Disclaimer: This post has little or nothing to do about Orthodoxy. That's now 2 in a row. Please forgive me!
Do you recognize the man in the above picture? My guess is that you probably do not. I am confident that 99% of you who are reading this never had the privilege to meet this fine man. Because today is Memorial Day, I would like to tell you a little about him. The man in the picture is my father, Col. Cleland E. Early, USMC (retired). He died in 2004 of complications related to Alzheimer's Disease. I miss him very much. Here is his story.
My father was born in 1919 in rural Colorado, but moved with his family to a small town in the panhandle of Texas while still a small child. He grew up during the Depression in a family with very little money. He graduated first in his high school class and then worked his way through Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, graduating with honors in 1940. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, my father enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. While he was still in boot camp, his superiors recognized his outstanding leadership ability and sent him to Officer Candidate School. After his graduation in early 1942, Dad was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He immediately volunteered for a new elite, commando-style unit called Carlson's Raiders. Soon he and the rest of his battalion (the second Raiders) shipped out for Midway Island.
For the next three and a half years, my father participated in some of the worst fighting of the entire Second World War, including the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The platoon that he commanded participated in the famous "Long Patrol," in which the 2nd Raider Battalion spent a month behind Japanese lines, doing serious damage to the Japanese occupation forces. From this mission, the Marines emerged emaciated, starving, and suffering from malaria and diarrhea. In 1943 on Tarawa, Dad was in charge of the identification and burial of more than 1000 Americans, an experience from which he never fully recovered. By the war's end, my 25-year old father had already risen to the rank of Major. He received a Silver Star medal for courage in Guadalcanal, along with two Purple Hearts. He was nearly killed on numerous occasions.
During the Korean War, Dad helped plan and carry out amphibious campaigns, including the landings at Inchon and Pohang-Dong. For gallantry during these campaigns, he received the Bronze Star with the Combat V device representing valor. In 1964, as commander of the 9th Marine Regiment in the 3rd Marine Division, Dad trained his command for service in Vietnam. He then spent the remaining three years of his military service in the Pentagon working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Intelligence Agency. For these services, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. After retiring as a full Colonel in 1967, Dad served for 12 years as senior military instructor in the Marine Corps Junior ROTC at Pasadena High School in Pasadena, Texas. During this time, he imparted self-discipline and leadership to countless young people, many of whom have gone on to serve in the military, in law enforcement, and in other fields.
All told, my father served his country for 38 years: 26 years on active duty and 12 teaching ROTC.
Dad was never a religious man. He seldom attended church, but he believed in God and practiced Christian ethics. He taught me right from wrong, as well as the value of clean living, hard work and self-discipline. As anyone who knows me and who knew my father will tell you, I am undoubtedly my father's son (even our physical resemblance is uncanny, according to many). I earnestly hope and pray that I will one day see my father again in heaven.
As Christians, our primarily allegiance must be to the Kingdom of God, with Christ our only King. And yet, I believe that it is not inappropriate for us to be thankful for the earthly nation in which we live. This is especially true for those of us who live in America. Although the United States of America is a nation with many flaws, it is still by far (in my humble opinion, at least), the best place in the world to live. It certainly offers the most freedom to practice one's religion, at least as far as I am aware. It is a great place to be an Orthodox Christian, and I feel that it offers unlimited potential for the growth of the Orthodox Church.
All the freedoms that we enjoy, however, would not be possible if not for the sacrifices of millions who have served in our armed forces, fighting to protect them (and us). Well over a million of them paid the supreme sacrifice to guard our freedoms. Today, take a moment to thank God for the sacrifices of these fine men and women and to pray for their souls, that God might have mercy on them. Pray also that God may bless this nation and help us to have the wisdom to not allow our freedoms to be taken away, so that, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, "these dead shall not have died in vain ...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
May the Lord bless you all!
Here, by the way, is a photo of Dad's tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery: