All posts in “Reflections”

Flightdeck Friday (I): Ave Atque Vale – Three Years On

Today’s Flightdeck Friday is a repost from the day when our extended family here learned of Lex’s passing out at NAS Fallon.  It was a grim day – a hard day and as noted below, one myself and many of us who have hung up our spurs thought we were done with.  In honor and memory therefore – today’s repost.  We’ll return to our regularly scheduled series this weekend. — SJS sends.


Lex

I lost a friend today.

We have lost a friend, a father, husband — a comrade in arms. Fellow aviator and blogger-at-arms, Neptunus Lex, was killed earlier today when the F-21 Kfir he was flying in support of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (“TOPGUN”) adversary squadron crashed at NAS Fallon.   No word on the cause as yet.   Prayers and thoughts go out to his family — please likewise keep them in your prayers in the days/weeks to come.

Lex would be the first to tell you, upon asking (or not), that he was a fighter pilot.   And he was an accomplished one at that – having reached the pinnacle with command of a Hornet squadron and XO at TOPGUN (“not two words” he would say…).   He was a sailor at heart with a love for the sea and those who set forth thereon in grey-hulled ships – befitting of one who wore the gold wings of a naval aviator.   And he was a patriot in the truest and traditional sense with a deep love for this country and her people.   Indeed, his last work in this life was training a new generation of fighters to defend this nation.

Even so, what really set Lex apart was his eloquence, obvious love of the classics and an abilty to turn a phrase that would do his Irish ancestors proud.   Anyone who has spent time in the air or at sea comes to appreciate the change in perspective those alluring mistresses offer and how they come to change you.   It is the rare person, however, who is able to more than adequately express and convey that imagery, that perspective.   Lex was one of those rare individuals and you could readily see it in his work – almost all of which he shared gratis online.   Whether it was a semi-fictional account of a young aviator wrestling with carrier flight ops or surgical disection of a controversial subject, his wit, grace and command of the language marked him as a finely honed rapier in a field cluttered with dull broadswords and broken battle axes.   And it will be missed.

The time will come when we will take position and give our formal farewells with appropriate ceremony.   For now, I’ll leave with this thought from a fellow naval aviator and friend – part of a discourse from last night…

” We are, actually, pretty few, and we count our fellows as friends of a different sort.. And so when one of us leaves, it is noticed. It is one thing to fade, fade away. It is another to be taken by the mistress, to be here, and then gone. I thought she was done with leaving me to count. So I thought.”

I too thought my counting days finished – alas not so…

Fair winds Lex and God bless and uphold your family.   We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point…on the other side  at the Green.

w/r,

SJS

Christmas 2014 — A New Song

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Christmas comes at a time of year where we, perforce, count our blessings, tally our losses and generally reflect on the year past. We find this action common across national boundaries and racial divides and, all too commonly, it ends there. The accountants’ take of the past year and if the blessings outweigh the losses, then it was a good year and we can celebrate and be joyful.

For that is the spirit of the season, right? We raise a toast, pause (ever so briefly) to recall those less fortunate and get on with the business of unwrapping gifts, breaking our fasts (such as they may be) and settle in for whatever entertainment is provided to us. Some of that may include songs of the season — “carols” as known by some. We dutifully (and at times, atonally) mix Rudolph, Santa and desires for front teeth with angels and a baby while wishing for “peace on earth” whilst holding only the vaguest understanding of the phrase. For most of us, the story behind some of those carols are shrouded in the mists of history, their quaint language, un-afflicted as yet by a modern re-write, twisting our tongues and puzzling our minds over what they mean; but it passes. Soon, we are into the New Year, deep into the distractions of the various sporting events and planning for the months to come. And so it is that another Christmas passes with maybe one or two things remembered until we repeat the cycle at the end of the next year.

My intention here is to hit the stop button, offering some points to ponder and reflect upon this Christmastide. There is a story I would like to share about one of those carols, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Morn” and how something written over 150 years ago may still have relevance today.

