A little more than ten years ago, I had the opportunity to attend an Army Chaplain training event in Gettysburg, Penn. During my free time one afternoon, I took the self-guided tour of the Gettysburg cemetery and Civil War battleground. It was a humbling and emotional experience to walk the lines where so many men had died. Consequently, I resolved to share it with my family. Shortly thereafter, I loaded up Karen and the kids for a trip to Gettysburg on the assumption that they would embrace the experience as much as I did. In hindsight, it was utterly predictable that compelling my wife and children to look at a field of old war memorials which had ignited my passion would hardly spark theirs. Although I learned a lesson about being a husband and a father that day, the bigger lesson to be learned is a warning to all generations about the value of remembering to remember.
Thursday, June 6, 2019, is the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. Writing for The Atlantic, Rachel Donadio quotes Robert Dalessandro, the deputy secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, “I always liken D-Day at 75 to 1938 in Gettysburg.” Much like President Roosevelt in 1938 made remarks to a vanishing number of Civil War veterans about great causes and sacrifices, President Trump will speak to the last surviving members of the Greatest Generation about the deadly obstacles they overcame on the beach in 1944. But I think it likely, whether in 1938 during the summer of Hitler’s appeasement or in 2019 during the summer of Russian election interference, that most Americans will yawn at the news, focus on their immediate needs, and forget to remember those who died preserving the privilege to forget.
It has been said that the church is always one generation away from extinction. The implication being, if successive generations fail to remember our communal history, what we presently have will soon be gone. This is why media outlets report on projects to record the voices of World War II veterans, preserving their stories. We must not forget. This is why the Fort Greely Chapel community gathers around the Lord’s Table each week in obedience to Jesus’ directive, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We must not forget. Not forgetting, though, is more than a brief observance on a particular day or anniversary, although that is important too. It is a lifestyle postured toward remembering to remember, the beginning of which is humility.
Joshua 4 describes how God provided a way for the Israelites to cross the Jordan River. Then Joshua instructed the men to build a memorial with stones taken from the river bed. Afterward, “[He] said to the Israelites, ‘In the future when your descendants ask their parents, “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.”’” The genius of making a memorial from a pile of stones is that any pile of stones will do, which was an important consideration at the time for the nomadic tribes of Israel. Hundreds of years later, hundreds of miles away, a child could ask Grandpa about another pile of rocks: “What do these stones mean?” And Grandpa might say, “Sit down. Let me tell you a story of how God helped Israel cross a river.” That is living a life of humble gratitude where remembering to remember is a priority. Remember the living monuments this week and tell their story.
For God and Country!
The Fort Greely Chapel community is a traditional, protestant Army chapel service meeting on Sundays at 1000 with a weekly Communion observance. Interested? Please call 907-873-4397 or “Like” our chapel Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FGAChapel.