Monday, May 30, 2011
The graciousness of southern ladies has been noted for generations. Northern ladies have shown centuries of hospitality. And in 1866 they combined their attributes to honor fallen heroes.
Petersburg, Virginia, is recognized as the place where a schoolteacher and her students placed flags upon the graves of Confederate soldiers. Mrs. Jonathan Logan (wife of the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic Association after the war) noted this honor and encouraged participation. General Logan officially proclaimed the first Memorial Day, May 30, 1868. Although recognized throughout America during the next century, it was 1971 before our federal government set it as a national holiday to honor our soldiers who gave their lives.
Once again in that tradition, I repeat the story of Army Air Corps Captain John Clarence Blickensderfer. At 20 Jack co-piloted of one of America’s B-29’s on 7 July, 1944. The photo above was taken after the crew’s arrival in England. Their plane didn’t have a name on it, so they had their photo taken in front of another.
Over Hoorn, Holland, during a bombing run to Germany A/C 42-97983, on its third sortie, and A/C 42-107070, on its 28th, collided during flak. Out of twenty airmen on those two planes, seven survived the collision and subsequent explosions. Parachuting down, six were taken prisoner by German soldiers, one protected by Dutch patriots and returned home.
Jack, co-pilot on AC983, died in the collision. Monday, Memorial Day, Jack is honored, as are all of those who died defending our nation.
Family members grow older and grayer, but those who stood in for us do not. The photos wrinkle, but the smiles never change. The uniforms appear outdated, but the chins never sag. They remain as last photographed, but life goes on without them, changing daily.
The loss of a single soldier costs families their future. In recreating that future, Jack’s parents adopted two boys, changing their lives forever, and mine, too. Together we remember each Memorial Day those who have given their all in the line of duty, for their country, with honor.
General Douglas MacArthur’s farewell speech was given to cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point May 12, 1962.
He spoke to duty, honor and country. According to him, “…unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.” And, they have, continuing to do so.
MacArthur continued: “The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training - sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him. However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country, is the noblest development of mankind.”
Christ’s words confirmed this: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 KJV)
MacArthur’s words are as valid today as in 1962: “Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government. Whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as firm and complete as they should be.
“These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.”
We offer our soldiers medals for their valor, honor for their courage. Let us always offer them our respect, our thanks and our love, for their sacrifice. This year, as decades past, we will specifically remember the sacrifice given by Captain John Clarence Blickensderfer, a brother and son, who did not return from a bombing run.
Please pray for the families who continue to live with loss. And for the men and women who continue to stand in harm’s way.