On Sunday, September 11, 2016 at the main (new) sanctuary for Goodwill Church in Montgomery, NY from 8:30am to about 8:50am we’re going to have a little ceremony. It will be before the worship services that follow at 9:00am and 11:30am. A few members of the American Legion from across the street will be presenting a flag that they have generously procured for us and together we will use the moment to pray, hear the National Anthem, and remember 9/11. There may not be many people in attendance, but those of us there won’t mind. It will feel crowded to us due to memories of those we personally knew who lost their lives in wars our country fought and attacks our country suffered. May this new flag remind us to remember and pray.
We’re getting this flag because a member of the American Legion… (I’m leaving his name out intentionally; I didn’t get a chance to ask permission to post it.) …approached me after one of our Wednesday programs this summer. He wanted to know why we had no flag in front of our church. I’ve had a few people approach me about this. Sometimes they seem to want to use their conversation with me to portray themselves as patriotic, which is fine, I guess. In a few cases I’ve suspected an inquisitor was lying about being in the military. This gentleman was different. He was and is the real thing from the American Legion across the street from our church. I told him we had a flag in the hearth area of the our old building complex, but not one yet for our new meeting place. If he wanted me to place one, I would do so in honor of his and his fellow Legion members’ service and let all in the congregation know. And then he offered to give us one suitable for our sanctuary: a double blessing.
The first plane hit the first tower at 8:46am. We’ll be in our service at that exact moment 15 years past. Serving as an Air National Guard chaplain at the 105th Airlift Wing now, I was an Air Force Reserve chaplain attached to the 436th Airlift Wing in Dover, Delaware 15 years ago. Due to the turnaround of active duty chaplains that September, I was one of the two chaplains attached to the base, both of us reservists, who had any experience in the port mortuary (the sole, very large mortuary for the entire military in CONUS). I was called and told I had six hours to be in place about an hour after the towers fell. I didn’t even get a chance to see my wife, who was locked down all day in a school she was working in. On September 13th I was inside the mortuary as the first remains from the Pentagon attack were brought to Dover and processed. I served there for the rest of month. It gave me a unique, difficult, up-close view of this tragedy. I’ll leave out all the descriptions of what I saw in terms of death and destruction. Instead, let me bring it back to the flag.
In the mortuary there was a a room with every uniform piece that any member of the military would ever wear. Each fallen member of the military is buried with a brand new uniform with all the proper rank and ribbons placed perfectly. It’s a labor of love topped off with the folding of a new flag to accompany the casket. In a world of grays and loss, the three bright colors of the US flag offer many things. This life lost was not lost in vain. This person, irreplaceable in every way, was part of something bigger than herself or himself. There is honor here to accompany and (as Lincoln put it) assuage the heartbreak. The word “patriot” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
And this is why I’m running the New York Marathon for the “Hope for Warriors” charity, in hopes of raising at least $3,500.00 for them. Thanks for reading this and for all your support. God bless you… and God bless America…