little children’s souls. I’m warning you!”

Please understand, I am not passing judgment on Penn State or any individuals associated with that institution. Our judicial system is designed to do just that. I’m simply pointing out the obvious: As a nation we need to decide if we are willing to continue to slide down the slippery slope of moral decay, or whether we will return to being an ethical people who have a renewed passion for serving God and living for Him.

I am convinced that if we are to survive as a nation, we need to experience what is called a revival. By definition a revival is a period of renewed religious interest. Put another way, it literally means “to bring back to life.”

I would echo what Joshua of old said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Let’s do this, America!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vietnam Vets

Some weeks ago I was invited by the Veteran’s Day Committee here in Ripon to be a speaker at this second annual event. In particular, I was to speak about the Vietnam Veteran. I wasn’t sure I should attempt to speak for Vietnam Vets. But since this was my designated task, I began the process of wrestling with the way I should approach this topic.

After I delivered this talk on Veteran’s Day last week, I had several people suggest that I submit this as my next Roots in Ripon article. So, the remainder of this article is what I shared that day.

What is a Vietnam Veteran?

          Throughout our nation’s history, every generation of men has faced the challenge of answering the call-to-arms when the nation has faced the possibilities of war. In more recent days, our women are filling the ranks of the combat fighter, establishing a new chapter in our nation’s storied legacy of ordinary folks stepping up to perform extraordinary service.

          The Vietnam Veteran has often been castigated for having been pampered as kids – spoiled, if you will. Products of the post-World War II excesses which ranged from affordable housing to Hula Hoops; from Electric Refrigerators to TV Dinners; from 9” Television Sets to Candy Cigarettes. And the dream of our parents was that we, their children, would be able to get a college education. That education, we were told by all of the adults in our lives, was the door to our future. We were expected to pursue this educational track so we could better ourselves and strengthen our country through economics and commerce.

          In the midst of this aggressive pursuit of higher education, a war in Indo-China pops up. Where in the world is this place? Oh yeah, it’s called Vietnam now. What was this all about? Well, being the sons of World War II veterans, later to be called the “Greatest Generation,” we wanted to prove we were up to the task in protecting our home and loved ones, just as those before us had done. Never mind that President Eisenhower had strongly cautioned America against getting involved in a land war in Asia. Never mind that President Kennedy was trying to avoid committing combat troops to Vietnam. Then President Johnson made the decision to have our military push the communist forces in Vietnam back out of the south. The cat was out of the bag now.

          But many of you will remember how the country rallied around our forces going into Vietnam. Even the media was supportive! Young men were signing up to serve. Yes there was the draft, but so many were willing to raise their right hand and take the oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, that the draft hardly seemed necessary. Along the way something happened in America. The colleges and universities, where we were to have received these priceless educational opportunities, became hotbeds for pointing out what was supposedly wrong with America. Throw into this the cauldron of racial unrest brewing in our inner-cities, and it was a recipe for national disruption. Then there was the counter-culture movement with its emphasis on free love, seemed to cause us to question everything we were as Americans. Now add to this the reminder on the evening news of the number of American servicemen killed in Vietnam that day, and you have a growing discontent with a war in a land that most Americans could not locate on a map.

          In the midst of this growing discontent for all things American, the returning veteran was singled out as a stooge, a foil, for a government that was now looked upon as being engaged in a war for the profit of large American corporations, and not to eradicate communism from the world stage. That was all so much political mumbo-jumbo, and we, who were asked to carry the fight to a distant enemy, did so because we wanted to be faithful to our nation. It is also a bit of historical irony that in ten years of warfare in Vietnam, the Vietnam Veterans did not lose one battle.  

          The Vietnam Vet seemed to be the embodiment of all the ills of the nation. Many of these vets preferred to take their chances in Vietnam rather than return to a nation that despised them and spit on them, calling them women and baby killers. My personal take on all of this is that the malaise of the 1960s and 70s will not pass until my generation has left this world.

