30 January 2009


Father Denis O’Brien (MM) and late a Sergeant of the First Marine Division in that little dust up out in the Pacific was a veteran of the Cape Gloucester, Pelelieu (“we lost the equivalent of two regiments in a week”) and Okinawa landings. Having heard God’s call in the cauldron of close combat, after the War, he took holy orders as a missionary priest to the far corners of the world. Still, he never stopped being a Marine—he was the beloved Chaplain of the First Marine Division Association at the time of his death in Dallas, Texas on August 29, 2002.

The Padre knew war and was not afraid to write about it.

The high point of the day for me was the 1700 (5pm) meeting the Skipper had with the platoon commanders, the artillery forward observer, and the Company Gunnery Sergeant. The Gunny would have his FM radio turned to the Armed Forces Vietnam Network for the country and western program. We got our mail, ate, talked and then were briefed on the night’s plans.

Around 1 February, the Skipper announced that Mike Koch and I would swap platoons. I would become Weapons Platoon Commander and Mike would take over 2d Platoon. While I was not happy about the change, it was fair. On Christmas eve, the Skipper had noted that with four of us joining at the same time, he would make a switch to ensure that each of us had a shot at a rifle platoon.

Weapons Platoon was a different assignment. Because the machine gun and anti-tank sections were attached out to the three rifle platoons, all I really had was the three tubes of the 60mm mortar section. As a result, I was also the headquarters commandant, which meant that I was posted in the COC as the "watch officer" most of the time.

It was at this time that Dick Rollins and I became friends. Dick was an artillery officer assigned to Charlie Company as its FO. He was the company commander’s supporting arms expert and, in our situation at the Base Camp, acted as the Supporting Arms Coordinator, coordinating the fires of the 60mm mortars, 81mm mortar fire missions, and close air support, as well as the artillery fires from Delta Battery, 2d Battalion, 11th Marines (his parent unit).

One afternoon, the Gunny scrounged some older 60mm rounds and we decided to train our gunners. Alligator Lake (named for its shape on the map) was at the southwest corner of our perimeter. We had the mortar teams set up and planned to shoot into the lake.

The 60mm mortar rounds we were using had a finned base, a tubular shaft that connected the fins to the body of the shell, and a point-detonating fuse. Clipped to the fins were propellant increments (referred to as “charges”), an explosive papery substance. There were holes in the tube, which was hollow. Inserted into the base of the tube was, essentially, a shotgun round without any pellets.

The firing pin was located at the base of the mortar tube itself. The round was prepared and then dropped into the tube. When it hit bottom, the shotgun shell was fired, which ignited the charges, generating gas and propelling the round out of the tube. The range of the weapon depended on the elevation of the mortar tube and the number of charges affixed to the fins. The gunner and assistant gunner could adjust the range by removing one or more of the charges before the round was dropped into the tube.

When we opened the rounds the Gunny had obtained, we discovered that they were Korean War era ammo. They were similar to the round we used, but were shorter and stubbier.

We began the firing exercise and all went well. The Gunny and I were standing about 15 meters from the gun pits, observing. Suddenly, I noticed that as one tube fired, the round exited the mortar slowly and was already wobbling in flight.

“It’s not supposed to do that, is it Gunny? Gunny? Gunny?” He was nowhere to be seen.

I looked back, and he had taken cover behind a sandbagged emplacement. “Get your ass over here, Lieutenant!”

I hit the deck as the round exploded about 150 meters outside our lines, well short of the middle of the lake. Thus ended our practice shoot.

A couple of nights later, tragedy struck again. One of Chip Hartman’s squads was heading out for its ambush site. While still on the road, they heard noise to their flank and went into an immediate action drill.

IA drills are practiced before every patrol to address common situations, such as taking incoming artillery or mortar fire, being ambushed, or countering an ambush.
In this case, the proper response was for each man to turn 90 degrees towards the suspected enemy unit and to assault through the enemy ambush. They did just that, but the tail end Charlie apparently turned less than 90 degrees and moved in front of the next man in the column. Seeing movement in front of him in the darkness, he fired, killing the other Marine.

The squad returned to the lines for the night. I quickly formed up an ambush patrol made up of cooks and bakers and spare Marines from the 81 mm mortar platoon and sent them out for the near ambush.

The next morning, Chip assembled his entire platoon in a back corner of the Base Camp. The Marine who had killed his shipmate was still at sickbay, but the rest of the platoon was badly shaken. They sat in a “school circle” and talked for about six hours, until they had things settled in the “family.” It was never mentioned again.

I think that Chip’s performance in those trying circumstances was one of the finest acts of leadership I witnessed in my Marine Corps career. He was a consummate officer and a genuine leader of men.

The incident itself was the kind of “friendly fire” incident that has plagued soldiers since the beginning of time. Because the press was so anxious to find any “story” to spice up the news, many Americans think that friendly fire was a phenomenon unique to the First Gulf War. They are wrong.

Stonewall Jackson was killed at Chancellorsville by friendly fire. During WWII in Normandy, there were several instances in which Army Air Force bombers became lost and bombed American units, killing hundreds. We refer to “the fog of war” for a reason.

This incident and others like it prove Father Denis’s famous maxim (from his essay, “Murphy’s Law of Combat”): Friendly fire isn’t!

29 January 2009

THE ADVENTURES OF GRAYING PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: Personal Leadership Responsibilities of Elders

Looking through his study materials, Red found that Ruling Elders have 18 enumerated responsibilities. Breaking them down, he found three Personal Leadership Responsibilities, nine duties with respect to Spiritual Supervision, and six broad Administrative Responsibilities.

The first of the Personal Leadership Responsibilities is an obligation to prepare both themselves and prospective ruling elders and deacons for service. “Those who serve well must be prepared for such service, and it is the duty of the Church Session of each particular church to offer adequate opportunity to those elected to office to prepare them for their ministry.”

"The Church Session shall confer with each person elected to office in the particular church to determine if that person feels called to office and is willing to serve faithfully.”

Well, he thought, that sure didn’t happen. The Session apparently attempted to “delegate” its authority to the nominating committee. Recalling his classes at The Basic School, he knew that while authority may, under proper circumstances, be delegated, responsibility cannot.

In this case, the delegation of authority was inadequate. Neither the Nominating Committee nor the Session met with the candidates prior to their installation. When the representative of the Nominating Committee called, he had missed some important clues:

She was rushed. "Red, we are in a real bind. We a short an elder and none of the resting elders wants to come back on session.” The office of ruling elder was being treated as a hereditary office unless previously ordained elders declined to actively serve. Did the session meet with those resting elders to determine why they no longer had a sense of call? From a conversation with Ruby Rinsett, a resting elder, Red knew that she had declined because “I’ve been there and done that. It was fun, but now that I’ve got that out of the way, it’s time for me to do something else.”

And if the Nominating Committee had been delegated the responsibility of meeting with the candidates, it was clearly unqualified to do so. Red had been told, “It's not hard, just go to the monthly meeting and watch the others." Anyone who had read the Book of Order and the Leadership Training Guide would have known that the office of ruling elder is neither easy nor passive. The result of the failure of the sitting session to perform this important duty was that there were now ordained and serving elders who might not actually feel called to office.

“The Church Session shall make provision for courses of instruction in the following matters: Church government, the Sacraments, the Faith of the Church, the Worship of the Church, the Discipline of the Church, the History of the Church, and an understanding of the office to which one is elected.”

Not at Graying! Last night’s meeting was ample evidence that the session had little grasp of Church government, the Discipline of the Church, or an understanding of the office of ruling elder. A three hour plus meeting which resembled a poorly led meeting of the board of directors of a secular business demonstrated that.

They’re delegating the wrong authority, Red thought. Much of what we did last night was not necessary. If the session had completed the Leadership Training set out in the Training Guide, I wonder if last night would still have occurred?

“The Church Session of the particular church shall examine each candidate for ordination to the office of Ruling Elder or Deacon. The Candidate shall be examined on personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and progress in spiritual growth. Each Candidate for ordination shall be examined on the following matters: the Faith of the Church, the Sacraments, the Government of the Church, the Discipline of the Church, the Worship of the Church, the History of the Church, and an understanding of the office to which one is elected.”

Each officer who has been previously ordained into the office to which one has been called shall be examined by the Church Session on views of those subjects set forth for ordination. Each shall also give testimony of the personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and report progress in spiritual growth.”

