Euro-American Scum, a regular contributor here, has sent me the following essay for publication, along with this comment:
If you could so inform your readership that, due to my limited Internet access, I cannot engage in prolonged discussion, I'd also be grateful. I do enjoy the banter ... I can't tell you how much I miss being a regular contributor, and how I do so look forward to getting back to it someday.
I’d like to offer you just a little very brief background before you read the essay:
E-A-S is a Vietnam vet with a passion for studying American history, with a strong and devoted emphasis on the history of World War II. He traveled to Normandy, and beyond, in 2004 to participate in the observation of the sixtieth anniversary of the Normandy invasion and to pay his respects to the victims of the Holocaust. In doing so, and as a result of other personal contacts with countless World War II heroes, E-A-S has developed a personal knowledge of that War, its significance and effects, and its participants, that few of us share.
E-A-S has recently found himself the victim of the 'new American economy', in which the outsourcing of hi-tech jobs and the condoning of criminal job-seekers who ‘will do the work Americans refuse to do’ has become the tragic norm. As a result, he has fallen on hard times. Thus his request that I inform readers here that he has limited internet access, and cannot engage in prolonged discussion.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “To everything there is a season, A time to every purpose under heaven.” The Bible goes on to cite the various circumstances that life’s inescapable journey brings us to confront. And since the verses which follow have long since been immortalized by The Byrds in a 1960s pop/rock mega-hit, I’m sure a good many of you on the high side of 50 can recite them by rote. If not, you can look it up when you get a chance. I won’t waste precious bandwidth repeating the text of the Scripture here. Everybody benefits from reading the Bible.
One of the dubious joys of getting older is that we inevitably get increasing opportunities to attend various benchmark events in our own experience and the lives of others. Early on, most of these events are weddings. After all, we’re just starting out on our journey. And so are most of the people we know. Fast on the heels of such celebrations are the inevitable baby showers, christenings, dedications and so forth. First communions, bar mitzvahs, and various other rites of passage follow (faster than we would like to admit, I’m sure). Then, as we approach mid-life, there are high school graduations, college commencements, weddings of our kids, and the baby showers, christenings and dedications for our grandchildren when they come along. And the cycle begins anew.
Along the way, we cross over a subtle, but definitive line of departure. Sometimes we notice it. Sometimes we don’t. But among the benchmark events we attend, the number of funerals starts to intrude on the otherwise joyous celebrations of life. And so another Rubicon of life has been crossed. It starts out with an occasional heart-rending ordeal. Someone dies young and tragically, way before their time. Then, we begin to notice with increasing frequency how such events intrude on our otherwise genteel lives. We bid adieu to the older generation. This is a sad time, but it is also part of the natural order of things. As the years go by, we notice that the departed are no longer part of our parent’s generation. They’re closer to the our own age. Ultimately, we begin to part company with our contemporaries – family, friends, and associates. Somewhere, along the way, we make peace with our own mortality as we wind our way through the weary round of life.
Or we don’t.
Nowadays, I go to a lot of funerals. And so the seasons of life are marked. There’s a reason this time of life is called the golden years. Gold is the color of autumn, and autumn, for all its crisp splendor, is also the season of death.
I went to one such funeral on Saturday. It was a dreary day, dominated by a high gray sky, chilly temperatures, and a light drizzle. We don’t take well to such conditions here in California. Let’s face it, this is the land of sunshine, blue skies, streets paved with gold, and perpetual second chances. It’s been said that if the devil was run out of hell, he could get a second chance at establishing a demonic kingdom in California. Some say he already has.
So when the day turns out as it did on Saturday, it affects everybody’s mood, whether they’re willing to admit it or not. There was no definition to the day. It wasn’t exactly cloudy, it wasn’t exactly wet. And since snow and ice have been outlawed by statute when Jerry Brown was governor, we know nothing about such things, and wouldn’t know how to deal them if we did. So we won’t even go there. No, it was none of those things. It was . . . well . . . gray – depressing, indistinct, undefined; a day in which people could not get any traction about who they were, or what they were about.
I hardly knew the man. His name was Loyal Nixon, and we met briefly at a Men’s breakfast at church about a year ago. He was the stepfather of one of the members of said ministry, and we immediately hit it off. Our conversation was brief – less than half an hour before the morning speaker ascended the podium. But in that time, we forged a bond. It was the beginning of a deeper appreciation I came to have for the man, even though that brief snippet of conversation was the only one we were to share together.
You see, Loyal Nixon and I shared a heritage. And that heritage was both rich and noble, fraught with meaning, and brimful with significance. Loyal Nixon and I were both Screaming Eagles. Unbeknownst to either of us, we served in Vietnam at the same time, in the same place, and participated in some of the same engagements. It was entirely conceivable that I could have had his back at the same time he had mine.
The bond was both mythical and legendary. I won’t try to explain the appeal such lofty standards hold for those who aspire to them. Simply put, the main motivation for those of us who pursue the road to the airborne is the desire to set ourselves apart, to be the best. For those of us who pass muster, wearing the talismanic emblem of the 101st Airborne Division can forge a genuine brotherhood if we so choose to embrace it as such. However, Loyal’s participation in that elite unit revealed but a small part of the totality of the man. What follows is a brief excerpt from the funeral bulletin on Saturday:
- “Loyal was a retired Army officer and served 28 years on active duty in Korea, Germany, the Middle East, area of occupation in Lebanon, Panama, three tours in Vietnam and served a tour of duty with the Diplomatic Corps in Liberia, West Africa.
