27 February 2009


In late February 1969, we had been at Charlie Base Camp for nearly two months. Around 20 February, a company from 3/5 came out of the mountains as Operation Taylor Common was winding down. They reported to the Base camp and we prepared to move out into the Thu Bons—north of the base camp and east of An Hoa.

Because we had not “humped the bush,” i.e., spent several days or weeks continuously patrolling, the learning curve was a bit steep. We had received many new troops, and Third Herd was now up to about 30 Marines.

We moved out on the afternoon of 21 February and hiked about 5 clicks north. As the sun set, we moved into a ville and began to dig in. I was setting in one of my M-60s in the back garden of a thatch hooch when a child rolled the rice mat "door" away to look at us. Mama-san smacked him, and the door was once again covered. I wondered what would be my Mother’s reaction if she opened her back door one night to find a bunch of rough strangers digging holes in her garden and setting up machine guns.

We had a quiet night. The next morning, we moved further north towards the river before we got word to return to the base camp. We moved inside the wire at about 1700. Captain Wilson offered to share the lines with the other company commander, but the 3/5 guy said, “Nah. My guys are in place. Let your Marines get some sleep.”

Mike, Chip, Dick and I moved into one of the camp buildings and settled in for a night of no responsibility.

Suddenly, at about 0200, the world rattled. We rushed outside to see a massive fireball rising from An Hoa. The ammunition dump had exploded. For the next two hours, we watched as additional explosions lit off, sending white hot ordnance flying high into the sky.

At about 0600, we were ordered to return to the Thu Bons to search for the NVA sappers who had penetrated An Hoa and attacked the dump. As we saddled up, my radio operator took my picture.
We lined up in a column to move out. As we passed the Skipper’s driver—who would return to An Hoa—he snapped to attention and saluted me. It was only after I returned his salute that it dawned on me that he was saying “good bye.”

Our search was uneventful and we were once again ordered to return to the base camp. The company from 3/5 rotated into the Arizona Territory across the river from An Hoa, and we resumed our road security role.

The “Arizona Territory” or “Arizona Valley” was the area north of the Song Thu Bon, South of the Song Vu Gia, and east of the Anh Tu slope. It was so named because an early operation there was Operation Arizona. (An area northeast of us, in the 7th Marines Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) was known as “the Dodge City” after Operation Dodge. There was a lot of western terminology used in my war, including the frequent reference to bad guy territory as “Indian Country.”) The Arizona was a very bad place, but we will get to that later.

On March 19, my platoon was at Strong points Alpha and Bravo. A PF detachment had come up to reinforce us and we had followed the usual routine--they were assigned to one bunker and told that under no circumstances were they to leave it. We then placed two claymore mines close to the door and aiming in. Our greatest concern was that one or more VC would be in the PF detachment, and we took no chances.

At about 0130, I had just stretched out when the radio watch tapped my boot. “Sir, they want you in Tower 1.”

Tower one was on the northeast corner of the compound. As I moved in that direction, in the distance I could hear the steady “bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump” of a machine gun being fired by a really good gunner.

When I climbed into the tower, the duty Marine, one of our new joins, said, “Look, sir. They are fam firing at Phu Loc (6).”

Fam firing (familiarization firing) is never done at night. The sky over Phu Loc (6), some eight clicks away, was full of flares and tracers were flying in bright red streams. I reported this to Captain Wilson.

“Yeah, I know. Stay off the net. In crease your alert.” I got everybody up.

The next morning, we learned that an NVA sapper unit of 93 soldiers had penetrated the west side of the hill in the area of Battery D, 2/11. Two of the six gun pits were over-run. The Marines in Pits 3 and 4 were shooting it out with the NVA in Pits 1 and 2, while guns 5 and 6 continued to shoot fire missions in support of Marine units in the Arizona.

HM2 David R. Ray, U.S. Navy, was Delta Battery’s senior Corpsman. As attested to by his Medal of Honor citation, when the first explosion occurred, Doc Ray moved from gun pit to gun pit, rendering emergency medical treatment to the wounded. He was seriously wounded early in the attack, but refused medical aid and continued caring for his Marines. While he was bandaging a wounded Marine, two NVA attacked his position. He killed one and wounded the other. He kept moving from one casualty to another, treating the wounded and holding off the enemy until he ran out of ammunition. He was killed in action when he threw himself across a wounded Marine when an enemy grenade landed nearby. He died, but his patient survived. The title "Doc" is one our Corpsmen take with pride. Doc Ray set the example.

USS David Ray is named in his honor.

At some point during the fight, an NVA flame thrower operator destroyed Delta Battery’s Fire Direction Center (FDC), killing all in the bunker. A Marine from 1/5 walked up behind the gook, tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned, calmly shot him between the eyes. The Russian flame thrower hung in 1/5’s CP for as long as I was in country.

Across the road, a couple of NVA tried to take refuge in the mess hall. The battalion mess chief, GySgt Floyd M. Keefe, had once declared that “If any of those bastards ever try to take my mess hall, it will be the Alamo all over again. “ The Gunny kept his word. The next morning, his body was found surrounded by several dead NVA. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

Lyn Pompper was also severely wounded that night and evacuated out of country. Ultimately, 13 Marines and two Navy Corpsmen died in the attack - 12 from Delta 2/11 and 3 from the 1/5 CP. Seventy-nine NVA bodies were found in the artillery compound alone, and 11 more were in the 1/5 area.

Two days later, we were relieved by a company from 2/5. We headed out to the area east of Phu Loc (6) on what would be a most eventful operation.

25 February 2009


After school, Red, Mary and the children hurried home to finish homework in time to leave for “Family Night” at Graying Pres.

Family Night was one of pastor Rex’s gifts to Graying Pres. At the church in Missouri where he had served as Associate Pastor, a concerted effort was made to have as many functions on Wednesday night as possible. To encourage attendance, a basic catered dinner was served for a nominal donation. Choir practice, children’s choir, youth group meetings, and a men’s and a women’s Bible study followed dinner. Some committees also met.

Pastor Rex had introduced the idea at Graying Pres, and after a period of adjustment to mitigate the effects of Rule 1 (“We’ve never done that before”), it became a popular evening for the congregation.

The menu for the night was lasagna with Italian bread and salad. After the usual discussion with Thomas regarding the potential that they were being poisoned by “the green stuff,” the Painters settled in at a table with the Matthews family and Paul and Paula Peters.

Paul was eager to talk about the missionaries who would be coming to Graying in two weeks. Home on furlough from their mission in Madrid, Spain, they would be giving a mission minute during worship.

“Red,” Paul said, “I need you to talk to Ellen Klass. I asked her to cancel all the Sunday School classes and assemble them in the Great Hall that Sunday so that the Maneros can give a talk about their work. She said that would be fine, but she wanted them to teach us about some of the techniques they use in mission. That’s just plain silly. The Maneros have been here before and they have a great slide presentation about Spain that really wows the kids--especially the bull fight pictures. Why would we want to miss that and have to sit through another boring class?”

“Well, ya know, Paul, I think Ellen has something there. The Book of Order says that we, as elders, are 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. Our mission field is right here in East Overshoe, but we really don’t know how to be missionaries. Why not ask the experts to help us?”

Paul rolled his eyes. “Oh for Pete’s sake. What are you doing reading the Book of Order? A bunch of people sitting in some office trying to tell us how to run our church? We can muddle through just fine. And evangelism is your problem, not mine. Everyone knows that mission and evangelism are two entirely separate things. You’ve got some strange ideas, boy. Now, will you talk to Ellen or not?”

You could have cut the silence with a knife.

“Paul, one of my instructors at the Infantry Officer’s Course taught us that ‘Doctrine is written by the survivors.’ He meant that people in a tough tactical situation who tried solutions that worked eventually got to ‘sit in some office’ and write it down. Those who tried to muddle through like as not died in the attempt and weren’t around to write doctrine. Let’s give the authors of the Book of Order a chance, eh?”

“Red has a point,” Paula said. “Why not hear him out, Paul. Heaven knows that you are not always right. Remember that trip we took to Baltimore when we were dating? We drove in circles for hours, but Daniel Boone, here, wouldn't stop to ask for directions.” The three wives collapsed into laughter, as they headed off for Bible study.