Hmmmm. The emphasis on pre-ordination and pre-installation examination should be obvious, but our session either does not recognize that importance, or it is unwilling to accept the consequences of the exercise of that duty.

Election to the Office of Ruling Elder or Deacon ought not be a reward for long membership or acquiescence by the session because no qualified candidates have agreed to serve. Better to have a short-handed session or board of deacons than to accept one who is not truly called to office. Because a call to office must be confirmed by an appropriate court of the Church, the particular court has the inalienable right not to confirm a particular individual for reasons the court may determine to be proper and in keeping with Scripture.

In other words, if the examination of the candidate reveals that he or she cannot demonstrate personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and progress in spiritual growth, the session must necessarily act, and such action may necessitate a referral to the Nominating Committee asking for an alternate candidate. If a candidate cannot adequately explain, at a level of instructor to others, the faith of the Church, the sacraments, the government of the Church, the discipline of the Church, the worship of the Church, the history of the Church, and an understanding of the office to which elected, at a minimum, the session must undertake to provide adequate instruction.

It came to Red in a flash. It all boils down to submission to God’s authority. A fourth, unwritten, Personal Leadership Responsibility is “moral courage.”

It will be difficult for a session to tell a brother or sister in Christ that he or she needs further instruction, or that he or she has simply not exhibited a call to office. But failure to do so, when necessary, can weaken and even destroy the congregation. But, without moral courage, can we truly live up to our ordination vows?

Reviewing the vows, it became apparent that the “examination” will necessarily be lengthy and detailed.

The examination into the first six will be important with respect to the requirement that the candidate demonstrate personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and progress in spiritual growth.

Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ as your own personal Lord and Savior?

Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, totally trustworthy, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, the supreme, final, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?

Do you promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with the system of doctrine as taught in the Scriptures and as contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church you will on your own initiative make known to your Church Session the change which has taken place in
your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

Do you affirm and adopt the “Essentials of Our Faith” without exception?

Do you subscribe to the government and discipline of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church?

The final five go directly to “call.” I’ll bet that that is where the real problems will arise, thought Red.

(Elders) Do you promise subjection to your fellow presbyters in the Lord?
(Deacons) Do you promise subjection to your fellow officers in the Lord?
Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to accept your office of from love of God and sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?

Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in promoting the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise to you on that account?

Will you seek to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties, whether personal or relative, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before this congregation of which God will make you an officer?

Are you now willing to take responsibility in the life of this congregation . . ., and will you seek to discharge your duties, relying upon the Grace of God, in such a way that the entire Church of Jesus Christ will be blessed?

Red sighed. Turf fights and drawing lines in the sand are not examples of “subjection,” nor do they necessarily bless the entire Church of Jesus Christ. Bringing personal agenda with respect to worship styles, personal priorities, or protectionism are not the same as open-heartedly acting “from love of God and sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son.”

Mary stuck her head into Red’s study. “How is it going?”

“The duty to examine, instruct, and, if necessary, to screen prospective officers is a core responsibility,” Red replied. “It will require moral courage. But there is much more.”

“OK, ‘Calvin, Jr.,’ but can that wait ‘til after lunch? A huge pot of virtual chili just arrived and if you don’t come now, the children and I may just be forced to eat it all ourselves.”

Red headed for the kitchen.

So, what other responsibilities can there be? How will Red’s observations be received? Can QG’s virtual chili be any better than Mary’s electronic clam chowder? For answers to these and other pressing questions, join us tomorrow for the continuing saga of Graying Pres.

27 January 2009

THE ADVENTURES OF GRAYING PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: “Well this is a fine mess you've gotten yourself into.”

When Red got home, it was well past mid-night. He was tempted to just hit the rack, but the habit of evening meditation and prayer was hard to learn and easy to forget.

He walked into his study, took his Bible in his hands, and sat at his desk. In the darkness, broken only by a soft pool of light from his desk lamp, he prayed for direction and for calm. Then he simply allowed his Bible to fall open. His eyes alit on Jude 16:

These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Reading the study notes, he saw that Jude was writing about the heretics of the early church and his admonition to the faithful to contend for the faith. But if we scoff and divide ourselves for earthly reasons, are we in danger, too, he wondered?

He then prayed for God to help him understand what had happened at the meeting and what he could do to ease the tensions that had driven the meeting.

As Red fitfully slept, it snowed---and snowed and snowed and snowed. The phone rang at 5:30 with a recorded message from the School District that school was cancelled for the day. He told Mary, who sighed contentedly and went back to sleep.

After checking on the children, he went to the kitchen and fixed a cup of coffee. Coffee cup in hand, he returned to his study.

All right, he thought, let’s try to make some sense to all this. I’m not talking to Rex or the other elders until I can do something other than complain.

He looked at his copy of the Leadership Training Guide and skimmed over his hand-written notes. Then, taking out a lined pad, he made the following outline:


Responsibilities of Elders

Personal Leadership Responsibilities

Responsibility for Spiritual Supervision

Administrative Responsibilities

Problems I saw last night


Not personally prepared—is this a job or a call?
Not supervising itself
Lost sight of its role
Neither mentally nor spiritually prepared
Poor stewards of time and energy
Lack of moral courage?
Are there fiefdoms in the Kingdom of God?
Are we leading by example?
There are two ordained offices and a civil office
-Does each group understand its role and function?
Corporate v. Ecclesiasial Body

Pastor Rex

We are not supporting Rex, our brother elder
Moderator must moderate
What are his duties--and ours—to the greater church?


How lax have we become?
Worship wars
Culture Wars

Don’t forget the good stuff

There are folks who do get it
Will Jackson
Sandy Frobisher

Out in the kitchen, he heard Mary and the kids talking amidst the sounds and smells of breakfast.

He opened his Bible to Psalms: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” He prayed, Thank you, God, for the snow. Thank you for this unexpected day off. Please help and guide me to make good use of the day you have given me.

So, Red is hard at work. Will he be able to fill out the outline? What will God lead him to do? Is there any of that good strawberry jam left for the toast? Join us tomorrow for answers to these and other burning questions as we continue to follow the adventures of Graying Pres.

26 January 2009


Earl Regis presented his Clerk’s Report. The Baptism request was quickly approved.

“OK. We’ve also got a letter from Henry and Madelyn Garntner asking use the sanctuary for their grand-daughter’s wedding.”

“Who are they,” asked Fred Jones? “I don’t recognize the names.”

“Madelyn is a Transfer. Her grand-parents, Bill and Mary Transfer, were members here when I was a boy. Madelyn and her folks stopped worshipping here back in the 60’s, but Madelyn is still a member.”

“Why here?”

“Oh, they like our picturesque old sanctuary, and the reception will fill the the Fellowship Hall.”

Marylou Sunstadt piped up. “Where do the parents worship?”

“The letter is a little unclear about that. I know that Madelyn sort of stopped attending after high school. She came back in the 1970s for a couple of months, just before her wedding. My Dad was clerk at the time. I remember that that was a really big deal—Pastor didn’t want to have the wedding here because Madelyn was a Bhuddist at the time. She’d sort of gone hippie, ya know? But Bill and Mary were real influential in the church—they gave the communion silver that we use today as a memorial to Mary’s folks. So the session finally agreed as a try at reconciliation.”

“How did we get this letter? I didn’t see it. Are the couple Christians,” asked the Pastor? “What about our counseling requirements?”

“Oh, they sent it via the Board of Trustees with a check to reserve the Fellowship Hall. I’m not sure if they are members of any church--the letter mentions that Judge Branson will marry them, so maybe our counseling requirements don’t apply. The Trustees recommend approval. It’s a pretty big check.”

The conversation continued for another 20 minutes, ending with a decision to table until the next meeting. Pastor Rex was asked to contact the couple to respond to his questions.

“The Trustees also sent us a letter from the local karate academy. They are hosting a regional tournament and want to use the Fellowship Hall next month for an awards banquet. I’ve checked the calendar, and it is available.”

Suzanne Tomlinson began waving her hand wildly. “Isn’t that karate an oriental pagan religion? Should we let pagans use our facilities?”

“It’s just an awards banquet,” Earl replied.

“My grand-daughter plays karate,” said Paul Peters. “It’s not a religion; it’s a sport.”

