Remembering B3 on Memorial Day

On a recent flight back home to Boston from D.C., I was just about to put my earphones in and turn on my iTunes for a much-needed nap when I got into conversation with the man sitting next to me.

You know how some airline conversations skip the introductions and you dive right in without even knowing the other person’s name? And then suddenly you’re landing…

The guy in seat B3 served in the Vietnam War and reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones. He’d been a U.S. Marine Corps commander in charge of a lot of soldiers during combat. They were “his boys” and he was fierce about keeping them safe. For two years he lived on two hours of sleep every night, only shutting his eyes at the break of dawn. Even then he said images of combat disturbed his rest.

The memories linger today. He returned home, war-wounded, but alive.

Regardless of any particular political view of wartime, I came away from that flight with a renewed appreciation for our veterans, especially on this Memorial Day.

After a little online digging, I discovered Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The day was first observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Nearly 100 years later Congress included it in the National Holiday Act of 1971.

My conversation with “B3” (we didn’t exchange names until the end of the flight) went beyond war and stretched into prayer and our view of God. Nothing like armed combat to either strengthen or test your faith. B3 keeps a regular appointment with God. Doesn’t matter where it takes place, he says, as long as “they talk.”

This got me thinking more about prayer practices.

War strips you of buildings, steeples, and formalities; there’s no Sunday dress or choir or pulpit. Unless there’s a military chaplain, the sermon is strictly between you and God. My airplane companion knew he didn’t need a building or a pastor to reach God. I agreed with him.

In wartime, prayer is about vigilance and protection–watching for the unseen and asking for the opposite of war: life, not death.

That prayer can extend to peaceful times as well. We can each watch for whatever would try to rob us of a present, good, healthy life (including diagnoses of disease or addiction) and protect ourselves from these invaders even if we’re convinced we won’t come out alive.

Prayer is a powerful protection because it affirms God’s presence in our lives and denies¬† the presence of evil. It acknowledges good right where it appears to be lacking, just as the Psalmist, David (himself a warrior) affirmed for generations to follow:

…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. -Psalms 23

Who are you thinking about on Memorial Day?





  1. Dave says

    A dear friend fought in WWII, and I had the privileage of being his primary care giver in the later years of his life. He told me many stories of his time in the British Army, some funny, some anything but. One of the over riding themes in all the stories were his and his mates leaning on prayer for protection. Also how they started out as individuals, and wound up as a family looking out for each other. Their love of God and country, their dedication, bravery, sacrifice is a model for me to shoot for, and something that I try to remember everyday. My personal message to my friend and all vets would be, WELL DONE LADS…WELL DONE!

  2. v says

    Thanks for getting me to take this public holiday to a personal level with your ending Q. I’m thinking about my husband who served during Vietnam War, my dad in the Korean War, and my uncle in WWII. Thinking about these peace-loving, good men helps me better appreciate those who serve whom I don’t personally know. Thanks Brad, Don, and Whiz!

  3. Virginia McCullough says

    Thanks for the question? I’m thinking of all prayer warriors — military soldiers or not. Thanks to all who are battling with their own thoughts and winning higher ground — more spiritual views.

  4. Elizabeth Arnett says

    I’m so grateful you shared this memory with all of us. You might say, “the reason for the season” is often forgotten for this holiday too!

    My new favorite definition for “courage” was given by Steven Tyler on American Idol when he said, you said your prayers and moved forward. Many who have served and their families, have said their prayers, and we continue to be blessed by them. So, I will add mine to the cause. PEACE!

  5. Sharla Allard says

    This year, as usual I watched the Memorial Day ceremony at the two cemeteries at the end of my street. To support them, for one thing, because I value support for my activities, and of course to honor these individuals’ service. I thought about my dad who fought in WWII and is now gone. That, and coming to the “end” of a memoir I’m putting together, plus a friend’s moving on to a new home and job, was making me sad. It prompted me not to give death–in any of its blatant or subtle forms–the power it would seem to hold over us. There are more chapters to come for the dead and the living! And since God is good, they can be full of goodness and joy.

  6. says

    It’s so wonderful to be able to have a conversation with God at any time anywhere.

    Today I’m enjoying remembering my dad and the inspiration he gave for my life. He unselfishly loved God with a dedication that healed! He certainly had things he was struggling with (as we all are), but he made progress through his whole life at getting to know God better and at acting according to God’s will.