Well! Will Paul be willing to try a new way of leading? Will the Session agree to a training program? Will Thomas survive eating “the green stuff?” And why do wives always stick up for one another? Tune in next time when these and other burning questions will be answered—-except for the inscrutable wife stuff--in the further Adventures of Graying Pres.

21 February 2009


Over at Reformed and Loving It, there is a great discussion of the new Administration’s floater of the idea of a “mileage tax,’ i.e., a tax of $.0025 on every mile driven by every citizen. The White House was quick to scotch the idea, but let’s think about that from an historical aspect.

When Secretary of Transportation Ray La Hood brought up the idea, it was one of those "no good deed goes unpunished" moments. As we have been asked to do by the government, and forced to do by gas prices, we have been driving more gas efficient cars and fewer miles. As a result, the gas tax revenue has plummeted, something that is anathema to government, especially liberal government.

Now, when my income diminishes, I have to curtail my spending. I have no choice. But when government's income decreases, it has no compunction about dipping further into my pocket to fund bread and circuses for those who pay no taxes and have no stake in efficiency and hard work. "We'll tax 'em just a little more."

I am probably paranoid, but I also see the hands of the unions--especially the UAW--in this. If people buy fuel efficient cars rather than the gas guzzlers coming out of Detroit, that is bad news for Ford, Chrysler, GM . . . and the UAW. A mileage tax does not reward efficiency--I pay the same tax for my Prius as another does for his Escalade.

I thought it was interesting that it was La Hood, the only Republican in the Cabinet, who was chosen to float the trial balloon on the mileage tax. The immediate negative public opinion led to a White House disavowal of the Secretary's statement.

I suspect that this is just a first effort to begin "educating" the public about the government's "need" for more of our money. I remember two salient historical facts:

1. Social Security started with a very small income base. Only the first $3,000 of income was taxed at 1%. The maximum tax was supposed to cap at 3% on the first $3,000 by 1949 according to documents issued by the Social Security Administration in 1935.

In 2009, that figure has grown to 6.2% on the first $106,800.

Now, a person earning $106, 800 can afford to fund a respectable retirement savings account, subject to his or her personal investment strategies. So, why the high level?

It’s a Ponzi scheme to transfer wealth. The first recipient of a monthly social security check, Ida Fuller, paid in a total of $24.75 in social security taxes between 1937 and 1939. In January 1940, she received her first monthly payment of $22.54. In February, 1940, she exceeded her total “contribution”, on her way to a total lifetime payment of $22, 898.92—all paid by the folks who came after her.

So the suggestion that the mileage tax will be a mere .0025% per mile is just talk. The tax can, and will, increase as the “needs” of the taxing body increase.

2. Americans are historically loath to accept taxes on items necessary to their existence, as they define existence. In general, the Sugar Act of 1764 was not opposed in the colonies because we produced our own sugar. The Stamp Act of 1765 (repealed in 1766) taxed our daily lives and we screamed. The Townshend Act (1767, repealed 1770) taxed lead, paper, paint, glass, and tea—none of which were produced in any great measure in the colonies. Again the people were aroused. Then there was the Tea Act of 1773. We know how that turned out. (Think a dark night in Boston and a tea party for the ages.)

So, smokers wail at higher and higher cigarette taxes, while non-smokers shrug. But in a post-WWII economy that rearranged America so that people needed cars and roads, nearly everyone drives. So the mileage tax will probably find its way to the dustbin of history, but if not, there remains in the national DNA an aversion to government that taxes necessities just so it can get the people’s money.

King George III, God bless him, ignored that fact. Will the President and the Congress?

20 February 2009


Life on the OPs was actually pretty slow, which was not a bad thing. The troops had been awake all night on ambushes and needed to get some rest. The trick was making sure that security was maintained.

After January 12, OP 6 was manned by a fire team, the Platoon Commander and his radio operator, and a two-man 106mm recoilless rifle team. That meant that the fire team and the radio operator could get some sleep during the day. Because of the rotation schedule, I could put 20 Marines from the platoon on the OP for all or part of a day, and that helped them get some rest to prepare for the sleepless nights on the ambushes.

The traffic on the road was interesting. After the road opened at about 1000, there were usually two convoys each day—one to An Hoa in the late morning and one to Da Nang at about 1530. Accompanying each convoy was a gaggle of VW minibuses (usually with the sides open), all sorts of European vans and cars, and lots of mini-bikes. All were crammed to the rooftops with people and baggage. It was not uncommon to see people riding on top of the cars and vans. Other than watching the movement, we had nothing to do with the convoys. The Vietnamese and their vehicles were inspected at the start of the trip and they maintained a steady speed over the road.

There was also foot traffic along the road,too,and that gave us something to do. We checked ID cards and inspected anything being carried by the people or in their carts drawn by water buffalos. If there were young women walking on the road, the troops tended to try to talk to them, but for the most part, the pedestrians were old men, old women and children in some mix or another.

A word about slang: As in other wars, there was lots of it in use in my war. It was not politically correct, nor was it particularly kind. The slang was a mysterious mixture of pidgin Vietnamese, French, and plain old-fashioned American. The French part came from the long colonial contact between the Vietnamese and the French.

All Vietnamese were “gooks.” Men were “papa-sans,” women were “mama-sans,” and any child under about 12 was a “baby-san.” South Vietnamese troops were “Arvins,” from the acronym ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam). Regional Forces troops—a sort of national Guard—were referred to as “Ruff Puffs.” Popular Forces, a sort of local militia or home guard were PF’s.

Viet cong (communist guerillas) were “Charlie,” from the phonetic “Victor Charlie” for VC. North Vietnamese soldiers were “NVA” (North Vietnamese Army). They were sometimes called “Mr. Charles,” a respectful differentiation from the less competent Charlies.

We learned a few phrases in Vietnamese.

“Di di mau” meant get going fast, and any time a unit was getting ready to move, it was said to be getting ready to “di di on outta here.”

“Dung lai” meant stop.

“Lai day” was “come here.”

A doctor or corpsman was a “bac si.”

"Dai uy" was a Captain and "Thi uy" was 2d Lieutenant.

Beyond that, few Marines bothered to learn any Vietnamese, because the only conversations they could expect to have with a Vietnamese would need only those words.

The slang for the pole used by many peasants to carry loads across the shoulder was “idiot stick.”

A kilometer was a “click.” (All measurements were metric.)

“Willie Peter” or “Wilson Picket” stood for WP—white phosphorous which was used in artillery and mortar marking rounds.

“Beau coup” was, naturally, many.

“The World” was the United States, as in “When I get back to The World, the first thing I am going to do is. . .”

A “Freedom Bird” was the airplane that would take you back to the World.

“Number one” was good and “number ten” was bad.

A “Bravo November Golf” was a brand new guy, also often referred to as “FNG.”

Marines in the rear were “pogues” or “REMFs” (Rear Echelon ……).

And the racial undercurrent was always present. Marines often described themselves as “chuck dudes” (white) or “splib dudes” (black). No one ever explained that to me, it just was.

And if anyone said about any particular event, occurrence or interaction, “It don’t mean nothing’,” you can bet that something really troubling and important just happened. (If you ever see the next to last episode of China Beach, you will understand. It was, by the way, one of only two episodes of that otherwise unremarkable program that was worth a damn. The other was when people upon whom the characters were based actually narrated an episode.)

A report might come in that “We got a couple of old mama-sans coming down the road, about half a click out, carrying idiot sticks, so we’re gonna stop ’em short of the OP and check ’em out.”

The actual conversation might be something like this. “OK, mamsa san, dung lai. Cam cuc?” Then, after the inspection, you might hear “OK, mama san. Didi. Didi mau.”

The first time I took part in such an inspection, the old woman looked to be about 70. She had two bundles tied to each end of the pole over her shoulder and was leaning forward under it as she trotted down the road. When stopped, she dropped the pole and produced her ID. The parcels were vegetables and rice. When I tried to pick up the pole, I almost fell over—it weighed at least 70 pounds.
She and my Marines chuckled. She stooped, slipped the pole over her shoulder, stood and leaned forward and resumed her trot on down the road. I suspect I was the topic of conversation over her dinner that night!

