Category Archives: remembering friends

Thoughts Before a Memorial Service

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I am in a hotel in Fredericksburg Virginia tonight as I will be attending a Celebration of Life for Captain Tom Sitsch, United States Navy. As those who follow this site know, Captain Sitsch was my last Commodore at EOD Group Two and though I didn’t know him long he made a big impact in my life when I most needed human compassion. 

I traveled this evening, driving in the bitterly cold dark January night up Interstate 64 and Interstate 95, un-melted snow from the most recent winter storm still covers the ground on either side of the highway. The dark shapes of trees lined the road, silhouetted against the night sky, most stars unseen because of a thin cloud layer.

The trip took about two and a quarter hours, good time if you know how traffic can be on these roads. When I got to the hotel I discovered that I had forgotten by sleep medications and what I call my “docile pills” so I expect that sleep will be a challenge tonight, even though I am quite tired. So I walked over to a nearby restaurant and had a couple of beers and some wings at the bar before coming back to my room.

Captain Sitsch took his life two weeks ago. A war hero, who suffered from PTSD he saw his, career, life and family collapse around him. He didn’t get the help that he needed and as things collapsed he was pilloried in the media. His wife and children had to suffer as well. Living with mental illness is not easy; families often don’t know where to turn when the person that they love falls apart. I wrote about this a number of years ago, my wife has suffered watching the man that she loves struggle with the ravages of PTSD, something that she too knows all too well having been abused as a child. 

This is especially true for military families who are used to their loved one being the strong one. The sad thing is that while this is a big problem in the military, it is also a problem in the civilian world. Some studies estimate that nearly one third of Americans either live with or work with someone afflicted with some kind of mental illness. 

The problem doesn’t just extend to families but the society at large. Our military compared to our population is quite small, all volunteer and quite often isolated from much of society. The horrific pace of wartime deployments and now the shift to doing more with less amid a major reduction in force, even as the wars wind down has a terrible effect on service members and their loved ones.

Those who don’t serve, or have not served do not really understand, even those who are sympathetic and actually care. I think that we will see a phenomena similar to the years after the Vietnam War, when our society rushed to forget the war and were often embarrassed by those who served. Stereotypes of soldiers shown in the media, on the news, or in entertainment then, presented veterans in almost comic book like caricatures, often in the most negative manner possible. Today the media coverage is a mixed bag, some making us to be uber-heroes and supermen, others men and women who deserve pity, and sometimes the negative portrayals that were so common after Vietnam. 

If it was just a media and society issue it be one thing, but even as men like Captain Sitsch fall through the crack there are those in the private sector and their political allies in Congress pushing the government to cut the pay, health and education benefits promised to those that served in the military, even those who came back wounded, or changed by war.

Those wrestling with budgets in Congress, look to solving budgetary woes not by cutting weapons systems that the military no longer wants or needs, or by cutting superfluous bases in their congressional districts. Instead, they choose to cut the benefits that they had promised to veterans and their families before and during the war. The proposed cuts now include health benefits as well as pensions, balanced unfairly on those who have spent the majority of their careers at war, many of whose skills do not translate in the civilian economy.

Of course these actions will have even more drastic effects on military members, veterans and their families. We can expect that more heroes like Captain Sitsch and their families will succumb to the pressures of service and what happens after they leave the service. Divorce, domestic violence, substance abuse and suicide have been on the rise for years in the military and there is no empirical or historical evidence to suggest things will get better anytime soon.

I predict that it will get far worse before it gets better.  Lieutenant General Hal Moore, famous for his book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young noted how his generation of warriors were treated after Vietnam.

“in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publically questioned.”   

Sadly, things have not changed that much. Rudyard Kipling wrote in his Poem Tommy: 

“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!” But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot; An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please; An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!” 

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Tomorrow I will be present to pay my respects to a tragic hero. Tom Sitsch, deserves to be remembered for all the good things that he did defending this country, saving lives and putting himself in danger time and time again. I pray that those present will know the comfort and peace of God as well as the special bond of friendship and family that we share as part of the Brotherhood of War.  I also pray, maybe against hope that our country will not throw veterans under the bus as they have so many times after war, and that no more men or women will have to be overcome by the despair that Captain Sitsch had to live with for God knows how long before he took his life.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A “Soul Vike” Reunion a Ball Game and a Blow Up

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I have been on the road this week for my High School Class 35th anniversary reunion. It was a special time with old friends and quite enjoyable. I am going to keep this a rather short post tonight because I have an ungodly early flight in the morning heading back to the East Coast. 408699_2575280304915_863482896_n

It is really cool because our class, the Edison High School Class of 1978 was amazing. I have written about that experience and how special our class was in a number of articles on this site, mostly ones dealing with civil rights and how we were way ahead of our time. I compare notes with other people a lot and I do not know anyone from any other school or graduating class whose fellow classmates have the long term camaraderie, love and respect that we have for each other that we do. Back then and even today we are the Edison High School Vikings, or more affectionately and appropriately known as the Soul Vikes.

