A Prayer of Benediction for Chaplain Dale Goetz
Eight years ago (30 August 2010), Chaplain Dale Goetz was killed in Afghanistan ministering to his Soldiers, the first chaplain to die in combat since the Vietnam War. Wanting his sacrifice to not be forgotten, I’m reposting this short prayer from a Memorial Ceremony for him at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School held a few days after he died.
FT. JACKSON, SC (3 Sep 10) – Recently, the Chaplain Corps lost one of its finest chaplains, Chaplain (CPT) Dale Goetz, in Afghanistan. We received the news here at the Chaplain School while attending the Chaplain Captain’s Career Course. Since many of us knew Dale, and the rest of us felt the camaraderie of a “Brother in Arms,” we felt it appropriate to have a Memorial Service for him. My part was to pray the benediction. As I prepared the prayer, I felt very impressed that Dale needed to be remembered. His sacrifice needed to be remembered. As I post it here, I pray it again . . . -Daryl
Our most Gracious God and Father,
We thank you for your presence and love which helps us to endure through difficult times. We thank you for moments like these when we don’t have to be alone but can gather among brothers and sisters in the faith. We thank you for the peace that you have brought us today, your peace—that can exist within us even when all around us there is no peace.
As much as you comfort us who have gathered here today, we pray that in an even greater measure you will comfort Dale’s family, especially his wife Christy and their three sons Landon, Caleb and Joel. Be for them all that they need you to be just now and continue to provide for them in every way in the days, weeks, months and years ahead that they face life without their husband, father and son.
Finally Lord, we pray that you will bring real peace to our land, so that we can rest in safety and comfort and not have to send our sons and daughters into harm’s way. Bring to us, we humbly ask you, the time when parents don’t have to grieve the loss of their children killed in war; hasten the day when spouses don’t have to say goodbye to their loved ones because they serve their country; provide for us, dear Father, a world whose children do not have to grow up fatherless because of the sin that envelopes us; and be victorious, Almighty God, over the Evil One, establish your Kingdom on Earth finally and forever, that we may enjoy your loving and peaceful presence for all eternity.
Go with us now, Lord we pray, as we reluctantly return to the world out there. Please don’t let us soon forget our brother Dale but help us to honor his sacrifice through our lives lived for your glory and Christ’s life lived through us.
“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Heb 13:20-21)
When the Flag Must Yield
According to United States Code (U.S.C.) Title 4, §7, (c) “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America…” This law reserves the place of honor to the national flag while on U.S. soil, territories, military bases, ships, etc. (with exception granted to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York).
Most Americans know this law even if they don’t know where to find it. Its intent is to prescribe the prominence of the symbol of the United States over that of “States, cities, … localities, or … societies.” It is this law that defines the order of placement of flags when flown in front of buildings, on staffs inside churches and other buildings, even while carried in parades.
What most people don’t know however, is that there is a notable exception written into federal law. An exception that permits one thing -one pennant- to fly in the place of prominence above the flag of the United States. This law essentially permits the emblem of the United States of America to yield prominence to something else.
The flag of the United States yields only to church services aboard Navy vessels.
According to U.S.C. approved by Congress on 2 June 1942 the United States flag flies above any other flag or pennant “except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy.”
Early on, the flying of the “church pennant” above the national flag was simply Navy tradition used “as a signal by ships at sea to denote to other ships that Divine Service is being held on board the vessel where the pennant flies.”1
This tradition wasn’t looked on with favor by everyone. In 1923 a group of patriotic organizations met at a conference in Washington, D.C. to formulate and recommend law for the proper presentation and treatment of the flag of the United States. The members of this conference “looked with disfavor upon the Navy custom of hoisting the church pennant over the national emblem as a signal the Divine Services were in progress.”2
Not only by this conference, but disapproval was also expressed by some Congressmen. In years following, the Secretary of the Navy was even called before Congress to answer whether any pennant flew above “the Stars and Stripes” on Naval vessels.3
As the United States entered World War II however, with the extreme support given to the military services and their members during times of war, the practice was codified into U.S. law to permit this Navy tradition to continue, as it does to this day. According to Jonathon Maloney, a Navy Chaplain at sea as of the time this writing, the church pennant is flown above the national colors “every Sunday when I am holding services on Ship.”4
So by federal law, this one exception exists that places the identification of the presence of the chaplain and the performance of worship above the emblem of the United States of America.