After another 15 minute discussion, the request was finally approved, much to Mrs. Tomlinson’s horror.

The Pastor reported that the presbytery nominating committee had approached him to request that he stand for election to the Ministry Committee. “I’ve prayed about it, and am led to understand that God is calling me to do this.”

“How much time will it take,” asked Annie Starr. “You’ve got an awful lot to do here. If we were to provide that Bible study to the shelter, wouldn’t that take a lot of your time? And we have a confirmation class coming up that you’ll have to teach, isn’t that right, Ellen?”

“That will be part of my report, yes,” Ellen Klass replied.

“We hired you to take care of our congregation, not to go off gallivanting around with the presbytery. Let them find someone who isn’t so busy.”

“But isn’t that committee an important one,” Red asked? “Aren’t they the ones who make sure that pastors called to the presbytery are Scripturally and theologically sound?”

“Oh, who cares if some other church wants to call some wacko? We need to take care of Graying. Let the presbytery worry about its pastors,” was Annie’s response.

The session went on record as being opposed to the pastor’s request.

Marylou Sunstadt read the Fellowship Committee report. “We can’t find anyone who is willing to stay after the first service or to come in early before the second service to assist with the coffee hour. The Brierson’s have been handling it for the past two years, but Chip is being transferred to Houston. I guess we’ll just have to cancel the coffee hour.”

“Will anyone be in the fellowship hall for that hour to at least greet visitors,” Red asked?

“Are you volunteering?”

“He is not,” Ellen Klass said. “You keep your hands off my teachers, Marylou Sunstatdt. I’m just kidding, dear, but I have a tough enough time finding teachers. We don’t want to waste them on being glorified ushers.”

The minutes noted the end of the coffee hour “for the time being.”

Ellen Klass gave the Discipleship report. “We’ve got enough teachers for now, but no substitutes or back-ups. We had hoped that there would be a new members class by now so we could recruit from there, but Rex says no one has responded to the new members class announcement.”

“The Senior High youth group is down to six kids and four of them are seniors. There were a couple of visitors during November, but Suzie Seeker tells me that they are now attending that Bible Fellowship Church out by the Turnpike. We may be able to do away with the Senior High youth group next year and just fold the remaining two back into the Middle School group. That will save us a couple of leaders who might take over a Sunday School class.”

“We have nine kids in Middle School who need a confirmation class. Sally Rae Jonas was talking to me about when she was confirmed back in the 1930s. They spent two years, concentrating on Bible Study and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I think that is a really good idea, and if we do it, Rex, we think you would be a perfect teacher, ‘cause you probably studied that in Seminary, right?”

Rex was silet for as moment. “We can talk about that, but I have always thought that officers of the church--the elders, and even some of the deacons-- ought to be involved in confirmation classes. How many of you would like to assist. We could do it in five or six week shifts.”

“Wait a minute there, Pastor,” said Paul Peters. “Most of us are retired or have real jobs. Maybe some of the moms could help—those that don’t work—but that’s really what we hired you to do. You’re the seminary graduate, not us.”

“I’ll lend a hand,” said Red. “The Book of Order says that one of our duties as elders is ‘to do whatever else may be necessary for the spread of the Gospel, the edification of the members, the well being of the church, the advancement of the Kingdom, and the growth in grace of all.’ How better to spread the Gospel, secure the foundation of the future congregation for the well being of the church and advance the Kingdom? These kids are the future. Isn’t this one of our responsibilities?”

“You’ve actually read the Book of Order,” asked Billie Jean? “Really? C’mon, Red, be realistic. If we did all the stuff it says elders are to do, who would run the affairs of the church? That’s why we hire a pastor. That religious stuff is his line of work. No offense, Rex. Besides, Westminster can be pretty harsh. Maybe we ought to temper that with the Confession of 1967. It’s nowhere near as mean-spirited as Westminster.”

“But the Confession of ’67 is a PC(USA) confession, Ellen.”

“Oh, sure, but it was my husband who wanted us to join this church. I was OK with the PC(USA) and shouldn’t we give our kids all sides of every issue? I mean, Westminster is so “right and wrong” oriented. We all know that times have changed since it was written, and we ought let our kids know that they can choose to be tolerant and inclusive.”

After another 20 minutes of give and take—mostly “give”—the issue was tabled with the understanding that as far as confessions go, Graying would stick with Westminster.

Annie Starr yawned and said, “The Outreach report is in your folder. I could talk about a lot of it, but I’m too tired.”

Fred Jones offered the Worship report. “I had four complaints about yesterday’s music. Two said that they would not attend any service that had guitars or banjos. The other two asked why we can’t have a blended service more often?”

“One member is really torqued about the contemporary service. She says that it has driven too many members out of the church, which was a surprise to me. I asked what she meant and she said, ‘Well, I never see children at worship anymore. I really like seeing the little ones when they go up for the children’s service. Now they are gone, and it makes me sad.’”

“I told her that the contemporary service has lots of kids in attendance. I said that the young families prefer the earlier service and are attending there. I suggested that, if she wants to see the kids, she can come to the 9:00 o’clock service.”

“She said, ‘I hate that service. I hate the music, I hate the clapping, and the raised hands, and all that other stuff that passes for worship these days. Worship is stately and has organ music with harmonies and words that mean something. That contemporary stuff might as well be led by dances around a campfire.’”

“I asked for her solution and she said, ‘Well that’s so simple, I’m surprised that you didn’t already think of it. Get rid of the early service and make them come back to the real worship at 11:00.’”

Paul Peters reported for the Mission Committee. “We’ve got three missionaries back on furlough between now and Easter. I move that we invite each of them to preach on a Sunday of their choosing. That will give Rex some time off to prepare for the Bible studies at the Shelter and the Confirmation Class.”

“But I’ve got a preaching schedule that we discussed last Fall. It is designed for the pre-Lenten and Lenten Season. Putting in visitors will have the Easter Sermon delivered on Mother’s Day.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it Rex. No one will notice anyway.”

“Wait a minute,” Red interjected. “According to the Book of Order, we oversee the worship of the congregation -- the time and place of worship, special services, the music program, and the celebration of the sacraments – but Rex is responsible for selection of hymns, Scriptures, sermons, and administration of the sacraments. How can we tell him he can’t preach on a particular Sunday?”

“There you go with that Book of Order stuff again,” laughed Paul. “Look, we get a dose of Rex every Sunday. He’s our employee and if we want to give him a day off, who’s to complain? But these missionaries are out there on foreign shores doing the real work of the church. We need to fire up the congregation so they give more so we can send out more missionaries.”

“Look,” Rex said, “it is almost midnight. Red is right, but Paul, why don’t you and I get together later this week to set up schedules for ‘Minutes for Mission’ for each of these folks?”

“Well, if you insist. But we are missing a great opportunity to hear some real preaching, no offense, Rex.”

The meeting closed with a very short prayer by Annie Starr, the gist of which was “Thank God this meeting is over.”

Red walked away stunned. Where was the Bible study? Where was the time of prayer? Something has to give!

Well, will Red’s questions be answered? Will pastor Rex ever take offense at the slaps at his heart? Will the Session hold a military formation for the folks at the 9:00 o’clock service and “order” them to report at 11:00? Tune in tomorrow for some answers to those and other questions as we continue to watch the adventures at Graying Pres.

25 January 2009


After January 12, things quieted down. We continued the four-day shifts: on the road, as road sweep security at Strong Points A and B, and security patrolling at Strong Points C and D. The only difference was that OP6 was now manned by a fire team, reinforced with a 106 mm recoilless rifle, and the platoon commander and his radio operator were at the OP all day.

One afternoon a few days after I returned from Da Nang, we were at Alpha and Bravo. I got a message to report to the Skipper “on the double.” I hustled down to the COC (combat operations center).

The Skipper handed me a map. “There’s a recon team that has managed to get itself surrounded. They’ve got a prisoner and Division wants them out now. Saddle up your platoon and get ready to fly out to secure a landing zone for this team.”

I grabbed a radio handset and told the Platoon Sergeant to get the troops ready to move out.

As I looked at the map, I saw that it was all mountains, although there was an old French road depicted entering one small valley. The Skipper pointed out where we were to be inserted—a hill above the old road. It was in the middle of the map sheet.

I took out my map and began to try to marry up the edges. “Don’t bother trying, Mac,” said the Skipper. “There is a whole other map sheet between ours and where you’re going.”

