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.

 

Every head was bowed

A reader of yesterday’s “On the Ship and on the Train” left a comment. The post featured this photograph of my father and his Army Air Force unit on board ship on the high seas on their way to Saipan in World War II.

My father, the Chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, WW!!.

My father, the Chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, WW!!.

Karin wrote:

“I clicked on the picture which made it large enough to fill my screen… I was amazed. Every man’s head was bowed. That brought a realization that they all knew what they were headed towards. Profound.”

My father was the Chaplain leading the prayer. Indeed, EVERY HEAD WAS BOWED.

Prayer came naturally to him. My brothers and I were blessed by his prayers every night at the dinner table. His head would bow. My mother’s head would bow. Our heads would bowed. There was a short, reverent silence – a time for centering, as we would call it today – followed by words. He addressed the Divine as “Thou”, not the familiar “you”. Antiquarian by contemporary standards, there was never any question that the “Thees” and “Thous” were not spoken to another one of us.

A remnant of his prayers – a sample of the kind of prayer by which he led the soldiers on the ship – was left in my possession in his old Bible.

God our Father, who hath commended thy love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us: worthy was the Lamb that was slain to receive honor and glory and blessing.

Remembering once again him again whom we have pierced by our selfishness and folly, we acknowledge our sins and beseech thy forgiveness. We would learn of thee to forgive,  with thee to suffer, and in thee to overcome. Lord, in thy great mercy we ask that thou remember us now in thy kingdom – confirm our faith.

Forbid that we forget among our earthly comforts the mortal anguish our Lord Jesus endured for our salvation. As we behold him following the way of faith and duty even to the crown of thorns and the cross, grant us grace that we may learn the sterner lessons of life.

So endue us with power from on high that taking up our cross and following our Savior in his patience and humility we may enter in the fellowship of his sufferings and come at last to dwell with him in his eternal Kingdom.

I learned to pray at my father and mother’s table. Over time his theology changed in many ways, but his faith in Divine Goodness never waned.

In my last conversation with him before he died, I asked, “How are you doing with your faith?”

“Good,” he said with the heartiest smile his Parkinson’s would allow. He died two days later. His head was bowed.