Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Billy Harris

The story of our singing in the little French town of Les Ventes (lay-vant) is intriguing. American pilot, Billy Harris, married Peggy in early June 1944. Six weeks later, flying combat missions from England, he was shot down near this town. Had he chosen to attempt to save his life, he would have bailed out of his P-51 Mustang. Had he done so the plane would have crashed into the village. Instead, sparing the town and perhaps many lives, he wrestled his crippled plane away from the center of town and died in the crash. The people of Les Ventes retrieved Billy's body from the crash site and buried him in their village. Years later this American hero was discovered by our government. His body was removed and reinterred in the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. No one apparently sought to notify next of kin. Peggy remained single living in Texas with their son. She always believed Billy would come back to her. In 2006 their son searched through government records under the Freedom of Information Act and discovered his dad was buried at Omaha Beach. When Peggy learned of the respect and honor the folks of Les Ventes had shown to her husband, she decided to go and visit them. The townspeople fell in love with her, and she with them. She has made an annual pilgrimage ever since. Through a contact in the Harmonizer's we were invited to sing for her and the folks there as an adjunct to our 70th Anniversary performance for the Normandy invasion. We rolled into town in our four buses to receive what could only be described as a hero's welcome. It was humbling, to say the least. We're just singers. The entire town was seated and waiting for us in the town square. And 92 year old Peggy Harris was the first to greet us as we disembarked. She is a precious lady. I took a moment to greet her and give her one of my personal military challenge coins. After warming up for a few minutes, we did our three-song performance, which included, Stars and Stripes, Glenn Miller Medley, and Bring Him Home. Our encore was I'll Walk with God. There was not a dry eye to be found. When we sang our last song we received a standing ovation. By far, this was the most significant moment for all of us in the Harmonizers during the entire week of singing eight performances. At the end, Peggy stood up and approached our director, Joe, to thank him. Then she walked over to the first guy in the first row and began shaking hands, fully intending to greet all 98 Harmonizers. After a few guys Joe wisely suggested she sit back down and allow the Harmonizers to come to her individually. In the midst of this the townspeople mixed with us thanking us for coming to sing for them. One of the ladies had made a cake for Peggy, who in turn gave it to the Harmonizers. After getting to our hotel that evening it was cut into small pieces so everyone could have a bite. Once back on the bus a young boy from town jumped on his bike and led our procession of four buses back out of town. 

After we sang I turned to one of the Harmonizers and said, "Look at the difference one man, Billy Harris, has made in so many lives." His selfless act saved many lives in this sleepy little French farming village. And it has spanned 70 years, to include the men of the Alexandria Harmonizers and family members who came on this remarkably memorable trip. 

What an experience! And what an honor!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Crime of the Ages

               I have always been intrigued with the Crime of the Ages. What is this crime, you ask? Is it Hitler’s diabolical attempt to exterminate the Jewish race? Or perhaps it is the slaughter of so many innocent victims at the hands of Genghis Khan? Or it may have been the intentional killing of some ten million Baptists at the hand of Stalin? Or is it the wanton abortion of the unborn?

None of these is the Crime of the Ages. Although any one of these would easily qualify as a (dis)honorable mention. In actuality, the crime I’m referring to is mentioned in the Bible. You see, Jesus claimed to be God. This is a horrible claim for Jesus to make only if he cannot back it up. In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 33, the Jewish religious leaders are incensed by Jesus’ claim to be God, stating, “We are stoning you for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Ah! There you have it. Jesus has done it now. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had someone boldly declare to me that Jesus never claimed to be God. Such foolish assertions merely point out the person’s ignorance of Holy Scripture. Jesus’ claim to be God is what finally brought about his crucifixion. There are numerous verses where Jesus makes this claim for himself. As C. S. Lewis so eloquently stated it in his book, Mere Christianity, “You must accept Jesus for who he claimed to be. He does not leave you any other choice. You cannot just assign him to being a great man, a man ahead of his time, a deeply spiritual man. He has not given you that option. He never intended to.”

The icing on the cake, if you will, was when the religious leaders heard him use the holy name of God for himself. That name is Yahweh, or what we call Jehovah. The name of God was considered to be so holy as to be unutterable. Out of respect for God, and out of fear of mispronouncing God’s name, the ancients would not even speak the name. Devout Jews today will not speak his name, nor will they write it out completely, such as, G_d, or L_rd. The ancients would instead whisper the name of God. This is the holy name for God which he used when he spoke to Moses from the burning bush. And it is the name Jesus used when he was confronted by the Jewish religious leaders. The name is, “I AM.” Looking at this name it is readily apparent that God is ever present. That’s what “I AM” implies. God does not reside in the past. And he’s not at the whim of the future. He is always and forever in the living present.

When Jesus had the temerity to claim this name, “I AM” for himself, it brought down the curtain on his earthly ministry. If only his enemies had known that by crucifying him they brought about the completion of God’s Plan for the Ages. Jesus died for sinners. That’s you and me. Had he not died on that cross, there would be no forgiveness of sin, no salvation, no hope for the human race. But because he died on that cross, we are lifted up by the promises of God, who takes his promises very seriously.

