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REQUIEM

Below are the two final essays to be posted on Allegiance and Duty Betrayed. The first one is written by a friend -- screen name 'Euro-American Scum' -- who, over the past four years, has been the most faithful essayist here. He has written about everything from his pilgrimage to Normandy in 2004 to take part in the 60th–year commemoration of the invasion, to his memories of his tour in Vietnam. His dedication to America’s founding principles ... and those who have sacrificed to preserve them over the past 200+ years ... is unequaled. Thank you, E-A-S. It has been a privilege to include your writing here, and it is a privilege to call you my friend.

The second essay is my own farewell. And with it I thank all of the many regular visitors, and those who may have only dropped in occasionally, for coming here. I hope you learned something. I hope a seed or two was planted. But, even if not, I thank you for stopping by ... 25 March, 2010

3/25/2008

Easter With The Old Corps

marine corps emblem.jpg

It dawned the kind of day that made a million or more WWII sailors and Marines who passed through southern California on their way to war vow in one voice, “If we ever live through this nightmare, we’re going to live here.”

It was picture perfect. Not merely a day right off a postcard, it was a day for all seasons. While a good portion of the rest of the country lay frozen under a blanket of ice that even veteran east coasters are, by now, getting sick of, the local populace was treated to crystal clear blue skies, balmy shirt sleeve temperatures, and air so clean, it hurt your lungs to breathe it.

And so, this early season Easter morning began with the healthy optimism that comes only with the first real breath of spring, giving the community its first real respite from the dank, dreary, seemingly endless winter.

For a church like mine, comfortably ensconced at the foot of Mt. Baldy and overlooking the San Bernardino and Pomona valleys, the turnout was immense. Sure, we had our regular attendees. But we were also treated to what I call the 2-fers – out in earnest for the first time since Christmas Day. (You know the 2-fers? They show up on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, and figure that’s enough for one year. But it makes pastors hearts swell with hope. For one Sunday, at least, the pews are full and the coffers are bursting.)

I arrived early. We don’t hold a sunrise service. Unlike this day, we’re often as not treated to borderline freezing conditions – due to the altitude more than the inherent harshness of the Golden State climate. So we start our marathon Easter Sunday messages at 7:30. By that time, at least the sun is up. We go straight through until around 1:00 or so, and everybody who comes gets a healthy dose of faith, hope and charity, not to mention self-esteem going out the door. But, since parking is often a problem on such days, I got there ahead of the crush, for the kickoff service.

As I was walking into the main courtyard from the parking lot, I was stopped by a man wearing an immaculate gray suit, starched white shirt and magnificent burgundy silk tie, impeccably knotted. He smiled at me, shook my hand and wished me a Happy Easter. I’ve been a member now for going on four years, and I can normally pick out the usual suspects. But this man I’d never seen before today. At first, I took him for a parking attendant, but they don’t wear suits. Shorts, tee-shirts and orange vests are their attire on good days and bad. Then it occurred to me: he was a 2-fer. He struck up a conversation that went something like this:

“Uh, do you own a suit?”

I informed him I did.

“Don’t you think it would be appropriate to wear a suit on Easter Sunday?”

I thought, Gimme a break. We do laid-back California casual out here. The pastor doesn’t wear a suit, not even on Christmas Day. I don’t even think he owns one.

But I held my tongue, waiting to see if his All-American smile would waver. It did not. I also waited to see where he was going with this repartee, considering he was not getting an explanation of any kind, let alone a satisfactory one.

He stared at me, all the time with his winning smile. I shrugged and turned away. But we weren’t done yet. No, there was more to come.

“That your car?” He asked, gazing at my 2000 Honda Accord. And I could still hear the smile in his voice.

He watched me get out of it, so I assume the question was rhetorical.

“Kinda dirty, isn’t it?” He observed.

Now I was starting to get really annoyed. I had half a mind to explain to him that workers in the brave new global economy often can’t plunk down $15 for a car wash, and where I live does not allow for the washing of cars. But I didn’t. And that was fine because he was quite content to complete his morning’s friendly piece of advice before assuming his newfound role of unofficial church greeter.

“Don’t you think it would be nice to wash your car before Easter Sunday?”

And with that, he was off to greet another family coming up the walk – this one, more appropriately attired than I, so I’m sure there was no need for further admonishments.

How could I be so blind? It’s not about the risen Lord. It’s about a suit and tie and a clean car. O.K. Chalk one up to experience, I thought. Then, as I approached the donut and coffee line, who should I run into but the president of our elder board. He too was smiling with the radiance of an exploding sun. But there was a different, more tangible reason for his delight this morning.

The man is a senior vice-president for a French-own engineering firm that manufactures precision laser guidance systems for American smart weapons. He had just concluded a companywide reorganization that required him to travel non-stop across the country since January. He was thrilled to report that on Good Friday, they handed out pink slips to over 1500 American engineers nationwide. This completed a project which offshored the R&D, not to mention the manufacturing to China. His French handlers were so impressed that they awarded him and his wife an all-expense paid, month-long cruise of the Mediterranean – from the south of France to the Greek islands. He was thrilled. Hard work, innovation and loyalty paid off again. God is good.

I inquired if it was really necessary to lower the boom on Good Friday. His smile thinned a bit and he remarked – in all sincerity – that they were aiming for Christmas Eve, but couldn’t bring it off due to some major delays from corporate, so Good Friday was selected as a satisfactory back up date.

After our conversation, somehow I lost my taste for donuts and coffee. I ambled over to the grass, which was bursting forth in hues of brilliant, deep green. It also afforded a breathtaking view of the nearby valleys. I ran into one of our small group leaders there. He was looking over the valley, pointing out to a visitor all the business interests he owned from Corona, down to Anaheim Hills, and back through Ontario and Upland. He explained to his guest that he and his wife were orchestrating a much-delayed family reunion. Over 100 people coming in from all over the country. He went on to remark that their live-in domestic, Ophelia, had been working feverishly on a home-cooked, nine-course Easter dinner for over 100 people. She’d been at it since 3:30 that morning. And if she didn’t break for lunch, she should have the meal prepared and ready to serve by 4:00 that afternoon. Needless to say, Ophelia would not be attending Easter Sunday services. Not when there were meals to cook, dishes to wash, laundry to do and toilets to clean. And all at a better price. When it comes to doing the jobs Americans won’t do, don’t expect any days off.

That’s my church. And I don’t apologize for any of its members. It reflects a small community that is an island of extreme wealth in a sea of threadbare desperation. But its members have a heart of generosity and a full understanding of the love Paul writes of so eloquently in I Corinthians 13:

    “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – I Cor. 13:13.
My church knows the value of this verse, has taken it to heart, and put it into action. They walk the walk. They know their largesse comes not from their own effort, but by God’s grace. And I have been the recipient of countless expressions of their generosity in these trying times. They’re my family. And I won’t leave them.

But on this day – with all the movers and shakers moving and shaking to their own designs and the beautiful blonde trophy wives just bursting out of their summer sundresses – pomposity reigned supreme. It happens from time to time. And it was at just such a moment, with the sanctuary doors swinging open that I decided to take my open-collar, shirt-sleeved self, and my dusty old Honda, and set out for, shall we say, a more appropriate venue.

What does the Bible say? When your heart is troubled – road trip.

I had an idea of where I wanted to end up. But, considering the two-hour drive that would get me there around 9:30, I wondered if I could get in at that late hour. As it turned out, there was no cause for concern. The roads were deserted. It was reminiscent of the Sundays of bygone years – when everything was closed except perhaps one corner gas station. Those peaceful Sundays were emblematic of a slower-paced time, long before the now time-honored tradition of selling ourselves silly 24/7 became an accepted practice. They’re gone for good, sad to say, never to return. The drive hearkened back to the days when California really was the land of opportunity, and all things seemed possible.

An hour later, after a glorious carefree drive along deserted California freeways, I pulled up to the main gate of the Camp Pendleton Marine base in Oceanside, CA. I feel a kinship to the Marine Corps. Why would an aging ex-paratrooper – who never served so much as one day in the Corps – hold such a bond, you ask? Because the Marine Corps is first cousin to the Airborne. We’re cut from the same mold, share the same commitment, and possess the same burning desire to be the best. We also share the same sober realization that in order to defend the country, we end up counting the cost.

