Funerals, Friends and Old Milwaukee

Part of my duties as a Chaplain is to be in the shoot for funerals and death notifications. Death notifications are brutal. You’re there at the front door of a home of unsuspecting folks that have sent their child off to the Army. You are in your green uniform and as soon as they see you, its over, their world is ruined. It’s a difficult task. Then we have the honor of officiating funerals for retirees. I have done 5 or 6 since becoming a Chaplain. One which I’ll eventually write down was hilarious, some are short and somber. This week was a profound event for me however. It spoke to my soul about the value of friendship, lifelong friendship. It spoke about the bond of “drinking buddies”. I learned about the value of a life that gave more than it took. I also learned that God has His timetable with people, and He isn’t much concerned with how I’d like things to be done. I got called to take the Chaplain role for this funeral on Thursday. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time, right in the middle of a new cycle, whiny soldiers everywhere, my cell phone refusing to be quiet. My family was coming to visit this weekend for a dance competition that my daughter was in. She always wants her daddy there. This funeral just wasn’t convenient. But, soldiers drive on and do their duty no matter what.

I cruised out to Elgin near Columbia to meet with the family representative. It was surprising to me that the family didn’t have anything to do with the funeral. I found out why later on. What I did find was a very kind southern gentleman that had just lost his neighbor and best friend. He and I sat and spoke over files of old Army documents that told a sketchy story of a man who had served his country for 26 years. What really gave me a clearer image of the man was his friend’s face and how it lit up when he told stories of long front porch conversations and repair jobs around their houses. Everyone in the neighborhood new this man. He was a good and descent man. His buddy shared of the one spiritual conversation they had. It was the only one in 30 years of knowing each other. Oh, but how important that one was. It was just days before the surgery that would eventually take his life. As the best friend approached his buddy’s front porch, he noticed that his friend had a serious look on his face. His buddy looked him in the eye and said, “Brother, I know I’m a sinner and today I asked God to forgive me!” The two friends then prayed together and that 78 year old man gained new life in Jesus that day. What a blessing for Chaplain to hear that story prior to a funeral. My new friend and I (Tracy is his name) then sat and talked for another 2 hours about life, family, God, Heaven, moonshine, mountains, and motorcycles. It was awesome! I left with open ended visiting rights to his back porch, How cool is that!

All of his other friends he met at a local watering hole. It’s a corner bar on a lonely SC highway. Most people would call it a dump, but I’d say it was more like a family. At the funeral the whole bar came, to include about 40 veterans of Viet Nam, bikers and other assorted and interesting people. They smoked during the service. I could not help but think that this is exactly where Jesus would have been. And they all wanted to talk to the Chaplain. I spoke with a crusty old Marine Corps Sergeant Major who told countless tales about the man we just honored. As we spoke it was cold up on that little hill where the service took place. The wind was brisk, it was like a scene out of a movie. I learned that he loved Old Milwaukee beer and working in his garden. I learned that his family had disowned him after retiring from the Army and then only attempted a reconciliation when they found out he was dying and that he had saved lots of money over the years. It was pitiful and shameful. That was why his best friend had to make all the arrangements. I found out through the testimony of his friends that he did more for his country than his country did for him. He led a rifle company as a 1SGT at the ripe old age of 41 (my age) in Viet Nam. He came close to death there many times, but the thing that took him was hospital born pneumonia. I looked at all those people that loved this man, not one of them related by blood. I heard their precious stories and once again thought, “Jesus would be right here.” As I left the cemetery Jack and I drove by that bar. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. Every car from the funeral was there. Jack was the one who noticed it. I couldn't help but think that Jesus would go in there with them. I’ve made up my mind. When I go back to visit my new friend, I’m gonna stop in on that 1SGT’s family and listen to a few more stories. I hope I can bring Jesus with me too.


2LT Amy Maxwell said…
Great post. Thanks

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