One of the perks of being a Baby Boomer minister is the distinct privilege I have had for 24 years now to serve members of the Greatest Generation, as they are so called. I wish now that I had records of every funeral service I have done over the years for WWII veterans, and their spouses. I have officiated at quite a few. In more recent years, I have been honored to officiate at internment services at the Dallas National Cemetery. There is nothing quite like an burial service with full military honors. It is never fails to be move me to the core of my being. Just visiting with individuals from that time period is fascinating!
I had some interchange today with a couple from that era. Unfortunately it was under very sad circumstances. They lost their son in an unexpected motorcycle crash over the holiday weekend. As I visited with them in their home, they shared their story with me. He grew up on a farm in the Panhandle of Texas during the Dustbowl years of the Great Depression. And then in March of 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. His wartime military commitment took him to England, where he encountered a young, petite 17 year old girl in a Red Cross Canteen. She didn’t seem to be responsive to his flirtatious efforts, so he confided in the lady that in charge. The older lady encouraged him not to give up. Little did he know that he was speaking to the mother of the young woman he was interested in!
When the young man received orders to return to the United States, he promised his English sweetheart that he would return for her. Before he was discharged from the Army, he was involved in a serious on duty accident that killed a fellow soldier. Two years later he returned for her, even though he had to travel to England via ship on crutches.
The young lovers have been married well over 60 years now. Their health is failing and now they are facing the loss of one of their sons. This afternoon she shared with me stories of retreating to bomb shelters as a young teenager living on the coast of England during the war. She talked of losing friends and family… And she showed me a wall in their living room adorned with military memorabilia and vintage photographs. He told me about going to the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. with their children and grandchildren for their 60th wedding anniversary. I could not help but think of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, which depicts an elderly veteran returning to Normandy with his children and grandchildren.
I was blessed today to be in the presence of people that made great sacrifices for my generation. Serving members of the Greatest Generation is one of perks of the job I no longer take for granted. My mission this afternoon was to try to comfort an older couple who had lost their son. I feel like I gained far more than I gave!