Monday, May 28, 2018

For Those Who Bore the Scars

Carl Holbrook, EM3/c

Memorial Day is a time for remembering and honoring those who have given their lives in defense of our country.  In that defense, there are so many who survived but carried with them the scars of battle.  Many of those have been honored with the receipt of a Purple Heart...a military decoration given to those who are killed or wounded while in the service of country. 

This is a Purple Heart.

This is the story behind one Purple Heart.

According to a military newsletter called Dog Tag, Carl Holbrook was 23 years old when he left his home town of Ft. Payne, Alabama, and entered the Navy in May, 1942.  After receiving his basic training at San Diego, California, he was sent to North Africa to complete his training with the amphibious forces.  He was wounded on the beach at Salerno, Italy, shortly after Italy's surrender to the Allies.

At 3:30 a.m., September 9, he was on the beach at Salerno, part of a Naval Beach Platoon whose mission was to set up a communications system.  It was while he and three others were unloading equipment from a small boat on the shore that a sniper shot him.  He fell behind a box of ammunition.  It afforded him his only protection for about half an hour, while the German, in a cedar tree 125 yards away, picked off two of his comrades.  One of them, an Army engineer, fell dead across Holbrook's body.  After the Army anti-aircraft guns had found the sniper, Carl had time to discover that the telephone he had been carrying under his arm had six bullet holes in it.  It wasn't until he reached the hospital at Oran that he was told that the German's bullet had missed his heart by three inches.  His shoulder was badly damaged and he spent almost a month at Oran.

On his homeward trip across the Atlantic, it was found that three German submarines were accompanying the convoy, two days out from the Straits of Gibraltar.  Three days later, depth charges had disposed of them.  One day out from New York, the ship endured a terrible storm but reached port safely 21 days after leaving North Africa.  Carl was at St. Alban's Hospital, New York, until he was transferred to Memphis.  His recovery took more than a year.

Carl Holbrook carried those scars in his body and in his spirit for the rest of his life.  After the war, he became a telephone company lineman and eventually became the general manager of a small, independent telephone company in southwest Florida.  He was a husband and a father.

On June 10, 1967, he was best man at the wedding of his son and me.  He was a busy, fun-loving man who left us much too soon in February, 1970...a man whose service to his country earned him a  Purple Heart.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Easter Sunday, 1945

Christ the Lord is risen today…Allelujah!

-      Charles Wesley

     The pink padded album lay among the things I had received from my mother years ago.  The front says simply BABY.  I picked it up and carefully turned the pages.  Always before, I had given it merely a passing chuckle.  When I walked, when I sat up, what I ate and when I ate it had never held a lot of meaning for me.  This time I paid attention.  In Mom’s neat handwriting I found out a few things about myself.

         There was the usual stuff one finds in a baby book…my progress through my first year of life and pictures of my birthdays complete with cake and candles.  There were little notes about my first car ride and our train trips to Texas and Illinois while Daddy was in the Army.  And then I saw a note that surprised and moved me.  In slanted script on the side of a page, Mom had written that I was christened on April 1…Easter Sunday, 1945.    

         Tucked in among the pages was something I had always overlooked: a yellowed clipping from the local paper giving details of the Easter service at Vero Beach Methodist Church.  It’s one of the beauties of growing up in a small town…the newspaper printed everything!  In this case, as part of a community drive related to the war effort, our church had exceeded its goal.  And there, in the middle of that short article, it says that Sierra Sue Kennedy (yes, that’s me!) was presented for baptism by her parents, Sgt. and Mrs. Purnell Kennedy.

         Mom’s little notation said that Daddy was on furlough and we were home for Easter.  What did the world look like that April 1?  One might be tempted to make a joke about April Fool’s Day but that would be inappropriate.  It wasn’t funny.  It was a world of bizarre contrasts.  There was a war on and my father was in uniform.  My parents stood before God and the congregation and vowed to raise me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

         Most of us have seen photos or film of that time: soldiers with guns and helmets in the midst of the rubble of a battlefield, military parades, and banners heralding the fighting in places never before heard of like Okinawa.  But in other parts of the world, Easter was celebrated as usual.  Googling that date, I found images of well-dressed women wearing furs and Easter bonnets strolling down Fifth Avenue in New York.  As those pictures proved, the war raged and yet life went on.  And on that Sunday morning, a one-year-old baby girl was having water sprinkled on her head in a white frame church on 16th Avenue in Vero Beach, Florida.

