Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

A Walk Through the Anzio Military Cemetery

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

We spend much of our lives on the surface of things.  Memorial Day is no exception.  It is a day for me that pulls two directions.  One pulls towards a deeper and sober acknowledgment of the heart breaking and often courageous sacrifice made by those in the armed services.  As a former history teacher, graveyards and memorials, from Gettysburg to Omaha Beach, inevitably bring tears.

The other pull wants to say so clearly … we must move towards other ways.  Honoring the fallen and speaking for a world freed from violence are not at odds.  We can, as Christians, speak for veterans and against war.

Fr. Thomas Keating spoke of a profound spiritual experience he had during World War II.  A young Trappist monk during the war, he prayed fervently for those soldiers in harm’s way.  Years later, in a trip to Italy for a spiritual retreat, he toured the American military cemetery at Anzio.  The “thin place” he found walking that cemetery were whispers from the fallen that they had given in their war and that he was called to give in his … a war of love, a war of awakening.  He spoke, with tears, of feeling their presence cheering him on from their resting place.

He will judge between the nations

and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore.  (Isaiah 2:4)

A Weekend with Sgt. Matthew Pennington

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

When I picked up Sgt. Matthew Pennington and Nick Brennan, the producer of “A Marine’s Guide to Fishing”, I dressed in jeans and a button up shirt. Aware that Matt lost a leg in combat during a deployment to Iraq, I dressed in long jeans despite the muggy day thinking the last thing Matt would want to see was me, with both legs obviously, in shorts.  Well, there he was.  In shorts.

There were many moments worthy of recounting.  There are a few, which several days latter, continue to ring in my head.

The Sunday service itself was what I anticipated frankly – moving, compelling, inspirational. A friend texted from Canada, “I wept through the service having lived with a father who was a Vietnam Vet and never quite adjusted to civilian life.”

After church, a group met to discuss PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  We shared stories, expressed gratitude, listened.  Words are just too small to capture it of course.  Such is God’s way.

The evening dinner was every bit as powerful.  Watching Nick and Lach talk across the table – new friends, different eras, same passion – a blessing.  The “skinny white NYU liberal” and the Vietnam vet/ grandfather sharing.

And beside me Matthew and Roger.  Two soldiers.  Roger finally feels good about wearing his baseball cap tagging his experience as a combat medic in Vietnam.  Matt feels good about an email from the Chief Council to the White House who saw the film and wanted to drop a line to follow up – wondering who else has been in touch with him about PTSD from the White House.  Matt’s 28.

The next day I spoke to a local community on the meaning of Memorial Day.  Before speaking, making my way between the outposts of picnickers, a woman who attended the service said she did not know Matt had lost a leg.   He had never mentioned it.  Backstage – unable to hear much – I assumed he had.  I also assumed he spoke to the accident.  He had not but had only shared it in conversation.

See the accident – Matt saw three artillery shells ‘tented’ together.  The sole working headlight on the Humvee located on the driver side only went low beam – little time to think. When he saw the IED, he sped up and hit the brakes to fishtail the truck toward the impending explosion, placing the motor between the shells and the crew. The motor took the brunt of the eruption.  It cost him a leg but cost no one their lives.  And courage gained a new meaning in Matt’s soft spoken, matter-of-fact way.

And the story went unmentioned, publicly by Matthew because there is a bigger story.  There is a reality here of 11 of a day.  11 suicides a day among Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans.   And maybe there is hope.  And maybe somehow this weekend in some small, almost inconsequential way, spoke to it – maybe even touched that hope?

Thank you Matt.