Why we recognize Memorial Day

For those who are unfamiliar with his work, Ernie Pyle was an American journalist and war correspondent during World War II, whose frequent dispatches from the front lines with the troops let families on the home front know what it was like for their loved ones overseas. But more than that, Pyle's writing was unique, because he had a way of seeing things that were missed by others, and through his vivid descriptions of what he witnessed he could paint a picture for others to see the war through soldiers' eyes. Many of Pyle's journals read like poetry, which leads me to an entry he penned after walking the beaches at Normandy a few days after D-Day, which I think serves as an excellent reminder of why we recognize Memorial Day each year.

A Long Thin Line of Personal Anguish
Saturday, June 17, 1944
(From https://erniepyle.iu.edu/wartime-columns/personal-anguish.html)

NORMANDY BEACHHEAD, June 17, 1944 - In the preceding column we told about the D-day wreckage among our machines of war that were expended in taking one of the Normandy beaches.

But there is another and more human litter. It extends in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach. This is the strewn personal gear, gear that will never be needed again, of those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.

Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers' packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out - one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked.

Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. Here are broken-handled shovels, and portable radios smashed almost beyond recognition, and mine detectors twisted and ruined.

Here are torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits and jumbled heaps of lifebelts. I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier's name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don't know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down.

Soldiers carry strange things ashore with them. In every invasion you'll find at least one soldier hitting the beach at H-hour with a banjo slung over his shoulder. The most ironic piece of equipment marking our beach - this beach of first despair, then victory - is a tennis racket that some soldier had brought along. It lies lonesomely on the sand, clamped in its rack, not a string broken.

Two of the most dominant items in the beach refuse are cigarets and writing paper. Each soldier was issued a carton of cigarets just before he started. Today these cartons by the thousand, water-soaked and spilled out, mark the line of our first savage blow.

Writing paper and air-mail envelopes come second. The boys had intended to do a lot of writing in France. Letters that would have filled those blank, abandoned pages.

Always there are dogs in every invasion. There is a dog still on the beach today, still pitifully looking for his masters.

He stays at the water's edge, near a boat that lies twisted and half sunk at the water line. He barks appealingly to every soldier who approaches, trots eagerly along with him for a few feet, and then, sensing himself unwanted in all this haste, runs back to wait in vain for his own people at his own empty boat.

*

Over and around this long thin line of personal anguish, fresh men today are rushing vast supplies to keep our armies pushing on into France. Other squads of men pick amidst the wreckage to salvage ammunition and equipment that are still usable.

Men worked and slept on the beach for days before the last D-day victim was taken away for burial.

I stepped over the form of one youngster whom I thought dead. But when I looked down I saw he was only sleeping. He was very young, and very tired. He lay on one elbow, his hand suspended in the air about six inches from the ground. And in the palm of his hand he held a large, smooth rock.

I stood and looked at him a long time. He seemed in his sleep to hold that rock lovingly, as though it were his last link with a vanishing world. I have no idea at all why he went to sleep with the rock in his hand, or what kept him from dropping it once he was asleep. It was just one of those little things without explanation that a person remembers for a long time.

*

The strong, swirling tides of the Normandy coastline shift the contours of the sandy beach as they move in and out. They carry soldiers' bodies out to sea, and later they return them. They cover the corpses of heroes with sand, and then in their whims they uncover them.

As I plowed out over the wet sand of the beach on that first day ashore, I walked around what seemed to be a couple of pieces of driftwood sticking out of the sand. But they weren't driftwood.

They were a soldier's two feet. He was completely covered by the shifting sands except for his feet. The toes of his GI shoes pointed toward the land he had come so far to see, and which he saw so briefly.


Note: to read more of Ernie Pyle's writings, see Indiana University's online home for information and history about Ernie Pyle.