The carol is an 1872 adoption of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which itself, was written during a time of deep personal despair and loss on the part of Longfellow,  set against a background of a new nation that was busy going about tearing itself apart from within: 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And mild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

December of 1863 found Longfellow a desperately heartsick man. Two years earlier, the love of his life – his wife of 18 years, Francis Appleton and mother of their children, died of severe burns when the dress she was wearing caught fire. Despite his own efforts to extinguish the flames (and suffering burns on his face leading to the now trademark beard), Francis suffered burns over most of her body and died the following morning.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

And in despair I bowed my head;
˜There is no peace on earth, I said;
˜For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Still grieving the loss of his wife two years later, another matter weighed heavily on his heart; the status of his oldest son, Charles. When the Civil War began (the same year Francis died), Charley initially resisted the impulse to join the Army. Henry, a strict abolitionist, had tried to dissuade his son from joining as well, but by early 1863, Charley could resist no more and sought to join the fight.

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Troops crossing at Germanna Ford during the Mine Run campaign (from Harper’s Weekly)

Offered a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, he accepted and was commissioned on March 27, 1863. Charley entered on his new duties with enthusiasm and was assigned to Company “G” of the 1st Massachusetts. From thence he saw action in Virginia – first at Chancellorsville and then Culpepper (having missed Gettysburg while recovering from typhoid fever and malaria). On November 27, as part of the Mine Run Campaign, while in a skirmish at New Hope Church, Charley was shot through the left shoulder. The bullet traveled across his back, nicked his spine, and exited under his right shoulder.

He missed being paralyzed by less than an inch.

Still, grievously wounded, he was carried into the church and then by ambulance to the Rapidan River. On December 1, 1863, word was received at the Longfellow home in Cambridge of Charles serious injury. Henry and his younger son, Ernest, left at once for Washington, D.C. where they finally met up with Charley and brought him home. They reached Cambridge on December 8 and Charles Appleton Longfellow began the slow process of recovering. In fact, so serious were his injuries that this Christmas morn, his recovery was still very much in doubt. Indeed, throughout the land, the course of the war and fate of the nation was still believed to be in doubt, despite turning back Lee’s forces at Gettysburg.

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Thomas Cole: The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1833–34 (Oil on canvas) From the Chrysler Museum of Art

And so it was, this New England Christmas morning, when in the depths of despair that he heard the bells ringing through the Bostonian streets hearkening to that glorious proclamation in Luke:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
(Luke 2: 13-14, KJV)

churchBut each peal of the bells only seemed to highlight the disparity between the biblical proclamation of joy and the ever grim news on earth of no peace, no joy.

Taking up pen and paper, his last refuge in a world of despairingly ill news, he began to write. And when he wrote challengingly of the mockery of peace by hate; of the power of the canon over the carol.  Then, he answered with heaven-sent grace, of hope born on the knowledge of a future certainty:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
˜God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Despite his despair, despite all the trappings of gloom and fear, Henry’s faith in the power of God and man to join and transcend the horrors of war gave birth to this song, inspired by his hearing the ringing out of the Christmas bells.

Now on this Christmas Eve I ask do you hear the bells? The promise of peace, real peace the Savior s birth portends? That in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, of earthquakes and pestilence and the evil man is able to heap upon man that there is one whose birth, life and yes, death and ultimate resurrection was as a sacrifice for you and I that we might come to know peace — real peace? A peace that is not just the absence of tumult and strife, but the peace (εἰρήνη) sung by the angels in their new song to the shepherds outside Bethlehem wherein mankind is rejoined with God?  Why not take a break from the hustle and flow of the secular part of the holiday and ponder for a while on the spirit? John 3:1-21 is a good place to start.

Stop, pause, ponder, and marvel at the real gift of the season it was offered, after all, free for you and I.  And sing a new song.

 

Submitted with All Our Wishes for a Blessed Christmas.

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Note: I would be remiss not to recognize Pastor Greg Corcoran of Battlefield Baptist Church for his series “Rediscover Christmas”  and Bro. Bryan Wise, our worship pastor who will be departing for the missionary field in Nicaragua this coming year, both of whom provided inspiration in writing this post.  As Bro. Bryan would say — “Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord!” this Christmas.