Wow. Each map sheet was about 16 miles wide. We were about 7 miles from the western edge of our map and the objective was about 9 miles from the eastern edge of its sheet. We were going to be a long way from home—about 30 miles west, towards the Laotian border. By this time, with the loss of the two casualties at the Alamo and the four on January 12, my platoon was down to 13 Marines, a Corpsman, the Platoon Sergeant and myself.

“Uh, how do we get out, sir?”

“Well, they’ll try to get another chopper out tomorrow morning. But you may have to do some pretty hard humping. Take plenty of water.”

At that point, there is nothing left to say, except “Aye,aye, sir.”

A few minutes later, a message came in that the mission was cancelled. The recon team had been extracted safely. I never found out if the Skipper was kidding about the walk.

A word about recon. The motto of First Reconnaissance Battalion is “Swift, Silent, Deadly.” They performed some pretty hairy missions, going back into the mountains in teams of 6 to 8 Marines. Their sister unit, First Force Reconnaissance Company conducted deep reconnaissance. There were rumors about missions into Laos (and by Third Force, up north, into the DMZ or even into North Vietnam). They were looking for the enemy, but they did not want to make contact—for obvious reasons. Prisoner snatches—intentional efforts to grab NVA personnel and bring them back for interrogation—were particularly dangerous. Teams were known to simply disappear. These were gutsy folks.

That being said, they would oft times over-react. As a result, in the rest of the Division, they were frequently referred to as “Swift, Silent, Surrounded.” Never to their faces, mind you.

There were fun times, too. One Sunday, the road was closed due to bridge work. The Ops were in, so the Skipper arranged for a Company field day. The Mess Hall sent out grills and cooked up steaks and the first vegetables we had seen in a while. There were competitions ranging from a grenade toss for distance, to machine gun exercises, to mortar competition. Squads competed in a relay to field strip and reassemble a rifle.

There were weight lifting and weight pulling competitions and wrestling matches and “jungle rules” volleyball tournament. (I have been banned from a number of Church League volleyball teams because I cannot get the hang of their sissy rules. I mean, if there are no tooth gouges on the ball and no blood, where’s the competition?)

A few days later, we were relieved by First Platoon on the road. The turn-over came at Noon so that we could get settled in at our new positions during daylight. As Charlie Two moved down the road towards the base camp, we heard an explosion in the distance, followed by a towering column of smoke.

A working party from Third Platoon had been clearing grass and trash from the strings of barbed wire surrounding Strongpoint Alpha as well as repairing or replacing wire where needed. They had started at the clear path to the drawbridge and then worked their way almost completely around the strongpoint. When called to prepare to move to Strongpoints Charlie and Delta, they retraced their steps back around Alpha to the path.

At that point, a newly joined Marine (“FNG” in our parlance), saw that he had left a pair of wire gloves where he had been working, about 5 meters from the path. Rather than retrace his route again, he entered the area from the opposite direction. As he bent to pick up the gloves, he triggered an old French “bouncing betty” mine that hit him in the torso before it exploded. The only fortunate part of this tragedy was that his posture protected all other nearby Marines.

We had not been advised that there were any minefields in the area. Needless to say, the Marines who had been working on wire maintenance were all scared silly. The wire was put off limits.

Of all the casualties we suffered, it seems to me that the saddest are the non-hostile deaths. Marines who are closing with the enemy to destroy him know that there will be casualties. But a death by drowning or malaria or a mine-field accident just seems so pointless.

Right after the initial invasion of Iraq, the Philadelphia Inquirer began periodically running photos of all US Service members who had been killed in Iraq. It did not differentiate between killed in action and non-hostile deaths, but did list the cause of death.

I ran the count on one such display and found that approximately 20% of the deaths were non-hostile (illness—a lot of heart attacks, traffic accidents, drowning, etc.). I wondered about the breakdown in Vietnam, so I checked with Dr. Edwin Moise, one of the sponsors of the web-site, History of the Vietnam War 101. Dr. Ed is a professor of history at Clemson University in South Carolina and a frequently published author on the Vietnam War.

While some of us who drop by the “living room of our little boarding house,” as Bob Warren calls the site, often disagree with Dr. Ed, he is a respected and legitimate scholar. His response was that approximately the same percentage was applicable to the Vietnam War.

Which brings me to the Two Rules of Combat:

Rule One: Young men will die.

Rule Two: There is not one damned thing you can do to change Rule One.

Which really sucks, but there it is.

23 January 2009


As some of the visitors left the room, Pastor Rex asked Ed Carpenter, the session’s liaison with the Trustees to present the Trustees Report. Ed noted that three Trustees were present and then read, verbatim, the written report that had been provided to each elder.

He then asked that privileges of the floor be granted to the three trustees in attendance. There then began a 45 minute discussion of the budget that had been adopted only six weeks earlier.

Matilda Gaap gave a detailed analysis of the weekly financial breakdown from Sunday’s collection, the monthly financial breakdown, the year-end results for 2008, and the trends from the previous quarter, complete with charts and graphs. She reported that the Trustees were already concerned that the 2009 budget was too ambitious and “demanded” that spending be curtailed within the various ministry committees until it became clear that 2009 would be a “profitable year.”

“Well, now, that’s just not right,” exclaimed Paul Peters. “The Session determines the budget of the church and the benevolence objectives of the congregation. That’s what it says in the Book of Order. The trustees cannot ‘demand’ anything. Now, I have no problem with holding down our spending to make sure we have the money to keep operating, but there is one item that is just not negotiable. As we all know, it has always been our policy that the first twenty cents of every unrestricted dollar that comes through the door goes to mission. And I can tell you that Mission Committee will meet our commitments. Any idea that anyone has that we can shortchange Mission, even for a week or two, is unacceptable.”

“Wait a minute, there Paul.” Earl Regis, the Clerk, was getting red in the face. “Are you suggesting that if the choice is heating oil today with a temporary shift from Mission to Operations is wrong, so long as Missions ultimately gets its 20percent?”

“Darn tootin, Ed. Some of the other committees can eat that. I mean, we’re gonna have Sunday School whether or not CE has some modern la-ti-da ‘curriculum.’ What’s wrong with just reading the Bible, anyway? That’s what we did when I was a boy, and it worked just fine. But Mission budget just cannot be touched.”

Ellen Klass shook her head. “Paul, things are different today. You teach the “Basement Class” and that works just fine for you. But you’re one of the younger members of that class and I seem to recall that we just celebrated your 71st birthday. The teachers we have for the children are working moms and folks who are still learning the ropes of Christianity themselves. Thank goodness we have them. But they are not folks who can just open their Bibles and present a lesson to six and seven year olds. They need the organization and direction that we get from good curriculum. If I tell them that they have to prepare lesson plans and get materials on their own, I’ll lose some of them.”

“Calm down, Ellen. I see your point. I’m just saying that the other ministry committees need to figure out where the money is coming from. Mission will not give up its share!”

Pastor Rex interrupted. “Let’s get the Trustees report out of the way and then we can discuss remedies later. We have already blown through the 30 minutes allotted to Trustees and we still need to review the work-order list, the investment report, and the cemetery report.”

After a ten minute discussion of outstanding work orders and five more minutes on investments and rates of return, Jim Jordan presented the cemetery report. “It’s all in my written report. Any questions? None? Thanks.”

“OK,” said Pastor Rex, “it’s fifteen after nine. We’re a little behind schedule. Does anyone need a break or can we continue?”

Red shuddered. An hour is ‘a little behind”, he thought.

Ellen Dyess gave the Deacon’s Report. “We have been very busy this month. We delivered flowers to six shut-ins. We have added nine names to the prayer list—please pray for them. When the trustees can fix the recording system, we will begin distributing tapes of Sunday services to anyone who asks for them. The benevolence treasurer’s report is in my written report. Any questions?”

“Uh, yes ma’am,” said Red. “Do you remember when Mrs. Frobisher was here? She asked if some of the Deacons could help her teach a twice-a-week Bible study at the Hidden Cove Shelter. That seems to be a pretty good idea. What do you think?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I mean, we’ve never done that sort of thing. We are more a prayer ministry, you know. I’m sure Sandy means well, but that’s really more in the area of CE or Outreach, don’t you think? I mean, we already ask our Board to deliver flowers and tapes—if the trustees ever get their act together—and that might just be too much for us. I mean, CE probably already has materials that they could just send over with their regular teachers. I mean, that would be so much easier for us, don’t you think?”