We represent every ethnic, racial, religious, political , economic, cultural background and even sexual orientation of our very diverse home town of Stockton California. The cool thing is that no matter how different we are in some ways we are very much bonded together by our shared experiences at Edison. We were the first graduating class of that school to go through bussing, something that many predicted would lead to race riots. But our class not only made it work we set an example and it is always amazing to me when I see so many communities struggling with racial tensions and prejudice to look back so fondly at what the group of 10th graders who came together in the Fall of 1975 and graduated in the summer of 1978 did then and do today. Many of us stay in contact on social media and those still in the local area of Stockton California stay in touch, but every 5 years we get together. I have made all but one of our reunions.

It is cool because when I get together with these friends and classmates we share the stories, the good times and the bad, the funny and the sad, the touching and the less than touching bringing laughs and sometimes tears as we remember friends who have passed away. It is funny because when you get to be over 50 and you realize that by the time the next reunion rolls around everyone will have their AARP cards that what really matters in life is the people that we care about and the relationships. Ultimately it is not about what we have done or accomplished, how rich or successful we are but what we leave behind.

Sometimes what we leave behind is good and sometimes not so good. In a way I guess it is all because we are human and sometimes we do things right and sometimes we don’t. But in the end hopefully the good outweighs the bad, or should that be the other way around? Do we really want to weigh that much? Never mind I digress…

Like I said the reunion was great and a lot of fun. I hope that we are able to track down some more of our classmates and bring back some of our guys who have done the “D-Day” or Daniel Simpson O’Day routine out of Animal House and drove off never to be seen again. Again I digress…

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We had a couple of great nights of fun and fellowship and I hope that we do it again sooner rather than later.

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We took some time to remember and honor or friends who have passed away, all far too young. Some to natural causes like cancer and others in tragic accidents, victims of crime or those for whom the struggles of life and its demons were too much. As I looked at the pictures and read the names felt tears. Some I knew the stories of what had happened while others came as a complete surprise.

I guess that it is why it is important to stay in contact. Because it ultimately is about us and our relationships.

That being said the trip was also nice because I was able to see my family and despite the obligatory blow up that happened between me and my mother, who I do love despite our differences. This time, maybe unknowingly she got me and I went nuclear in a restaurant and left. Not good form on my part but ever since Iraq I have a lot shorter fuze than I used to on some things. Since I write about those subjects a decent amout I won’t go into them here. Not an excuse but the truth. We are a lot like George Costanza and his mom from Seinfeld. SERENITY NOW!

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I was able to see my brother a number of times and see his wife and their kids who have all grown so much since the last time I saw them in 2010. I do want to make sure that we see each other more often. Thankfully I won’t be doing the geographic bachelor thing anymore and may be able to go with Judy out to California more often as life settles down. Maybe we’ll take her Mustang rather than flying and see some other friends across this land and other sites as well.

I ended the trip with a visit to see the Oakland Athletics play the Tampa Bay Rays at the Oakland Coliseum. It was really nice. The stadium itself is pretty crummy, but the people are great, very friendly and it is a nice atmosphere to see a game, not to mention a lot more affordable than many other Major League ballparks. After the game I went to my hotel where my nephew Joe met me for dinner. It was good to see just how well that he is doing.

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I fly out early tomorrow and since I have to get up way early i’m going to say goodnight.

Peace and blessings

Padre Steve+

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Last Night at Rucker Johns: The Place Where Everyone Knows My Name

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Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7U3lo80YrQ

Yesterday I did my final check out at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune and today the movers came. It was too hot and humid. with the door open to allow their access while doing cleaning I felt sick by the time that they left. After resting a while I went to the bar at Rucker Johns restaurant. It has become over the past year and a half my local version of “Cheers.” A place that everyone knows my name.

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I have written about leaving my duties at the hospital recently and I will miss the people there. I will stay in contact with quite a few. They are friends and colleagues, some who have walked through difficult times with me and I with them.

That being said for many years my life has been centered on work, and quite often when done with work I would withdraw to be alone. This was the case more often after Iraq, especially when I took up my assignment at Camp LeJeune. I would go to work and then go home. The only time that didn’t happen is when I would drive the 50 mile one way trip to Kinston to see the Kinston Indians baseball team. I met wonderful friends there, a number of whom have remained in contact, and one couple, Jerry and Toni Brophy have become like family.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,

and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters.

Apart from that the isolation for the first year and a half was at times maddening and even dehabilitating. When I did see Judy it was as if we were miles away from each other. By the summer of 2011 both of us wondered if our marriage would survive.

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In December of 2011 Judy and I spend a month together after she had surgery on her Achilles Tendon. It forced us together and when she went back to Virginia our dog Molly decided that she wanted to live with me. In that month and over a couple of other visits Molly had discovered the joys of chasing deer and going to the beach and like any kid she decided that she wanted to be where it was really interesting.