           So, does the Vietnam Vet expect anything as far as an apology, or even a “thank you” for having served? No. We know that when it was our time to serve, the conditions were such that our sacrifices were not so readily appreciated. However, I believe today many Americans are grateful for the effort of their Vietnam Vets. And that’s enough for us.

          The Vietnam Vet served with pride and dignity. He returned home to put his war-fighting days behind him, and perhaps to go back to those same colleges and universities where we were previously pilloried, and pursue that elusive education. We found jobs, got married, raised our children, and helped make our communities better places to live – communities just like Ripon.

          But with all the troubles that surrounded us in those dark days, may I say to you who are our neighbors and friends, Thank you! We, the Vietnam Vets, love our country just as you do. Thank you for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us in making this a greater country. We, the Vietnam Veterans, are proud to have served. And we would do it again in a heartbeat!

          I would like to ask all the Vietnam Veterans to stand. These are your veterans, Ripon!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

In God We Trust

         Have you ever wondered how “In God We Trust” wound up on our money? You haven’t? Well, okay, but I’m going to share this bit of our national history anyway.

The motto “In God We Trust” has not always been stamped onto our coinage, and certainly not on our bills. Coins began to carry the motto during the Civil War. It was much later in our history that our paper money carried this same motto. In truth, the first paper money was issued by the Massachusetts Bay Colony on February 3, 1690. It was known as a “bill of credit” and was created with the express purpose of financially reimbursing soldiers for their military service during war. It was like an IOU which the bearer could spend or use just as if it was silver of gold. Coins came into existence even earlier by the rebellious minded folks in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They minted silver coins in 1652, against the orders of the British throne.

In 1775, the colonial leaders of our soon fledgling nation attempted to insert paper money into our economy. Unfortunately, this effort ended in failure primarily because there was no significant backing for the money, such as silver or gold. Paper money did not show up again until the Civil War in the 1860s, but just as before, it did not have solid backing, and fluctuated based upon the fortunes of the war effort. Whichever side of the conflict seemed to have the advantage would also see a strengthening of its dollar value.

It was in 1862 that the U.S. Government first issued paper money. Because of the cost of the war effort, coinage was running low, so paper money was used as a promise to the holder that the government was good for it. These notes became significant because of the green ink used on one side of the bill, thus earning the nickname: Greenback.

During the Civil War there was enacted by Congress the National Banking Act in 1863 establishing a secure monetary system which is in use to this day. This will make you laugh! The first paper money was printed for the values of 1 cent, 5 cents, 25 cents and 50 cents! How times have changed!

So as you can see, our country has only had paper money in continuous use for about 145 years. And another irony in all of this is that paper money is not made from paper. Currency paper is composed of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton. Red and blue synthetic fibers of various lengths are distributed evenly throughout the paper. Before World War I these fibers were made of silk.

So when did our paper-money-that-isn’t-paper end up with “In God We Trust” printed on it? Congress passed the law for this addition to our currency in 1955 during President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in office. It wasn’t actually printed until 1957, and then only on the $1.00 bill. It was not until 1963 that all currency carried the motto, “In God We Trust.”

The story behind this use of the motto is part of our national legacy. In the early 1950s, Matthew H. Rothert, a businessman in Camden, Arkansas who ran a furniture store, was sitting in church one morning probably pulling some bills out of his wallet for the offering when he happened to notice that the paper money did not carry the motto, “In God We Trust,” the way our coins do. He wondered why this was, but then decided to see what he could do about having this changed. Mr. Rothert was aware that U.S. currency was used all over the world. He surmised that with the spread of Communism, what better way than on an international scale, proclaim our nation’s belief in God, than to have it printed on our bills? At any one time, two-thirds of our nation’s money is circulating in foreign countries, including atheistic communist countries. In a letter to Mr. George C. Humphrey, then Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Rothert suggested that paper currency have the motto included. Mr. Humphrey’s reply was, “To put the motto on a bill would require an act of Congress.”  