Generations

Generations

Call this one – “Generations.” From the left — my Grandpa (father’s side), first generation American of German descent who left his home in Illinois to join the Army and head off to the War to End All Wars, serving in France with the AEF. Next my Grandpa Jack – Army, Signal Corps who served from Alaska to the beaches and cliffs at Normandy, on the cutting edge of radar and long-haul communications.  Then my Dad, Bill, Army, Coastal Artillery and Signal Corps, Pacific Theater, also working in radar and other leading edge technology.  And me, Navy, Hawkeye NFO (there’s that radar link again, must be in the genes) and CO, VAW-122; Pentagon/9-11.  All volunteers.  Some served longer than others – some continued to serve in other ways.  Proud of ‘em all and what they did.  

And across the width and breadth of this great land, let’s crack open the old photo albums, dust off the VCRs, load up the DVDs and for those vets still among us, let’s talk to them about their service.  Because there are many a family with history like this in the land of the citizen soldier, and the memories need to be preserved.  So on this forthcoming Veteran’s Day, to all who have served and those still serving – God Bless and thank you for your service.

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Happy Independence Day America!

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To our family, friends, fellow Americans and expat friends of the blog around the globe – we wish you all a Happy Independence Day, this 4th of July In The year of Our Lord 2014.
And let us all take time today to reflect on the gift of Liberty and what Freedom has meant for us as a Nation, a People and in our personal lives.

Memorial Day Thoughts

For those who are serving or who have served — and those who love them, this is a bittersweet time of year.  Surrounded by rebirth after a long winter we are reminded of our fallen shipmates; some in battle, some in preparations for battle and some for whom the distant shouts of war were suddenly and dramatically brought down upon them, far from the battlefield.  For some that list may be extensive, especially given the last 12-plus years from Sept 11, 2001 and forward. For others, it may be a relatively short list, but no less poignant as it has a father, uncle, mother, aunt, brother, or sister on it.  While we have written on these (virtual) pages of many instances over the years, there are some that are particularly dearly held because they were fellow brethren in arms, shipmates and friends in the truest sense…


CAPT Scott “Scooter” Lamoreaux, USN

Flight school is an interesting opportunity to study the human psyche in its multitude of facets. Competition is keen, at least for the first 4 or five slots in the class standing as those folks are reasonably sure of getting the community they want (it is also where one is introduced to the phrase “needs of the Service…”). For all the competition – in the classroom, in the simulator, in flight, one also has the opportunity to forge some pretty strong friendships, which years down the pike, are periodically refreshed in a chance encounter at a conference or courtesy the daily COD delivery…

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Your last flight in the mighty T-2 – time is fast approaching for the meat of the syllabus and the T-39, with its dual-personality imbued by the presence of an IP and Instructor NFO awaits. Childhood’s end – adolescence’s start. Still, one more chance is offered for play before the level of seriousness is ratcheted inexorably higher. 1v1 – time to go beak to beak, to turn and burn baby. Hang the fangs out a bit and see how you do in the dynamic environment that is ACM – such as it is in a straight-winged, subsonic jet. Your sparring partner is a good friend. Came from a fighter family, he did – pops having been instrumental in the early life of that worthy steed and snoVerticalrting beast, the F-4 Phantom. Scott was his name, but everyone just called him Scooter. Along with Rich and Briggs, the four of you had torn through AI and VT-10 (and, ahem, truth be told, the environs in and around P-cola, usually with our hair on fire and late into the night, but we digress) clustered together standing-wise with grades broken out to the second decimal. If everything held, and it looked oh-so-tantalizingly so, you each were headed to your community of choice – but that was stuff for the ground. Here, now, it was you vs. Scooter, each with a VF-derived IP manning the front seat and – Fight’s On!

Inbound now, there they are – watch, watch and…call the turn. Damn! Where’d they go? OK, got’ em, but it’s going to be close. Work it – the g’s build, work it – rats, looks like they won this one. Let’s set up for a second run. Outbound we get a quick debrief and suggestions from our IP that they didn’t talk about in class.