I got lucky. The Marine standing guard was one who attended my Normandy address a year and a half ago, and he remembered me. I explained to him my situation – I came on short notice, did not have a pass to the base, and would it be possible to attend one of the services currently underway at the Marine Corps chapel?

He told me to wait and made a phone call. I got lucky again. The XO who arranged my presentation in the first place was on duty, and he gave me visitor access, provided I agreed to an armed escort. (Pendleton is on a war footing. Has been since 9/11. A lot of us have forgotten that. The Marines have not.)

So, I got an armed escort to the next chapel service which was starting about an hour later. It was well worth the wait.

The service was conducted by a Navy chaplain from San Diego. I wish I remembered his name, because the man knew his Bible, knew how to rightly divide the word of Truth, and possessed a singular eloquence that touched the hearts of the most hard-bitten fighting men.

It was a service for men, conducted by men, and with the burdens of men in mind. To be sure, families were welcome, and in attendance. But crossing the threshold of the chapel, the sense that this was a world of serious responsibilities shouldered by men was tangible and unmistakable.

The chaplain began with a simple premise – all freedom comes due in blood. Just as the freedom our country enjoys today came due in the blood of patriots who defended it, so the perfect freedom of God’s grace came due in the blood of His Son.

From there, the message was simple.

Christ condemned.

    12 Pilate answered and said to them again, ‘What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call King of the Jews?’
    13 So they cried out again, ‘Crucify Him!’
    14 Then Pilate said to them, ‘Why, what evil has He done?’ But they cried out all the more ‘Crucify Him!’
    15 So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.” – Mark 15:12-15.
Christ crucified.

    35 “Then they crucified Him and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: ‘They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” – Matthew 27:35
Christ risen.
    17 “Then Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father and to My God and your God.’” – John 20:17
Christ coming again in power and glory.

    15 “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” – Revelation 19:15-16
Simple. Powerful. Effective. Much like the Marines themselves.

He concluded that the risen Savior will indeed return to judge the nations. He offered the sobering comment that when He did, the compassion, mercy, forgiveness and grace that attended His first advent will not be available. All those doors will be closed. What remains will be judgment. Until that time, the Marine Corps is the sentinel of freedom and is charged with standing the watch until God’s justice will be established on earth for all time. That responsibility rests squarely on their shoulders. And they will count the cost in blood, as the Corps always has, from the day of its inception.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, from the oldest, most grizzled sea salt, to the youngest boot.

Looking over the assembled gathering, I realized I was gazing into the face of the Old Corps. They were today’s active duty Marines, but they will be tomorrow’s Old Corps. Ultimately they will take their place beside their brother Marines from Khe Sanh and Con Thien; the Chosin reservoir; Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa; Belleau Wood and Chateau-Thierry. They all bore the world-weariness of men who had stared into the face of the Gorgon and survived. They carried the mark of men who knew the truth about evil loose in the world and the cost of destroying it.

It was a poignant moment. A moment so sweet, it hurt. As the gathering slowly dispersed, and I headed for the Oceanside marina before the long trek back up the hill, I got the sense that the Marines of Camp Pendleton that day understood they stood watch during the twilight of their country. But true to their calling, they would keep their commitment to the end, come what may.

    "7 I have fought the good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.” – II Timothy 4:7.
It was true of Paul, writing to Timothy from a Roman prison awaiting execution. It was true of the defenders of the country throughout its chequered history. It is true of the Marines of Camp Pendleton today.

The Oceanside marina led down to the beach on its north side. The water was the same sapphire blue as the sky. There was barely a horizon. The late-morning sun glinted off the waves with the sparkle of chipped diamonds. The surf didn’t amount to much, but the surfers were starting to appear in earnest. And even though the day was bursting forth in all its sun-drenched glory, the moment still had the feel of twilight time.

The drive back was as picturesque as the journey down. I could see my mountain, clear as crystal, from forty miles away. I got back in time to spend Easter dinner with one of the brothers in the congregation. He recently lost his stepfather – Loyal Nixon from my previous commentary – and we spent a bittersweet afternoon of food, fun and remembrance.