Red saw. Red saw red. How much longer, oh Lord, how much longer?

Well, what next? Will the trustees ever get their act together? Will anyone actually pray for the “names” on the prayer list? Will our faithful listeners—er, readers—be able to contain themselves until after the meeting ends so that we can begin to dig around in this mess? Will an aging two-fingered typist be able to keep this up? Tune in tomorrow for more action at Graying Pres.

22 January 2009


After the opening prayer by Pastor Rex, the meeting started with questions and comments from visitors. Suzanne Tomlinson spoke first.

“I am really concerned about our youth program,” she said. “My daughter is not being fed. Last week, they were in Hebrews, and the discussion was very general, not at all the in-depth study that she needs. Heaven knows that Pastor Rex tries on Sunday, no offense, but he is not setting a good example for the youth leaders. The past six sermons have been so general, not the good word for word exegetical analysis that I have heard from other pastors at other churches. My word, if we expect this church to be an outpost for God, we need to have seminary-quality sermons, and you need to make the youth leaders bring in qualified teachers for the youth Bible study. And while I am here, I think it is sad that the Pastor’s wife does not lead the Ladies Bible Study on Wednesday morning. What kind of example is she setting for the church? I know that she is a teacher at Greying Elementary, but I think she needs to get back in the home where a Pastor’s wife should be. I was saying to my maid only yesterday, when I was a girl, my mother was the president of the Ladies’ Bible Circle and the Pastor’s wife was always at their meetings. I think you need to do something about that, too. ”

Ellen Klass, the CE elder, thanked Suzanne for her input and promised to look into the quality of youth Bible study. Fred Jones, the Worship Ministry elder, commented that very few of the members of the congregation were at the same level of Bible knowledge as Mrs. Tomlinson, and that perhaps she should attend Wednesday night services where there were Bible study classes at various levels.

“Oh, I can’t do that,” Suzanne answered. “Wednesday night is our ‘family’ night. Perhaps you could reschedule the Wednesday night services to some other night?”

At that point, Pastor Rex noted that there were others waiting to speak. He assured Suzanne that the Session would consider her issues.

Will Jackson spoke next. “Well, I guess Suzanne and I are bookends. I was sitting with some visitors last Sunday, and after Pastor Rex’s sermon, they were real confused. They saw us all following his sermon and moving around in the Bible as he used different Scripture. These folks aren’t real knowledgeable about the Bible, so they couldn’t follow along. Rex, I think you ought to give the page number in the pew Bibles for each verse you use before you start talking about it, so folks can find it.”

“Or maybe we just need a better quality of visitor,” Suzanne muttered to Cherise Smith.

The Pastor and several elders opined on whether that was really workable. “Won’t that make the sermons longer,” asked Billy Jean Green? “What will we have to cut out in order to keep the service to an hour?”

“And that reminds me,” Fred Jones added. “I got six calls about the length of yesterday’s service. I still think we need a clock at the back of the sanctuary so you can stay on time, Rex. People really get upset when we go too long.”

“That’s why I am here,” said Cherise. “We were hosting an Eagles party yesterday, the miserable bums. Three lousy points in the first half? Go figure! Well, anyway, when I got home late, my husband was really upset. I got an ear full. I mean, that’s why he stayed home. ‘I knew Rex couldn’t keep it under an hour,’ he said. And I had defended you, Rex. Well, anyway, we have simply got to find a way to stay on schedule. The next thing you know, we’ll be back to an hour and fifteen minutes of worship and we all know what that does to attendance.”

“Well, if we’re going to get a clock this year, somebody will have to donate it or it will have to come out of somebody’s budget,” said Ed Carpenter. “There is no clock in the budget, and the Trustees are really upset about off-budget expenditures. If we don’t start running ourselves like a business, we are gonna be broke by July!”

A number of side discussions broke out, and it took the pastor several minutes to get things back on track.

“Well, we are already over our 30 minutes and we still have one visitor. Sandy, what can we do for you?”

Sandy Frobisher stood. “As you know, I work for Greying County Family Services. I also volunteer at Hidden Cove Women’s Shelter. Althea Robinson, Hidden Cove’s director, told me that a number of women have asked for a chance to have Bible study for them and their kids. Of course, the County can’t fund that, but I wondered if maybe our Mission Committee could help them get a few Bibles and maybe some of the Deacons could help me teach a twice-a-week Bible study.”

“Missions cannot! We re already over-committed,” said Paul Peters. “Besides, that sounds like it’s local. It ought to go to Evangelism or to Outreach. I mean, Mission supports our foreign missionaries. If you expect us to give our money to every local charity that’s looking for a handout, how will we be able to convert the heathens and bring the Good News to those who really need it?”

Sandy teared up. “But don’t these ladies and their kids need the same Good News?”

“Not on our dime, they don’t! What do you say, Outreach?”

“Oh, oh,” muttered Suzanne to Cherise, “watch out for who walks through our doors in a couple of weeks.”

Pastor Rex thanked all visitors, noting that it was now nearly 8 o’clock. “We’ve still got a lot of business to get done with, but be assured that we will get back to each of you.”

Well, what an exciting hour. Which committee will fund the clock? What excitement will the letters and e-mails bring? If Super Bowl Sunday services run long, will anyone care? And who really cares about a few homeless kids? [Hint: Can you boys and girls spell Matthew 19:14?]

21 January 2009


In keeping with the erstwhile nautical theme of this ol’ blog, I have been on the binnacle list for a week or so.(A “binnacle” was the stand near the wheel on which a sailing ship's compass was mounted. A list of the names of men unable to report for duty was given to the officer or mate of the watch and posted on the binnacle. Thus, a the sick list came to be known as "the binnacle list.") Courtesy of a really mean stomach bug, I have been away from the keyboard for a few days.

Before we return to the goings on at dear old Graying Pres, a thought arises from yesterday’s ceremonies in Washington City.

Was it just me, or was that really John Calhoun chuckling from the grave as speaker after speaker, especially Diane Feinstein, repeatedly referred to “these United States?”

I am an ardent federalist. I fully subscribe to the constitutional structure that was set down in Philadelphia in 1787. I believe in the dual sovereigns envisioned by the Constitution. While the International Court of Justice (the so-called “World Court,” much beloved by liberals, one-worlders, and others of their ilk), may be too obtuse to understand the beauty of a governmental system free from absolute control by one person or group of persons, I am surprised to hear Senator Feinstein utter her approval.

The World Court just “ordered” the United States government to stop Texas (and other states) from executing Mexican citizens (many who had lived in the US since they were children) who were convicted in state courts and whose death sentences, after full and final appeal, were upheld. The Supreme Court has ruled that failure of a state to notify consular officials is harmless error.

The WC nonetheless held that the government of the United States must “forbid” any such executions. The problem is that, in the words of the Governor of Texas, “the International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction in Texas."

And he is correct. Texas is a sovereign State under the Constitution.

So, why my amazement over the strange phrasing used by Senator Feinstein?

One of my history professors in college once started a class as follows: “The Civil War was fought over the conjunction of a verb. Prior to 1860, the grammatically proper claim was ‘The United States are….’ After 1865, and especially after the ratification of the 14th Amendment, the grammatically proper claim was ‘The United States is….’”

In other words, in a dual sovereignty analysis prior to 1860, the “superior sovereign” was the State. After 1865, Federal supremacy was assumed.

But now, Senator Feinstein appears to have fallen back upon the language of States rights, i.e., our Nation is a collection of 50 individual sovereigns. One hopes that this is a real turn.

About 20 years ago, the Governor of Minnesota attempted to assert a state’s right to keep the Federal government from deploying units of its national guard (that militia that the liberals are so sure will protect the citizenry from an over-reaching national government) to central America. Senator John Stennis of Mississippi, the one-time home of Jefferson Davis, countered that the federal right to use the guard superseded Minnesota’s authority. Jeff and John must have been spinning in their graves. (Minnesota lost.)

There is no way that I believe that Senator Feinstein has had a constitutional change of heart. She just found a new turn of phrase that she apparently likes. But if enough of our elected officials keep reminding us that we live in a nation of dual sovereigns, then maybe we will see a real return to constitutional balance.

