Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dr. Ben Rush: Fearless

              As I researched further into Dr. Benjamin Rush as a follow-on to last week’s article, it troubled me that his contributions to the United States and to the world have gone largely unnoticed, or at the very least, dismissed.

I received a number of encouraging responses to the article, “What a Rush!” including a descendent by the name of Rush who has been on my Roots in Ripon distribution list for some time.

What follows is a series of facts about this ingenious man, Benjamin Rush.

He was personally involved in helping the Rev. Richard Allen found the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). “He (Allen) was a minister, educator, and writer, and the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first independent black denomination in the United States. He opened his first AME church in 1794 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was elected the first bishop of the AME Church in 1816.” Allen was born into slavery but bought his freedom from his master who was convinced of slavery’s evil after hearing a traveling preacher, Reverend Freeborn Garrettson. Garrettson had freed his own slaves in 1775, and became a firebrand preacher, strongly encouraging other slave owners during the late 1700s and early 1800s of the sinfulness of holding slaves.

After Benjamin Rush signed the Declaration of Independence, he served in the Continental Congress. During the Revolutionary War he performed his duties as the Surgeon General in the Continental Army.Rush accompanied the Philadelphia militia during the battles after which the British occupied Philadelphia and most of New Jersey and the Continental Congress fled to York, Pennsylvania. The Army Medical Service was in disarray, between the military casualties, extremely high losses due to typhoid, yellow fever and other camp illnesses, political conflicts between Dr. John Morgan and Dr. William Shippen, Jr., and inadequate supplies and guidance from the Medical Committee. Nonetheless, Rush accepted an appointment as surgeon-general of the middle department of the Continental Army. Dr. Rush's order ‘Directions for preserving the health of soldiers’ became one of the foundations of preventative military medicine and was repeatedly republished, including as late as 1908. However, Rush's reporting of Dr. Shippen's misappropriation of food and wine supplies intended to comfort hospitalized soldiers, under-reporting of patient deaths, and failure to visit the hospitals under his command, ultimately led to Rush's resignation in 1778.”

Dr. Rush was not without further controversy. For instance, he found himself at cross-purposes with General George Washington over the handling of the war effort. In two separate letters, one to Patrick Henry and another to John Adams, Rush openly criticized Washington and his Continental Army, saying, there are “complaints inside Washington's army, including about ‘bad bread, no order, universal disgust.’” This did not endear him to the “Father of Our Country.”

Years later, Rush wrote another letter to John Adams requesting that the letters of criticism and gossip about Washington he had previously written be expunged from future history records. Recognizing George Washington’s great contribution to this fledgling nation, he wrote, “Washington has so much martial dignity in his deportment that you would distinguish him to be a general and a soldier from among 10,000 people. There is not a king in Europe that would not look like a valet de chambre (a manservant) by his side.”

One area for which Dr. Rush has borne some criticism is in the field of medicine. He was far ahead of his contemporaries in medical practice, helping to eradicate devastating illnesses such as yellow fever, typhoid, and the like. However, he held stubbornly to the antiquated practice of “bloodletting,” also called “bleeding.” This practice had been discarded by most doctors, with the belief that it was ultimately harmful, not helpful, to patients. He was even accused of bringing about the early death of his friend, Benjamin Franklin, through bleeding, although Franklin was quite elderly for that time, reaching the age of 84. Certain other medical approaches were commonplace which he engaged in, but we know today to have been barbaric.

Let me conclude this brief foray into the life of Dr. Benjamin Rush by sharing some of his thoughts on matters of faith and religion. He described himself like this: “I have alternately been called an Aristocrat and a Democrat. I am neither. I am a Christocrat.”

Typhus Fever was slowly taking his life. During his final illness he wrote, “My excellent wife, I must leave you, but God will take care of you. By the mystery of Thy holy incarnation; by Thy holy nativity; by Thy baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Thine agony and bloody sweat; by Thy cross and passion; by Thy precious death and burial; by Thy glorious resurrection and ascension, and by the coming of the Holy Ghost, blessed Jesus, wash away all my iniquities, and receive me into Thy everlasting kingdom.”

A good prayer for us all!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What a Rush!

            Well, school is back in session throughout most of the United States. Going to school in the 50s and 60s our system of attendance was based upon the traditional model. The school year began in September (usually on or around my birthday – September 5), and ended in early June. Summer was an eternity of baseball, swimming, fishing, bike trips and a host of other Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer activities that boys did in those days.