It really is a good congregation. And it is a family in the best sense of the word. But on this day, given a choice between those who pay the price for defending the country in its last days, and those who reap its last benefits, I’ll cast my lot with the Old Corps every time.

What can I say? This ex-paratrooper likes being around guys who like to jump.

by Euro-American Scum
(contributing team member of Allegiance and Duty Betrayed)

Euro-American Scum can be reached at eascum@yahoo.com

19 comments:

kathymlynczak said...

I always enjoy reading your essays. Thank you for this one. It is as good as the rest, which is saying a lot.

John Cooper said...

Not a dry eye in this house, either. Thanks, E_A_S.

robmaroni said...

Another great essay, Scum. You are an asset to this blog and I look forward to reading more of your work.

john galt said...

A very moving piece, as always. You are developing a following here, and rightfully so.

daveburkett said...

And it was at just such a moment, with the sanctuary doors swinging open that I decided to take my open-collar, shirt-sleeved self, and my dusty old Honda, and set out for, shall we say, a more appropriate venue.

I suspect that may have been the best decision you've made in a while. I know, had I been in your shoes, I would feel that way.

Glad to see that "Providence" played a role in your celebration of Easter.

Good writing.

3timesalady said...

Isn't it funny how when we follow His "leadings" we find a pot of gold? Your day didn't turn out anything like you thought it would but what a memorable day it turned into. God bless you, E-A-S. I hope your life has turned the corner from the problems you were having before.

SharonGold said...

What a privilege you had this Easter, sitting in that service with such patriots. God bless them all.

Anonymous said...

"It really is a good congregation. And it is a family in the best sense of the word. But on this day, given a choice between those who pay the price for defending the country in its last days, and those who reap its last benefits, I�ll cast my lot with the Old Corps every time."

Amen.

calbrindisi said...

The Marine standing guard was one who attended my Normandy address a year and a half ago, and he remembered me.

Have you mentioned that address here before? A brief refresher please?

Anonymous said...

calbrindisi said...
The Marine standing guard was one who attended my Normandy address a year and a half ago, and he remembered me.


In due course . . . Stay tuned. --

-- E. A. Scum

Brad Zimmerman said...

An usual, you covered many aspects of human nature and many corners of American society, the proudest and most valuable being the men you spent Easter with. I enjoy your writing-- style and topic.

Anonymous said...

Powerful stuff here. If you aren't a writer by profession, you should be.

marcus aurelius said...

You made some wise decisions this weekend and you were richly rewarded for doing so.

cw-patriot said...

Very well said, as always, E-A-S.

You have rubbed elbows with greatness -- on your Normandy pilgrimage, and in all of the interactions you have enjoyed with World War II veterans and their families.

You did the same this past Sunday during what I suspect may have been the most memorable Easter service of your life. Sometimes humility and simplicity are made grand simply by virtue of the company we keep.

Very few of us will ever have the opportunity to spend an Easter as you did this past weekend. Truth be told, very few of us have earned the privilege.

Thank you for providing us the vicarious opportunity to do so.

~ joanie

Proudpodunknative said...

I'd say the guy who commented about your clothes and your car deserved a punch in the mouth. But be that as it may, he did you a favor my unknowingly directing you to Camp Pendleton.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

Montypython2 said...

"What can I say? This ex-paratrooper likes being around guys who like to jump."

This not ex-paratrooper likes to be around American patriots. Same result.

Good writing again, Scum.

gretahoffman said...

Your writing is very good. It really makes the reader feel like she's experiencing what you describe.

I do have one question for you, EAS.

If you do own a suit, and you don't think Easter Sunday service is an important enough event to wear it, what event is important enough?

I don't mean to make an issue of this one point but it has always been a sore point with me. As I see it, there is nothing wrong with wearing even jeans and a t-shirt to church, as long as that's the best you own. But if you leave "the best" at home in your closet, then I think you're saying that church is not as important as whatever other event you'd wear "the best" to.

cheryl gereau said...

Thanks for this wonderful essay. I agree with the poster above--You have a way of writing that makes the reader feel like she's right there with you.

It's interesting how you describe some of the members of your church as materialistic and superficial and yet they also seem to support you when you need them. The two usually don't go together.

I'm glad you were able to spend such a memorable Easter. Such a day is a once in a lifetime experience.