A Memorial Day Memory Re-visited

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Today my brother Bob and sister-in-law Janice will drive to Indiantown Gap National Cemetery to lay flowers on Dad’s grave.

Protestant Service on Saipan led by my father, Kenneth Campbell Stewart, end of WWII.

Our father served as the Army Air Force chaplain for troops in the South Pacific before, during, and after the bombing of Tokyo. During Dad’s absence, my mother and I lived with my grandparents in Boston and South Paris, Maine, where Dad’s safe return was foremost in prayers before every meal.

I was three-and-a-half when Dad came home at the end of the war. The memory is clear as a bell. I watched as my father emerge from the B-29 bomber, walked down the ramp and across the tarmac at Boston’s Logan Airport. When he picked me up and took me in his arms, I reared back and asked “Are you really my Daddy?” “I am,” he said, “and I’m never going away again.”

All these years later, my hair has turned white, my skin is wrinkled, the world is mute without the hearing aids, my bones ache, and my head hurts most days. But I’m still the three year-old who felt the heavy weight of concern around my grandparents’ table listening for news from the South Pacific

It takes a lifetime for some memories to become clear. “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet,” published two years ago in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), offers a Memorial Day example.

Today I’m remembering again that night when the burly WWII Marine veteran unburdened himself of the locked box of hidden artifacts from the Japanese soldier he’d killed in hand-to-hand combat during the American invasion of Saipan. The ending of the story written just a few years ago is sorely incomplete.

So…today I observe Memorial Day by returning to the original sense of Memorial Day as a day to remember the fallen – ALL of them – but even more, a day to re-commit to ending the insanity of war itself. It’s a day when I remember the in-breaking of sacredness – three men in the living room – two live Americans and one Japanese – and pray for something better for us all.

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p.12

This Memorial Day the three-year-old who waited for his father’s return remembers how strange memory is. As Bob and Janice lay flowers on Dad’s grave today, I am more conscious of a glaring omission. There were not three men in the living room that night. There were four. Dad was the first man there. Bless you, Dad. RIP.

photo of Indiantown Gap National Cemetery
Entrance to Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, East Hanover Township, PA

Grace and Peace,

Gordon

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 31, 2019

My Father’s Voice

I lied. I can’t keep quiet! One more post — a follow-up to “Memorial Day 2018” — before retreating to the north woods.

Dad on board ship

Rev. Kenneth Campbell Stewart, my father the chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, World War II.

My father was the Army Air Force Chaplain leading worship for the troops on board ship on their way to the South Pacific in World War II. Dad is buried in Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, Pennsylvania.

He was honored with a 21 gun salute, which, years later, I blamed for my hearing loss.
“Have you worked around loud noises? You have the ears of a forty-five year-old jack hammer operator,” said the audiologist. “No,” I said, “my mother’s deaf as a post.”

But my mother and I did listen to Dad’s preaching after he returned from the war. His words were soft-spoken. Peaceful and comforting. But there were times when his words from the pulpit afflicted the comfortable and rattled the saber-rattlers who glorified war and militarism. He preached the gospel, and, because he did and I heard it, I chose to follow in his footsteps. I chose to preach the gospel.

On Memorial Day 2018 on my way to the Minnesota wetland, I hear the echo of Taps from a bugler at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery and remember Dad and the fallen he buried. Sometimes the dead still speak.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 29, 2018.