Dogs Versus Cats, The Sequel

Several years ago I wrote a blog titled "Dogs Versus Cats" in which I described my preference for canine species versus feline species. When a friend recently shared the Newsweek article titled "Map Shows States Where Dogs Are More Popular Than Cats,"[1] I learned that I am not alone in my preference, albeit within certain geographical regions.

dog-owning-vs-cat-owning-states

However, what was interesting about the Newsweek article was the distribution of pet preferences when compared to political leanings, which reminds me of a story from my college days.

I had a professor who was a little younger than most of the students in her class, and she was the sole Liberal in a classroom full of Conservatives. One day during a break, the topic of discussion between the other students and me was dogs. The professor walked over to our group and asked what we were talking about, and just for fun I said, "We're talking about dogs, but you wouldn't understand because you have a cat." I had a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly, but it obviously resonated with her because she asked, "How did you know that I have a cat?" Without missing a beat I said, "Because you're a Liberal, and everybody knows that all Liberals have cats and all Conservatives have dogs." She looked shocked and asked the other students if that was true, and they thankfully jumped on board with my deception and agreed with my fabrication.

What was great about this deceit, however, was that it didn't end there. A few days later my classmates and I were discussing the latest release of a software title for the PC, and as the professor walked up to our group she asked what we were talking about. I replied, "We're talking about a new software program, but you wouldn't understand because you own a Macintosh." Once again I had a 50/50 chance of being right, but that joke also hit its mark because she asked, "How did you know that I own a Mac?," to which I responded, "Because all Liberals use Macs and all Conservatives use PCs." That statement isn't remotely true, but nevertheless my classmates backed my story and our poor professor wandered off once again with a seriously warped view of reality.

I don't know if she ever figured out that we were just playing around, but I still got an "A" in the class.


FOOTNOTES

  1. Giving credit where it's due, the Newsweek article uses maps and data from an article by Zippia titled "Dog States vs Cat States: States with the Most Dogs."

The Weekend Safety Brief

Throughout my eight-year tenure in the military, the "Weekend Safety Brief" was a common feature during each Friday's close of business formation, which took place before soldiers were dismissed for the weekend. Despite every attempt to be unique, I realized as I heard the disparate words from dozens of commanders, they usually said pretty much the same thing: "don't do something stupid and stay out of trouble."

With that in mind, the following summary briefing evolved over the years, which seemed to say everything that needed to be said:

"Don't add to the population.
Don't subtract from the population.
Don't do anything that will get you on the news or in jail.
If you end up on the news, own that sh** so you'll be talked about for years to come.
If you end up in jail, establish dominance quickly."

Open-mouthed smile

Reflections on Persistence, Pagans, and the Past

A few years ago, my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit Rome, and among the thousands of photos that I took during our stay, this seemingly insignificant image of a nun walking through the remains of the Circus Maximus stands out for me.

nun-walking-in-the-circus-maximus

Despite Hollywood's common depictions, the Romans did not typically sacrifice Christians in the Colosseum. On the contrary, the infamous martyrdoms of Christians were usually carried out in the Circus Maximus. With that in mind, when I saw a solitary nun crossing the empty field, I couldn't help but reflect on the irony of the scene. This stadium had once played host to the barbarous spectacle of martyring her predecessors, usually by beheading, or burning at the stake, or being fed to myriad wild animals. Yet on this day, many centuries later, there were nothing but ruins where the mighty empire of Rome once stood, and this nun could walk with impunity through the remnants of Rome's demise.

Anyway, these are the kinds of things that run through my mind when I'm visiting areas of historical significance. (Perhaps there's something wrong with me.)

One Of My Favorite Easter Stories

Several years ago I discovered the following excerpt from a sermon by Alistair Begg, and the parable that is contained within this short snippet has become one of my favorite Easter stories.

Giving full credit to its original author, I would like to include this short apologue for your benefit on this Easter.

Without the preaching of the cross, without preaching the cross to ourselves, all day and every day, we will very, very quickly revert to "faith plus works" as the ground of our salvation.