Molly brought me back to humanity and in the process I began to seek contact with actual humans again. Since Judy and I have a place like the bar in the television show “Cheers” in Virginia Beach I sought something similar here. I found it at the Rucker Johns bar. There I met some wonderful people, Mike, New York Mike, Eddie, Dave (Ito), Wild Bill, Bill the future mayor, Lisa, Hancock, Felicia, Brian, Ron, Terry, and the bartenders, Billy, Christi, Tara, Caitlin, Grace, Michelle and Lexi and managers, Mark, Chris, Jeff, Wallace and Mark. There were others as well. They all welcomed me. We bought drinks for each other and this week I don’t think that I paid for a meal or a drink.

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What I loved about this group, especially the core “4 O’Clock Club” was that they were real. In fact it was funny for the first couple of months they didn’t know that I was a Navy Chaplain or Priest. I find that advertising such things often puts a distance in relationships. especially in light of how many clergy treat people that don’t go to their churches or those that hang out at bars. Sad because Jesus seemed to hang out with the very people that many clergy have treat shamefully.

So initially the folks at Rucker Johns got to me as “Steve” the guy who wears Baltimore Orioles hats, jerseys, jackets and t-shirts every day. I think I can were something different every day for a month without breaking my Orioles habit. Soon I was going every day that I was in town, I found that I wanted to be around them, they were real, refreshing and fun.

They found out inadvertently that I was a Chaplain because New York Mike knew the secretary of our Legal Officer. She broke the news to him that I was not only a Chaplain and Priest but a Commander too. My cover was blown. Soon some began to call me Father Steve, Padre Steve or still just Steve. But our relationships grew. I was in the various NASCAR and Football pools, threw my money in on the Powerball lottery and played cards with them.

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Tonight they gave me a t-shirt signed by all of them. The picture speaks more about it than I can write. I have received many going away gifts in my career, but this is something specially, because it had nothing to do with my position in the military. It was about friendship and still is. I plan of framing it.

Almost everyone I knew was there tonight. It was a wonderful time. I will miss these people and this place, a place were everybody knows my name.

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It is so much like Cheers and I will miss it. The theme song to that show speaks to me in so many ways. The last verse of the song, which did not air on television said:

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

I found that with the 4 O’Clock Club at Rucker Johns. In the morning I pack my car and drive home to be with Judy and my friends in Virginia Beach. But I will miss my friends here and I do plan on coming back whenever I can to this place, where everybody knows my name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The More Things Change and What You Leave Behind…

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“It’s like I said. The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Quark (the final line of Star Trek Deep Space Nine)

Today has been one of those weird, somewhat challenging, a bit difficult on an emotional level and at the same time rewarding days. It was a day that involved dealing with people that I care for, that work for me that within a bit over a month I will be leaving. Men and women that have impacted my life and from what I understand will miss me, as one said “my quirkiness and all.”

This happened to be the second day of the sequester which will impact me and my staff and will ensure that my last month in my current billet will be challenging and meaningful. What I hope is that the things that I am able to do in the next month will not only survive me but help provide the resources, structure and environment to allow my successor to take things to the next level in providing spiritual care for the diverse population of Sailors, Marines, their families, veterans, retirees and their families, as well as our civilian employees.

You see ultimately, the show here will go on without me and the best that I can do besides caring for those in my charing in the here and now is to help ensure that I leave something behind that others can build on. That too is something that you learn in this military life, that what you do is not ultimately about you.  It is about service to the nation and to the people that you have the privilege to serve alongside no matter what the duty station.

When one lives their life in the military these transitions happen all too often. In a sense our lives in the military are very transitory, maybe more so than many would be comfortable with. For relatively short periods of our lives, maybe months, or a few years or in the case of deployments in combat zones sometimes days, hours or even minutes. But in those transitory times our lives can be bound together in ways unimagined by most people that do not share this military life or experience.

My regular readers know that I grew up in this environment as a child and that as an adult I have always felt the strange call to serve. What I find amazing is that after nearly 32 years of service between the Army and the Navy, active, reserve and National Guard around the world in peace and war is that I am still serving and will be, Lord willing for a number of years more and truthfully God only knows when this rather lengthly chapter of my life ends and another begins.

In light of the events of the past few days, the situations that I am dealing with at work, what I am trying to wrap up even as next month promises to be busy I found it fascinating that I was completing the viewing of the final episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine called What You Leave Behind. I found the title of the episode to be serendipitous with my recent experiences and feelings about my impending transfer.

Despite how much I have moved around in life I find that I do not do “goodbyes” well. I like to imagine that I will see people again and I do, as many of the people that I have gone to school with, served with in the military or in the ministry together know I am one that treasures relationships. Heck, I look on my Facebook page there are people from almost every era of my life, many who I have served alongside dating to the very beginning of my military career. There are many others that I would dearly love to find and meet again.