“Loyal began his military career at 18 as a paratrooper and throughout his career has jumped from aircraft and helicopters in all areas of the free world. Loyal was a highly decorated combat veteran, holder of six bronze stars and numerous medals for bravery in action.”
[Jumpmaster]: Son, why did you volunteer for the airborne?
[Recruit]: Sir, I like being around guys who like to jump.
Loyal Nixon had that effect on people. He was a man of character, integrity, and commitment. We used to describe such a man years ago as having steel in his spine. Those of us who are not blessed with such depth of character often like to rub up next to those who are. We like to think some of it will rub off. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that what we’re really drawn to is leadership qualities we do not possess.
Loyal Nixon was an African American. He grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina during the Depression. He enlisted in a segregated army and lived to see it integrated. He served through the better part of his adult life, and retired as a senior warrant officer. Undoubtedly, he endured his share scorn and ridicule from certain officers, noncoms and enlisted men who were not particularly thrilled to see a competent black man of skill, courage and integrity rise through the ranks. He lived to see the end of Jim Crowe in the South, and experienced the turbulent times and incendiary rhetoric of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
And through it all, Loyal Nixon never forgot who he was. Because he was a Christian, a loving husband and father and a genuine American patriot. In precisely that order.
Loyal Nixon was head of a bi-racial, blended family. And that is always a challenge, regardless of the specifics. But that challenge was made even greater because although we live in a nation of tolerance, we ourselves are often intolerant. We’re part of a culture of inclusion, but many of us are casually exclusionary. We may be saved by grace, but we are still firmly ensconced in a body of sin.
Loyal Nixon endured all this, and more. If he encountered injustice, he practiced fairness. If he endured prejudice, he fought it with love. If he experienced the selfish ambition of his contemporaries, he carried himself with a spirit of sacrificial service. He lived the dream and made it real. He embraced the best of what America was and made it his own. And he did so by knowing who he was, and living his faith.
- “He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Upland, CA was filled to bursting on Saturday. The ministry leadership indicated they never had such a turnout. Rarely has a man been so respected. Rarely has he been so deeply beloved, by family and friends alike. He was laid to rest at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Riverside, California on Monday morning.
The 101st Airborne was well represented on that day. We weren’t numerous, but we were present and accounted for. We weren’t personally acquainted with each other, but we knew our own, all the same. That distinctive lapel pin and a subtle but definitive nod was all it took. And when the flag was folded and presented to his widow, qualities like loyalty, honor, service and sacrifice became more than a punch line of the mainstream media. They became what they are and always have been – the bedrock upon which the foundation of America was built and thrived.
Between the memorial service on Saturday and the burial on Monday morning, we spent an altogether typical Sunday for an evangelical church community. The talk was typical for an election year. We’ve already anointed John McCain is God’s next holy prophet of the truth, now that the current one – George W. Bush – is due to retire in short order. And we’ve already branded Obama as the latest Antichrist, now that the traditional one, Hillary Clinton, looks like she won’t make the cut. And then we rested. Because the serious business of lining our pockets with gold, throwing our friends and neighbors on the grenade in the process, and selling out our country for thirty pieces of silver is a full-time job, and was going to start up early on Monday morning. So a day of rest is essential if we’re gonna get the goods while the gettin’ is good, as they say.
And in the midst of this, Loyal Nixon went home. He didn’t go easily. The staff of the VA hospital at Loma Linda never saw a man fight so hard to live. Airborne all the way, right up to the very end. But when God calls us home, then home we must go.
So, between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, we celebrated a life, endured the pain of loss, and marked the tragedy of his departure.
We celebrated a life well-lived, and a legacy that will endure through the years. We endured the pain of loss, because the empty space he left in the lives of those who loved him seems cavernous. And we mark the tragedy, because Loyal Nixon, who served so faithfully, loved so fully, and cherished his country for what it was and what it is, departed this life for brighter shores. He will not be replaced.
There is no younger generation, waiting in the wings, with the courage of their convictions. There are no young people, who will live a life of sacrificial service for something worth defending. There is no one with the courage, conviction, and commitment to soldier on in a world where the distinctiveness of a nation that values freedom, cherishes human dignity and treasures the God-given rights of its individual citizens is eroding before our very eyes. Freedom isn’t free, as we all well know. And the price of freedom is dear. Someone has to stand a watch in its defense. And the sentry post will soon be empty.
But every now and then, we meet someone of singular substance. We gaze into their eyes, and see ourselves reflected in their soul. And if we’re truly fortunate, we take time to pause for some much needed self-reflection.
Once in a while we meet someone who reminds us of who we were, who we have become, and how we got there. And maybe, just maybe, we might rearrange a priority or two that could stand rearranging.
Occasionally, we meet someone who walks the walk, pays the price, and at the end of the day – or at the end of their lives – has something of substance to show for it.
Every now and then.
- “His lord said to him,
‘Well done, good and faithful servant;
you were faithful over a few things,
I will make you ruler over many things.
Enter into the joy of your lord’” – Matthew 25:21