A CALL TO REMEMBER
When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: 2“Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’” 4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”
(Joshua 4:1-7, NRSV)
99 years—that’s how long Winfield Rowland’s remains were left unclaimed here on Long Island. He fought in 1898 in the Spanish-American War, but somehow his ashes, along with the ashes of 56 other Long Island veterans, went unclaimed or abandoned in area funeral homes for decades. All of these veterans were given a military funeral and interred at Pinelawn National Cemetery on Armed Forces Day in 2012. Newsday reported that, “The remains of each service member were brought to the cemetery in a golden urn, which pallbearers placed on a table in the shadow of a massive American flag. As each urn was laid out, the fallen service member’s name and branch were read aloud, and a small bell was rung. A pipe band played ‘Taps’ and a color guard marched during the solemn morning service, which brought some attendees to tears.”
Among those “…interred was Samuel C. Anderson, a Navy veteran who fought in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War…Organizers said the funeral was the largest ever of its kind in the United States—and part of [an]…initiative aimed at identifying all the unclaimed and abandoned remains of service members.” The Missing In America: Veteran Recovery Program is a not for profit launched in 2007. Their mission statement reads, “The purpose of the MIA Project is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. To provide honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.” The scope of their work is mind boggling. Over 2,200 funeral homes have been visited around the country with the ashes of some 13,800 military personnel recovered. The work of the Missing in America Program is very important. Not only do they want to identify and inter veterans whose remains were neglected, but they want to make sure that the same thing does not happen again in the future.
Why is their work so vital? Because we as a nation must never forget. We must never forget those who fought and died in the service of our country. And we must never forget those veterans, including those in our sanctuary today, who risked life and limb in defense of our country. After all, that is the whole point of Memorial Day.
Memorials are nothing new. Thousands of years ago the ancient Israelites were commanded by God to build a memorial. The Israelites have just completed their 40 year journey through the wilderness with Moses. As they stand on the brink of the Promised Land, Moses has died and his successor, Joshua, now leads the people. They are so close to the Promised Land that they can see it just over the Jordan River, their final barrier. Joshua lines up the people. The priests carrying the ark of the covenant will be the first to cross followed by each of the 12 tribes. At Joshua’s signal, the priests prepare to step in the Jordan’s waters when a miracle occurs, the waters part, just like at the Red Sea 40 years before, and the people cross on dry land into the Promised Land.
Kathryn Schifferdecker, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, writes, “Joshua is Moses’ successor, and, just like Moses, he presides over the miraculous parting of a body of water so that the Israelites can cross on dry ground…The Red Sea marked the beginning of Israel’s journey in the wilderness of Sinai. The Jordan River marks the last boundary between the wilderness--where the Israelites have been wandering for forty years--and the land God has promised [them]…To mark the occasion, God instructs Joshua to build a memorial out of twelve stones taken from the riverbed and set up at Gilgal, where the Israelites camp after crossing the Jordan. In [the] time to come, the stones are to serve as teaching tools for the Israelites; that is, when children ask about the stones, their parents are to tell them the story of the [miraculous] river crossing.” It is important for the next generation to remember and give thanks to God.
Like the memorials we build today including the Gold Star Monument in Mary Jane Davies Park on Plandome Rd., memorials say “remember.” Remember. In the biblical text the memorial says remember, remember that God worked a miracle, parting the Jordan River so the Israelites could cross on dry land. The Gold Star Monument on Plandome Road says remember, remember those from Manhasset who died defending our nation. The names on the monument go back as far as the Civil War and are as recent as Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2012 the names of Lieutenant Commander Harry S. Mossman and Captain Edward F. Miles were added to the monument.
Who were these men that the Gold Star Monument urges us to remember? According to the Manhasset Press (May 24, 2012), “[In 1965] Harry Mossman…[graduated] from Bates College in Lewiston, Me., earning a degree in English. It is no surprise that Harry would excel in college as he was a standout at Manhasset High School both in academics and athletics. A quiet, steady guy with a good sense of humor, Harry took advanced math classes, studied Latin for four years and was the recipient of the Latin Award his senior year at Manhasset…Harry played baseball and football for Manhasset and would go on to run track and play football at Bates where he earned the nickname ‘Harry the Horse’ because of his determination on the field…Harry met his wife Rocky at Bates College and by 1970 [he] was in the United States Navy training new recruits…Harry would later write, ‘I have made government service in the Navy my career. I hope I can help the people of this nation in some small way by trying to make the part of the armed forces in which I serve use its vast power as wisely as possible in the preservation of this nation.’”