1Clifford Merrell Drury, “The History of the Chaplain Corps, United States Navy, Vol. 2, 1939-1949.” NAVPERS 15808, pg. 123.
2 Clifford Murray Drury, “The History of the Chaplain Corps, United States Navy, Vol. 1, 1778-1931.” NAVPERS 15807, pg. 229.
4 Facebook Messaging conversation between author and Chaplain Jonathon Maloney, 30 September 2017.
The Chaplains’ Calling
I’ve recently been engaged in several online discussions about American patriotism, allegiances, pacifism, Just War and military service. Those discussions have revealed that there are many deeply-held views on the use of violence in the pursuit of peace and justice. There are those from all along the theological spectrum who fervently argue either for the absolute rejection of violence in any form whether for the liberation of others or the defense of themselves or else the complete justification of violence and war as the only way to achieve international peace and safety. I do not doubt the spiritual commitment of most of those in the discussions I have been involved in and believe they only want to follow -and teach- what they believe to be God’s will for Christians today.
Prior to my entry into the Army as a chaplain back in 2004, I studied Just War doctrine wanting to be sure that I could faithfully support a military institution whose main purpose is warfighting without compromising my spiritual values, biblical teaching and God’s will for my life. I determined that not only was war when waged and prosecuted justly not prohibited by Scripture, it sometimes may be the only way to fulfill some of the mandates of Scripture. I know that while the majority of the Christian Church (in the United States at least) supports its nations military and war aims there is a significant minority of Christians who attempt to follow a non-violent path to peace and object to any support of their country’s use of force to accomplish its policies.
Even with the differences that exist within the Church as to its views of war, a world without violence exists only in the realm of the “not yet” of the Kingdom of God which is still to come. The reality of life is that evil is quite present in this world and in order to protect the defenseless (perhaps the widows and fatherless the Bible speaks of), liberate the oppressed (those in need who Jesus declared to be our “neighbor”), proclaim freedom to the prisoner, essentially to love as we are commanded to love sometimes it is necessary to go to war, war that is just; to fight in a just way to achieve freedom, liberation and safety for not only our own citizens but people around the world.
Regardless of one’s views of violence, war and military service, there exists in the United States a very large military force of men and women who have accepted the call of their country (and sometimes their God) to serve as a Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman or Coast Guardsman. These men and women, unlike Service Members from wars past, have volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. Most of these people have given much thought to their decision to enlist and are not as ignorant about war, peace, love, violence and the teachings of Jesus as some opponents of Christian military service imply. These brave men and woman aren’t mindless puppets being controlled and used by an evil government for selfish gain, but are -in most cases- educated, intelligent, thoughtful, people who accept the necessity of their nation’s causes along with the urgency of its call to arms. It is to these men and women who chaplains of all faith groups are called (by both their country and their God) to minister to while they serve their country in uniform.
In the midst of my involvement in the aforementioned discussions, the senior chaplain on the Army post where I currently serve as chaplain pointed out to me a thoughtful passage written by an Army chaplain from World War Two (interestingly from a book already in my library!). In it, this author gives the reader a peek into the mind of the chaplain to see his feelings, his motivations and his dedication to the God who has called him and the Soldiers he has been called to serve. I would like to share a portion of that passage with you as a testimony to the ministry of chaplains to the men and woman who also wear the military uniform.
The book from which this passage comes was written after the Allies defeated the Axis forces in World War Two but is astonishingly relevant still today. I have made no attempt to change or correct the writing which today’s standards would render “politically incorrect” or comments which refer to things particular to war of the day, such as the draft, the dominance of male soldiers or the duration of deployments though I have emphasized portions I found to be particularly powerful. Even with the changes in military service, the chaplaincy and religious observance which have occurred over the last 70 years, Chaplain Rogers has tremendous understanding and insight into the mind of the modern-day chaplain and what it means to serve in today’s armed forces. I hope that this passage will give you a better understanding of the struggles, joys and mission of the chaplains who God has placed in our Armed Forces for such a time as this.
As the Chaplain Sees Things*
from “Doughboy Chaplain” by CAPT Edward K. Rogers
“A retired army chaplain told me when I entered the service that I would find that the chaplain is pretty much alone in the army. He is his own boss to a great extent, but he is sometimes forgotten because of that. However, the chaplain just keeps plugging along.