In one of the final scenes of the episode Dr Bashir and the Cardassian tailor and former spy Garak part ways after a devastated Cardassia is liberated from the Dominion. Bashir as is typical of many of us is attempting to off some consolation to his friend who is grieving what has happened to his planet.

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BASHIR: You and I both know that the Cardassians are a strong people. They’ll survive. Cardassia will survive. 

GARAK: Please, Doctor. Spare me your insufferable Federation optimism. Of course it will survive, but as not the Cardassia I knew. We had a rich and ancient culture. Our literature, music, art were second to none. And now, so much of it is lost. So many of our best people, our most gifted minds.
BASHIR: I’m sorry, Garak. I didn’t mean
GARAK: Oh, it’s quite all right, Doctor. You’ve been such a good friend. I’m going to miss our lunches together.
BASHIR: I’m sure we’ll see each other again.
GARAK: I’d like to think so, but one can never say. We live in uncertain times.

As I approach my last month before my transfer I will certainly be experiencing many feelings that tend to bring a certain amount of sentimental melancholy. I will miss the people I have come to know here even as I rejoice in being able to return home and live with my wife Judy again full time.

There are times that I feel like Garak and Bashir. I like to believe, I like to be optimistic like Bashir, but there is a certain amount of sometimes cynical realism that pervades my thoughts, like Garak. I can understand both men. But as much as I understand them I also understand the military and like Quark have to admit “that the more things change the more they stay the same.”

But regardless of that, I can say about those that I have the the honor of working with, like Captain Sisko in that last episode of Deep Space Nine: “This may be the last time we’re all together, but no matter what the future holds, no matter how far we travel, a part of us, a very important part, will always remain here…”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Too Young: In Memory Commander Marsha Hanly, Nurse Corps US Navy

LCDR Marsha Hanly caring for a patient in the ICU of the USNS Comfort 

“Nursing is an art:  and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit?  It is one of the Fine Arts:  I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.”  Florence Nightingale

This afternoon I was stunned to learn that a very dear co-worker and friend from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth had unexpectedly passed away. Marsha Hanly was a ICU Nurse who arrived at Portsmouth about the same time I did in 2008. She had just completed a Master of Science in Nursing at Duke with a specialization in Adult Critical Care nursing.  Marsha exemplified all that is good in nursing and was as devoted to her calling as Florence Nightingale described.

I remember what seem like countless times where I stood beside Marsha as she cared for critically ill or dying patients, comforted their families and helped the other nurses and physicians in the ICU. I also cannot count the number of times that she stood by me as I prayed for patients as they lay in critical condition. She was an outstanding nurse and Naval Officer as well as one of the most kind and compassionate people that I have ever met. She was devoted to her husband and children and to the welfare of those committed to her care. She was funny and joyful person who was real. She was a committed Christian, wife, mother and fantastic nurse. She could laugh and she could cry, she really loved and cared for those that she served.

Last year Marsha deployed on the Hospital Ship USNS Comfort as part of Operation Continuing Promise, a medical mission to the Caribbean Sea, South and Central America. While deployed she was selected for Commander in the Nurse Corps. She returned late in the Summer and in November was diagnosed with Cancer. She underwent successful surgery which left her cancer free but in need of Chemotherapy to ensure that she remained so. She returned to work in late April and began her Chemo this week. Her last post on her Caring Bridge blog ( http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mahanly )talked about how she described what she believed would be the course of her Chemotherapy, side effects and how long it would take. She was looking to the future and even to this weekend with her children. I don’t know the circumstances of her death but imagine that it was a sudden and catastrophic event related to the Chemo in some way.

When I read the news on Facebook, where I keep up with my friends from that ICU as well as so many others in my life I was stunned. As I read the comments of her fellow nurses and my former co-workers, nurses and physicians alike I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I couldn’t believe it because I simply expected this otherwise healthy, young and vibrant woman to sail through Chemo and completely recover. I am so stunned that I cannot believe that his has happened.

This is one of those times where I ask God “why?” I have to admit that I cannot understand this and I have a hard time with the whole “God’s will” thing when things like this happen to people like Marsha. People that devote their lives to caring for others and raising their young children.  I grieve for her husband and kids, I remember her bringing them in to work sometimes.  I pray for her husband Scott and their two young

Likewise I grieve for those who knew and loved her in the Portsmouth ICU. For those that have not been closely connected with those that labor in critical care specialties like a busy ICU there are few places where people bond so closely. Critical Care Nurses and Physicians work in a surreal world where life is constantly hanging in the balance and as a result have a camaraderie that is much like combat soldiers, police and firefighters. This is not just a job, it is a calling, in a sense a sacred vocation. Marsha exemplified the best of her profession and what it is to be a friend.