Our two five-year-old granddaughters, Alyssa and Brooklyne, have just started kindergarten. Actually, as of this writing, Alyssa started school on the 14th and Brooklyne begins on the 19th. Let me tell you – times have changed. I was to pick up Alyssa today at the end of school. A parent or grandparent, or whoever is authorized to pick up the child, arrives at the school en masse to be identified visually by the child before the teacher releases them from the school’s custody. Each child is asked by the teacher at the gate, “Do you see someone here to pick you up?” If the answer is yes, then the child will say who that person is. “That’s my granddaddy!” Alyssa said. If they say no, then they are kept inside the fence until the person arrives to pick them up. I used to walk to and from school, kicking a can down the street, and never thought anything of it.
A friend from many years back, knowing my love of history, sent me a story of Dr. Benjamin Rush, born in Philadelphia on December 24, 1745, and died in Philadelphia on April 19, 1813. Do you remember him from American History? No? Well allow me to fill you in on this most remarkable man, a man who has been marginalized in our American history.

Doctor; medical educator (“Father of American Medicine”); chemist; humanitarian; politician; author; temperance advocate; abolitionist (he and Benjamin Franklin helped organize the first Anti-Slavery society); signer of the Declaration of Independence; one of our nation’s Founding Fathers; founding member of America’s first Bible Society; helped begin the American Sunday School movement; he held multiple university professorships; and a strong advocate of free public schools for all youth (“The Father of Public Schools Under the Constitution”). In addition, he helped establish five schools of higher learning: the College of Philadelphia; the University of the State of Pennsylvania; the Young Ladies’ Academy of Philadelphia; Dickinson College; and Franklin College.

It was Dr. Rush’s intent to guarantee that children in our public school system receive a sound and solid academic education based on God’s Word, the Bible. To ensure this, Dr. Rush wrote a paper expressing in detail the importance of using the Bible as the basis of our entire educational system. Consider these words from his paper, “Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic,” 1786, by Dr. Benjamin Rush.

“I conceive the education of our youth in this country to be peculiarly necessary in Pennsylvania while our citizens are composed of the natives of so many different kingdoms in Europe. Our schools of learning, by producing one general and uniform system of education, will render the mass of the people more homogeneous and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government.

“I proceed, in the next place, to inquire what mode of education we shall adopt so as to secure to the state all the advantages that are to be derived from the proper instruction of youth; and here I beg leave to remark that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in RELIGION. Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.

“Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is the religion of JESUS CHRIST.

“I do not mean to exclude books of history, poetry, or even fables from our schools. They may and should be read frequently by our young people, but if the Bible is made to give way to them altogether, I foresee that it will be read in a short time only in churches and in a few years will probably be found only in the offices of magistrates and in courts of justice.” How prescient he was!

Let me strongly encourage you to read this paper written by Dr. Rush Particularly, take note of his views in regards to the proper education of women in America. Wow!

I believe I will need to spend more time sharing my discoveries of this amazing man in future articles.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


              No, not Neville Chamberlain, former British Prime Minister from 1937-40, who was so infamously duped by “Der Fuhrer,” Adolph Hitler, into believing that the Nazis would not attack anymore of their European neighbors. The Chamberlain I’m choosing to discuss in this article was an American from Maine who commanded troops in the field at a little town in Pennsylvania known as Gettysburg.

The population of Gettysburg at the time of the battle was 2400. The two opposing armies numbered slightly less than 165,000 men of which nearly one-third were killed or wounded.

It was during this most famous of Civil War battles that the Medal of Honor (MOH) was designed and established. The citation for the Medal of Honor for Col Chamberlain reads, “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 2 July 1863, while serving with 20th Maine Infantry, in action at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on the Great Round Top.”

This altogether brief description of Colonel Chamberlain’s heroic feats that July day fails to tell of his magnificent command of his unit. They were placed in the woods of Little Round Top as a reserve force for the main battle. As Confederate forces looked for a way to circle around behind the Union Army, they ran into a tenacious 20th Maine Infantry. Confederate forces were determined to root out this band of troublesome Union troops. Chamberlain would have none of it. He successfully countered the repeated advances against his position. However his men were running low on bullets and gun powder. Not wanting the enemy to realize their depleted and vulnerable condition, he ordered his men to “Fix Bayonets!” The next advance by General Lee’s boys was met with a banshee-like scream from the charging fellas from Maine. This maniacal charge was so unexpected that the southern boys took off running to get away from the crazy Mainers. It’s true that the 20th Maine was virtually out of ammunition, but the tide was turned, and the Battle of Gettysburg was won by the Union forces.

Some interesting facts about the three days of battle at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), are: 1) After the battle 37,574 rifles left lying on the battlefield were collected, 2) 24,000 were still loaded, 3) 6,000 had one round in the barrel, 4) 12,000 had two rounds in the barrel, and 5) 6,000 had three to ten rounds in the barrel. Rounds left in the barrels of the guns (muskets) means that many soldiers loaded their guns but did not fire. Many of these boys simply could not bring themselves to shoot and kill another man, especially a fellow countryman, or worse yet, a relative. And lastly, this interesting tidbit: The Confederate wagon train of wounded sent back to Virginia after the battle was 17 miles long!