Days just blended into one another. We knew it was Sunday when Doc came around to make sure we took our orange malaria prophylaxis tablets. They were true “horse pills,” and tended to give some Marines intestinal problems for a day or two. Thus, we had to line up the troops and watch them swallow just to make sure they were not spitting them out.

It was a time for getting to know my Marines and for honing the skills I had learned at TBS. In particular, I worked at land navigation and calling and adjusting supporting arms. We burned up a lot of Willie Pete. I made sure that every Marine in my platoon could adjust mortars, call for a medevac, and give a zone brief. Doc taught us how to start an iv.

By this time, I had begun losing classmates. In 1/5, Roy Phillips was killed in Bravo Company. Bob Christian was KIA in the First Marines. One day, I received a letter from Tom Peachey.

Dear Mac,
Pat Oates is dead. He was killed in action in the A Shau during Operation Dewey Canyon. I know you guys were close and wanted you to know.

I was stunned. I was even more stunned a week or so later to receive a letter from Pat in hospital. Years later, when Peaches, Oates and I were Inspector-Instructors in 2/24, Tom explained: “Man, when they put him on that medevac, he was gray. I figured there was no way he was going to live.”

Pat did survive and remained on active duty right up to the time of his death from a heart attack on 26 June 1992, his 52d birthday. There will be many more Oates stories later.

One afternoon, as we watched a C-130 circle to land at An Hoa, a stream of tracers shot up from the foothills and one wing was suddenly engulfed in flames. The crew landed the plane and the fire was extinguished, but it was unflyable.

The NVA began to mortar An Hoa unmercifully, trying to finish off that plane. A few days later, as I sat at OP 6, two lowboy trailers came by in the convoy. One carried an entire wing and the other had two engines and propellers. For the next two nights, you could hear metal being hammered as the Air Force replaced the damaged wing. And the mortars just kept coming.

Finally, word was received that at 1000 the next day, the airplane would leave An Hoa. Folks were delighted, right up to 0930 when a mortar round finally found the other wing! A few days later, another convoy brought another wing and engines.

Finally, after about two weeks, the airplane was flown back to Da Nang. The sigh of relief was audible, even out at the Ops. The mortar attacks waned, too.

We continued to take casualties during the mine sweeps. The most memorable was when a Marine from Charlie 2 stepped on a bear trap. Fortunately, it was hidden in a wet paddy. When the Marine stepped on it, it sank into the muck which slowed the jaws of the trap. He escaped with a bruised ankle.

Operation Taylor Common continued back in the mountains. Second and Third Battalions, Fifth Marines were in the thick of things, along with the Third Marines. The Commanding Officer, Third Marines and his Sergeant Major were KIA when their chopper was shot down. Casualties were constant. I began to see the names of classmates in the KIA section of the Marine Corps Gazette.

For those of us rice paddy Marines around An Hoa, the tempo was slower. That would soon change.

19 February 2009


At breakfast the next morning, Red mentioned his list to Mary.

“Why would an elder need to know all of that stuff,” she asked?

Ouch! If that is Mary’s reaction, what will others say? How do I explain this so that people will understand? Ah, yes, back to the beginning—my first day in OCS…….

Graduates of the other services frequently comment on the loving and detailed understanding that Marines have of the history and traditions of their Corps. From Day One in recruit training or officer candidate school, Marines are given a solid foundation in the mores and standards of the organization.

Ask any Marine you know to explain the significance of Tun Tavern or of Bladensburg, or of Derna. Ask the history of the “blood stripe,” or the quatrefoil, or the mameluke sword. He will be able to explain why Dan Daly and Chesty Puller and Carlos Hathcock are still standard bearers of the Corps. And, deep down, he will carry a visceral desire to never, ever, let down “those who have gone before.”

From the beginning, recruits and candidates learn from whence hath come the Marine Corps and they understand that they must never stray from those standards.

“Well, m’dear, it’s like this,” Red responded. “My first Commanding Officer once told us about a conversation he had with his son, an Air Force ROTC cadet. It was on the day that Jimmy Doolittle died. Doolittle was the legendary Army officer who came up with the idea of an early attack on the Japanese home islands just a month or two after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. He recruited a volunteer squadron of B-25 pilots and air crew who trained to fly land-based bombers from aircraft carriers. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.”

“When Doolittle died, the Colonel called his son at school. ‘Will your ROTC unit be conducting any kind of memorial service,’ he asked?”

“‘Oh, you know, Dad, the Air Force is not all that big on that history stuff. We’re not like the Marines.’ Truer words were never spoken.”

“The Colonel replied ‘Well, that’s a shame. When you are in the lead bomber en route to Baghdad with the mission of knocking out the air defense headquarters, when you know that you absolutely must hit your target or the guys behind you will be sitting ducks, and your airplane is shot up and on fire, it seems to me that it helps to have Doolittle and Tibbets and Bud Day right there in the cockpit with you, saying, ‘OK, lad, it’s a bad deal, but you can do it. Don’t let us down!’”

“In the same way, when elders have a basic understanding of the history of the Church in general and the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition in particular, they are better able to perform the really important duties of their office. When they know how to read the Bible and are introduced to the framework for Christian thought, including theology (the doctrine of God), anthropology (the doctrine of the human condition), Christology (the doctrine of the person and work of Christ), soteriology (the doctrine of the means of salvation) the doctrine of the church, including the sacraments and ecclesiology, and eschatology (the doctrine of the last things), they are better prepared to take on the responsibility for the spiritual life and health of the congregation. When they have a basic understanding of church government under the Presbyterian system of governance and the role and duties of the officers of the Church, they are better prepared to prioritize the demands placed on them and to decline to take up those things that are better left to others in the congregation. Finally, instruction in the life and character of the officer ensures that they have been instructed in the standards that are expected of them—so that they may never let down those who have gone before.”

“It seems to me that churches run into trouble when the ‘leaders’ do not know exactly what is expected of them. A uniform, formalized training program ensures that all of the leaders are ‘singing from the same sheet of music,’ and that they are more likely to put their emphasis on those things that are most important.”

“You’re probably right,” Mary responded. “But does anyone at Graying really care?”

Good question. Will anyone care? Will the elders be willing to take the training course? Can anyone tell me what happened at Tun Tavern? Or why you never open a can of apricots in an amtrac? Tune in next time when these and other burning questions will be debated in the further Adventures of Graying Pres.

18 February 2009


Later that evening, Red thought back to the conclusions he had reached over the past few days. It all comes back to the need for elders to do the job, to execute the office of elder.

He picked up his copy of Leadership Training Guide—A Resource for Pastors, Elders and Church Leaders. As he thumbed through the book, he looked at the detailed questions that were posed.

How many of the session could answer most of these, he wondered?

--What issue was at stake at the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon?
--Who were some of the principals in the First Great Awakening?
--What does it mean to be Reformed?
--What was the effect on Presbyterians of the [1801] Agreement with the Congregationalists?
--What do we mean when we say that Scripture is inerrant? Is this the same as saying that we take the Bible literally?
--What is the method of interpreting Scripture used by Dispensationalists?
--In what sense is the doctrine of the Trinity a guide in what not to believe?
--Summarize the Covenant of Grace.
-- What is “imputed righteousness”?
-- What is the “kenosis” passage? What does “kenosis” mean?
--Explain the major theories of the atonement.
--What does each letter of TULIP stand for? What is the meaning of each term?
--What are two differences between justification and sanctification?
--What is the filling of the Holy Spirit?
--What are the marks of a true church?
--What does it do to a sacrament if the person who administers it is not of good character?
--What is the primary difference among premillennialists, postmillennialists, and amillennialists? Briefly describe the different positions.
Not that many, I bet! But how to remedy that? That is the $64,000 question.

Tune in tomorrow when these and other burning questions will be debated in the further Adventures of Graying Pres.

13 February 2009


As Red was driving to work the next morning, he began to think about the role of the pastor and both his contribution to the problems of the congregation and the solutions to those problems. He knew that the Pastor, while an elder of the church, had special responsibilities and functions within the congregation.

I remember my Dad saying that when the church became a business and the pastorate a profession, we really got off track, he recalled.