Even though I left Portsmouth in October 2010 to come to Camp LeJeune I still count the staff there as my friends. We went through a lot together. Many of them were there for me when I was going through difficult times as their Chaplain. Marsha was one of those people. I cannot imagine her not being there when I go back at some point or not seeing her serving and caring for Sailors, Marines and their families somewhere else.

Last week we honored Nurses during National Nursing Week and the anniversary of the founding of the Navy Nurse Corps. Marsha was the best of both. The Nurse Corps has suffered a terrible loss.

Marsha touched so many lives. I know that my former co-workers and friends at Portsmouth are taking this hard. It doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t seem fair. I have a hard time theologizing deaths of people like Marsha. While I am sure that the Lord has her with him I don’t understand her loss here.  While I fail to understand I do still pray that God must have a purpose and I do give thanks for the honor and privilege of knowing Marsha and working with her. In times like this I find some comfort in the prayers of the liturgy and find this one from the Book of Common Prayer to be one that I can pray in good conscience even when I struggle.

“O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister Marsha. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Rest in Peace Marsha. Rest in peace.

Padre Steve+

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A Memorial Service for HM1 David Graney and the End of a Long Week

This has been a busy week. It began with an unexpected emergency to baptize the grandchild of a dear friend injured in a terrible household accident.  I drove from North Carolina on Sunday to Virginia Beach and returned Monday evening. When I returned I was getting ready and preparing for the memorial service for a shipmate who died just two months from retirement, a service that we conducted today. After the service I was able to drive back to see my wife Judy and our nephew Adam, an Army Sergeant who is taking a course at Fort Lee and who is visiting for the weekend.

I am tired but blessed. Despite the hectic schedule I do love what I do and the people that I have the honor of serving.  Today was no exception as I had the honor of conducting the memorial service for Hospital Corpsman First Class David Graney, a Cardiovascular Technician at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune.

David was preparing for retirement and was just two months away from when he would retire when he passed away. He was beloved among his fellow sailors, a mentor, friend, shipmate and leader. He was so knowledgable about his work that many people that he met in professional settings assumed that he was a fellow Cardiologist and not a technician who was attending conferences with the Cardiologists that he worked for and with. He was a leader who took care of his sailors teaching, caring and helping. He was a model Corpsmen. He was honest, forthright and did not hesitate to give his professional opinion and had a devastating sense of humor. I did not know him well, I had only met him a few times but from what his friends, shipmates and co-workers said I realized that David was a gem of a human being ad wonderful sailor.

His memorial service was attended by his family as well as former shipmates who travelled from across the country to attend. With our sailors drawn up in ranks in their dress blues David’s friends and shipmates recounted his impact on their lives.  I had the honor of conducting the service as well as preaching the homily.  I was really touched by the words of a young Corpsman who David led, as well as the words of our staff Cardiologist and a Petty Officer who had attended the Cardiovascular Technician course with David. What was consistent was that David was honest, forthright, knew his job, cared about those that were in his charge and was incredibly funny.  His death, sudden and unexpected reminded us all of our own mortality.

David will be missed by all those whose lives he touched. His death tore a hole in the fabric of the community that he served and in his family. I know that I wonder and ask the “why” question when someone like David dies seemingly before he should. Of course the “why” question cannot be answered except that for all of us death is a certainty, but not necessarily the end. Likewise that God will not fill the hole that is left in our lives when we lose someone dear to us. We can try to do it but that is ultimately self defeating because as long as that hole remains we remain connected to the one that we have lost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that:

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” 

I am tired right now, but have been privileged to be a part lives of the people that I have be able to serve this week. The are friends, they are shipmates, they are family.  They are part of the tapestry of my life.

Tonight I was able to celebrate the birthday of a friend at Gordon Biersch and I will check in on my friend whose grandson was injured while I am home. It should be a nice and hopefully relaxing weekend wit Judy, Molly and our nephew Adam before I return to North Carolina on Monday.

Have a blessed weekend.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts after a Walk on the Beach: The Tapestry of Navy Life and Relationships

I walked Molly down to the beach tonight as she insists on every night that it is not raining.  In the dark sky the stars twinkled and I pondered the events of the past few days.  The roar of the surf and the phosphorescent waves breaking on the white sands of the beach are comforting and the fact that the dog likes the walk and is funny to watch makes it most enjoyable and relaxing experiences outside of baseball that I know. I am able to do a lot of thinking, and even some praying in the stillness of these night walks. Last night was all about the tapestry of military life and relationships.

Despite its size the US Military is quite small in relationship to the rest of the population. Military life is unpredictable and the relationships that we have with each other are very interconnected in ways that are seldom duplicated in the civilian world. That is especially true of those that serve together overseas, in combat zones or deployed on ships for long periods of time.

Our lives become bound together and even though our service together may be measured in but a few years or in some cases months, the ongoing friendship and relationships go on the rest of our lives. I have seen that growing up as my parents Navy friends and the tapestry is quite amazing.