Inbound again, visual and coming to the merge – call the turn and … got ‘em all the way this time. A quick knife fight and a guns solution met with a “Knock it off.” One for our “W” column. Quick check of gas in both planes – time for one more run? Absolutely – go for it. More bits of knowledge, experience passed back from the front seat. Seemed pretty standoffish in the brief and the gouge was he wasn’t a screamer – but still a tough grader and not much given to serendipitous talk…are we sure they didn’t switch IP’s on us?

Here we go again – once more into the breech. This time we’re going vertical, big time. And there we are, me looking across to a mirror image pinned against the dark blue as we go vaulting off into the heavens…

F-14D_VF-2_Bounty_Hunters_in_flight_2002

Some number of years later the memory came flooding back as we learned of the terrible news. It had been while flying a low-level anti-ship cruise missile supersonic profile for a destroyer. Just a training hop. He’d taken time off from his post-command staff job to climb back in the cockpit he so dearly loved. The big Tomcat was there one minute – and gone in a cloud of flame, smoke and vapor. Little was found – and a good friend, a husband, father, and fighter NFO beyond compare was gone. CAPT Scott “Scooter” Lamoreaux, USN. Bounty Hunter One. Rest easy Scooter and know that while we all miss you, we each have our memories. Mine forever of an orange and white jet with the countenance not unlike a guppy, suspended against the Florida sky and two young buck aviators, intense on the task at hand and loving every second of it with grins a mile-wide, yet hidden behind an O2 mask, having the time of their life…


CAPT Carroll “Lex” Lefon, USN-Ret.

Aviation – especially tactical aviation whether it be from the ship or on the beach, is an unforgiving mistress – as we found out not so long ago…

I lost a friend today.

Lex

We have lost a friend, a father, husband — a comrade in arms. Fellow aviator and blogger-at-arms, Neptunus Lex, was killed earlier today when the F-21 Kfir he was flying in support of Top Gun’s adversary squadron crashed at NAS Fallon. No word on the cause as yet. Prayers and thoughts go out to his family — please likewise keep them in your prayers in the days/weeks to come.

Lex would be the first to tell you, upon asking (or not), that he was a fighter pilot. And he was an accomplished one at that – having reached the pinnacle with command of a Hornet squadron and XO at TOPGUN (“not two words” he would say…). He was a sailor at heart with a love for the sea and those who set forth thereon in grey-hulled ships – befitting of one who wore the gold wings of a naval aviator. And he was a patriot in the truest and traditional sense with a deep love for this country and her people. Indeed, his last work in this life was training a new generation of fighters to defend this nation.

Even so, what really set Lex apart was his eloquence, obvious love of the classics and an ability to turn a phrase that would do his Irish ancestors proud. Anyone who has spent time in the air or at sea comes to appreciate the change in perspective those alluring mistresses offer and how they come to change you. It is the rare person, however, who is able to more than adequately express and convey that imagery, that perspective. Lex was one of those rare individuals and you could readily see it in his work – almost all of which he shared gratis online. Whether it was a semi-fictional account of a young aviator wrestling with carrier flight ops or surgical dissection of a controversial subject, his wit, grace and command of the language marked him as a finely honed rapier in a field cluttered with dull broadswords and broken battle axes. And it will be missed.

The time will come when we will take position and give our formal farewells with appropriate ceremony. For now, I’ll leave with this thought from a fellow naval aviator and friend – part of a discourse from last night…

 ” We are, actually, pretty few, and we count our fellows as friends of a different sort.. And so when one of us leaves, it is noticed. It is one thing to fade, fade away. It is another to be taken by the mistress, to be here, and then gone. I thought she was done with leaving me to count. So I thought.”

I too thought my counting days finished – alas not so…

Fair winds Lex and God bless and uphold your family. We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point…on the other side at the Green.


