|Ralph DeCamp...last guy on the left.|
Today is Memorial Day 2012.
This morning, my wife and I drove to Muncie to place flowers on the graves of my mom, my dad, my brother, and my little niece that died in 1967. Standing there at the graves of my parents and my brother, I struggled with my emotions. I truly miss them, and while it is easier to just go about my daily life without the pain of stopping to consider the hole they have left in my heart, I do very much appreciate the opportunity that Memorial Day provides to REMEMBER.
I probably sometimes spend too much time remembering…especially during my periodic trips to Muncie. I go there for business from time to time, and I often find myself driving past my folks’ old house. It looks so much the same that I feel like I ought to be able to trot right in the back door and check out the contents of the refrigerator. Even the grape arbor that my dad built when I was a kid is still standing. Today, I went by and there was smoke coming from a grill in the backyard. No one was around…probably all inside…but, it was nice to see some life in the yard. One day, I’ll see someone outside. Then, I’ll stop and ask him or her how the old house is holding up.
Of course, Memorial Day has its roots in the remembering of our American military veterans. I thought of that too as I looked at my dad’s brass stone with the US Army insignia. I’ve mentioned his service before, but I thought I’d share (perhaps again) a couple of his stories. I wish I had taken the time to talk more with him about these things while he was available to me, but isn’t that how it always goes? We take too much for granted until we no longer have access.
My dad was in WWII. He was in the Army Air Corp…the precursor to the US Air Force, and served in the European Theater as a crewman on a B26…the Martin’s Marauder. After he passed, I took a close look at his military records and found numerous decorations: six bronze stars, air medals with silver clusters, etc. I once tried to find out the details on the reasons for those medals, but unfortunately, the military no longer has the records because of a fire at a major records center years ago. It seems I have more detail than the US government on his service.
One document I found was a typed paper from one of his commanding officers that details over 70 missions in which he participated. This alone is amazing when you consider two things: the life-expectancy of an individual serving on one of those big planes was not very good, and the normal number of missions before a person was sent home was only about twenty-five. Dad had told me that he had gotten way ahead of his actual crew and they wanted to send him home, but he refused to go until the rest of the guys could go. He got so far ahead because he started volunteering to fly with other crews on days when his own crew was not scheduled to fly. He would fill in for crewmen who were ill, injured, or otherwise found some reason to not get off the ground. I am amazed at the courage that he demonstrated, and I only wish I had one ounce of that in my own bones.
Contrast that record with what he told me about his very first mission. They were flying into heavy flack. (If you want to know what that was probably like, watch the invasion sequence from “A Band of Brothers.”) They were under fire, and my dad was scared to death, so he prayed.
“God, please take away my fear!”
He said that after the prayer a sense of calm came over him. He was no longer frozen with fear and he was able to serve in every way necessary and even beyond. I can only imagine the intensity of that situation, and it builds my faith to hear the story of how God placed His hand upon my father at that time and in that situation.
That is not to say that there weren’t some serious close calls. On one occasion, they were on another dangerous mission and under fire. They were hit and the plane greatly damaged. The pilot radioed back to the rest of the crew:
“Boys, I don’t think we’re gonna make it!” he said. “You better get your chutes on!”
All of the crewmen grabbed their parachutes and fastened them on…except my dad.
“Ralph! Get your chute on!” they said.
“Look at my chute,” replied my dad.
They took a look and the shrapnel had shredded his parachute. It was useless.
Obviously, the plane made it home, since I’m here to retell his story, but I can’t image the incredible intensity of that moment. I suppose it is in times like that you simple have to let go. You’ve done all you can do, and then all that is left is to let God do what He will do. I am thankful that He saw fit to bring my dad home.
As I write this, there is a new DeCamp in the US Air force. My great nephew, Nathan just finished his Basic Training in San Antonio. To see him in his uniform with “DECAMP” printed across the chest makes me proud. He is a good man with a good heart. I know that he loves God. I pray that God will give him the same courage that He gave my dad sixty-eight years ago. I trust that he will serve his country with the same honor.
Ah, well. Time to stop contemplating the past and eat some burgers off the grill. I hope your Memorial Day holiday holds some special thoughts for you as well.