If you saw the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” actor Tom Hanks plays Army Captain John H. Miller who is assigned a squad of soldiers to search for the last of four brothers, Private James Ryan, last known to be somewhere in northern France. Throughout the movie the Hank’s character was constantly being harried about his civilian occupation. Because he was a relentless leader the men were always guessing what he did before the war. Captain Miller eventually tells the men that he had been an elementary school teacher. This shocked them, because it seemed so out of character from the man they saw as their captain.

The same is true for Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, only his story did not come from Hollywood. Before the Civil War, Chamberlain had been a professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He was an expert in linguistics, being fluent in nine languages besides English. They were: Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac.

General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander of Union Forces, met with General Robert E. Lee, Commander of Confederate Forces at Appomattox Court House to finalize the terms of surrender. Grant appointed then Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain to receive the arms (weapons) of the Confederate army.

In all, Chamberlain was wounded six times, had six horses shot out from under him, fought in 20 battles and numerous skirmishes, and was cited for bravery four different times. He was wildly popular back home and was elected as Maine’s 32nd governor. He eventually went back to Bowdoin College, becoming president of his alma mater.

I have been vacationing with my brother, John, for the last two weeks. This included a family reunion in Richmond, Virginia for the Coppage/Coppedge family. My mother’s mother was a Coppedge. Then John and I drove to Belgrade Lakes, Maine where we played golf, and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of a cabin on Long Pond.

A friend, knowing my love of, and interest in the Civil War, told me about a 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg display at the State Museum in Augusta, Maine. John and I stopped in and thoroughly enjoyed the information provided regarding the contributions of the men and women from Maine in keeping the Union intact.

Chamberlain’s father was a preacher, and Joshua was encouraged to follow in his footsteps. However, being shy in front of crowds, and having a life-long speech impediment, he chose a different course for his life. However, he knew God was guiding him. His only desire was to serve God and his fellow man faithfully.

I’d say he did so splendidly!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Leaders or Vendors!

          In his posthumously published book, A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman, a gifted therapist, Rabbi, and expert on organizations of all kinds, says:

         “I believe there exists throughout America today a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amid the raging anxiety storms of our time. It is a highly reactive atmosphere pervading all the institutions of our society – a regressive mood that contaminates the decision-making processes of governments and corporations at the highest level and, on the local level, seeps down into the deliberations of neighborhood church, synagogue, hospital, library, and school boards.”

         One of the reasons that leaders fail to lead, Friedman says, is because we treat them as vendors.

         Trained every day to be consumers, we treat everything as a product to be bought. For instance, we don’t elect national leaders. Instead, we work to get our “brand name” in power. In the same way that people have strong opinions about the consumption of Pepsi or Coke, we either like Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican, and only those who are on our side have any brains at all. If the brand we don’t like is in power we simply demonize everything they do. We believe that because at Burger King we can have it “our way,” everything else works the same way. The result is that “leaders” ignore things like doing the right thing, and acting in the common good in favor of keeping customers happy. Sadly, leaders have become vendors.

         Believing that the customer (that’s us) is always right, our ability to dialogue on difficult issues, to seek the common good, or even to be civil to one another, goes right out the window. It’s either, “my way or the highway.” Eventually, this all or nothing attitude leads to violence as we all too often see in the news these days.

         In the church, we can all too easily see ourselves as customers to be served instead of disciples of Christ who do the serving.

         When a decision is made that doesn’t sit well with us it’s all too easy to file a complaint with the customer service department; to focus on our dissatisfaction and voice it as criticism; or insist that the leaders are intentionally up to no good. The vendors (a.k.a., leaders) of the congregation have simply failed to deliver the goods.

         On the other hand, leaders can become so attuned to the criticism and take on the role as vendor to the point that “job one” becomes trying to keep everyone happy (an impossibility) instead of tending to the mission of the congregation.

         I share this reflection not because our congregation manifests this behavior consistently. We do not. That is a blessing from God. I share this because this problem is all around us.

         Changing leaders into vendors is a sign of sin and brokenness.

         As people of faith, we can work to edify instead of tear down, and focus on the needs of others instead of self-service. Scripture reminds us that leaders are called and gifted to lead; that all the members of the body of Christ are to be about the business of building up that body. That takes leadership – godly leadership. Such individuals must be encouraged to lead, by boldly stepping out in faith to serve effectively for Christ.

         It is very important to make sure we “keep the main thing, the main thing.”

         Let’s pray and work that it might happen everywhere.


[Dear Reader, today’s article was written by a minister friend (Pastor John) from the Lutheran Church (ELCA – Evangelical Lutheran Church of America). I was reading this article written for the church newsletter while vacationing at my brother’s in Virginia. What impressed me was his clarity in identifying a major problem in our church leadership today, but even more so in our entire culture. I trust you are as challenged as I was in reading this article. I received his permission to use this article for Roots in Ripon with a few editorial changes.]