Remembering the sacrifices of those who serve and those who love them

By Kristina Moeller

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” — Harry S. Truman

My phone rang. I heard an urgent voice identify himself as the installation chaplain on Fort Bragg, NC. He went on to explain that the 82nd Airborne Division had been conducting training jumps preparing for their upcoming deployment. A senior officer who needed to do a refresher jump, jumped that day. His parachute did not open and he died upon impact.

His spouse served as an officer in my headquarters. Since I was serving as the command chaplain for her unit, he asked if I would accompany him and his chaplains in notifying her of her husband’s death? Being trained in clinical pastoral education and having extensive experience as a hospital chaplain, trauma and death were familiar to me. I agreed and met them at the back door of our command.

Their mood was somber, anxious and urgent. We made our way upstairs to the top floor where she worked in the command section. We gathered in the conference room; someone went to locate her. She looked puzzled as she entered the room. The installation chaplain asked her to sit down and made the introductions. Being familiar with the details of the accident, his words seemed to hang in the air as he explained….finally, the horrific news that her husband had died was heard. She struggled to understand, reacted with disbelief and shock as grief consumed her. The minutes passed, prayer was offered, phone calls made….and then she asked, “Where is he?” His body was in the morgue in the hospital on post.

A panicked look spread across the other chaplain’s faces. Noticing their discomfort and being trained in viewing bodies with loved ones, I volunteered to escort her. It seemed an eternity, driving across post and then walking down the hospital hallway. Staff suddenly appeared to open doors….chaplains from the hospital were available with tissues and water. We were outside the morgue. I prayed with her, held her arm and said, “When you are ready….” We entered the room and his body was on a cold metal table. He was a former football player, combat experienced, larger than life….yet very still. Sobs filled the room as she grappled with the reality that lay in front of her. She hugged him, touched his face…..

On Memorial Day, we remember those who died in active military service, those who, in Lincoln’s words “gave the last full measure of devotion.” Let us remember, as well, their loved ones who also sacrifice.

Chaplain (Col.-Ret.) Kristina Moeller is director, chaplaincy and specialized ministries and ecclesiastical endorser at American Baptist Home Mission Societies. Currently over 65 American Baptist military chaplains serve worldwide in each service of the Armed Forces.

The views expressed are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.