For centuries, the pastorate was viewed as a calling, and pastors were considered to be set aside by God. Then, in the 1960s and early 70s, the model changed. Church was a business, and it required “professional” management. Pastors were “hired” to act as the CEO and the elders became the directors who oversaw the management of the business. Many graduates of seminary aimed for service in the bureaucracy of denominations rather than taking a call to a parish. At least one seminary in a major, but declining, denomination actually created a joint degree program in which an individual could obtain a Master of Divinity degree and a Juris Doctorate.

Ugh! Talk about Pharisees. Folks who intentionally become lawyer ministers and then poison a denomination by emphasizing strict interpretation and observance of polity over Scripture.

Presbyteries, historically local and staffed by “volunteers,” became populated by professional bureaucrats. Job descriptions were crafted, staff were hired, and the top down corporate model of governance began to appear. In one major denomination, the principle function of the presbytery was to act as the collection agent for the national denomination, taxing congregations and passing the taxes along to the national bureaucracy.

And we let it happen, Red realized. But, if our pastor is not our CEO, then who is he?

When one is called by a congregation to be the shepherd of that flock, that person shall be called Pastor. As such, the duties of the Pastor shall be to preach and expound the Word, to be God’s prophet to the people and to be the people’s priest before God.

OK. The pastor’s first responsibility is to ensure that the Gospel is rightly preached.

That takes time and study. A prophet is not someone who works off the top of his head. It is the duty of the ruling elders to see that the pastor has the time necessary to carry out that responsibility and to ensure that the members of the congregation understand that.

The Pastor shall lead the people in worship, shall celebrate the Sacraments, shall oversee the education and nurture program of the congregation.” He or she is a spiritual leader, ensuring that the Sacraments are rightly administered. The Pastor oversees the education and nurture program of the congregation.

“Oversee,” Red thought. Now that is an important word.

The Pastor does not perform the programs, he oversees, he supervises, but others are to be designated to carry them out. “Supervise,” the 6th Troop Leading step. Just as important here as in a rifle squad or platoon!

The Pastor with the Ruling Elders shall minister to the sick, the dying, the grieving, the troubled, the poor, and to all those who have need of a Pastor’s care, love, and compassion. With the Ruling Elders, the Pastor shall exercise the joint power of government.”

There it is again. “With the ruling elders.” We are in the business of ministry together.

Of course the pastor, like any leader, must lead by example. So, he or she teaches an occasional Sunday School class. The pastor may lead a Bible study. He visits the sick at home and in hospital, but he does so along with the other elders, not instead of. The ruling elders must never forget that, with the pastor, they are co-equally responsible for the flock. They must covenant with one another to carry the burden of leadership equally, to exercise accountability and discipline, and to back up one another when necessary.

Once again, Red thought, it all comes back to the need for elders to do the job, to execute the office of elder. When we become managers, the flock is in danger.

Red has now pretty much analyzed the issues and problems facing Graying Pres. Can he figure out a way to fix them? Will the session step up and do their job? And why isn’t February 14 the “First Day of Spring?” Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on that day—not to “Late Winter Training.” If it is Spring training, it must be Spring!

Tune in next week when these and other burning questions will be debated in the further Adventures of Graying Pres.

11 February 2009


Red got home just in time to take Sally to her riding lesson. By the time Sally had tacked up Harvey (her horse), completed her lesson, and turned out the horse, they were just able to get home for supper.

After the dishes were done, Red helped Thomas with his math homework and Mary checked over Sally’s work. Mary put the children to bed while Red returned to his study.

This thing is getting to me, he thought. I need to get it summed up so that it can simmer for awhile.

Red began a checklist on his note pad:

Leaders must be educated before they begin to serve.
Session responsible for that education.
Evangelism is the First Business of the Church.
Elders are spiritual leaders first and bureaucrats only as a last resort.
Elders need to learn to delegate to Deacons and Trustees.

So, what is it that Deacons ought to be doing, what are ours actually doing, and what changes ought we consider, Red asked himself?

According to the Book of Order

The office of Deacon as set forth in Scripture is one of compassion, concern for needs, and of serving others. Therefore, the first duty of the Deacon is sympathy and service. Historically, to this office has been given the duty of being the Church’s instrument for the ministry of compassion. Such duties may include the care, maintenance, and preparation of the church and its facilities. Since the Board of Deacons is not a court of the Church and since it is under the authority of the Church Session, to the Deacons both individually and collectively the Church Session may assign from time to time special duties felt to be appropriate to that office.

“The first duty of the Deacon is sympathy and service. Historically, to this office has been given the duty of being the Church’s instrument for the ministry of compassion.”

The Deaconate, then, is an office of action rather than contemplation. While maintaining a prayer list and prayer chain and, perhaps, a card ministry, are signs of compassion, the Deacon should be away from the Church more often than in it.

Visitation to the sick, elderly, and shut-ins is a function that the pastor and the Deacons share. Unfortunately, some churches see the pastor as the "employee" who has been "hired" to relieve the leadership of any of the hard work of ministry. In those churches, a recurring refrain is “We don’t know how to do visits—seminary is supposed to train the pastor for that.” Those are often the churches that also complain because the over-worked pastor is not regularly “spending enough time” on his sermons, is not regularly appearing at committee meetings, youth events, Bible study groups, and is not available to meet with people seeking counseling.

The Deaconate ought to be the first level of visitation. It can be the eyes and ears for the pastor and session, alerting the elders and pastor when they, too, need to visit members. It is more than making sure that the altar flowers go to someone, Red realized. The Deacons ought to be out and about on a regular basis. That requires screening and training.

“Such duties may include the care, maintenance, and preparation of the church and its facilities.”

In small churches, the Deacons may have these duties. In larger churches in which the corporation has elected trustees, supervision of the Sexton and oversight of the care and maintenance of the church are better assigned to the trustees. But if there is a “Property Committee” on the Board of Trustees, election or appointment ex officio of one or more Deacons to that committee may be appropriate.

Deacons ought to be prominently involved in the Worship Ministry for the care and preparation of sanctuary for worship.

But the Deacons must be sure that they do not allow those duties to replace their first duty to care for the members who are in need of care and compassion, Red thought.

And the Deacons are not allowed to pick and choose their functions.

Since the Board of Deacons is not a court of the Church and since it is under the authority of the Church Session, to the Deacons both individually and collectively the Church Session may assign from time to time special duties felt to be appropriate to that office.

[The session is responsible] to oversee the work of the Board of Deacons and to review its minutes at least semiannually unless otherwise provided for by the Church Session. It is also desirable for the Church Session to call a joint meeting at least semi-annually to discuss matters of common interest, although each body must act separately on matters under its charge.

“And that is a key consideration,” Red muttered to himself.

“. . . each body must act separately on matters under its charge.” The Session must exercise discipline and avoid the urge to micro-manage the Deaconate and the Board of Trustees. Once the Session delegates authority to the other boards, it must allow them to exercise that authority so long as they do not exceed the scope of their authority. Otherwise, there are two or three groups performing the same function, while other essential areas, such as the spiritual health and development of the church, go untended.

And the delegation of authority to Deacons is especially appropriate because of their ordained status. Where a representative of committee may be viewed by some as an interloper, the attendance of an ordained officver of the church carries with it the weight of ordination and call.

Once again, it all comes back to screening and training.

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.

Screening. Candidates must be screened before they are elected and installed. Those who are not genuinely called to the office to which they have been nominated must be identified and, if training cannot correct the identified deficiencies, they should be asked to stand aside.

“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.”

Training. In too many instances, nominating committees use one of two models. The first is the “It is X’s turn to serve.” Election to office is viewed as a reward to length of membership or representation of some faction within the congregation.

The other model is the “just find someone to serve” model. The nominating committee takes anyone who will volunteer to serve whether or not they are suited to the office. This model is most likely to ignore, or to be ignorant of, the obligation to screen for a sense of call.

Once again, Red thought, we are back to the need for screening and for education. And education must also include the nominating committee.

Red looked at his list.

Leaders must be educated before they begin to serve.
Session responsible for that education.
Evangelism is the First Business of the Church.
Elders are spiritual leaders first and administrators only as a last resort.
Elders need to learn to delegate to Deacons and Trustees.

He added:

Sense of call must be identified early.
Candidates must understand what they will be asked to do.
Session must then make sure that the committees and boards do their job, but must not try to do it for them.
It is better to be short-handed than to have people elected who are unwilling to take upon themselves the obligations of their office.

