Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

From Here to Eternity

              Life does go by quickly. When I was a kid it seemed that it took forever to grow up! I couldn’t wait to turn ten because then I’d be in the “2 numbers.” Then it was 16. Then 21, and finally 25 (guys insurance rates dropped a lot at 25!). After that the numbers didn’t seem so important. Also, having served my time in the Marines with a tour in Vietnam, I learned that we are not invincible, and life also begins to accelerate at a frightening pace.

Before I accepted Christ as my Savior, I had a real fear of dying. I’m not referring to the process of dying. I’m talking about the matter of my no longer being here. Or the more disturbing questions, “Is there anything beyond physical death? Will I exist in some other way, some other dimension?”  I’m not sure where these personal concerns came from, but it was real enough. I tend to think it had something to do with my friends and me riding our bikes through the local cemetery. This one particular cemetery, only a few blocks from my house, had the coolest gravel paths. We’d skid our bikes to see how far we could launch the rocks. Or we’d spin our tires to see if we could get a direct hit on a tombstone. Then there were those rare times when I would stop and read some headstones. Most provide the name of the deceased and the dates of that person’s life. Then there were those that had an epitaph, such as: “Here lies John Yeast, Pardon him for not rising.”

Despite attempts at humor in epitaphs, laying a loved one in the grave can create a tremendous internal struggle. As a child, it was troubling to observe gravestones that were of inferior quality, clearly showing the ravages of tempest and time. Names and dates often were no longer discernible. This would bring yet more disturbing questions to my mind: “Does anyone remember who is buried here? Will anyone remember me when I’m buried somewhere?”

Knowing that Jesus rose from the dead has brought hope and confidence that, just as he conquered death, every person who trusts in him will rise again to eternal life in heaven. As Paul said, “Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?” It would be like Paul saying, “Hey death! Jesus beat you! You don’t look so tough now!”

Last week my mother passed safely across that great divide into the arms of her Jesus. A few days before, while she was in the hospital on a Bi-PAP breathing machine, struggling, as her 98 year old body was slowly losing the battle, I read to her from the Bible. I then sang hymns and gospel songs. I finished with, “Jesus Loves Me,” at which point she looked at me and tried to talk through the cumbersome and uncomfortable forced-air mask covering her face. I leaned closer to try and make out what she was mouthing. As difficult as it was for her to speak at this point with this device restricting her speech, and struggling to breathe with lungs ever so slowly filling with fluid, she wanted to say something to me. She fixed me with that classic “mother’s look,” which says in so many words, “Pay attention! This is important.” Between breathes, she said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” She wanted to be sure that I knew she had heard me sing the song, and that those words echoed a resounding truth that resonates from one end of eternity to the other.

I will miss my mother, there’s no doubting that. On the other hand, what excites me the most is knowing that she is now enjoying precious, priceless moments hugging and kissing the two children she never got to know in this life. Her first child, Daniel, was still-born. Her third, Judy, had spina-bifida and only lived a couple of weeks. Today such a condition could be treated, but not so in 1946.

My daughter Laura shared one of those special moments treasured by all parents (and grandparents). My mother was called Grams by her grandkids and great grandkid. So on Sunday night after Grams went to be with Jesus, Laura was having prayer time with six-year-old Alyssa before bed. Alyssa prayed “that Grams would be loved in heaven just like she was loved here.”

Knowing that Grams has died has raised many questions coming from Alyssa. Laura says she believes she covered the answers to those questions pretty well, but they are always a challenge to adults when coming from children. Then Alyssa told her mom that she wants to be with Grams when she dies!

The promise of God for Christians is stated clearly in Revelation 21:4. “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Add to that the new body which each will receive, a body created and designed by God never to tire, or wear out, but is made for eternity, and you’ve got a hope in the future that simply can’t be beaten.

All of this information, all of this hope for eternity is based upon this simple phrase: “Jesus loves me.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


          Following up on last week’s article about our vacation to Kauai, I thought I’d share a few more of our weeklong experiences with you.