13 January 2009


Sunday evening, Red turned to his copy of the Book of Order to prepare for the next day’s meeting of the Session.

He remembered the call from Ellen Dyess, a member of the Nominating Committee. "Red, we are in a real bind. We a short an elder and none of the resting elders wants to come back on session. Someone said you might be good at it, what with your military background. You are probably well organized, eh? What do you say? Can you help us out? It's not hard, just go to the monthly meeting and watch the others."

Red had seen good sessions in his previous churches. He and MAry had been members of Graying for 4 years now. The kids were active in Junior High youth and Red was active in the Men's Morning Bible Study. After he and mary prayed, he agreed.

But now, he realized that no one really knew his qualifications. As he read, he saw that there was much amiss in his election. He had not been examined by the Session about his personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and his progress in spiritual growth. He realized that he should have been examined on the Faith of the Church, the Sacraments, the Government of the Church, the Discipline of the Church, the Worship of the Church, the History of the Church, and an understanding of the office of ruling elder.

Neither he nor the other two new elders had been given any special preparation for their duties. Red had not conferred with the Session about his call to office and his willingness to serve as a ruling elder. The Session had conducted no classes for the new elders, although he had been given a copy of the Book of Order after the Ordination service the week before.

In fact, had he not found the Leadership Training Guide on line and ordered it, he would have had no idea about the weighty office of Ruling Elder.

But now, he was responsible for monitoring the spiritual conduct of the members, and taking action when appropriate. With the other ruling elders, he was to initiate the ministry of evangelism as the first business of the Church, and to seek to lead persons to an acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

He and his colleagues needed to remind parents of the responsibility of presenting their children for Baptism, and to provide instruction as indicated in the Book of Worship. They would receive members, keep rolls, dismiss, restore, grant affiliation, or remove members. They would determine the budget of the church and the benevolence objectives of the congregation. (Whew, at least that’s done for the year!)

It was their job to oversee the educational program of the congregation, to determine its literature and to oversee the work of the Board of Deacons and to oversee the worship of the congregation, including the time and place of worship, special services, the music program, and the celebration of the sacraments. They had to organize themselves for the advancement of the ministry of the Church and the mission of the congregation and to do whatever else was necessary for the spread of the Gospel, the edification of the members, the well being of the church, the advancement of the Kingdom, and the growth in grace of all.

Well, he thought, tomorrow’s meeting will be interesting. At least there won’t be much in the way of specific business. After prayer for the upcoming year, just organizing for ministry, scheduling worship, and coming up to speed on the spiritual health and needs of the congregation ought to take most of the evening.

He read his evening devotional scripture, prayed and turned in for the night.


At 6:30 Monday evening, Red walked into the Church. His written statement of faith was neatly folded and placed in his Bible at Isaiah 6:8.

As he walked into the Fellowship Hall, he saw that a square of tables had been pushed together so that all of the Elders were able to see one another. He place his Bible, his copy of the Westminster Confession, and his Book of Order at a chair.

Earl Regis and Pastor Rex were standing in a corner reviewing a number of papers.

Paul Peters looked up from reading a pile of papers and smiled. “Ah, fresh meat. Welcome, brother.”

He motioned towards a pile of folders. “Find your folder, Red. We’ve got a busy night tonight.”

Red took a green folder with his name on it. He sat down and opened the folder. A large stack of papers were in one pocket. As he reviewed them, Red found the following

1. Docket 7:00 pm
Establish Quorum, Call to Order, Prayer (5)
Questions and Comments from Visitors (30)
Trustees Report (30)
Deacons Report (5)
Clerk’s Report (5)
Pastor’s Report (10)
Committee Reports (90)
Old Business (5)
New Business (15)
- Welcome New Elders
- Committee Assignments
Close With Prayer NLT 10:30 pm
2. Letters
- Mary Smithers
- Sally Drumwright
- Gertrude Awling
- Cynthia Guthrie
- John Jefferson and Bill Fredericks (e-mail)
3. Trustees Report
- Weekly Financial Breakdown
- Monthly Financial Breakdown
- Year-to-Date
- Year-end Report
- Work-order list
- Investment Report
- Cemetery Report
3. Deacons Report
4. Clerk’s Report
- Baptism Request
- Request to us Sanctuary for Wedding
- Request to Use Fellowship hall
5. Pastor’s Report
6. Committee Reports
- Fellowship
- Discipleship
- Outreach
- Worship
- Mission
- Evangelism

Red was stunned. The meeting was scheduled to run until at least 10:30 pm, but all of the “business” appeared to be “busyness.”

As the other elders began to arrive, Red prayed, Dear Lord, please make me wrong. Please make tonight about You and this flock. Let me use my ears exceedingly, my mouth infrequently, and my mind to Your glory.

As the elders seated themselves, the conversation was all about the Eagle’s win and the potential for a Super Bowl visit. Finally, at 7:15, Pastor Rex called the meeting to order.

Well! Will the Session approve the docket? Will anyone point out that a lot of the busyness can be delegated? Will the Eagles win in Arizona and head for the Super Bowl?

Join us tomorrow for the continuing adventures of Graying Pres.

12 January 2009


I flew into An Hoa from Da Nang on Saturday afternoon, January 11.

The “Small Unit Leadership” class was valuable only because I met a couple of lieutenants who were at the end of their tours and picked their brains at every opportunity. But now, after a week away from my platoon, I was anxious to get back.

The last run out to Charlie Base Camp had already departed, so I spent the night at the Company Office. Finally, at about 1100 on Sunday, January 12, the Skipper’s driver came in with supply requests and paperwork. By 1230, we were on our way out.

As we came into the compound, there was obvious uproar. A rifle squad was hopping onto a tank, led by my platoon sergeant. It tore off up the road toward the OPs.

I found Mike Koch in the Combat Operations Center. “OP 6 just got hit. You got casualties!”

My heart fell. I ran out to the road, looking to join the next vehicle out. The Gunny grabbed my arm. “You need to stay here, sir. Byers has things under control, and you are not read into the situation.”

I turned to see the Skipper nodding. “Stand fast, Mac. There is nothing you can do out there.”

The Company Tac radio operator (his radio was tuned to the company tactical net or frequency, the one connecting the Skipper to the platoons) said, “Two KIAs and two WIAs, Skipper. They’ve got a doctor and a couple of corpsmen on the convoy and they’re bringing them on in. The reaction force will cover the OP.”

About that time, the convoy appeared at the top of the hill. In the lead jeep, I could see a couple of people bent over a stretcher that was rigged across the rear seat. We ran to the vehicle which was moving slowly to avoid jostling the wounded Marine. When I got to him, I could see that he had a gunshot wound to the chest. The corpsmen had started a couple of IVs and the doctor was working to mitigate the sucking chest wound.

The Marine, Lance Corporal Brown, reached out and took my hand. “Good to see you back, Lieutenant. You be careful out there, Sir. It can be dangerous.”

It was at that moment that I learned my most valuable lesson as an officer of Marines. The United States Marine rifleman is God’s most gallant and most magnificent creation. It has been 40 years and I still tear up when I recall that moment.

Brown survived and was evacuated to the States. We have never met again, but I think of him often. The two Marines who were killed were Private First Class Don Lucas, USMC (he of the Santa hat on Christmas Eve) and Private First Class Rich Zimmerman, USMC. I think of them every day, along with others you will meet later.

I’ll not mention the last name, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

The details of the firefight were put together over the next couple of hours.

OP 6, was the furthest out from the CP. It had been established by the company from 3/5 that we had relieved. It was a wide spot in the road, with a small embankment where the road graders had dug out a turn-around. The folks from 3/5 had allowed it to become a dump, which we were trying to clean up, but the VC booby-trapped the trash pile almost every night. When the engineers blew the booby trap in place, all trash was once again scattered.

The OP was manned by a fire team (four Marines). They were supposed to be at 50% alert, two awake and two asleep, but had agreed among themselves that they would go one and three. This, in and of itself, did not affect their safety.

Lucas and Zimmerman had rigged a poncho “hooch,” stringing a couple of rubber ponchos as a sun shield, but open on all four sides. Brown and the other man, a private, were “up, ” but Brown was also asleep. They were located about 10 to 15 meters south of Lucas and Zimmerman.