Mary stuck her head through the door. “CSI is on. You gonna watch some goo and gore before we go to sleep?”

Red put his notes aside. Yeah. The new guy who replaced Grissom may need my help tonight.

Well, what more must Red consider? Are most elders ready to delegate? How many bodies will the CSI team find tonight?

Join us again tomorrow for more of the Adventures of Graying Pres.

09 February 2009


After school the next day, Red went for his usual run with Larry Matthews, a member of Graying Pres and fellow teacher at East Overshoe High School. Larry and Cindy, his wife, teach the “Toddler” class for the three children at GPC in the 2 to 4 age group.

Red mentioned the day-long study that he had undertaken on the snow day. After he finished his description, Larry asked “What are the other duties of the elders?”

“The other duties with regard to the spiritual life are pretty general. The session organizes itself to advance the ministry of the Church and the mission of the congregation. It may order special offerings, special days of prayer and fasting, special days of worship and other matters that benefit the spiritual life of the people. And it has a catch-all responsibility ‘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.’”

“The problem that I see,” Red continued, “is that this session has completely ignored its main responsibilities to educate and discipline itself and to oversee the spiritual growth of the congregation. Instead, it has gotten itself wrapped around the administrative axle.”

“How so,” asked Larry?

“Well, the session has five what I would call ‘general’ administrative duties. It receives members; keeps the rolls; dismisses, restores, grants affiliation, or removes members; determines the budget of the church and the benevolence objectives of the congregation; and determines policies regarding the use of the property and facilities of the congregation. None of these is all that difficult if the session has its priorities straight, but these are the things that we seem to be hung up on. I mean we spent time arguing over whether a clock was included in a line item on the budget and whether a committee, chaired by a single elder, could unilaterally control a huge chunk of the budget.”

“But aren’t we a Pennsylvania corporation with trustees,” Larry gasped? Red realized that in his emotional state, he was pushing the run. Larry was also a former Marine, but Red had run him pretty hard. He dialed things back a click.

“Absolutely. For instance, we determine the budget of the church and the benevolence objectives of the congregation, but once we do so, the only time we ought to get involved in the business of the corporation or the Board of Deacons is if they depart from the budget. For example, if the Worship Ministry wants to buy a clock out of its budgeted funds, who are we to say ‘No’? Of course, if they try to hang the clock in the sanctuary, they have probably overstepped their authority unless the session approves. And the pastor is free to ignore the clock!”

“I seem to remember when I was in OCS that leaders delegate and supervise, but they let the guy with the responsibility for a particular function do his job. The leader steps in only to prevent serious harm or to correct a misunderstanding of the original orders. Isn’t that right?” Larry put on a spurt of energy and ran ahead.

“Right on, Artillery Boy,” Red responded, kicking a little and catching up. “But when the elders are not properly educated and trained to do the hard work of ministry and spiritual oversight, it is easier to become micro-managers than to take the corrective action necessary to do their own job. And the Deacons and trustees have let it happen. Easier for them, too. But the task of the Deacons is a heavy one in and of itself. If they are doing their job, the two groups of ordained leaders will focus on the first duty of the church – evangelism. They will be fully consumed by the task of leading people to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and caring for the members of our flock who need it. The nitty gritty temporal business stuff can and ought to be handled by the trustees.”

“Will the Deacons do it, Grunt,” Larry asked? They slowed to a walk outside the gym.

“That, my man, is the sixty four dollar question.”

Well, it looks as if it is time for the Deacons to sit on Red’s bullseye. What are their duties and responsibilities? What should they be doing? What will Mary have for dinner?

For answers to these and other pressing questions, tune in tomorrow for the further Adventures of Graying Pres.

08 February 2009


As Red put a new pot of coffee on the fire, he saw that Mary and the kids were outside. Sally and Mary were building a snow man and Thomas was hard at work on a snow fort. Quickly pulling on his boots and coat, Red joined them.

Two hours later, snowy and tired, they tromped back into the house. Mary took the tuna casserole from the oven and the family sat down to supper. It was not until after the kids were bathed, prayers were said, and he and Mary had their evening devotional time that Red was able to return to his study.

If we are “to oversee the worship of the congregation in accordance with the Book of Worship,” what are the standards applicable to the task? What is required of each member to ensure that our worship of God is in accord with the Book of Worship?

The Book of Worship gives clear guidance about our worship together.

Only God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to receive such worship. Such worship shall include the reverent and attentive reading of the Scriptures, the sound preaching and conscientious hearing of the Word, and singing of psalms and hymns, the proper administration and right receiving of the sacraments, and prayer with thanksgiving. . . .

It is incumbent upon all Christians to gather on the Lord’s Day for worship that it might be kept holy unto the Lord. Affairs should be so arranged and influence so used that no one will be kept unnecessarily from worshiping God or observing the day in an appropriate manner.

No Christian should come to the Lord’s Day unprepared. . . . Thoughts should not be concerned with worldly activities, but should focus on the things of the Lord. Plans should be made to participate in public and private worship. . . . All should be present at the appointed hour, unite in all the parts of the worship, and depart only when the benediction has been pronounced. . . .

Many of us have lost sight of the basic understanding about worship: our common worship must always be focused on God, not on our own likes and dislikes, Red thought. We are present to worship Him, not to be worshiped or entertained!

The session’s duty of oversight the congregation’s worship, when coupled with its duty to monitor the spiritual conduct of the members becomes clearer when we consider the order of common worship. The people of God are no longer bound by rigid rules and regulations for worship. The Reformation was spawned by the immersion of the Roman Catholic Church in man-made rules and rituals that had no Biblical basis or support. We must not let new rules that satisfy individual preferences take on a similar patina of law.

The people are to remember to do all things decently and in order that all may participate and God may be glorified. For the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, this means no particular church is required to follow any predetermined or rigid form of worship. However, it also means that worship should be conducted in such a way that persons are not hindered in their worship and that it not be an offense to God.

The public worship of God is not to be carelessly or willfully neglected or forsaken.

The insistence of some that a particular “style” of music or a particular order of worship must be followed as a precondition for their participation is a sign of inappropriate spiritual conduct that must be the subject to appropriate discipline by the session. Worship is not a matter of style—it is a matter of disciplined hearts and minds offering to God that which is His due.

Red shook his head. That means that if an elder hears a member say he or she will attend Sunday services only when a particular form of music or a particular order of worship is employed, the elder or the session must exercise Godly discipline to correct that defect in the member. I wonder if we are up to that task?

The Pastor, while advised to consult with the Church Session, has the duty and responsibility to determine the order, sequence, elements, and proportion of the service that each shall have in public worship. . . . All who come to worship should actively participate. The worship should be so designed that there is common participation when all share in the various elements of praise to God. Participation by various members of the particular congregation is encouraged to demonstrate that worship is a privilege of all and not relegated to a select few.

Thus, the pastor and session must ensure that the common worship of the congregation meets the needs of all members. No particular person or group of people has a veto with respect to the common worship of congregation. Those who take a “my way or the highway” approach must be the subject of Biblical discipline.

But that is not all, Red thought. Next, we have to consider the Word of God in Worship.

The ordinary worship of God always includes the reverent and attentive reading of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are for the sure establishment of the Church, as well as its comfort, and protects it from the corruption of the flesh, the malice of Satan and the world. Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is to be the rule of faith and life for all Christians. Reading of the Word should be done with a sense of awe and reverence. The choice of passages and their length to be read from Scripture belongs to the Pastor. Worship should be conducted in such a way that persons are not hindered in their worship.

When the Word is read, we have a duty to consider those who are less familiar with Scripture in order to aid them in maturing in their knowledge of the Bible.

We also have to consider the sound preaching of the Word.

The ordinary worship of God always includes the sound preaching and conscientious hearing of the Word in obedience to God. Such preaching should always open the Word of God in such a way that the hearer can respond with clear understanding and simple faith. In dealing with matters in which there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, the Preacher is to remember that the only infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself.

The sermon should be related to the particular congregation and the individuals within it. It should address the real issues of that community of faith and should include practical application to life. It should be framed in such terms that all present can understand. . . .