“He and his fellow padres have left parish life to serve the forces for the duration and he may long at times for the duties and joys of the church back home. There will be times when he feels that he could have done more good by staying at home where the congregations are consistently large and the program of the parish reaches through many channels into the homes, those bulwarks of faith and society. He may long at times for the normal life back there where opinion and family relationships keep men somewhat more on the better side of life.
“Still the chaplain goes along with his duties and he realizes that the men about him sometimes feel that they could be more useful back home too. Many of them rightfully feel that way, for they have been most useful in their professions and trades. It isn’t pleasant for them, as it isn’t at times for the padre.
“However, there is joy for [the chaplain] in his duties. Usually he will have the maximum of services that the men will attend. The more that are necessary, the happier he is.
He wants, above all else, to make religion real and God close to the hundreds of men under his spiritual care, who have been uprooted from home in the crucial life shaping years of life and sent off to battlefields or distant posts. That is what he is in the service to do.
“When some come to him to inquire about their religious needs, which they have never cared for, he is happy to try and meet those needs–or show how God can meet them. He will sit down and reason with the soldier and he will spend hours instructing him in the teachings of his faith. In that task he finds his greatest joy…
“…the chaplain is there to help and many appreciate his being there. Others don’t care about him, for they have had no religious faith and contact with the church, or have lost faith and broken those contacts since getting into the army. Nevertheless, the chaplain wants to be where some may need him. If they avoid him and the message of God which he offers, that is their misfortune. They can’t say that the church forgot them when they were called into service and henceforth in their lives they will forget the church.
They may forget the church and God, but the church and God’s pastors or priests did not forget them.
“The psalmist once wrote, ‘If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou are there.’ The chaplain, I guess, leaves his parish so that when the soldier gets into the hell of war it will be true that God is there, through his ordained ones, to help, encourage, forgive and bless.
“I believe that the chaplains do more serious thinking about the war than any other group. Many men are in the service and don’t seem to know or care why. Their chief interest is getting home. Maybe that even surpasses their desire for victory in many cases. The principles at stake do not bother them much. It is not so with the chaplain.
“He knows more about the principles of right and wrong which enter into the struggle. He wants to see the wrong uprooted and the right prevail. He is thinking about the unfortunate victims of conquest who long for their freedom. The different philosophies of life which [bring] on … conflict are apparent to the chaplain. When there are inconsistencies, he is aware of them, but he believes in his cause. Because of that belief he wants the war to get on and he doesn’t have to fire his boilers of action with hate either.
He wants to see people free to live as they choose, if they have proper consideration for the rights of others and the common good. He may not agree with them in their thoughts and ways, but he would like to see them free to live their lives.
“His thoughts go beyond the hour of conflict to the day of peace. What will it bring? Will men have the principles and wisdom to uproot the evil without pulling out the good? Will reason or passion prevail then? It will be hard to have the former on top, but that is what he hopes and prays will be the case. He looks at his men and scans the news of home and of the Allies for assurance that the war will be really won and that the peace will be stern, but just.”
*Rogers, Edward K. Doughboy Chaplain. Boston: Meador Pub., 1946, 222-224.
A Soldier Death Notification I’ll Never Forget
I want to share with you a death notification I was recently part of. I share it partly for therapy but mainly so you know a little about the experience of both the families of Soldiers who die and the Soldiers sent to notify those families of their loved one’s death.
A chaplain is usually half of a notification team when a Soldier dies and their family members are notified. The chaplain never (or is never supposed to) give the notification, but is rather there to be spiritual and moral support for those now suffering loss. If the chaplain makes the notification (which sometimes happens when the notifying officer is unable to, being too choked up for example–though the notification officer who I went with did an excellent job!) the chaplain is then saddled with the bad news that he/she just gave and then finds it hard to be received as a comfort agent. The family equates the chaplain with the bad news he/she just gave.
This notification was to the father of a Soldier who died of suspected self-inflicted wounds. A suicide. Suicide deaths, for me, are harder than combat deaths. In combat, at least the Soldier died for something they believed in or for a cause greater than themself. A suicide is a death which is so much more difficult for us to understand. Nevertheless, as a Soldier on active duty, the Soldier’s family members deserve the honor of an “official” notification of their loved one’s passing regardless of how they passed. Even under these circumstances, however, being part of a death notification team is still an honor as we acknowledge the service of that Soldier as well as the memory of the soldier which the family holds onto. One of the primary roles of the chaplain is to “honor the dead” regardless of how that death occurred.