Gerry and I at his Retirement 

Gerry and I go a ways back and have been together through good times and bad, promotions and success, deployments but also difficult times. During those times we have been able to be there for each other, from the unexpected death of his wife from a heart attack to him being there for me after my return from Iraq.  He attended my promotion to Lieutenant Commander and I had the honor of officiating at his retirement ceremony.

Gerry and his family experienced another hard blow when his four year old grandson was critically injured last week. We talked about it but decided to wait for me to travel to Virginia. However late on Saturday night I received a call from the duty chaplain for the Norfolk area asking if I would come to baptize my friend’s grandson. The duty chaplain is another long time friend who responded to the situation and helped support Gerry and his family during the crisis on Saturday.

My command gave me the permission to make the trip which involved me having to pass the on call chaplain duty to one of my subordinate chaplains.  It is amazing how in the Navy more often than not commands will do whatever they can to care for their sailors and families. We tend to look out for each other. Some commands are better than others but I really don’t know any other organization that works as hard to make sure that their people and families get support in crisis situations as the Navy does. It is not perfect and sometimes thing don’t work out but more often than not the people that run the organization know the importance of taking care of the Navy family.

Gerry’s grandson appears to be making his way out of danger and the baptism service at the bedside in the Pediatric ICU was very special.  Please pray for little Evan as he continues to recover and his family as they navigate the difficult times ahead.

Before I drove back to North Carolina Monday morning I had coffee with my friend after doing some more ministry with the family.  We talked of the specialness of the Navy family and the friends that we know that will be there for us.  Having been on the both sides of this equation I can say that it is something special.

Of course I will continue to be in contact with my friend and his family and see them on the times that I visit my own dear wife Judy, who as some many other Navy wives do is spent another Valentine’s day without me.  At least the gift that I ordered got to her on time and she is happy with it even though I could not be there.  I have lost count of the number of special days that we have been apart during my career in both the Army and the Navy. But that is another subject for another time.

The subject is the relationships that our lives our part of an indelible tapestry woven together with the lives of others. The tapestry is not simply composed of the most beautiful or pleasant events, often it is woven out of the tragedy and suffering that brings us together.

On Friday I will be conducting a memorial service for one of our sailors that died just two months before he was to retire. I did not know him well, but he touched many lives and in addition to his family many sailors will be coming in for this memorial service at their own expense from all parts of the country.

With members of my boarding team on the USS Hue City in the Arabian Gulf 2002

In the Navy and for that matter in the rest of the military we share the dangers and hardships of defending our country, deploying away from our families, and going to war.  Our families share in that as well. Our lives and experiences be they be joyful, triumphal or painful are shared.  It is in reality so much like the words of Henry V in Shakespeare’s play of the same name; “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers….”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Military, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans

A Tuesday in DC: Lunch with a Dear Friend and a Night walk through the Monuments

Today was another good day, in fact really good day at the conference I am attending with the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health.  At lunch I was able to spend some time with my former commanding officer at Marine Security Forces.  It was good to see Mike again.  He and I went through some very trying times together and I treasure his friendship as well of that of his family.  I think that of all the commanding officers that have served under which have included some incredible men that he was the best.  We are a lot alike in many ways both rather cerebral and out of the box thinkers. We basically are the same generation as far as military service goes, when he was a young Marine Corps Officer I was a young Army Officer.

We reminisced about the way the country was back then how our leaders still worked together and even if we disagreed with the policies of those in the opposing party that we still knew that we were Americans and that at the end of the day we were friends.  I guess that Mike and I are dinosaurs now; we tend to look at the big picture and both being career officers of the same generation have seen the country change. We both entered the military during the Cold War and after the loss of Vietnam.  Our teachers were the men that served in that war, those who came home to a then hostile country.  Neither Mike nor I are service academy types nor the products of conservative military schools, Mike went to Harvard and attended Navy ROTC and I went to a California State University School, CSU Northridge and took Army ROTC at UCLA.  We both come from strong yet tolerant religious traditions and were influenced by chaplains early in our careers.  Mike’s academic background is Economics mine Theology and Military History and both of us hold advanced degrees in those subjects.  We both graduated from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.  We have both served overseas and in combat.  We love our country and treasure our military service and that of the men and women that we have served with over so many decades.

I am honored that Mike will administer the Oath of Office when I am promoted on September 1st at Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia.  By the way Mike loves baseball too and being from Boston he is a Red Sox fan.  His dad, a die hard fan died a few months before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. My dad died a few months before his San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Talking with Mike today made me think back to a time when things were not like what they are now, where political opponents were simply opponents and not “the enemy.”  I shared with Mike the terms the German Military used in the Second World War to describe those that they fought against.  The Western Allies were “die Gegener” or simply opponents and for the most part the German military observed the Geneva Convention and Laws of War when fighting the Americans, British and French.  However with the Soviet Unionit was different.  The Soviets were “Der Feind” or the enemy.

