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a Memorial Day tribute

Monday, we as a country will celebrate what we call Memorial Day. It is a day in which we honor all those who have died during wars our country has fought. The tradition began shortly after the civil war with it being celebrated the 30thof May every year up until 1971 when it was named a federal holiday and moved to the last Monday in May each year.

Through the years I have enjoyed reading and hearing of the heroism of those who fought for our freedoms. Some of the most touching stories I have read were in a book titled “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper. I came across this book in 2003 by requesting a copy after watching a Billy Graham crusade on TV. In the book, John Piper makes an appeal to his readers to not waste your life on trivial matters but instead to live a life boasting of the cross of Christ and living for the glory of God – that express purpose for which you were created (Isaiah 43:7). The author uses several examples from our history, a few of which were military heroes, to highlight his points. My favorite is told of a young fourteen year old by the name of Jack Lucas.

Jack was a muscled up teenager during WWII that at age fourteen enlisted to join the Marines, fooling those at the recruiting station with his physique and lying about his age. Soon after enlisting they sent him to Hawaii where he was assigned to drive a truck. This did not satisfy him at all so he stowed away on a troop ship headed to where the action was. That ship was headed for Iwo Jima – the location of what was to become the deadliest battle the US Marines have ever fought in our history with some 26,000 marines dying in that one battle. One Third of all marines that died in WWII died in the one month of that battle. It is said that engraved in stone outside the military cemetery on Iwo Jima are the words

“When you go home

Tell them for us and say,

For your tomorrow

We gave our today”

Other marines on the ship felt sorry for this stow away and slipped him food from their rations. When they arrived at Iwo Jima, Jack slipped on board a landing craft and made it to the beach – without a rifle. He was quickly able to get one from a dead soldier on the beach. He fought his way inland where he teamed up with three other marines. The next day while making their way inland through a trench, eight Japanese soldiers jumped them with Jack shooting one immediately. The Japanese threw two grenades into the trench with the four marines. Jack quickly gathered up both grenades, shoving them into the soft ash-like soil and jumped on top of them. He recounted thinking to himself, “I am about to die”. Jack somehow survived the explosion, saving his new buddies. Jack underwent twenty-one reconstructive surgeries and was awarded our nations highest military honor – The Congressional Medal of Honor. Dwight Eisenhower is said to have proclaimed that receiving this medal was a much higher honor than becoming president because of what it symbolized. To him it symbolized sacrifice and love for others without regard for self. Jack became the youngest soldier to receive this honor, and the only one to ever do it as a high school freshman. At age 14, Jack did not waste his life.

My own family has been spared many of the personal horrors of war. My great grandparents were past the age of service by WWI. My grandparents were past the age of service by WWII. My Father came of age between the end of the Korean war and the start of the Vietnam war. I myself turned eighteen in 1976, some three years after the US withdrew all troops from Vietnam and the first year in many which young men at age eighteen did not have to even register for the draft.

One member of my family was greatly impacted during WWI however. That person was my Aunt Truman Stuckey. She was a sister to my great grandfather, the Reverend R. W. Stuckey and daughter of the Reverend R. F. Stuckey, my great, great grandfather. Aunt Truman was my piano teacher from age seven through age nine. She had me playing songs out of the church hymnal at age nine before she fell ill and had to quit teaching in 1968. I quit pursuit of piano upon her retirement from teaching. She died the following summer at the age of seventy-one. She was single, having never married. She taught music all her adult life and played piano and organ in various churches including her father’s church up until the time that he died. She taught my grandmother piano, my mother piano, and me piano as well as a host of many others during her life. My mother played piano in church for over forty years, thanks to the teaching of my Aunt Truman as did many others in Alabama.

You may ask, “Why are you talking about your Aunt on Memorial Day?” The reason is that her one and only love was a young man by the name of Frank Stockton. Frank was also the child of a pastor in Decatur, Alabama, where my great, great grandfather was pastoring at the time. Frank was drafted and became a private in the “American Expeditionary Forces” in France during WWI. I am fortunate to have copies of letters between he and my aunt, written during the last year of the war in the summer and fall of 1918. It is both joyful and sad to read the letters of these two preachers kids at age twenty. They loved each other dearly and used God’s Word in their letters as well as an oft used reference to “if it be God’s will”, referencing their faith in God amidst the unknown future that was occurring in this horrific war where some nine million soldiers died and another twenty one million were injured with another ten million civilians killed.

In Frank’s last letter written to my aunt, he references a “secret” that makes reference to the upcoming formal announcement of their engagement. That engagement tragically did not culminate in marriage though. Frank was killed by German machine gunfire while carrying a wounded soldier to safety on October 14, 1918, just twenty-eight days before the armistice was signed ending the war. Frank was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his valor and heroism in that battle at Lamusard farm near Landres-et-St. Georges, France.

My Aunt Truman never married and never forgot her darling Frank. She did not waste her life though. She continued in service to God, serving in churches and teaching music and choir in schools in Alabama. The last school where she taught was a small country school in the Isabella community in Chilton County, AL that served all twelve grades. This was the school where my mother and father both went to school and where I attended school for the first through fourth grades. She taught there for twenty-three years (1944 – 1967), where her meek and gentle spirit influenced twenty to thirty kids a year in piano and another fifty or so in choir per year.

As we remember those this weekend who have given the ultimate sacrifice, let us not forget to remember also the families of those who have fallen, or in cases similar to my Aunt Truman, those who were to-be married with that promise being cut short. My Aunt Truman never knew the joy of having children of her own or the wedded bliss that most of us have enjoyed. Without the legacy that comes with children, she and Frank could easily be forgotten and fade from history. Today, I want to honor my Aunt Truman and her “darling forever” as she called him, Frank Stockton. You are not forgotten!

Don’t Waste Your Life

Greg Smith

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May 30, 2021

Wonderful tributes! Thank you Greg!

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