The advance of technology with cell phones, rapid texting and social media has made the need for the notification team to get to the next-of-kin quickly even more important. To hear about your son or daughter’s death from a Facebook post or a phone call can be devastating and does not give the Soldier or the family member the honor which is deserved. But many times, we arrive to make the notification only to discover that they had already received a call from another family member or friend so have been able to process the news a bit before our arrival. While this is never ideal, it does make the notification a bit easier just because the family members aren’t hearing from you the news for the first time. However, the goal remains that the families are first notified of their loved one’s death by an official notification team representing the Secretary of the Army.
When we arrived at the home of our Soldier’s father and knocked on the door he came out onto his porch very friendly and introduced himself. My thought was that he had already heard about his son’s death and was trying to put us at ease realizing the difficult situation we were in. We introduced ourselves and confirmed that he was the man we were looking for, saying that we were there from Fort Leonard Wood to speak with him. He then proudly said with a smile the words that caused my heart to drop, “I have a son in the Army!”
He didn’t know.
We asked if we could go inside and sit down, so he called into his wife to put the dog into the kennel, that a couple of Soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood were here to see them. After she did, he invited us in and offered us a seat. My partner asked if his wife could join us but she said she had to get the ice cream put away first, that she would be there in a minute (they had just returned home from the grocery store as we arrived). While we were waiting for her, the father talked more about his Soldier-son, about how he was trying to get him to Fort Leonard Wood to be closer to home.
Again, my heart sank and I could barely hold back the tears knowing the news we were there to share with him about his son.
Still waiting for his wife, I changed the subject to his hobby of amateur radio and asked what his farthest communication was, to which he answered, “Belgium” and that when he gets back on he expected to talk to someone in Hawaii.
Finally his wife joined us and the Master Sergent with me started sharing the news. Slowly and respectfully he began with something like this:
The Secretary of the Army has asked me to share with you his deepest regrets . . .
He then went on to give as many of the details as we had surrounding his child’s death. I watched as tears welled up in the father’s eyes, as they did in mine. I wasn’t sure what to expect, you never do in these situations, but he took the news calmly and with dignity.
He explained how his son had been going through some tough situations and that he had seemed depressed lately. He said that he told him he could always call if he needed to talk, and seemed disappointed that he hadn’t called but instead took his life. I tried to assure him that knowing that his father was there for him was most certainly a comfort to him, to which he agreed and added that his son really loved the Army, though.
I asked if there was anyone we could call for them but they said they would call their minister later. They went on to describe their faith as something that was a vital part of their life. I suggested that it was that faith that would help them through this difficult time.
One of the hard things that must be done during the notification visit is to try to confirm and get as much information as possible to aid in the rest of the casualty assistance the Army provides to the family. The Notification Officer did a good job going through the paperwork and asking the important questions while being very respectful of the family’s feelings.
Finally, with the notification complete and the information gathered, I asked if there was anything at all that I could do for them, to which they thanked me but said that they would be fine. I assured them that as God brought their faces to my mind that I would say a prayer for them, so they were not alone. They seemed to appreciate that.
We left the house and got on our way. The Notification Officer called the Casualty Assistance Office and let them know that the notification had been made … then we were finally able to breathe.
On our way home, an interesting discussion ensued. The Notification Officer that I was sent with is a black man. He told me that when he saw the father, a big guy with a bandana tied around his head who lived out in the backcountry of Missouri, he was concerned about the response he would receive when giving the news. This Master Sergeant has been the brunt of some unfair hate and prejudice in the past and admitted he expected the same from this man by the looks of him. I then confessed that I had thought of the same thing when I laid eyes on him. We both quickly agreed, however, that this couple exhibited anything but hate or prejudice. They were loving and compassionate, even as they were receiving the worst news you can receive about your son. The father even thanked us for coming, and for our service.
So while this was a very tough notification as I watched a father learn of his son’s death, I was also encouraged. I was encouraged because it is always a privilege to honor men and women who have served their country. I was encouraged because this couple could testify that their faith in God can -and will- help them through this most terrible time. I was encouraged because in the midst of tragedy, these people could still express love to us- the bearers of such bad news. Maybe there is still hope for us.
Photo credits: Praying Soldier from backyardworkshop.com; Soldier in front of flag from docstoc.com; Garden with sun rays from fanpop.com.