As divided as we were in the 1970s and 1980s there was still a modicum of respect for the other side and ability to work together when we needed and Mike brought up the relationship of Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’ Neill, vigorous political opponents who remained friends.  However there is today and has been for the past 20 years or so for members of the extreme wings of both major parties to identify their opponents as “enemies.”  The language difference is significant. An opponent is a adversary that you hope to defeat but there is not a hatred involved and when the competition ceases the opponents remain friends and even colleagues even as they prepare for the next “game” so to speak.

Enemies are another matter.  To be an enemy is to assume that the other side poses an existential threat to your side or your agenda.  Thus there can be no compromise and the opponent is not simply to be defeated but destroyed and annihilated much like the Old Testament when the Israelites were commanded by God to kill everything even the babies and pregnant women.  So much for being pro-life but I digress….

Today we are more divided than any time since the Civil War, blood is boiling and if there is compromise it will be a mere truce until the next round of political bloodletting which if we are not careful may become actual bloodletting and the enemies allow their unbridled hatred of each other spill out into open conflict.  Such affairs never end well and if we remember our history our Civil War’s military conflict was over in a few years and yet with the relatively primitive weapons of the ay killed more Americans than any other conflict.  The after effects well, frankly Scarlett took over a hundred years to recover from and I would dare posit that some believe that the war is not yet over.

Tonight I went to dinner alone cancelling my plans to head out to watch the Nationals play the Marlins. I needed the time and solitude and somehow a trip on the DC Metro seemed the last place that I would find it. I walked to the Gordon Biersch where I had dinner, drank a few beers and watched the Orioles beat the Blue Jays.  After dinner I detoured from my normal route back to my campus housing which takes me in front of the White House.

Amid the lights and the amazing splendor of the buildings adorned with American and District of Columbia Flags I walked and simply observed people.  Tourists from across the nation and the world were taking pictures, business people and government workers hurried about, vendors hawked their patriotic wares, mostly made in China I might add or snack foods.  Here and there a protester sought to draw attention to their pet cause, there is the anti-nuclear weapons protestor that has been camped across from the White House since 1981, people demanding to see the Birth Certificate, those protesting for the removal of various Arab dictators and others peppered about. Capitol Police and Secret Service officers were out in force and amid the fortress like surroundings of many government buildings and the offices such as the World Bank and major business and financial institutions armed police and private security stood watch with cameras watching every move.

When I passed the White House I was rather down.  So I decided to walk the monuments that adorn the Capitol Mall.  I passed the Executive Office Building and Washington Monument and crossed the street to the World War Two Memorial.  At each place I paused before I continued to walk into the night.  I then stopped by the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, the stark reminder of the men and women killed and missing in that war as well as the rip in the fabric of the nation that I am not sure we have ever gotten past.  I then went and paused before the Lincoln Memorial and I thought of the immortal words spoken by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address shortly before he was cut down by a bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth.  They are words of reconciliation spoken even while Americans fought Americans in the last months of the war.

Fellow-Countrymen:  At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As I walked through the warm and humid night air I imagined what it must have been like for officers of the United States Army, Navy and Marine Corps as the nation split in 1861 with many Southerners leaving the service to enter the service of their own states.  Many tearful goodbyes were spoken by men that had served together in war and peace and on the lonely frontier of the nation, men who in a few moths time would be commanding American armies and killing their fellow Americans.  My family fought for the South being from Virginia.  I cannot say that I would have done different like them and so many Southerners or if like General George Thomas of Virginia I would have remained with the Union incurring the wrath of his family for the rest of his life.  Since I have never taken my Oath lightly I can only imagine that I would have done what Thomas did even if it meant the loss of family.

Today I fear that even if our leaders can avert a default on or debts that they have now set the stage for worse I the coming months and years. The open hatred and contempt of our leaders for one another and the ideas that each stand for has wounded the nation more deeply than any default or government shutdown could ever do. This is not simply partisan discourse it is a deep enmity and hatred that has not been seen in this country for 150 years.  If cooler heads do not prevail soon the damage may be irreparable and the consequences more terrible than we can imagine and why anyone would willingly continue down this road is beyond me, but hatred does terrible things to people and nations.

Since it was nearing10 PMI hailed a taxi by the Lincoln Memorial.  I entered into a conversation with the driver, an immigrant fromMoroccowho has been in the United States22 years.  I mentioned my concern and he was far more hopeful than me. He said he believed that a shutdown would be averted.  I love immigrants especially recent ones who have left home and family to become Americans.  My dad’s side family has been in this country since 1747 and my mother’s even longer.  It was inspiring for me to hear this man still be in awe of this nation despite all of our troubles. When I left the cab I thanked him, gave him a decent tip shook his hand and in my woeful Arabic said “Assalamu alaikum” or peace be unto you.