Without question if you are going to ever visit this Hawaiian Island known as the “Garden Isle,” you must visit the Wiamea Canyon. This amazing formation on the west side of the island has become known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The only way to get there is to drive around the southern end of the island where you pick up the Wiamea Canyon Drive which heads straight north along the western rim of the canyon. Part way up the climb you connect with Kokee Road which takes you to the end of the climb which tops out at more than 5,000 feet. There were numerous turnouts, providing spectacular vistas over the canyon. Even on a rainy overcast day such as we had for this venture, it was magnificent. The Wiamea Canyon is made up of a long gorge extending in a south-north direction. On the mid-to-upper end are five gorges which extend like fingers on a hand in a slightly southwest-to-northeast direction. Several in our party had come fully prepared to hike some of the trails, but with the wet conditions the footing was a bit treacherous. Perhaps next time!

Isaura and I launched out on our own one afternoon heading for the Kilauea Lighthouse which is situated on the northernmost point of the island. The way the Hawaiian Islands are formed, this makes the Kilauea Lighthouse the northernmost point of all the islands. I was chatting with one of the volunteer park rangers (retired Navy guy) who shared a fascinating story with me. He told me that back in the 1920s Army pilots had been miffed by all the attention Charles Lindbergh received for his historic solo flight across the Atlantic on May 20, 1927, a flight of just over 3600 miles. Army Air Corps pilots had been flying these distances, but they received no recognition for their feat because they had flown over land. Well, on June 29, 1927, five weeks after Lindbergh’s historic flight, 1st Lt. Lester J. Maitland and 1st Lt. Albert F. Hegenberger completed the first transpacific flight, from California to Hawaii, a distance of slightly more than 2400 miles. What makes this story so interesting is that these two aviators almost perished in the Pacific by very nearly overshooting the islands. As they were making their flight at night they were using star navigation. However, they realized they had miscalculated and were off their mark. Just before sunrise and dangerously low on fuel, they happened to recognize the “double flash” from the Kilauea Lighthouse. They made a ninety degree turn to the south, safely landing. My new park ranger friend then informed me that the navigator on the flight, 1st Lt. Hegenberger, later entered the ministry as an Episcopal priest. I can see why! Had they not spotted the beam of light from the lighthouse, these two pilots would have met with disaster. I’m sure these men knew God had a hand in their safe arrival.

Perhaps the best experience of all was the Smith Family Garden Luau. I know what you’re thinking – “Smith? Did he say Smith? That’s not Hawaiian!” Well, a gentleman by the name of Smith traveled from his home in England to Kauai where he met and fell in love with a Hawaiian lass. They began a luau for tourists which has continued for more than 50 years, all run by family members. This luau is the most popular on the entire island, which means you need to call in for reservations. Our party of nine showed up along with 570 other interested diners. After walking in from the parking lot and securing our tickets we boarded a tram that drove us around their beautiful floral gardens and pools. Peacocks, trained to open their magnificent tail feathers, walked around the grounds for our pleasure. We ended up at one of the roasting areas for the six or more pigs they prepare each night. Then we are invited to go to our tables. Groups larger than six have reserved tables, which was great. The buffet was awesome! I can’t begin to tell you of the many foods that were prepared for us in this all-you-can-eat spread. I made one pass and I was done! After the dinner we were led to the outdoor amphitheater where we were presented with a lengthy program about the history of the islands, the various ethnic groups that settled there, and the dances and music unique to the Hawaiian Islands. Everything is done by the very large Smith family. Make sure you take this in when you go.

On Sunday morning, the day before we were to fly home, we all drove to a nearby native church called New Hope. We had a delightful time with these brothers and sisters in Christ who invited us to stay for supper – more Hawaiian food! Love it! My daughters, Laura and Jenny, agreed that they would love to come back to Kauai if for no other reason than to visit these believers at New Hope. The pastor’s son is going to be attending a school up near Reno where he is to play baseball. His parents are going to come to visit us here in Ripon this fall when they drop him off.
        The time in Kauai with our family was special. Just before we left, our six-year-old Alyssa said to my wife, “Meema, can we make this trip to Hawaii a family tradition?” We all laughed, thinking, “Wouldn’t that be nice!”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On Vacay

             By the time you read this article my family and I will be back home from our vacation on the stunningly near pristine island of Kauai. Kauai is the seventh of the eight islands that make up the 50th state known as Hawaii.