CAPT Bob Dolan, USN, OPNAV N513 and The Navy Operations Center

September 11, 2001.  We all remember where we were, what we were doing – now.  Then, it was just another early fall day that on the East Coast, found a sky so clear of clouds and haze that the blue burned your eyes.  It was the perfect day for flying.  None of us, especially those who worked in the Navy OPS Center which included CNO-IP and my Strategy and Concepts Branch (N513) could have possibly imagined that a day which started with such promise would end in fire, smoke and personal loss.  We lost many fine Americans that day in the Pentagon, including the 39 in the OPS Center. Among them was my N513 branch chief, CAPT Bob Dolan as fine and decent a human being, naval officer and SWO as may be found…

CAPT Dolan, 43, was working on the first floor of the Pentagon as head of the Strategy and Concepts Branch (N513), when a hijacked jetliner slammed into the building last Tuesday morning. The Florham Park native knew from childhood that his future was with the military, his mother, Joan Dolan, said. After graduating from Hanover Park High School in East Hanover, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering. His career subsequently took him to the Arabian Gulf to clear mines and to the Adriatic Sea as a combat systems officer aboard the USS Richmond K. Turner, in support of Operation Deny Flight over the former Yugoslavia. In 1994, CAPT Dolan served as executive officer aboard the USS Thomas S. Gates in the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf. From October 1998 to May 2000 he was commanding officer of the USS John Hancock, based in Mayport, Fla.  Capt. Dolan’s decorations include the Purple Heart, Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (2), Navy Commendation Medal (4), and the Navy Achievement Medal (1) along with numerous unit awards. – Washington Post, September 2001

Bob loved to be at sea, but with each offshore assignment he deeply missed his wife and two children. His 20-year career took him to the far-flung corners of the world — Bahrain, the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean — but he still managed to keep in touch with the friends he made in kindergarten.  He was a disciplined officer who made it his business to excel at every post, but he also was a “guy’s guy” who enjoyed grabbing a beer with friends. “Bob was a touchstone for many of us because of the person he was, not because of his accomplishments as a leader,” said family friend Mark Wallinger, who was best man at CAPT Dolan’s wedding. “He was a friend to everybody, and a hero to those who knew him.” 

He was a man who viewed service as a privilege,” his wife, Lisa of Alexandria, Va., wrote in an e-mail. “Bob Dolan was the best and the brightest this country had to offer to the altar of freedom.” In addition to his wife, Capt. Dolan is survived by his children, Rebecca, 15, and Beau, 9; his parents, Joan and Robert of Florham Park; two brothers, Christopher of Quakertown, Pa., and Daniel of Bethel, Pa., and several nieces and nephews. (Compiled from various sources, primarily consisting of The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post)

We served aboard the USS Inchon (LPH 12) back in the early 80′s. The Inchon was the PHIBRON 6 flagship during the MARG 3 82 deployment. In September 1982, we put the 3/8 marines ashore in Beirut as part of the MNF and supported them until February 1983. Ensign Dolan was a part of that mission and earned one of his expeditionary medals as well as the NUC for his participation. I find it terribly ironic that a man who started his Naval career as part of a Peacekeeping operation in the Middle East would eventually fall victim to Middle East terrorists on 9/11.– Joe Netzel, Webmaster USS Inchon Association.

“One of Bob’s department heads on the USS John Hancock gave this picture to him when they made their last deployment. This was the ship he commanded for two years, and it was the ship’s last deployment because it was decommissioned shortly after. The picture shows Bob sitting in the captain’s chair on the bridge. He liked being in the Navy; he liked being on a ship and being at sea. The ship’s motto was ‘First for freedom,’ which I’ve kind of taken on as our family’s motto since September 11. The picture just personifies his life; beyond being a family man, this was Bob.” – Lisa Dolan, wife

 In the midst of tragedy we often times find small offerings of light — a bright moment we can hold onto that serves to, if only for a moment, ease the hurt. Such was the case with Bob; I well remember the cheer this story brought our group when we first heard it as told here by CAPT Tempestilli (Class of ’79) on the USNA’s Alumni ’9/11 Remembrance’ site:

I must also share a brief and miraculous story with you. Last week, I received a phone call from an FBI agent working at the site of the Pentagon attack. He was a USNA ‘ 89 alumnus. As buckets of debris were being removed from the site, he noticed a Naval Academy 1981 class ring, which turned out to be Bob’s. (We Academy types are advised to have our name engraved in our rings because they always seem to find their way home.) I went down to the Pentagon to receive the ring. When I arrived, he was in his SUV with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” playing on the stereo. As he handed me the ring, we hugged and cried together–the longest and deepest cry I have had since this tragedy struck. Enroute home, I stopped at Bob’s favorite bar in Alexandria, “Murphy’s,” and drank a beer with 4 other of Bob’s closest friends. We left Bob’s beer glass full on the bar as sort of a “missing man” formation. Lisa now wears the ring around her neck, just like she did the day of Bob’s USNA ring dance.