Not one to give up so easily, Mr. Rothert wrote letters to senators, representatives and newspapers. He asked, “Why shouldn’t paper money bear the same inscription as coins? Our paper money should carry a spiritual message to all nations.”

Senator J. William Fulbright, one of Mr. Rothert’s senators from Arkansas, introduced a bill before Congress to include the motto, “In God We Trust,” where it was approved and then signed into law by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956.

God Bless America!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Impending Culture Clash


The United States is set on a course for a major cultural clash unless we return to those values that made our nation great and the envy of the nations of the world.

For the last couple of decades Europe has experienced an influx of Muslims who had no intention of assimilating to the culture of the country where they chose to settle, be that France, England, Holland, or any of the other countries that make up the European Continent. Because the philosophy of Islam is to conquer wherever they settle, Europe was ill-prepared to handle the large numbers of Muslims desiring to make Europe their new home. Europe has historically maintained an open-door policy when it comes to immigration. This has worked fairly well for a long time. The reason it has worked well is for the simple reason that those who immigrated to a European country embraced the culture of that country. But the Muslim influx is another issue all-together.

For the past several years many European countries have found themselves engaged in clashes with their Muslim neighbors. Not long ago British courts allowed sharia law to be legal in Great Britain. This shocked me, and I don’t shock easily anymore. Just today I heard on the news that churches in England are shutting down due to diminished attendance. As each of these churches closes, Muslims buy the church and convert it to a mosque. This is part of the principle of conquest within Islam. France has had rioting which has lasted for weeks where Muslim youth rampage through neighborhoods overturning cars and setting them on fire, torching stores, and all sorts of bedlam, costing millions of dollars in destruction.

Now we in the United States are facing these same challenges. Muslims complain about their women having to reveal their faces so a picture can be taken for driver’s licenses and other forms of personal identification. The most recent challenge by Muslims in America is a concerted effort to legalize – you guessed it – sharia law. Make no mistake, there are judges who are seriously considering allowing this to become part of our American law. Do you know what sharia law allows? Muslim states are theocracies. This means that religious law is law for everyone. Sharia is primarily law handed down from Allah, the god of the Muslims, to Muhammad the prophet.

Consider these laws from sharia: It is forbidden for post-pubescent women to expose their faces in public. While in public, women must cover their faces with a Hijab, a face scarf (Roy Orbison’s hit, Pretty Woman, would never see the light of day!). The use of alcohol and the consumption of pork are prohibited (So much for a cold beer and a hot dog at the ballgame!). Because Muslim states are theocratic, any criticism of the government is taken as blasphemy, for which sharia prescribes prison or death (I can imagine Congress embracing this law!). Want some more?

Men can have up to four wives and can divorce (called talaq) at their option. If they do not divorce their first wife but just abandon her, she is obliged to carry on as a married woman and cannot seek out another spouse without risking the traditional punishment for adultery: stoning. Stoning is done in public by first wrapping a person in a blanket and burying them in a deep hole exposing their head, and the population gathered around is invited to throw large stones at the adulterer, the size of which sharia law prescribes, and the sentence is always fatal. (That’s a sure way to reduce the high divorce rate in America!). The penalty after a fourth conviction of a homosexual act is death (I’m not feeling a lot of love here!). Adoption is not allowed. Adults can become guardians of the children of others but not the legal parents through adoption (Actually, these children become slaves to the adoptive family.). Sharia law prohibits dating and marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim and it is practically impossible for a Muslim (even a recent convert) to renounce the Muslim faith (Choose carefully!).

Many states which implement sharia law have blasphemy statutes which punish by prison or death any person preaching Christianity, or are found guilty of the distribution of Christian items (Wow! I would be in so much trouble!).

Let me close with this final statement regarding sharia law: “As with most theocracies, sharia law is difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the fundamental principles of democracy. One of the features of sharia is that, in theory, it is invariable and stable. Democratic principles such as political pluralism and the constant tug towards expanding individual freedoms are incompatible with sharia.” (

It is inevitable that sharia and western democracy will clash. They already have. The question is – what will America look like when the dust settles?