OP 5, some 800 meters south (it was at the left end of that long low ridge about halfway up the photo and just in from the left--slanting toward the road) was also a fire team sized OP, although our reduced strength meant that it was a three-man post. OP 5 was alerted to the situation when they heard explosions at OP 6, followed by rifle and automatic weapons fire. They spotted about 10 to 20 Vietnamese, armed with rifles and grenades, moving close to OP 6. One Marine was prone and firing his rifle.

OP 5 immediately opened up with an M-60 machine gun. At about that time, an unscheduled convoy came around a turn in the road, saw what was happening, and added to the fire in support of OP 6 from the M-48 tank (90 mm main gun and .50 cal machine gun), and additional .50 cal machine guns from the trucks in the convoy. The VC withdrew back into a tree line which got a working over from artillery.

The reaction force arrived and scoured the tree line to no avail, although they found several heavy blood trails indicating that the VC had dragged their dead and wounded away with them. As the reaction force arrived, Brown was still firing into the tree line, despite his serious wounds. The other man had a small shrapnel wound in his heel. Lucas and Zimmerman had been killed by a grenade which appeared to have landed on the poncho hooch. They probably never knew what happened.

All casualties were evacuated to An Hoa.

That night, the Platoon Sergeant and I took out the ambushes. The troops were rattled and needed some bucking up. As we were getting ready to move out, the two squad leaders asked me, “When is [the other man] gonna be back, sir? He’s a real good man in the bush and we need to get him back ASAP.”

I was touched by their concern, which was expressed repeatedly over the next several days. Although his wounds were minor, he never came back to the bush. The Company was tasked with transferring a man to Da Nang as part of the G-4 shop’s permanent working party, and the First Sergeant sent him there.

About 5 months later, the new Company Tac radio operator (who had been my radio operator in 2d Platoon) looked me up. He had just learned that the other man had deserted and was caught dealing drugs in Dog Patch, a slum area in Da Nang. He was tried by court-martial, convicted, and given brig time and a Bad Conduct Discharge. The Radio Operator related “the rest of the story.”

When OP 5 heard the explosion, they saw the other man running down the road toward them. It appears that he saw the VC coming and just bugged out without warning Brown, Lucas or Zimmerman. The explosion aroused Brown who, although wounded, returned fire and held out until the machine gun fire from OP 5 and the arrival of the convoy repulsed the attack.

The other man was a product of LBJ’s “Project 100,000,” a “Great Society” scheme that drastically lowered enlistment standards and allowed people who were otherwise mentally unqualified to serve to be drafted and to enlist. This man was drafted, tested and scored in Mental Group IV-A, (IQ about 70). His draft board had told him that if he “volunteered” to be drafted into the Marine Corps, he could earn his GED and learn a trade. One can imagine his disappointment to find himself a rifleman in an organization that was almost entirely volunteers. He had a reputation as a complainer and a “no load.” So much for the Great Society.

Now, I want to be clear. He was by no means representative of the vast majority of draftees. Most were excellent soldiers and Marines. As I noted, his squad leader was a draftee and a superb Marine. Instead, he was the result of a misguided “social policy” that saw the armed forces as a jobs program, not the practitioner of the serious business that it actually is.

The concerns for the other man’s return expressed on the night of January 12 suddenly became clear. Had the man returned to the platoon, he would soon have had a very serious accident, probably involving a grenade. I doubt that he would have survived.

War is a deadly serious business. Survival requires that every man be able to depend on the men to his left and his right. There were very few drug problems in units in the bush (Oliver Stone notwithstanding). Soldiers and Marines realized that one drug-incapacitated man could expose them all to danger through simple intoxication. They could not tolerate that and policed the problem themselves. And one who ran away on his sleeping shipmates could never be trusted and never forgiven.

I can assure you that 40 years after the fact, the other man is still a subject of discussion at our reunions.

I hope he gets a seat close to the fire, between LBJ and RS McNamara.

10 January 2009


When Red and Mary reached the sanctuary, Mary took her leave and headed for the choir loft.

Red escorted the Travelers into the sanctuary and found a seat—not a difficult task these days. Pastor Rex came over and introduced himself to the Travelers. “Please don’t forget to sign our visitor’s register so we can follow up.”

The service was the standard Graying service, with the exception that the call to worship was led by John Presley, now a college student, who was home for a break.

“I’ve been attending the campus chapel,” he explained. “We have some really exciting services, and I’d like to open with a song we use called ‘Because We Believe’ by Nancy Gordon and Jamie Harvill . The music is simple and the words are on the insert in the bulletin. It really rocks the rafters! Let’s join together and worship our God.”

“Oh, that’s a great song,” said Brenda Traveler. “We sang it all the time back home, er, in Texas.”

The song, a lively recitation of Trinitarian, Reformed theology was, for the most part, met with restless silence. The seven or eight junior and senior high students made up for the lack of response with their happy excited voices, hands in the air.

Around him, Red heard mutters of “No organ,” and “What page did he say?” as folks leafed through the hymnals. "What in the world does that song mean, anyway," one stage whisperer asked?

Up in the choir loft, Sally Drumwright, the director, was still trying to pass her last minute instructions to the choir. As Mary and a couple of others sang, Sally and many of the choir looked on with only slightly veiled consternation.

“Well, I certainly didn’t approve that performance,” said Elder Bertha Millrind. “I’ll have to take that up with Fred Jones. Sally and the choir have always selected the music for the day’s performance.”

After the anthem, many in the choir packed up and left. “I’m always glad when our performance comes early in the service,” Bertha commented. “I can beat the rush.”

Mary rejoined Red and the Travelers for the rest of the service. The benediction was pronounced at 12:04.

John Jefferson made a bee-line for the door. As he brushed past the Painters and the Travelers at the Visitor's Register, he exclaimed to Red, “Why can’t he stay on schedule? He was 5 minutes long. Darn it, the Eagles are playing and he picks today to go long.”

“Would you care to join us for a bite to eat,” Mary asked. “We usually go to the Gab ‘n’ Gobble. The food is good and they have a kid’s menu. It will give us a chance to talk some more.”

And off they went.

Scheduling note: On Monday, we will interrupt our adventure with a new chapter in the 40 year Vietnam retrospective. But The Adventures of Graying Pres will continue on Tuesday. Will the music wars ever end? Will the Travelers be back next Sunday. Will there be red jello (the very best kind) for desert with the kids mac and cheese at the Gob ‘n’ Gabble? For answers to these and other burning questions, join us next time at Graying Pres.

09 January 2009


Red and Mary walked into the Fellowship Hall together. Standing off to the side of the coffee table were a couple with two small children. They were alone and looked puzzled and a little lonely.

The Painters walked over and introduced themselves. The new folks were Don and Brenda Traveler. They had just moved to East Overshoe from Dallas. As Red started to “introduce” them to Graying, Amanda Bluestone joined them.

“Red, I hate to interrupt, but I simply must talk to you.” Turning to the Travelers, she added, “I’m sure you won’t mind.”

Mary continued to talk with the Travelers, eyeing some of her friends, but no one else joined them.

Amanda said, “Who are those people? Do we know them? What are they doing here?”

Red explained that they were new to the community and were “church shopping.” Don had been raised a Presbyterian, and Brenda was a Baptist, but they had worshiped at a Presbyterian Church in Texas and were looking at Graying first.

“Well, I hope they aren’t disappointed. Do they know that we don’t have a nursery? Where will their children be during the service. I do so hate it when crying babies disturb the service.”

Red assured her that he and Mary would sit with the Travelers and would assist with the children. He turned to rejoin Mary when Ed Carpenter grabbed him by the arm. “Have you seen the latest financials from the Trustees?”

Red shook his head. "Well, they are disturbing. The copier line item is already over budget. Must be all those flyers that Fellowship printed for the pancake breakfast. What a waste. Not one new member and giving is still flat. What are we going to do?”

Red promised to study the document before Session met and turned toward Mary. Edna McTavish stepped in front of him. “There’s a guitar in the sanctuary. Are we having a hootenanny or a church service? Fred Jones (the Worship Ministry elder) isn’t here today. You tell him that we don’t approve of hootenannies here at Graying. I’m just going to head home. Another Sunday ruined.”

By now, it was 10:55. Red joined Mary and the Travelers and headed for the Sanctuary, praying as he walked for peace of mind and calmness as he entered God’s court...