As a historian I tend to see the dangers in what is happening in our country and I do have legitimate concerns, but when I hear the words of hope and awe that this country engenders in those who come here to be free I hope again in spite of myself.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary, remembering friends

The Banal Immorality of Targeted Advertising on Father’s Day

I am approaching the first anniversary of my Dad’s death and missing him.  Dad was really good to me and gave me a lot of what I needed to succeed in life. He died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease on June 22nd of 2010.

The past couple of weeks I have been getting a bombardment of e-mail offers from various merchants asking me to think of them when purchasing a gift for dad this year.  In the past they were just junk mail as I knew what I would get dad, usually a polo shirt or baseball hat, both of which I knew that he would wear around town or when he was still capable of doing so when he went golfing. This year they serve to remind me that dad is dead.  It makes me see just how crass that mass marketing of retailers has become and the banal immorality and lack of respect that they have for people as they seek to sell their wares.  I know that these businesses don’t know that my dad is dead but when I get offers from every type of retailer known to humanity to shop with them for him it just bothers me.  It just seems that they are using my dad to try to get my money and that bothers me and maybe it should bother all of us. Just think retailers of all types prey upon us using the lives or the memories of our loved ones without any real personal connection to us. We are simply a target audience for them to sell their wares, it is called targeted advertising and while it is common now throughout the world it just seems to me that it is a type of not so subtle psychological manipulation, but I digress…

This year Father’s Day will be celebrated in June 19th which holds a special meaning to me. It was on that day that I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army and my dad and soon to be wife Judy pinned on my “gold bars” after I had sworn the oath to “Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” They had driven 350 miles that morning to be there since I was in transition and didn’t have a place of my own.

My dad was proud of me but wondered why the Army. He was a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer and Navy through and through. He had hoped though that I would take a path to civilian life and my mom hoped that I would come back home to teach history in a local high school. However that would not be the case because I had longed to serve in the military since I was a young boy knowing that I didn’t have the talent to be a professional baseball player.  I loved the travel, adventure and military lifestyle and hated having to settle down after dad retired. This was not a problem for my mom and brother but I have always had the military wanderlust deep in my soul.

When I transferred to the Navy in 1999 it was one of the happiest moments of my dad’s life. When I was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 2006 he was elated although his struggle with Alzheimer’s was becoming apparent to all of us.  He died the day after my selection for promotion to Commander was announced without knowing about it.  We buried him a few days later with full military honors.

He was sweet to Judy, especially as he became worse off because she took the time to include him in what she was doing, showing him things on the computer and talking with him. He would always tell her that he loved her and if talking to me, even late in life before his ability to communicate was completely gone would tell me to tell Judy that “I love her.”

Dad gave me many gifts especially the love of baseball, interest in world affairs and love of the military, though I don’t think that the last was his intention, though he accepted it at first and then embraced it as time went on. He and my brother became very close as Jeff stayed in our home town becoming a teacher and later school administrator. He doted on his grandchildren and I think that they helped keep him engaged during his battle with Alzheimer’s.

This is a rather melancholy weekend for me as I remember and reflect on my dad. I miss him but know that he is in a better place.

To those that have recently dealt with the loss of your dad I hope that your remembrance of Father’s Day is special. I know that not all dads are good dads and that some inflict terrible things on their children that scar them for life.  For the victims of such abuse Father’s Day is painful and brings back memories that they don’t want to relive and I imagine that the barrage of advertisements must bring back terrible memories to the victims of abuse.  The advertisements just serve to remind me that the dad who loved and raised me is dead, but for the victims of abuse they must only add to their pain. Maybe that is the banal immorality that I see in targeted marketing.

Anyway, I do pray that we all somehow have a happy Father’s Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under marriage and relationships, remembering friends

Stunned Silence and Tears: The Death of a Marine, Soldier and Comrade

Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman, US Army, former USMC Rest in Peace

I am stunned right now as the cost of war and sacrifices made by our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen became personal yet again. I was writing something rather cheeky when I saw a Facebook message that Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman who I served with when he was a Marine. I met him when he was in the S-1 section of 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in my relief pitcher tour with the Second Marine Division. The Chaplain section fell under the S-1 for administrative purposes so I got to know him fairly well. Since I had served in the Army he would come to me to talk about his father who served as a Green Beret in Vietnam. His family was Turkish immigrants to the United States and he was thoroughly an American, and a hero. He was funny, witty, friendly and always helpful. My assistant was a criminal and without the help of Ergin as well as Marines like 2nd Lieutenant, now Major Jodie Moser and Lance Corporal, now Gunnery Sergeant Bory Chan and others in that section and our Logistics section my job would have been even more difficult as we deployed to 29 Palms, Okinawa, Japan and Korea in 2000 and 2001.

I don’t know what to say. I have trouble compartmentalizing the deaths of young Americans, especially those that I have served with in wars that most people don’t seem to give a damn about.  I really can’t say more right now except to ask prayer for his family and friends. I am holding back the tears right now so I will sign off.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, remembering friends