Discovered by British Captain James Cook in 1778, he named the islands the Sandwich Islands. This was in honor of the Earl of Sandwich who was a benefactor in Captain Cook’s world-wide journeys. In the 1840s the original name of the islands, Hawaii, returned to common use and has stuck ever since.

The eight islands are Hawaii (The Big Island), Maui (The Valley Isle), Oahu (The Gathering Place), Kauai (The Garden Isle), Molokai (The Friendly Isle), Lanai (The Pineapple Isle), Niihau (The Forbidden Isle), and Kahoolawe (The Target Isle).

Last year my wife and I decided it was time for me to look at retiring from the pastoral ministry. The date we set for this is May 31 this year. As a way of thanking my family for encouraging and supporting me through my many years of pastoral and Navy chaplain ministry we made plans to bring our two girls, their husbands and grandkids, plus a niece for a week on the Garden Isle of Kauai.

We stayed in a cabana that had three bedrooms and was maybe a five minute walk to a rather secluded beach. The area where the beach is situated is called Malooa Bay. We discovered to our great delight, that it was on this beach where the TV hit series, Gilligan’s Island was filmed from 1964-67. We watched several of the episodes from Gilligan’s Island and easily recognized the beach area where we played with our 5 and 6 year old granddaughters in the surf and sand.

We split the time eating out and preparing our own meals at the cabana, so we were able to sample the various island eateries. Our favorite breakfast spot was the Kountry Kitchen. It was always packed with a mix of native islanders and the rest of us (mostly tourists). Their specialty is a huge macadamia nut and banana pancake. After consuming this monstrous pancake I asked the hostess if they had ever bothered to count how many of these they made in a year. She said, No, they had never done that, but I think I may have gotten them thinking about it. Isaura then asked them if anyone held the record for eating the most pancakes. The hostess said, Yes, a little pencil-thin girl ate three! Seeing the size of some of the men on this island, I was surprised one of them had not set the record. The hostess commented, “If the hostess in a restaurant is skinny, you don’t want to eat there. You want to eat where the hostess is fluffy, like me!” Then she grabbed a bit of extra girth around her middle. What a hoot!

I saw a sign advertising another place to eat. The sign was a small sandwich board set out on the side of the road. It was painted yellow with black lettering. It said, “Caution! Mexican Food Ahead on Right.”

We visited the Kauai Coffee Plantation, sampling the many roasted flavors available. It is located near the southern tip of the island and has been in operation for more than 150 years. This is a most see place if you make it to Kauai.

We drove to the Spout Horn which is a naturally formed work of nature that operates much like a geyser. Right on the southern shore line where a mass of lava one time cooled to form the earthen barrier for the sea, a hole down through the lava was solidified allowing the ebb and flow of the wave action to force both water and air up through this “horn,” spraying water for a considerable distance. It has been intentionally reduced from its original geyser because it sprayed salt water on the nearby plantations, ruining crops. So, dynamite was used to reduce the size of the hole, but the effect is still the same. Just along the water’s edge you will occasionally spot a green turtle floating lazily in the roiling waters. Looking a bit further out, we saw numerous whales making up several pods, blowing their own geysers, and every once in a while one happy giant denizen of the sea would leap clear of the water only to splash back into his watery home no doubt with a smile of pleasure on his orcan face.

Some of you are no doubt wondering if I played any golf on this trip. Well, Yes, I did. Since this was a family vacation, I only planned for one round of golf. I selected the Wailua Golf Course, a nice, yet challenging 18 hole public course. Several of the holes run down alongside of the ocean. The sand traps are huge and difficult to get out off if you were unfortunate enough to find yourself in one. Actually I was in at least six or more. Despite the off-shore winds and the deep bunkers, I still managed to shoot an 89.