By the end of September the funerals had begun. From small, family only services to a Naval Academy chapel filled to the rafters – some at Arlington and others back in their home states; we buried our shipmates. Catholic, Protestant, Hebrew, Buddhist…a deep, painful slice of America was being buried. Each had a story to tell – whether they were a former ship’s CO, retired P-3 aviator, a second generation Vietnamese immigrant, a sailor from Chicago, a husband on his first shore tour with his bride – all represented this great nation.

Indeed — all represented and gave their all for this great nation.  Let us never forget.

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The E-2 Hawkeye At Fifty

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50yrs1This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the E-2 Hawkeye’s entry into Fleet operations.  Over the course of those fifty-years the aircraft has radically changed and grown in capabilities and mission focus, while visually remaining much the same as the first E-2A .  From Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq,  it has been a part of every conflict and some notable special missions. Developed as a purpose-built AEW platform to guide carrier-based fighters to intercept Soviet missile carrying bombers, it counts a multitude of missions that include battle management, post-disaster relief (air traffic control), SAR, counter-narcotics, and ASUW, to name but a few.  In its forthcoming iteration, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, it will be a centerpiece in Navy’s integrated fires plan.  All that said, the E-2 also played a major role in my life for the better part of a 26-year career, and still influences it today.

So how do you recognize 50 years of service?  Well – you certainly throw a celebration – and this year’s Hawkeye Ball and Hawkeye Week in October will feature the 50 year celebration (more on that to follow).  An E-2C will be inducted into the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola (finally!).  And in the run up to Hawkeye Week this site and the Hawkeye-Greyhound Association’s site will feature articles on the historical background and lineage of the Hawkeye, along with personal memories collected from those who have flown and worked on the Hummer.  We’ll kick it off here in the coming days with an updated re-run of the CADILLAC I & II series from a few years back.  If any out there have stories or memories to share (and especially photos – we need photos particularly from the early days, due credit will be given and copyright enforced) please send them along.

Watch for the hashtag #HawkeyeAt50

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A Christmas Homily: 2013

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Christmas comes at a time of year where we, perforce, count our blessings, tally our losses and generally reflect on the year past. We find this action common across national boundaries and racial divides and, all too commonly, it ends there. The accountants take of the past year and if the blessings outweigh the losses, then it was a good year and we can celebrate and be joyful.

For that is the spirit of the season, right? We raise a toast, pause (ever so briefly) to recall those less fortunate and get on with the business of unwrapping gifts, breaking our fasts (such as they may be) and settle in for whatever entertainment is provided to us. Some of that may include songs of the season, carols as known by some. We dutifully (and at times, atonally) mix Rudolph, Santa and desires for front teeth with angels and a baby while wishing for “peace on earth.” For most of us, the story behind some of those carols are shrouded in the mists of history, their quaint language, un-afflicted as yet by a modern re-write, twisting our tongues and puzzling our minds over what they mean but it passes. Soon, we are into the New Year, deep into the distractions of the various sporting events and planning for the months to come. And so it is that another Christmas passes with maybe one or two things remembered until we repeat the cycle at the end of the next year.

My intention here is to hit the stop button and offer some points to ponder and reflect upon this Christmastide. There is a story I would like to relate about one of those carols, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Morn” and how something written 150 years ago can have relevance today.