         Thus began my journey with Jesus to His Cross and Eternity, though it would be years before my heart would begin to understand and accept its meaning for my life.  As I write this, it’s the beginning of Easter weekend, 2018. Sunday is April 1.  Since 1945, this Christian Holy Day has fallen on April 1 only once, in 1956.  It won’t happen again until 2029.  I would guess that of all the possible dates for Easter, April Fool’s Day is likely the most memorable!

How interesting and timely that I discovered the information about my baptism just months ago.  To consider the world as it was then and the world as it is now is both very different yet much the same.  Conflict still grips the world, though not on the scale of 1945.  The well-dressed women no longer wear furs, and there will be very few bonnets among the faithful ladies come Sunday morning.  Hose and gloves have passed from the scene, thankfully.  The biggest change is that my little white frame church was replaced in 1951 by a Spanish-style sanctuary.  Over the years, it has grown into a campus of classrooms and social halls.  The main thing, however, remains the main thing: the focal point of our sanctuary is the large Cross hanging on the wall above the altar.

Life moves on at a rapid pace.  But for me, the center point was set

                                  April 1, 1945.

-Photography by Jerry Doutrich

(Excerpt from forthcoming book:
Cradle and Cross: Observations on Christmas and Easter by Sue Holbrook)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Of Breezes...and Overlap

The breezes in the park were wonderful.  A clear, bright February Florida day had called me outside and I needed to walk.  The trail at the nearby park was waiting for me.  It was a day to take my stroll at my own pace and enjoy being outside. 

The bench under the oak tree was a great place to catch my breath and just BE.  It was a temptation to stay there and be surrounded by the day.  But there was more trail to cover and
I wasn't leaving any time soon! 

Saturday in the park is a busy day.  As I walked toward the end of the trail and the river, the sounds of life grew louder.  People were gathered under every pavilion, spreading out food, laughing and talking.  Little kids raced around a playground, shouting and laughing. 
As there always is, there was one childish voice, louder and more shrill than all the others.
"Bless your mama's heart," I thought.  "I'm glad you're going home with her!"

It seemed the whole world was making a joyful noise. 
As I enjoyed the park, its breezes and glorious sunshine,
I remembered a word from a recent Sunday School discussion.


There are times in this world when heaven and earth are so close together they overlap.  Some people refer to these as Thin Places.  The veil between heaven and earth is so thin we can experience heaven right here where we are.  This was one of those moments.  Often, they are right there around us but we don't see.  

This day, I saw.  In the sparkling waters dancing in the river...the canopy of the oaks above and the blessing of the breezes...the shrill, happy voices of the children.

May the glory of the Lord continue forever! 
The Lord takes pleasure in all He has made.
Psalm 104: 31

Monday, February 19, 2018

Know...Just Know

                                           Be still and know that I am God...
                                                     -Psalm 46:10

"It was one of those frustrating life moments, Mom."  My daughter, Becky, was sharing her experience of driving home one evening and trying to listen to her favorite Christian radio station.  They were playing music she really hear.  For some reason, she could not get clear reception on her car radio.

"It was just nothing but static!  All I could hear was static drowning out the music."

I filed her experience away knowing that someday it would be just the right illustration for an essay.  Today, it came to the fore.

The world is so full of static.  Evil stalks in every corner.  The cries of hurt and hate fill the airwaves, cover the pages of social media, dominate conversations.  Today's tragedy is tomorrow's statistic.  The current scandal will be replaced by something more lurid before the ink is dry on the magazine pages.  The rabble of angry, miserable voices rises ever louder.  We can't hear each other because we're shouting so loud.


God says be still.  Be still and know Me.  Unplug. Disconnect.  I will rise above all the earth.  I am even the God of the static.

Just. Know. Me.