Was Jesus guilty as charged for claiming to be God? Yes! And he knew exactly what he was doing. So the next question must be, “Did Jesus prove he was God?” Yes, again. His miracles were sufficient evidence to convince people that he was something unique and special. But would the crowds who followed him everywhere be quick to believe in him? No. Despite being firsthand witnesses to Jesus causing the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak, the lame to walk; despite his raising different folks from the dead, cleansing the lepers, and feeding thousands by multiplying a few fish and loaves, when it came right down to it, the people would not commit. Sadly, Jesus did not fit the mold. You could say with all candor that Jesus is one-of-a-kind. No one else could perform the miracles Jesus performed unless he was, and is, the Son of God.

So you see, it was the Crime of the Ages that completed the Plan of the Ages.

This week, go to church and give thanks to God for the incredible sacrificial gift of his Son. You’ll be blessed. And take a friend with you.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

It's Official

              The day has arrived! Sunday, May 25 was my last Sunday as pastor for the Ripon Free Methodist Church. After nearly 16 years as the senior pastor, it is time for me to step down. After I turned sixty-five last year I notified our superintendent of my decision. This would allow him to begin the search process for my relief.

When asked (often) why I’m retiring, my answer has been that I believe the Lord wants me to close this chapter in my life and ministry. A second compelling reason is that my health over the past six years or so has been suspect. I wrote about having eight stents placed in two of my heart arteries back in 2008 and 2009. Then three years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, sending Isaura and me down a new path which has changed the way we eat. We have chosen to fight this cancer from a holistic approach, which includes Isaura preparing organic foods. And I’m feeling fine!

I know my retiring is a bit confusing because many of you thought I retired already. Actually, this is my second retirement. I retired from the Navy chaplain corps six years ago when I turned 60. This time I’m retiring from organized church ministry. In place of serving the church I am looking forward to doing a lot more writing. My primary focus is to write some historical novels about my pastor/circuit riding great grandfather’s exploits during the Civil War, 1862-63. I am also planning to write an update on the first book I published in 1998, “The Sandwich Generation: Adult Children Caring for Aging Parents.”

I have a few other writing projects as well. One of them is to compile my Roots in Ripon articles by subject, or year, or some other way. Quite a few folks have asked that I do this. In addition, my girls want me to write some children’s books. I may move this up on the priority list since my grandkids are growing real fast!

Another writing project I have planned is a book on “Humor in Combat.” This would be the funny things that can, and often do happen when the bullets are flying. I have been collecting such stories from war vets for a number of years.

My final book focus is to write about Navy chaplains who first served as Marines. During my years in the service, I met a number of chaplains who had previously done a hitch in the Marine Corps. What took place in their lives that brought them to the point of sensing a call of God to provide ministry to the men and women of the Navy and Marine Corps? I aim to find out.

There are lots of other things I’m looking forward to doing, such as spending more time with my grandkids. For instance, this past school year I’ve been working with 6-year-old Alyssa, a kindergartener, helping her learn a song, entitled, “The 50 States in Rhyme.” There’s some patter that goes with it which she has also learned. So, last Friday when I went to pick her up from school, which is my normal routine, I told Miss Huff, her teacher, that Alyssa had a song she wanted to sing for her. So, with kids running all over the place, with shouts and various other noises made by kids escaping for the long Memorial Day weekend, Alyssa stood there and sang the song, and nailed it! If you’re not familiar with the song, after the opening patter, it begins by listing all fifty states in alphabetical order, implementing a sing-song melody. It’s a hoot!

The full impact of retiring from the active pastorate has not settled in just yet. Isaura and I love the folks in the Ripon Free Methodist Church. They are family. Last Sunday evening the congregation hosted a Retirement Dinner for us which was truly a blessing. The spaghetti was delicious, the entertainment superb – the Golden Valley Chorus sang a number of songs – and 14-year-old Lexie Anderson from our church performed a praise dance which brought down the house. During the sharing time, so many people stood to offer such kind remarks and remembrances that it left Isaura and me emotionally drained.

Our plan is to stay put right here in Ripon so we can be close to our grandkids and where we can also continue to fellowship at the Free Methodist Church. The new pastor is Steve Evoy and he will be arriving with his family in early July. They are driving out from Michigan. Pastor Steve has already made it very clear that he wants Isaura and me to continue attending the church, which was music to our ears.

A number of folks have asked me if I will continue to write the Roots in Ripon articles now that I’m retiring. The answer is yes. I enjoy these opportunities to share each week, besides the fact that many people have encouraged me to stay.

And then there’s this little matter of golf. This game, which the Scots came up with some 600 years ago, is a recreation I really enjoy. You will no doubt, see my car in the club parking lot frequently.

But it’s Isaura, my bride of 38 years, whom I will be able to do some things with which we’ve not been able to do mostly because we haven’t been able to take off on weekends for years on end. We have a number of trips planned, both nearby (150 miles or less), and some long trips (Europe, cross-country USA).

We may even go back to Israel. Want to join us?