The carol is an 1872 adoption of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which itself, was written during a time of deep despair and loss on the part of Longfellow¦

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

December of 1863 found Longfellow a desperately heartsick man. Two years earlier, the love of his life his wife of 18 years, Francis Appleton and mother of their children, died of severe burns when the dress she was wearing caught fire. Despite his own efforts to extinguish the flames (and suffering burns on his face leading to the now trademark beard), Francis suffered burns over most of her body and died the following morning.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
˜There is no peace on earth, I said;
˜For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Still grieving the loss of his wife two years later, another matter weighed heavily on his heart the status of his oldest son, Charles. When the Civil War began (the same year Francis died), Charley initially resisted the impulse to join the Army. Henry, a strict abolitionist, had tried to dissuade his son from joining as well, but by early 1863, Charley could resist no more and sought to join the fight.

Offered a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, he accepted and was commissioned on March 27, 1863. Charley entered on his new duties with enthusiasm and was assigned to Company “G” of the 1st Massachusetts. From thence he saw action first at Chancellorsville and then Culpepper (having missed Gettysburg while recovering from typhoid fever and malaria). On November 27, as part of the Mine Run Campaign, while in a skirmish during the battle of New Hope Church, Virginia, Charley was shot through the left shoulder. The bullet traveled across his back, nicked his spine, and exited under his right shoulder. He missed being paralyzed by less than an inch. He was carried into the church and then by ambulance to the Rapidan River. On December 1, 1863, word was received at the Longfellow home in Cambridge of Charles serious injury. Henry and his younger son, Ernest, left at once for Washington, D.C. where they finally met up with Charley and brought him home. They reached Cambridge on December 8 and Charles Appleton Longfellow began the slow process of recovering. In fact, so serious were his injuries that this Christmas morn, his recovery was still in doubt. Indeed, throughout the land, the course of the war and fate of the nation was still believed to be in doubt, despite turning back Lee s forces at Gettysburg.

And so it was, this New England Christmas morning, when in the depths of despair that he heard the bells ringing through the Bostonian streets hearkening to that glorious proclamation in Luke:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
(Luke 2: 13-14, KJV)

But each peal of the bells only seemed to highlight the disparity between the biblical proclamation of joy and the ever grim news on earth of no peace, no joy.

Taking up pen and paper, his last refuge in a world of despairingly ill news, he began to write. And when he wrote challengingly of the mockery of peace by hate of the power of the canon over the carol, he answered with heaven-sent grace, of hope born on the knowledge of a future certainty:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
˜God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Despite his despair, despite all the trappings of gloom and fear, Henry’s faith in the power of God and man to join and transcend the horrors of war gave birth to this song, inspired by his hearing the ringing out of the Christmas bells.

Now on this Christmas Eve I ask do you hear the bells? The promise of peace, real peace the Savior s birth portends? That in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, of earthquakes and pestilence and the evil man is able to heap upon man that there is one whose birth, life and yes, death and ultimate resurrection was as a sacrifice for you and I that we might come to know peace — real peace? Why not take a break in the hustle and flow of the secular part of the holiday and ponder for a while on the spirit? John 3:1-21 is as good a place as any to start.

Stop, pause, ponder, and marvel at the real gift of the season it was offered, after all, free for you and I.

 

Submitted with All Our Wishes for a Blessed Christmas.

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Holiday Lights – of a Different Kind

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While stationed in Norfolk (on active duty) one of our family traditions come Christmas was to head up to the Naval base after Christmas Eve service and take in the sights of the ships dressed out in holiday lighting.  From sub to destroyer and big deck amphib and carrier, almost all were dressed out in one form or another – some to such an extent that it rivaled the nearby skyline for wattage.  One thing, however, was always foremost on our minds as a family – of those who were over the horizon, on deployment that wouldn’t be home this holiday.  As a family, we were pretty sensitive to it given the number of Christmases (and anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) I’d been deployed and so we always kept them in our thoughts and prayers every holiday season.

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Including even now, as a retiree …

 “O  Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea; vouchsafe to take into Thy almighty and most gracious protection our country’s Navy and all who serve therein.  Preserve them from the dangers of the sea and from the violence of the enemy; that they may be a safeguard unto the United States of America and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of our land may in peace and quietness serve Thee our God to the glory of Thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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“Air Raid Pearl Harbor. This is Not A Drill.” *

* Telegraph from Patrol Wing Two Headquarters warning of the attack on Pearl Harbor

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:

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Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

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