Tag Archives: memorial services

Recovery Night

Judy Waiting For Her Trip to the Operating Room

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a hellaciously long and tiring day, following a long day of preparation.

On the positive side Judy’s knee replacement surgery was very successful and recovery wise she is well ahead of where she was weeks after the first surgery. The hospital physical therapist was really impressed.

This is mostly a testimony of how hard she worked in physical therapy after the home healthcare physical therapist pushed her so hard that she tore one of her quadriceps, setting back her recovery by over a month. Of course back then she walked into the hospital on crutches, she couldn’t walk without them. It has been months since she used them last and now is using the stair rider only when she has to carry heavy loads upstairs.

My Regal Pierre Puppy

Now I am home sipping a glass of wine and hanging out with our puppies. In the morning I’ll go back over the floors and master bath so that when she comes home it is to as sterile environment as I can make it. The puppies won’t be happy because for the next week or so I will be living with them downstairs at night to make sure she doesn’t get any infections. Since the puppies love to cuddle us at night they will not be happy that they only get daddy, especially Minnie, who is Judy’s shadow. Pierre and Izzy would just as soon hang with me but when we go to bed Izzy likes to sleep on the pillow behind Judy’s head. Pierre, the cool puppy just likes his space on the cedar chest at the foot of our bed. Even so, I’ll be on the couch and they will be positioned around me like last night. During the day we’ll put a flat sheet on top of our duvets so they can hang out with us under close supervision.

Minnie making a Bed on a Quilt Judy had folded and put on Our Linen Shelves

As for the rest of the day I was tired. After Judy left the preparation stage and went to the OR I went and got breakfast with lots and lots of coffee prior to going to the memorial service for our friend Mitch Vickers, before dashing back to the hospital to wait for her to go to her room. In that time I did a bit more work on the pamphlet that I am preparing to go along with my sermon at Norfolk’s Temple Israel on the last Sabbath of Passover and the beginning of Holocaust memorial week.

One of Izzy’s nicknames is Miss Kiss

So anyway, I am pooped. I’ll probably watch a movie and some episodes of The West Wing of Cheers before I let the pups out one more time and lay my head down on the couch. If you wonder why I do this, it is because Minnie will keep me awake barking all night if she is cut off from us. To help her, at the suggestion of Judy I have put one of Judy’s nightgowns for Minnie to snuggle on.

Thank you for your kind words, thoughts and prayers. We really do appreciate them.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I had a Comrade: Farewell LTC John Penree

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today marks a solemn occasion at our base. We will be saying our farewell at a memorial service for our Army Deputy Commander, Lieutenant Colonel John Penree. He passed away late last Monday night. He was beloved by many and had served our country in the New York Army National Guard and the United States Army for 42 years.

He will receive full military honors in the ceremony which is a collaboration between the Army and the Navy. His wife Patty and his six children will be in attendance along with a number of high ranking officers and other dignitaries. I only knew and worked with him for a year but came to love him and consider him a friend. We had worked together the Saturday before he died at a ceremony marking opening day for the Little League the meets on our base. Not long before that we had enjoyed a day working and playing with the German contingent from NATO and their families. He was a good man and a good comrade in arms. In the words of the old German military funeral march Ich hatt’ ein Kameraden “Ich hatt’ ein Kameraden, Einen bessern findest du nit…” I had a comrade, you will find none better.

Today I will include that thought in my meditation at the service and will,close the service with the words of Lieutenant Colonel John McRea, a Canadian Soldier, physician, and poet in the First World War. His poem, In Flanders Fields is a classic and it speaks to soldiers as few poems can:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

    Between the crosses, row on row,

  That mark our place; and in the sky

  The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.   Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

  Loved and were loved, and now we lie

      In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

  The torch; be yours to hold it high.

  If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

      In Flanders fields.