Since the reading of Scriptures requires attentiveness and the sermon conscientious hearing, the worshipers have a duty also. As God speaks through the Word as it is read and preached, cutting hearts, giving guidance in the Christian life, building up in the faith, the worshiper has a solemn duty to be open and receptive to God’s revelation. Even as the Preacher is to make proper preparation, so the worshiper is to be prepared in every way to hear and respond. While all of the elements of public worship are important and should not be neglected, no worship is complete without the reading and preaching of the Word. For this reason, the Pastor and Church Session should be careful to protect the pulpit in each particular church that the Word be truly preached. No person should be permitted to preach to a particular church without the invitation of the Pastor and the Church Session, or the Church Session if there is no Pastor.

The sound preaching of the Word is an essential part of worship. Attempts to limit the pastor to a particular amount of time for his or her sermon are improper. If the Word can be properly preached in ten minutes this Sunday, fine. But addressing the real issues of congregation and providing practical application to life may take longer. In that case, the congregation owes God and his spokesman a solemn duty to be open and receptive to God’s revelation.

Whew! At least we are spared some of this—Pastor Rex preaches from the Word. I wish my sister and her church paid closer attention to sound preaching. Her story-telling pastor who is “so entertaining” is doing no service to himself or his congregation.

And then there is the issue of music in Worship.
Red groaned. I sometimes wish I was a Quaker!

Singing of psalms with grace in the heart is a necessary and indispensable part of the common worship of the people of God. The whole congregation is the true choir singing praises and giving glory to God. For this reason, corporate singing is not to be neglected. . . .

Music is not an end in itself, but should serve the whole purpose of giving glory and praise to God. Where there is a choir auxiliary to the congregation, it should be remembered that it is representing the whole congregation before God and is not performing for the people. . . Those who participate in a choir inevitably represent a special calling in the life of a congregation and should exhibit a gracious Christian life that brings honor to God. Participants in the choir should . . . conduct themselves in such a way that their lives will not be a barrier or hindrance to those who worship.

The Minister is responsible for the order for worship, for leading the service, and for determining the parts of worship along with the emphasis given to each. The Minister has final authority over all, including the music. Where there is a music director or other such person working in music, that person shall always consult with the Minister concerning the music or worship.

. . . The words of hymns should be appropriate and reflect Reformed theology. It is appropriate to include contemporary hymns that are in keeping with the life of the particular congregation. . . . . The use of various musical instruments in worship is appropriate unless disapproved by the Church Session.

Music is not an end in itself. And yet, in congregation after congregation, the most conflict and dissension centers around music. “What songs will we sing?” “Who will choose the songs?” "What style—traditional or contemporary—will we use?”

And cliques can develop. Worship ministry teams or choirs may attempt to usurp the pastor’s authority to select the musical portion of the worship service. All of which are indicia of a breakdown in discipline.

How often to we hear choir members or praise bands speak in terms of their performance for the congregation—as if the congregation is an audience?

Red sighed. The concept that the choir or praise band is to entertain or perform for the congregation is antithetical to the true role of music and musicians in worship. They are to lead the people in a part of the worship of God. There is another area in which the session must exercise oversight and discipline, he thought.

Many a choir has a tendency to assume responsibilities and authority that it does not have. The session needs to be on the lookout for such thinking and nip it in the bud.

The next issue is prayer in Worship. Fortunately, we seem to have that down pretty well. But what about the offerings of the people of God?

The acknowledgment that God is the Author of every good gift and that His people are but stewards of His grace should find expression in the offerings of the congregation. In returning to God a proper stewardship of His gifts, the congregation is to be reminded that they are also held accountable not only for a proper stewardship, but for the use of all they have and are. The giving of the people of God in response to His goodness and love should find expression in three principal areas.

Many folks today assume that they fulfill their duty to make offerings to God by writing a check. They forget that the first duty of the Christian is to offer self to God, heart, mind, body, and soul. Each service may properly include a time for rededication or for commitment. Only after so doing are their tithes and offerings a visible expression of their commitment as believers to the extension of the Gospel, the work of ministry, and the support of the Church of Jesus Christ. And they also need to know that God desires that each Christian respond to His call to service in ministry to others.

That, too, is part of the duty of the session to educate the congregation.

Red stretched. “OK,” he said to himself. “As elders, we need to understand the true nature of worship so that we can use it to measure the spiritual health of the congregation. Where, as here, there are obvious signs of a lack of spiritual health, we must exhibit the moral courage to exercise discipline to bring the body back to the path of faith that God desires us to walk.”

“I’ve had enough for one day. I’ll be glad to be back to school tomorrow. I need to let some of this sink in.”

Sooooo. After a long day, Red has made a start. What else can he discern? What other factions can he upset? Tune in tomorrow for the further Adventures of Graying Presbyterian Church.

07 February 2009


In mid-February, Lyn Pompper was transferred to Headquarters and Service Company at the Battalion Command Post at Phu Loc (6). I was once again moved, this time to become the platoon commander of Third Platoon. Although I missed Second Platoon, I was delighted to once again be a platoon leader. There were differences. In Second Platoon, my platoon Sergeant was Staff Sergeant Gary Beyer. He was about 28, with ten years in the Corps.

In Third Herd, my Platoon Sergeant was Corporal Daryl Levi. He was 20, with about a year in the Corps. The difference in experience was marked.

But he was a warrior. His promotion to Corporal resulted from an action in which his fire team sized patrol (four men) spotted an NVA unit that was estimated to be squad sized or larger. Arranging a hasty ambush, he took the NVA unit under rifle and grenade fire while also adjusting mortar fire onto the retreating remnant. A significant number of NVA were killed, with no casualties to Levi’s fire team. As a result, the Commanding General approved his meritorious combat promotion to Corporal.

Let me add a word about enemy casualties.

I will refrain from mentioning specific numbers of enemy dead unless I can personally vouch for the number. Because of McNamara’s fetish for numbers, the Vietnam War became famous for its emphasis on “body count.” I have heard that McNamara even had folks who would calculate rounds expended per enemy casualty, just to see if we were being economical in the use of ammunition.

Absurd! Another of Father O’Brien’s Murphy maxims is, “If someone is worth shooting, he’s worth shooting twice.” Combat is ridiculously uneconomical. You stay alive by making sure the bad guy is down for the count, and if it takes three rounds to make sure he is out of the game, give him all three. Now, fire discipline is important, and controlling a unit’s fires is one of the small unit leader’s responsibilities. Profligate firing is unacceptable because you may need the ammo later. But limiting rounds just to save money is stupid.

The apex of the body count fixation came a part of the legend of 1/5 in the Fall of 1968. Captain Marty Brandtner commanded Delta Company at the time. (Some may recall him as a Lieutenant General during Gulf War I. He was the J-3 of the Joint Staff and conducted many of the press briefings on the development and culmination of that war.)

General Brandtner was one of only two Marines to receive two Navy Crosses during the Vietnam War. They were awarded for actions only 8 days apart. The citations for those actions are here and here.

At about the same time, Delta Company was assigned to seize, occupy and defend a hilltop position. As the attack commenced in the late afternoon, it was met with heavy enemy fire. Brandtner called in artillery and mortar fire, encircling the enemy position and preventing the enemy from withdrawing. He continued to pound the enemy position with mortars, artillery and air strikes all night. The next morning, the Company walked onto the hill with no opposition. It was several feet lower than it had been the day before.

Almost immediately, Brandtner was pestered with radio requests for a “body count.” In exasperation, he responded, “Look, this place is a mess. There are no bodies, just arms and legs—nothing but meat.”

“Well, dammit,” came the reply, “count the meat!” From then on, 1/5’s unofficial motto was “We Count The Meat.” But the fixation on body count was firmly set in the bureaucratic minds in Saigon and Washington.

When I took command of Charlie 3, it numbered about 25 Marines and a Corpsman. After the normal shakedown period between a new commander and his unit, we were soon in battery with one another.

I joined the platoon when it was at strong points Charlie and Delta. The first afternoon, I went out on a local security patrol from Delta. The route they followed was further west than I was used to, but an earlier patrol had spotted a dud 81mm mortar round embedded in the ground, and we took an engineer, PFC Jimmy Phipps, with us to destroy it. (Dud rounds were potential booby traps--“improvised explosive devices” or “IEDs” in the politically correct lingo of the Iraq War.) This was the first of several “adventures” that Phipps and I had together.