On the night of August 20, 1972 Harry Mossman’s plane took off from the USS Kitty Hawk never to return. His plane went down over North Vietnam caused by either anti-aircraft artillery or severe thunderstorms. In January 2004, Harry Mossman’s remains were repatriated to the U.S. He was buried with full military honors on August 30, 2004 in Washington State at Tahoma National Cemetery.
Ed Miles graduated from Manhasset High School in 1962. Drafted in 1965, Miles was a U.S. Army special forces military advisor when he stepped on a landmine in 1969 near the Cambodian border. He lost both his legs above the knee, use of his right arm, and sight in one eye as a result of the explosion.
“Ed finally made it home and, despite the severity of his injuries and years of painful treatment, joined the anti-war movement, becoming an activist and co-founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. After receiving a masters of public administration from NYU, Ed worked as an outreach counselor for Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, Ed is probably best known for his work with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. As an associate director of VVAF, Ed traveled the world helping war survivors, securing funds for much needed medical research and support. His efforts resulted in the building and staffing of a prosthetics clinic for amputees…[in] Cambodia in 1991…As a result of Ed’s efforts, the VVAF has opened rehabilitation clinics in Vietnam, Angola, Ethiopia, and Kosovo, as well as Central America and sub-Saharan Africa, allowing thousands of people worldwide to regain their mobility and dignity. Throughout his life, Ed continuously promoted peace and reconciliation…He tirelessly lobbied the U.S. Congress and the White House to normalize diplomatic and trade relations with Vietnam and was one of the first Americans to return there, being featured on Nightline in 1989, visiting the site where he was wounded…[Ed died in 2004.] On July 14, 2004, Sen. Patrick Leahy memorialized Ed before the U.S. Senate describing him as ‘….soft-spoken and unassuming to a degree rarely seen…’ but having a ‘…fiery passion for ridding the world of injustice and senseless conflict,’ further recognizing his gentle kindness, generous heart and calling him a true humanitarian and hero. A few years following Ed’s passing, the U.S. Surgeon General determined that Ed died as a result of the wounds he sustained in [Vietnam. His name was added to the] Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Washington on…May 4, 2010.”
So the next time you’re on Plandome Road, stop by Mary Jane Davies Park and read the names of those courageous sons of Manhasset who died serving our country. When we read the name Ed Miles, let us remember his work to make peace that other young Americans might avoid death or injury defending our country.
In the final analysis, perhaps all the war monuments and memorials around this nation should remind us not only of those who courageously served our country, but also remind us of the horror that is war. Lest we forget and send our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in a war not worthy of this nation. Lest we forget that the cost of war is measured in more than mere dollars, but more importantly in the dead and broken bodies of our service people and the innocent civilians killed and maimed as a result. Lest we forget the many veterans who endured the ravages of war and lost their comrades as a result. We owe them all a debt of gratitude. Lest we forget that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
May 27, 2018
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Most Merciful God,
Today we remember
Those for whom Memorial Day
Is more than a mere diversion,
But is, instead, a painful time.
We remember with compassion
Your sons and daughters who have lost their lives in war.
Help us honor their memory
With a sincere pledge to never forget their sacrifice while at the same time seeking peace and nonviolent solutions.
We pray for the safety of those entering military service,
And weep for the many returning from combat
With wounded bodies,
Sickened by the sight and sounds of war.
Our prayers also extend, O God,
To those who still wait and pray
Day by anxious day
For that precious moment of reunion
With a distant family member, friend, or loved one.
And to others – whose reunion has been sorrowfully delayed
Until that Heavenly homecoming with Christ
In the fullness of time –
We offer the gentle assurance
Of your promise to all believers,
“ Blessed are those who mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
This prayer by Tracy McNeal was adapted from
 Kevin Deutsch, “Vets’ Unclaimed Remains Get Final Honors,” Newsday, May 19, 2012