By Pr. Paul Zimmer, WELS* National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military
Provided by the WELS Ministry to the Military
*WELS – Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.” Deuteronomy 32:7
The tapping stopped on Christmas Eve. The year was 1941. The place was Pearl Harbor. By then the fires had burned out. The memories, however, would burn for lifetimes.
The sight of the dead on December 7th, the moans of the wounded, and the smell of the burning ships would be seared into the minds of those who were there and survived. It was indeed a “day of infamy.” But it did not end when the sun slipped under the edge of the Pacific on that day. Sailors were trapped inside of the capsized vessels. They tapped on the hull of the ship to let would be rescuers know that they were still alive – and waiting.
Heroic efforts ensued. With blowtorches and jacks and sweat, swarms of sailors attacked the walls of the steel prisons. Many were freed. Many were saved. But not all.
It was heart-wrenching to hear the tapping come from places that the rescuers could not reach. It was gut-wrenching to listen to the taps echoing out day after day, becoming softer and softer – until they finally stopped.
Those sailors would always remember the shock and sound of bombs exploding. And they would never forget the anguish of the sound of shipmates pitifully tapping. They would spend the rest of their lives remembering.
It is well for us to remember, too.
“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past …”
This is not just wise advice; it is the command of the Lord God.
The past teaches lessons about ourselves and our God. We learn about human pride and viciousness – and frailty. We learn about divine justice and power. We learn the meaning of grace, of amazing undeserved love.
We learn about the need for help from heaven, the need for a divine Rescuer.
Angels heard that tapping from below the waters. Did they weep over the U.S.S. Arizona and the Nevada as Jesus once wept over Jerusalem? It is not for us to say.
Angelic spirits were not deployed to free those sailors from the hold of steel as they once were sent to free a Paul and Barnabas from jail bars. But that does not mean they were not used. When the souls of God’s own broke free from earth’s bounds, angels were sent to escort them to heaven.
The day after the tapping stopped a message from heaven rang out in Pearl Harbor and from Christian churches everywhere. It was a repeat of the angelic announcement:
Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!
Grieving hearts heard those words again and remembered the good tidings:
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!
It was a message they desperately needed. It was a message of eternal hope.
We need to remember the sorrow that is part of Memorial Day. And then we need to remember Christmas – the answer to all sorrow.
The echo of the repeated taps on steel will float over many a place where our warriors rest. To the 1941 tapping on steel we somberly reply with the sound Taps – this time played with a trumpet.
Those who know the closing words to the melody may whisper them softly:
Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know
God is nigh.
The following video will allow you to ponder the words to “Amazing Grace” and “Taps”:
Almighty Father, strong to save, with heads bowed in respect and honor, we remember those who died in defense of American, and your strong arm working through them. Many of them had prayed, “God Bless America!” You heard their words and granted them your blessing. You were there when the telegram of death came to doorsteps. You walked with the loved ones who stared at a flag-draped casket, or wept over the note that said the grave was in a far-off land. You heard the sounding of Taps over fresh graves, and you greeted your faithful ones to that land where there will be no tapping in despair, and no sound of taps floating through the air. Bring us to that place where it is forever Christmas. Amen.
“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the U.S.S. New Orleans was tied up at Dock 1010 Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As the bombing raids ensued, sailors on the New Orleans had formed lines of men to carry ammunition up through the quarterdeck to the deck guns. The officer in charge of the ammo line stated that he heard a voice behind him saying “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” He turned and saw Chaplain Lt. Howell Forgy moving down the line patting the men on the back and making that remark to cheer the men on. The officer stated that hearing the Chaplain helped keep him going.
Using the theme “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” this Memorial Day Weekend, the Lutheran Military Support Group has placed Ammo Boxes in the narthexes of Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Synod parishes across the country in which donations may be made to support their work. The Lutheran Military Support Group offers Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome spiritual counseling and many other important programs for chaplains, military personnel and their families. Please consider supporting the work of the Lutheran Military Support Group. You don’t have to be a Lutheran to support their important missions. You may make a donation HERE.