We found the dud just where expected. I ordered the squad leader to proceed with the rest of the patrol on the return route to Delta. I remained with my radio operator, Phipps and a three-man fireteam for local security while Phipps prepped and then destroyed the dud. We then moved quickly to rejoin the remainder of the squad.

We found them about 150 meters ahead, still standing in column, at a two-strand barbed wire fence. About 50 meters away, there was another two-strand fence. The squad leader was about to cross through the fence, and three of his Marines were already spread out at 6 to 8 meter intervals between the two fences.

It took me about five seconds to recognize that these were minefield boundary fences, and three of my Marines were in the minefield. I yelled “Freeze!” Everyone froze, looking at the “new lieutenant” as if I was a madman.

I moved up to the squad leader, an 18 year old PFC, and pulled him aside. “OK, we’ve got a couple of problems. The biggest is that we have to get those people out of that damned minefield before somebody gets killed.”

“Minefield?” He paled visibly.

“Move your people back to the top of that rise where you can cover us, get them down and into a three sixty, and wait for me.

The point man was about twenty five meters from me. I said, “OK. I want all three of you to freeze. You are all right for now, and we’re going to keep you that way. Standing in place, I want each of you to carefully turn back towards me.”

Phipps had joined me. He pointed to a small dirt and grass clump about 10 meters to the left of the third man. We could see that earth had eroded exposing a French “tomato can” bouncing betty type mine. He pointed to another about 3 meters to the right and three or four feet ahead of the second Marine. We could not see any others, so I sent him back to the squad.

I looked at the closest Marine. “Did you walk straight ahead,” I asked. He nodded.
“Then retrace your steps to me. Once your foot is on the ground, scuff the heel of your boot to mark the trail.” He did so, very slowly. Once he was back through the fence, I sent him to rejoin the squad.

The next Marine was about 15 meters from me. “Can you remember where you walked,” I asked? He nodded. Using the same technique, he moved to where the first marine had stood and then “walked on his footprints.”

The third Marine would not move. (I later learned that his best friend was the Marine killed by the mine at strong point Alpha.) I slipped through the fence and walked very carefully to where the second Marine had started to retrace his steps. I was now about 10 meters from my target, and very conscious of the mine to my right! The man still could not move.

Figuring that he had walked straight ahead, I slowly approached him, marking my footprints. When we were close enough to shake hands, I turned in place and led him out.

Rejoining the squad, we moved east towards the MSR and returned to strong point Delta. Things were very quiet. I assembled the squad and gave a hasty lecture on minefields and the indications that a field was present. I then went to strong point Charlie and gave the same class to my other squad.

I was of a mind to relieve the squad leader, but it struck me that he was a young, inexperienced Marine trying to perform a job that was meant for a Sergeant with seven or eight years service. I had been spoiled by Staff Sergeant Beyer, Sergeant McGroary and Corporal Thornton. From then on, I used all available “free time” for training.

“I am endeavoring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic circuit using stone knives and bearskins.” Commander Spock, First Officer/Science Officer, USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) (City on the Edge of Forever)

During our stay at Charlie Base Camp, we took an average of one casualty per day, all but the three at OP 6 from booby traps. In turn, all booby trap casualties came during the morning road sweep. None that I recall were fatal, but our people were being hurt badly.

The road sweep ended at OP 6, where we met the other sweep coming south from Phu Loc (6). The trash situation at OP 6 had not worsened, because we policed our trash and brought it back to the base camp with us. But we could not get the trash left by 3/5 cleaned up. Nearly every day, we spotted an actual or suspected booby trap in the trash mound left by the last company that had manned the OP.

We were discussing the problem at the officers’ meeting one night. “It’s too bad Mr. Spock isn’t here,” Chip commented. “If he can construct a mnemonic circuit using stone knives and bearskins, he could find a way to neutralize the booby traps.”

Star Trek had premiered on TV while we were all in college. It was being re-run on Armed Forces TV out of Saigon, and we could sometimes pick up the audio on the radio. We all agreed that we needed Mr. Spock, and talked about what a “Spock neutralizer” might look like. The conversation continued for several days.

One morning a few days later, the road sweep dropped off a 55 gallon drum at OP 6. After destroying a suspected booby trap, the trash was pretty well spread out. For the rest of the day, the Marines who were not on watch policed up some of the trash and put it in the drum. At Noon, two marines carried a case of C-Rations down to OP 5. When the road closed for the night, the OP was closed and the troops headed back to the Base Camp. The drum was left in place.

The next morning, we found that the drum had been booby trapped. The engineers blew it in place, spreading the trash, and then dropped off another empty drum. The Marines on the OP followed the same routine for four days, with the same results.

The first day that First Platoon was on the OP for the full day, the engineers blew up the drum from the day before. They dropped off another drum, although if anyone had been watching carefully, they might have noticed that it took four Marines to get it off the truck. This drum was already full. We had packed it with “grade three ammo” (unserviceable ammunition which was corroded, dented, or from lots that had been re-called), as well as several old claymore mines, the remainder of the Korean War era 60mm mortar rounds, frag grenades, two 20 pound satchel charges,some rolls of barbed wire, loose brass and links from the machine gun positions, and other assorted goodies. That morning, it had then been filled with gasoline and sealed, except for a small hole in the lid, through which protruded wires attached to blasting caps inserted into the satchel charges.

The box of C-rations that went to OP 5 was empty except for 400 meters of communications wire that fed out of the box up the sleeve and down the trouser leg of the Marine carrying it. His “escort” walked behind him making sure the wire stayed on the ground.

A few pieces of trash were placed on top of the drum during the day. When the troops left OP 6, an engineer attached the blasting cap to one end of the slash wire. A few minutes later, the Marines from OP 6 met up with the Marines coming down from OP 5. As they moved away, Chip and two Marines remained hidden in the scrub at the side of the road.

About 15 minutes later, they saw a group of 20 or so people leave the ville that was about 200 meters east of OP 6, the same ville into which the attackers on 12 January had fled. At least one carried a weapon. When they were about 2 meters from the drum, Chip hit the hell box and the Spock neutralizer neutralized the bad guys.

I was in a tower at strong point Delta, about six clicks away, when the device was lit off. There was a towering plume of flame, clearly visible to me. The resulting hole was about three feet deep and two to three maters wide. "Fascinating!"

After that, the booby trapping incidents at OP 6 completely died off. I think Mr. Spock would have approved.

03 February 2009


Sitting back down, Red considered what elders would learn about their office through training. What are the distinct duties of the elders which will foster the spiritual health of the congregation?

The first responsibility leapt off the page! “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.”

The first duty is evangelism. The “business of the church” is evangelism. Seeking every opportunity to lead people to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the FIRST Responsibility of the Church.

Looks like my ministry team has got a lot of work to do! When we let clocks and line items and guitars and unseemly bickering to get in the way of witness, we are a failed institution. If we allow Graying to be inhospitable, ignoring visitors because we need to talk “business,” we are failures, because the first business of the Church is to open wide the doors of the church to all who come through them.

Next came “to remind parents of the responsibility of presenting their children for Baptism, and to provide instruction as indicated in the Book of Worship.” Looking at the elements of instruction regarding baptism, it became clear to Red that the level of instruction requires preparation

Well, sure, Red thought. First we train the leaders and then the leaders ensure that the rest of the congregation gets the education and training necessary to become witnesses to the Good news, to become evangelists.

The requirement that ruling elders remind parents that their children ought to be baptized and instruct them about the nature of baptism and the obligations that parents undertake is a biggie. Red recalled that the Session’s casual, matter-of-fact approval of a baptism request at the past meeting was pro forma. The Session did not confirm that the parents understood the nature of baptism.

A lot of young parents seek to have their children baptized for the wrong reasons. Some view baptism as a magical rite. Others know that they should do it, but simply do not know why. The elders must be ready and able to help parents understand the sacrament of baptism. The Book of Worship says parents should know and understand that :

Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the Covenant of Grace, representing Christ and all His benefits. They confirm our relationship to Him and represent a visible difference between those who belong to the Church and the rest of the world. There is a spiritual or sacramental relationship in the sacraments between the sign (water and bread and wine) and what is signified.

