Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Thanks of a Grateful Nation

The year 2003 was the last time that the seventh day of the month of December fell upon a Sunday. Gathered that day in the senior adult men's Sunday School class at First Baptist Church of Farmersville was a collection of wizened octogenarians. Before commencing the Bible study, the group took a moment on that Pearl Harbor Day to reminisce. "Where were you when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked?" asked the teacher.

"We had just come home from church," was one answer.

"We had gone to town," another replied.

When the conversation passed to Charles Waideilch, a lanky, normally quiet, transplanted Midwesterner, he replied, "I darn sure know where I was—I was standing in the middle of Hickam Field with a BAR pointed up in the air shooting at Japanese airplanes!" After years of attending Sunday School together, none of the men in the class had known until that moment that Charles had fought valiantly at Pearl Harbor.

Not many years later, Charles broke his hip. He went into rehab at the same time and in the same institution as another of our members. The other man was depressed and ready to quit, but Charles's optimism buoyed up not only himself but also his compatriot. Charles worked hard at rehab and was nearly back on his feet for good when a nasty infection set up in his other leg, eventually requiring its amputation. Again, back at the same rehab facility, Charles was fitted for a prosthetic and determined to walk again. He was nearly there when an uncommon intestinal bug sapped away his energy, and then finally his life.

Pearl Harbor Day is all but gone. How many people will even remember today the significance of the date. Anyway, we're not in the mood for reminders that evil in the world sometimes forces bloody conflict upon even the noblest and most peace-loving. Yet, for the moment, walking all around us are living reminders of both the bloody cost and the terrible necessity of military conflict. If only we will see them.

In the stairwell of Fleming Library (no longer a library) a bronze plaque commemorates those associated with SWBTS who served in the war. I passed it a thousand times before I even saw it. Silent, unpretentious, unnoticed—a metaphor of so many of the veterans who are our brothers and sisters in our congregation. They deserve the thanks of a grateful nation, but not only in the form of a flag conferred at their burial. They deserve the thanks of the living while they yet remain alive.

So tomorrow I'll go up to a Veteran's Retirement Home in Bonham, Texas. There I'll visit a member of our church who served under George Patton. And while I'm there, I'll be on the lookout for the "Pearl Harbor Survivor" cap that I saw the last time I was there, just to take a moment to say thanks.


Bob Cleveland said...

Well spoken, Bart.

I recall the latter years of the war; in fact, I still have some ration tokens here somewhere.

The Pacific Theater of operations always fascinated me, and one of the most unforgettable moments of my life was a Sunday afternoon in August of 1984 when Peg and I sat on a bench by the waters at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and just watched, in silence. No one else was there ... it was closed on Sunday ... but we could walk down to the water, and just sit there and let the visions and the memories of countless newsreels, and radio broadcasts, chase through our memories.

Simply awesome.

Tim G said...

Thank you Bart for this post!

CB Scott said...

There will be those of us who will not forget.