So that to go to the old Fort Lauderdale question: "If you were to die tonight and you were getting entry into heaven, what would you say?"

If you answer that - and if I answer that - in the first person, we've immediately gone wrong:

"Because I..."
"Because I believed..."
"Because I have faith..."
"Because I am this..."
"Because I am continuing..."

Loved ones, the only proper answer is in the third person: "Because He! Because He!"

Think about the thief on the cross. I can't wait to find that fellow one day to ask him, "How did that shake out for you? Because you were cussing the guy out with your friend. You've never been in a Bible study. You never got baptized. You didn't know a thing about church membership, and yet... you made it! You made it! How did you make it?"

That's what the angel must have said, you know...

"What are you doing here?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"Well, 'cause I don't know."

"Well, you know... (Mumbles)... Excuse me, let me get my supervisor."

[They go get their supervisor angel.]

"So, we have just a few questions for you. First of all, are you clear on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith?"

The guy said, "I've never heard of it in my life."

"And what about... let's just go to the Doctrine of Scripture immediately."

This guy's just staring - and eventually, in frustration, he [the supervisor] says, "On what basis are you here?"

And he said, "The Man on the middle cross said I can come."

Now that is the ONLY answer. That is the only answer. And if I don't preach the gospel to myself all day and every day, then I will find myself beginning to trust myself, trust my experience, which is part of my fallenness as a man. If I take my eyes off the cross, I can, then, give only lip service to its efficacy, while at the same time living as if my salvation depends upon me. And as soon as you go there, it will lead you either to abject despair or a horrible kind of arrogance.

And it is only the Cross of Christ that deals both with the dreadful depths of despair and the pretentious arrogance of the pride of man that says, "You know, I can figure this out and I'm doing wonderfully well." No.

Because the Sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

That's why Luther says most of your Christian life is outside of you, in this sense that we know that we're not saved by good works. We're not saved as a result of our professions, but we're saved as a result of what Christ has achieved.

the-man-on-the-middle-cross


This story is © 2021 by Truth For Life, a teaching ministry of Alistair Begg.

Deliberately Misquoting Jesus

Someone whom I've known for decades and greatly admire recently posted the following series of statements from Reverend James Martin, SJ:

What Jesus never said:
"Feed the hungry only if they have papers."
"Clothe the naked only if they're from your country."
"Welcome the stranger only if there's zero risk."
"Help the poor only if it's convenient."
"Love your neighbor only if they look like you."

Every statement that Mr. Martin makes is factually correct, however, I typically do not like comments like these nor the memes they become because they are abusing the love of Christ in a not-so-cleverly veiled way that implies Jesus said something that He did not. I will expound on that concept in a moment, but first I'd like to share a recent experience from one of my neighbors.

This is a true story: a couple weeks ago, one of my neighbors awoke shortly past midnight and walked downstairs to find a complete stranger sitting on his couch in his living room and eating his food. Think about that for a moment: a person whom you do not know has broken into your house while you were sleeping. You don't know whether they're dangerous, and yet this person is making themselves at home and helping themselves to your possessions. Imagine how terrified and how violated you would feel.

Now let's re-examine Mr. Martin's statements within the context that I have just shared: it was not my neighbor's responsibility to feed/clothe/house this intruder, regardless of whether she was legally in the country (which she was), or whether she was poor (which she probably was), or whether she looked like my neighbor (which isn't remotely relevant). In the end, all that matters is that the burglar was trespassing - she had no right to be in my neighbor's house, sitting on his couch, and eating his food. Despite Mr. Martin's specious pontifications, if he had been in my neighbor's shoes he would have done the same thing my neighbor did - he would have called the police.

Brining this back to my opening statement, that is why I don't like it when people like Mr. Martin arrogantly twist the words of Christ to make a cheap political statement, and I don't believe that Jesus would like being misquoted, either. What Mr. Martin is attempting to do is to cram his political views about immigration and other subjects down others' throats by hiding behind a series of grandiose proclamations that he's disguising as our Savior's intentions, which - quite literally - makes Mr. Martin a false prophet.