The power revealed in the sacraments does not reside in them or in the one administering them,but is in the work of the Holy Spirit and in the promise of God who gives benefits to those who worthily receive them. Thus, the sacraments are powerful and effective in the life of the recipient because of God’s Word which instituted them. For this reason the sacraments should not be neglected or omitted.

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ. By the act of baptism, a person becomes a part of the visible Church, for it is a sign and a seal of the Covenant of Grace for believers and their children. As a sign it proclaims God’s forgiveness and our redemption in Jesus Christ. As a seal, God marks us as adopted children of our heavenly Father. It indicates our engrafting into Christ, our rebirth, the remission of sins, and our ability by the power of the Spirit to walk in newness of life. This sacrament is to be continued by God’s people until the end of the world.

God’s grace and salvation are not inseparably connected to this sacrament. Some who are baptized will be lost and some not baptized will be saved. Nevertheless, it is a great sin to make light of or to neglect this sacrament. A great benefit is lost when baptism is neglected, for God promises to bless His people through this sacrament. The effectiveness of baptism is not tied to the moment it is administered, yet God who keeps His promises confers His grace according to His own will and in His appointed time.

Finally, that the parents affirmatively assume vows of duty and obligation on behalf of their child by:

acknowledging the child’s, need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit;

claiming God’s covenant promises and benefits for the child and by faith looking to the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the child as they do their own;

unreservedly dedicating the child to God, and promising by relying on God’s power and grace through the Holy Spirit to live an exemplary life before the child;

committing themselves to pray with and for the child, to teach the child the Scriptures and the great articles of our faith in Jesus Christ; and

promising to use every means provided by God, including faithful participation in the life of the Church, to bring the child up in the loving discipline of the Lord.

It occurred to Red that this meant that parents seeking to have their child baptized ought to be examined by the session every bit as much as prospective new members to ensure that they truly understood the magnitude of the obligation they are undertaking. Probably at a separate meeting called for that purpose alone, he thought.

The ruling elders are also responsible “to oversee the educational program of the congregation, and to determine its literature.”

How often does the session as a whole meet with the Discipleship Ministry team? When was the last time that the session examined all of the curricula being used in the church to ensure that it is Scripturally based and Reformed in nature?

It’s probably not a big deal (I hope) for Sunday School, but there are Bible studies and other small groups of the congregation that use educational literature, too. Whew!

Next, the session is “to oversee the worship of the congregation in accordance with the Book of Worship, including the time and place of worship, special services, the music program, and the celebration of the sacraments. This shall not infringe on the responsibility of the Pastor in the selection of hymns, Scriptures, sermon, administration of the sacraments, or other duties that are incumbent on the office of Pastor.”

Verrrrry interesting! All those folks who think that their little fiefdoms—the choir, some Sunday School classes, even some parts of the youth ministry—are free from oversight by the session need education in this regard.

And then there is this one: “When there is no pastor, to convene the people for worship on the Lord’s Day, offering prayers, praise, reading the Scriptures and teaching thereof. It is also appropriate for one member to give an exhortation or to read a sermon by some Minister of the Word of the Church.”

The Book of Worship sets forth the doctrinal understanding of worship.

The acceptable way of worshiping God is established by God Himself. Proper worship is defined and outlined in God’s revealed will and is to be followed in giving glory to Him. True and proper worship therefore finds its prescription in Holy Scripture. Only God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to receive such worship. Such worship shall include the reverent and attentive reading of the Scriptures, the sound preaching and conscientious hearing of the Word, and singing of psalms and hymns, the proper administration and right receiving of the sacraments, and prayer with thanksgiving. Such public worship of God shall also include times of solemn prayer and fasting, as well as special days of praise and thanksgiving. All worship should at all times and in all places be performed in a holy and religious manner. The public worship of God is not to be carelessly or willfully neglected or forsaken.

The public worship of God is not to be carelessly or willfully neglected or forsaken. Worship requires attentive planning, reverent consideration, and joyful exercise. It is not to become an afterthought. It is not a show or a time for unthinking ritual. It is giving God that which is His alone.

Well, if the session has major responsibility for the worship life of the congregation, that is another area for which it needs education in order to then educate the congregation and correct poor spiritual conduct.

Elders need to understand The Lord’s Day, the obligation of each member to prepare and gathering for worship, the order of common worship, and the role of the Pastor, his or her duty and responsibility to determine the order, sequence, elements, and proportion of the service that each shall have in public worship. They need to understand the use and centrality of the Word of God in Worship, the definition and necessity of sound preaching of the Word, the place of music in worship, all aspects of prayer in worship, and the breadth and depth of the offerings of the people of God.

That’s a lot to chew on. Red yawned. He stood and stretched. Look at all of the complex areas for which we are responsible. And consider all the time we wasted on Monday night, deliberating about clocks and budget line items and other stuff that has nothing to do with the spiritual health of the congregation or “the first business of the Church.”

Coffee. I need coffee before I see what other jobs we have that we are not doing.

Can any one group actually undertake the responsibilities assigned to elders? Can education of the session and the congregation help? Can Red find a fresh pot of coffee at this time of day? Join us again tomorrow as we continue to follow the adventures of Graying Pres.

02 February 2009


After lunch, Red returned to his study. He began to consider the nine duties of Ruling Elders with respect to Spiritual Supervision.

The first is a responsibility to monitor the spiritual conduct of the members, and to take action when appropriate according to procedures set forth in the Book of Discipline.

That’s a pretty broad area, he thought. How can it be broken down so as to be manageable? Well, in the words of the Shorter Catechism, are we, individually and collectively, “glorifying God?”

Some adopt as their standard, “What would Jesus do?” But Jesus was perfect and we can never approach His perfection in this world. Perhaps we ought to ask of our conduct, “Would I do this if Jesus was standing right here with me? (He is, of course, but we often act as if he has stepped away for a moment.) Is this conduct worthy of the price He paid for my sin?”

What symptoms have I seen of poor spiritual conduct, Red wondered? Then what can I do about it?

Comments from Sunday came rolling back: “There’s a guitar in the sanctuary. Are we having a hootenanny or a church service? . . .We don’t approve of hootenannies here at Graying. I’m just going to head home. Another Sunday ruined.”

“Well, I certainly didn’t approve that performance. Sally and the choir have always selected the music for the day’s performance. I’m always glad when our performance comes early in the service. I can beat the rush.”

“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.”

“Who are those people? Do we know them? What are they doing here? Do they know that we don’t need a nursery? Where will their children be during the service. I do so hate it when crying babies disturb the service.”

We have allowed the focus to shift from God to ourselves. Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

When we allow ourselves to worry about music styles, or whose “turf” is being invaded, when we are unwilling to give God a measly 59 minutes, when a football game or a “performance” is our focus, we really cannot claim to be worshipping God with all that we are. Are we worshipping the sovereign God or are we putting on a timed performance?

Monday’s meeting was not much better: Suzanne Tomlinson wanted to be spiritually fed, a good thing, but only when it fit her schedule. She also wanted “a better quality of visitor,” one who would know where to find a passage of Scripture without being directed to it. No one corrected her.

A number of people had complained that an hour and 4 minutes of “worship” was too long and inconvenient. As Cherise Smith had commented, “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.” No one cautioned against setting our limits on the worship which is God’s due.

Then there was the “let George do it” attitude towards who would bring the Good News to a group of people who openly wanted to hear it. Boy, that’s a sign of poor spiritual conduct.

By now, Red was humming “Trouble in River City” from The Music Man.

But what’s the solution, he thought? It all goes back to the fact that the Ruling Elders have not been properly trained concerning the office of ruling elder. Leadership is hard work, but it can be learned. If we don’t understand our role, if we can’t recognize the symptoms of poor spiritual conduct—actually poor spiritual health—in ourselves, how can we monitor the spiritual conduct of the members, and take action when appropriate according to procedures set forth in the Book of Discipline.

It was as if his Platoon Sergeant from OCS had entered the room. “Train as you will fight. What we practice in the easy days of peacetime will be instinctive in the chaos of combat,” he shouted. “It is time for the elders—ruling and teaching--to go back to school!”