Will the Painters ever get to the sanctuary? Will the Travelers find a church home at Graying? Will the copier budget be restored? Will today’s anthem be “A Lion Sleeps Tonight?” Join us tomorrow for the next episode of Graying Presbyterian Church.

08 January 2009


Red awoke in a sweat. Had he just dreamed about his favorite Bible verse, or had he really volunteered? From day one in Boot Camp, he had heard the old maxim, “Never volunteer!” Still, if God is calling for volunteers, doesn’t He already know who will answer?

At the church, Red and Mary headed for their classroom. The Senior High Class was, as usual, empty when they arrived. Red recalled his high school days, when there was a Sunday School class for each of the four high school age groups. Those days were long gone at Graying.

At 9:45, Susan Seeker entered the room. “Hey, Mr. Painter. Mrs. Painter. Sorry I’m late. Mom had to stop to get gas and she dropped me off out front so she could get to that sale at the Mall before the 11:00 o’clock service. Where is everyone?”

Just then, the Rector twins sauntered in. “Hey, Suse,” muttered Rob, as he flopped onto “his” sofa.

“Any donuts,” asked Rich. “I really only come for the donuts. Aw, who got the strawberry jelly one?”

Red and Mary just smiled. The Sunday ritual had begun.

“OK,” Red began, “let’s turn to Romans 2. Did you read it like I asked last week?”

“Oh, I read the whole letter,” Susie chimed. “It was pretty dull. What was Paul talking about, anyway?”

Rich and Rob dropped their heads. “Sorry. Didn’t get to it. No time. After basketball practice, homework, soccer, and working at Mac D’s, there just isn’t time for stuff that we don’t have to do,” said Rich.

Rob added, “Yeah, and Dad says it’s the Pastor’s job to teach us that stuff. That’s what we hired him to do. You know, Mr. P, Sunday School was a lot more fun when we didn’t have to think. Like when we saw all those videos of the vegetables. Maybe we ought to do that again.”

Patty Kidd walked in. “What did I miss? Sorry I’m late again. Things were kind of hectic when we got here. Dad thought the computer ate his sermon. Lucky I was there to find it for him.”

It was 10:10 before the sleepy teenagers had finally roused themselves to a point where they were ready to actual read the lesson verses. Some interesting discussion began, but in the remaining 15 minutes, not much was accomplished.

After the closing prayer, Red repeated his request that the kids read Romans 2 and sent them off to the “Meet and Greet” in the Fellowship Hall.

Before he and Mary went upstairs, he added to his notes for the Session meeting.

1. Lack of spiritual and personal discipline.

2. Leadership must lead.

Tomorrow night’s meeting will be interesting, he mused.

So, will Red accept the call to become the Evangelism Elder? Will the Session listen to what he has to say? Should he and Mary just head out to that Bible Fellowship Church out by the Turnpike? Who ate the strawberry jelly donut? Join us tomorrow for the next episode of Graying Presbyterian Church.

07 January 2009


Graying Presbyterian Church in East Overshoe, Pennsylvania, is a fairly typical local congregation. The church dates from the early days of the colony. It has a membership of 273 and worships about 160 on a good Sunday.

Red Painter is a newly elected first-time elder at Graying. He is not your run of the mill elder. He's a bit younger than most--in his early 40s--and conscientious. He takes the Great Commission seriously.

Last Saturday afternoon, he walked into the Gab 'n' Gobble Cafe and spotted Pastor Rex and Elder Earl Regis sitting in a back booth. Pastor Rex waved him over and asked Martha to bring a third cup of coffee.

"Just the man we were talking about," said the Pastor. Earl smiled encouragingly.

"We were talking over elder assignments for the new year. We think you would make a fine evangelism elder. What do you say?"

"Well," said Red, "to tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'm cut out for that. I thought one of the more experienced elders would get the job. You know, someone who really knows their Bible and can share the Good News without having to think about it."

"Oh, if we had someone like that, we'd be sure to ask him," said Earl. "But we don't. Our elders tend to be local businessmen who have been elected to run the church. You're a teacher and a coach. You get up in front of people all the time. It should be a piece of cake."

"You know," added Pastor Rex, "we are starting to see a decrease in membership. A lot of the older folks are headed for the sunny south. And those new folks who are building houses out here tend to be either unchurched or they gravitate to the Bible Fellowship Church out by the Turnpike entrance. No, we need to get hot and build our numbers, or in a few years, Graying will just be a pleasant memory."

"You've sure given me something to pray about. Let me talk it over with Mary and I'll let you know at church tomorrow."

That night at supper, he and his wife, Mary, talked about the conversation. It continued into the evening. As they talked, they spotted a number of red flags:

1. Graying is being run as a "business."

2. The serving ruling elders are elected for their business acumen, not their knowledge of the Word or their call to shepherd a flock.

3. At Graying, evangelism is thought of as recruiting.

4. At least someone in town is thinking Biblically about evangelism--but not Graying.

Red had pretty well decided to decline the position, but as he opened his Bible for his evening devotion, the pages slipped to Isaiah 6:8. "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'"

As he and Mary prayed before bed-time, he prayed for wisdom to discern whether God had a call for him.

06 January 2009


A Recovering Catholic in the PC(USA) has a very timely and interesting post today. It is a question that is not unique to “Stodgy Presbyterian Church,” which I suspect may be located in one of my favorite little towns, East Overshoe, Montana. The problem is that Stodgy is not alone. The Great Commission is clear:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matt. 28:18-20.

Similarly, in Acts 1:8, He commands

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Note that Jesus did not say, “If you feel like it, if you aren’t too tired, if you haven’t already been there and done that, go….” We are His until He summons us home. Nonetheless, RC and the rest of us who are striving to become the missional church for the 21st Century are struggling with a central frustrating question: “How do we get the graying church, bound as it is to the 1950s, to once again become energetic witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and, as one writer recently observed, to the end of the block?”

The graying congregations tend to be what Pastor Rick Warren called “The Family Reunion Church.” Purpose Driven Church at 122 (Zondervan (1995). I would call it the “Country Club Church.” The congregation has been relatively fixed for years or even generations. New members tend to be there by invitation through some other social or familial connection. The “walk-in” is viewed with suspicion. The Christmas Eve visitor with a small restless child is given the fish eye. (One just knows that the carol is right: “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” So why can’t those kids be more like Him?)

And, oh, the “Worship Wars.” Heaven help the teaching or ruling elder who suggests that an alternative worship style be considered. Somebody get a rope. Somebody find a tree.

RC wonders how the Evangelism Ministry can get out to the end of the block. I think he may be jumping the gun. What does leadership do to make the congregation evangelism-ready?

I intend to suggest to RC that we explore this together. Stay tuned.

01 January 2009


Note: there is a tradition in the Naval Service that the log entry in the first watch of the New Year be in verse. Here goes.

As once again the earth does end
Its journey ‘round the Sun,
Memory flames and blog recalls
A year of pain and fun.

Loved ones gone to Heavenly home
and friends to other parts
Leave icy spots at hearth and home
But warmth within our hearts.

At “Pier” 407 in Carpenter’s Cove
Our good ship still is moored.
Taking services from ashore
With SOP aboard.

She of mem’ry long
With crew of seven all on board,
Ships cats and human throng.

Jumper Girl is still in hack,
For mutiny unsuccessful.
Seems she thought she should command
And said so in a mouth full.

Bionicles provide security
With BB in command.
And if the bad ones do arrive,
He’ll keep things well in hand.

Alex T.C. and Gideon T.C.,
The feline department run,
with Cat Apprentices Gracie
And Uggs, that son of a gun.

And I just watch as all unfolds
In this my sanctuary
As SWM (my pet nickname)
Keeps things from turning hairy.

The mission orders now are in
The Presby’s growing great,
But now we have to make it work
Before it is too late.

‘Tween Presby and the VA gang
I’ve little time for leisure.
I pray for peace this year (at last)
From ghosts and dreams full measure.

So here’s to A.D. 2009,
May the little fellow prosper,
And we in it should do our best
The Great Commission to proffer.

For ‘tis not us who win the day
Or earn our own salvation,
But only grace, and grace alone,
Will save us, one or nation.

So, when we meet the Great CO
Who calms the restless sea,
We’ll sail in watching with hopeful eyes
For His flag hoist, "Well done (BZ).