Remembering the First Time with Van Halen

Today marks the 46-year anniversary from Van Halen's multi-platinum debut album. To celebrate this occasion, I thought I'd share the following story from my youth.

In the fall of 1978, I was starting out in Middle School, and I made friends with another student, Gene, who was just beginning to play guitar like I was. We met because Gene was carrying a notebook emblazoned with the KISS logo, and at the time I was a big KISS fan. (Hey, no judgment.) Gene and I eventually played together in several bands throughout our Middle School and High School years, and we've remained in touch over the years. I visited Gene and his wife recently, and Gene recounted the story of when I came up to him during our 7th grade year to say, "Dude - you've got to hear this new album I just bought!!!" The album in question was Van Halen's debut offering, which had been released earlier that year.

Van Halen (album)

When Gene came by my house after school, the track I immediately dropped the record needle on was - of course - "Eruption." Gene's mind was completely blown, as mine had been when I first listened to the album end to end. I had a reel-to-reel deck at the time, and we recorded "Eruption" on tape so we could slow it down, and yet it was still so @#$% fast. Neither of us had seen Eddie's signature two-handed tapping yet, so we had no idea what EVH was doing to play at such a mind-numbing tempo.

remember-that-first-time-van-halen

By my Freshman year of High School I would play "Eruption" at the backyard parties and other gigs that typical High School bands would get, though never as cleanly as EVH. (And these days I probably couldn't pull off playing the bulk of "Eruption" without some serious practice.)

Nevertheless, EVH turned my world upside down - but in a good way. To this day I phrase a bunch of chords on the guitar in ways I learned from playing Van Halen's assorted catalog of songs, and my efforts to learn what EVH was doing on each of Van Halen's albums made me a much better guitar player. There are few albums that I can literally say altered the course of my life, and if you read my blog from a few years ago titled My List of 20 Most Influential Albums, you'll see that I listed Van Halen's debut album at #3.

Seasoned Stories of Sailing Ships and Swirling Seas

As he boarded his venerable longship, the mighty Viking warrior, Rudolph the Red, readied his sturdy craft to sail the turbulent waters of the North Sea. Once again, the fierce leader and his men would reign terror over the poor, unsuspecting villagers of the British Isles as the Vikings pillaged their way through farms and fields of Scotland and England.

As the crew completed their final preparations for the perilous voyage, the rugged chieftain leaned over the bulwark of his vessel to kiss his wife goodbye, and he said to her, "Tomorrow, we shall be victorious in battle. But today, we sail forth into a storm."

As she cast her gaze toward the sun as it slowly rose above a clear horizon, she asked her husband, "How can you be so sure?"

"Because," he replied, "Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear."

rudolph-the-red


POSTSCRIPT:

I will admit that I saw the punch line from this brief bit of humor several years ago, and I chuckled when I read it. However, I couldn't find the source of the original pun, so I decided to write my own story, albeit with some AI-generated artwork. This illustration of Rudolph the Red was generated by the application at http://bing.com/images/create, where I asked it to create "a 3d image of a viking with red hair on a ship that is sailing through the rain." I think the image fit my story rather well.

Smile

What Hawaii Looked Like A Century Ago

The following video from the National Archives shows what Hawaii looked like in 1924, which was 100 years ago this year, and by way of coincidence was the same year that my grandfather arrived in Hawaii to begin his four-year tour of duty in Oahu with the U.S. Army. Hawaii was a radically different world back then; Queen Lili'uokalani and the Hawaiian monarchy had been overthrown within a single generation prior to this film's creation, and much of the hills and valleys were still overgrown with acres of vegetation that are sadly missing now.

PS - the following photo is of my grandfather, Abner Dechant, as a young, Army Private standing on the beach in Hawaii back in the late 1920s.

Abner Dechant - Hawaii 1929