I will leave you with that and ask you to pray for John, his family, and those that he leaves behind.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Take Increased Devotion: A Solemn Memorial Service

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday at the base where I serve as command Chaplain we conducted a solemn memorial service for the ninety-four sailors and soldiers from our base that have died while serving at war since September 11th 2001. I knew some of them and their families from when I was assigned to EOD Group Two from 2006-2008. As each name was read, a picture of our fallen comrade was shown, a pause followed by the tolling of a bell. The steady cadence of the names, the silence, and the bell tolling continued for each of these men and women who died all too young serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Horn of Africa, and other places during this war. Ninety-four names, ninety-four lives, ninety-four tolls of the bell.

http://wavy.com/2017/05/25/fallen-heroes-remembered-in-bell-tolling-at-little-creek-fort-story/

The majority of our fallen are SEALS, others in the Special Warfare Community, and EOD techs. As long as these wars continue young men and young women will continue to die and families will be left without husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. The human cost of war cannot be minimized as we honor the fallen this Memorial Day. This is a day that we set aside to remember them, not the living. It is a day for us to remember their sacrifice and commit ourselves to as Abraham Lincoln so stated in his Gettysburg Address:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gratitude, Relationships and Hope; Even in Death

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“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today I was able to attend the Celebration of Life for Captain Tom Sitsch. It was good to be able to attend. I was able to meet his brother Mike and Sister Karen as well as many others who knew and loved Tom. These included men that I know from my time with EOD Group Two, some of whom have since retired from the military.

I was touched by the words that Mike and Karen spoke about Tom, as well as the remembrances of others. There were times during the service that I felt tears coming down my cheeks, and when I needed to wipe them from my eyes.

The pastor who spoke mentioned something that resonated with me. He noted that when he talked with Tom about God and faith, that Tom commented to him that “after all he had seen and experienced he didn’t know if he could believe in God.” That I can understand, there is something about the moral injury of war, not just the the physical injuries sustained or the clinical diagnosis of PTSD, or Traumatic Brain Injury that does terrible damage to the soul. A good number of people noted that they thought that he saw something, or experienced a loss in his last tour in Iraq that shook him beyond anything he had ever anticipated. That too I can understand.

It was good to be able to be invited to attend and for me it was a good chance to remember the life of a man who was there for me when I needed it. There was a slide show that depicted Tom’s life, his love for is family, his military career and the life that he attempted to life after his retirement. Between the stories, the shared memories and the pictures I gained an even greater appreciation for Tom Sitsch.

On a personal side it was just good to be there with people who knew and loved Tom. It was really good for me because for once I didn’t have any official role. I cannot remember the last time when I went to a memorial service where I was not involved in the planning, execution or participation in it, quite often as the primary speaker. For once I was able to grieve, remember and celebrate the man that I knew with others whose lives he touched.

It was just good to be with such good people, all of who loved and cared for Tom. There is something healing when people are able to grieve the loss of someone they love together. It is healing, even when tears are shed. Unfortunately, there is nothing any of us can do to bring Tom back. We all, his family, friends, and those that he served alongside all grieve, each in our own way, but we share a common grief, that of the loss of a man who touched our lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted about loss:

“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.” 

The loss of Tom Sitsch left all of us with many beautiful remembrances, which as Bonhoeffer so correctly noted that his separation from us s “more difficult.”

But in the midst of the deep feelings of loss that all of us felt, there were questions. Many wondered what they could have done to change the tragic outcome. The question of “what if?” bothers all of us. Likewise, there was the realization that there are others, who like Tom who need help and are probably not getting it.

My prayers go put to all those who feel the loss of Tom Sitsch, especially his family, friends and those that served with him.

Tonight I heard from a Navy Chaplain that I had not talked to in a long time. It was really good to spend time on the phone with him. I had the honor of baptizing his children back in 2000 when he was my Religious Program specialist. He went on to become a chaplain and do well, serving in the thick of the fighting in Al Anbar Province with a Marine Corps infantry battalion, just missing getting blown up in a large IED blast after completing a service for Marines at a Combat Outpost. He will be retiring later this year, and I hope that he can get on with the Veterans Administration to continue to care for our veterans.

I do hope that in some little way that I can be of help to those who grieve, and those whose lives have been torn apart by the trauma of war. Hopefully, in my own small way, even though I am often filled with doubt, unbelief, and usually have more questions than I have answers, I can at least be there for people who struggle.

I go to bed tonight grateful for what Tom Sitsch did for me; for being invited to attend the service today, to be with others who grieve, and to reunite with an old friend. Those are some of the remarkable things about military life that I am thankful.

Well, that is all for tonight, except for a prayer:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. (From the Book of Common Prayer) 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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 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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