I have much more to share about our vacay (slang for vacation), but that will have to wait until next week.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

True American Heroes

              From the time I was a kid I would occasionally hear talk of a special breed of warrior that always made me feel proud. Now, other than the fact that these men were Americans, I can’t tell you why I felt the way I did other than these men were Marines.

My step father (everyone called him “Pop”) had served as a Marine in the South Pacific during World War Two. I remember how I couldn’t wait until I had grown sufficiently to be able to wear his “rough-out” boots, made specifically for the rigors of coral and beach landings. The term “rough-out” is a precise description of these boots. The rough side of the leather was on the outside of the boot. I also had a black-and-white 8”X10” portrait photo of him in his Marine green “Alphas” sporting his corporal chevrons. Pop also gave me his metal Marine emblems from that uniform. So you can see how I might gravitate to all-things Marine!

With the advent of the telephone (Thank you, Alexander Graham Bell!) virtually instant communication revolutionized the way everything was done in daily life. The military was one of the earliest users of the telegraph wire and its cousin, the telephone. Little wonder then that speaking to someone who is removed by miles through this electronic device was exciting, to say the least. Bell and his assistant, Watson, held the first transcontinental conversation in 1915. Bell was in New York and Watson was in San Francisco.

Two years later the United States would find itself immersed in World War One. The telegraph was still in use, but now there was also the telephone. Because electric wires could be tapped, messages could be intercepted requiring special means of communicating so the enemy could not figure out what was being said. This is where the Code Talkers come in. The most famous of these special warriors are the Navajo Code Talkers from WWII.
The first Code Talkers were the Choctaw and Cherokee who were used in WWI by the U.S. Army. An American Army officer overheard some of his men speaking in Choctaw. He surveyed his command and discovered he had eight men from the Choctaw tribe. Six more were brought in from other commands to form the first trained unit for combat. These men were so effective in communicating critical information on the front lines in the midst of hellish combat that they were credited with saving the day. “They helped the American Expeditionary Forces win several key battles in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, during the final big German push of the war. Within 24 hours after the Choctaw language was pressed into service, the tide of the battle had turned. In less than 72 hours the Germans were retreating and the Allies were in full attack.”

Following the success of Native American languages in WWI, several tribes were called upon to provide code talkers for WWII. In the European Theater the use of code talkers by American forces was stifled because leading up to the war Hitler had sent a gaggle of anthropologists to the United States to study the various Indian languages. It proved too difficult, and so the project was scrapped. However, the United States did not know this to be true, so they adopted a non-use approach. The one highly effective exception was during the Invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. Fourteen Comanche code talkers took part in the Invasion of Normandy, and continued to serve in the 4th Infantry Battalion during further European operations. Comanches of the 4th Signal Company compiled a vocabulary of over 100 code terms using words or phrases in their own language. Using a substitution method similar to the Navajo, the Comanche code word for tank was ‘turtle’, bomber was ‘pregnant airplane’, machine gun was ‘sewing machine’ and Adolf Hitler became ‘crazy white man.’”

Perhaps the best known were the Navajo code talkers. “Philip Johnston, a civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, proposed the use of Navajo to the United States Marine Corps at the beginning of World War II. Johnston, a World War I veteran, was raised on the Navajo reservation as the son of a missionary to the Navajos, and was one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently.” A 2002 movie, Windtalkers, starring Nicholas Cage and Christian Slater, focuses in on the Navajo code talkers during the numerous battles in the Pacific. The Navajo Code, as it was known, was a code based on two parts: 1) the Navajo language (notoriously difficult to learn or to understand); and 2) a code embedded in the language, meaning that even native speakers would be confused by it. Supposedly, this code was close to unbreakable, but so difficult only a few people could actually learn it.” It has been reported that throughout the war, the Navajo Code was never broken. Also, Navajo was an unwritten language at the outbreak of WWII, and fewer than 30 non-Navajos could understand the language.  
 A missionary kid (MK) was responsible for the formation and implementation of the amazing Navajo Code Talkers.