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The REAL Meaning of Memorial Day

Field with American flags
May 21, 2019

Memorial Day. Every year, this holiday is welcomed by Marylanders as the official start to summer! We plan vacations, we host backyard cookouts, and we enjoy the long weekend with family and friends.

There is another meaning to Memorial Day, sometimes forgotten amidst the barbecues and pool parties. The freedom that we have to enjoy those peaceful, carefree moments on this holiday weekend comes at a cost. Just as we recognize the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made to pay for our freedom, we remember on Memorial Day the sacrifices made by the men and women fighting for the freedom of this country each and every day.

As the daughter of a retired U.S. Navy Commander, I can certainly give you a deeper perspective of what Memorial Day means to me. It means that there is a humbling recognition that the comforts we enjoy are not free. I can certainly share my thoughts, but I think it might be more meaningful if you hear about Memorial Day from someone with a bit more wisdom on the subject – my father.

In Memory of, LCDR Ron Callander, U.S. Navy, and the crew of Ranger 12, lost at sea, January 25, 1987.

“And we know that all things work together for good, for those who love God; for those who are called according to His Purpose.” Romans 8:28

Naval aviation is a dangerous profession, especially aboard aircraft carriers at night. At 28, I had just completed my first 3-year, “sea tour” and was enjoying the comforts of a new home and a much needed return to the good ‘ol U.S.A.

During my previous tour of duty, my character and courage had been tested numerous times during hostile strike missions, challenging weather landings, and many dark nights “behind the ship.” As our young, growing family enjoyed with gratitude our new surroundings – a fateful call had my focus one winter’s eve.

A former commanding officer of mine called to personally inform us that Ranger 12 (an A-3 Skywarrior) had crashed while attempting to land on the USS Nimitz. The entire crew of seven were lost at sea. My mind, and body for that matter, went totally numb. Most of the crew were friends of ours or sailors that I had led and flown with over the past three years. Until this one experience, all of the distant news of tragedy and loss of life never really registered with me. Military losses always have a deep sadness, but this was a profound and personal sorrow. After all, it was only three months prior to this tragedy that I was on the USS Nimitz in the Mediterranean Sea, flying the same airplane with some of the same crew as brothers in arms. 

Our God, in His infinite wisdom, was working His will in ways that I certainly could not understand. He had met my family’s desire to return to Maryland, blessed us with disciple-makers next door, planted us in a disciple-making church, and now He was tenderizing our lives for a season of surrender, learning, and maturation – all things, His purpose. 

I was very new to the Scriptures at this point in my life. I had left them back in my teenage years, but I did remember a cute trick I used to play with them: a random turn to a verse. I tried this over the next few days because it was all I knew how to do. Repeatedly, Romans 8:28 almost jumped off the crisp, new pages of my trusty new, black New American Standard Version Bible. I ruminated on that verse for days and even challenged God with His own Word.

“Do You mean ALL things? ALL things God, get it? Ranger 12? All seven crew? Families, children, wives, parents? ALL things? Really, Lord? Are you sure?” 

He must have been amused!

In very demanding professions and challenging endeavors, everyone needs a mentor. Lieutenant Commander Ron Callander was mine. We met shortly after I had received my “Wings of Gold,” and he was my primary instructor (mentor) in my first new fleet aircraft. The training wheels were finally off, and Ron spent his personal and professional gift-set honing us into tough, resilient, and smart aviators.

Ron was older and had spent many years in blue water operations with the U.S. Navy. He was a seasoned naval aviator and everyone knew it. Ron also taught on the challenges, dangers, and pitfalls of naval aviation. Ron was a man I both liked and respected – a man that I could trust. When I heard he was aboard Ranger 12, I was broken. It was as if a part of my life went down at sea with Ranger 12.

Now here we are some 30 years later, another Memorial Day weekend marking the official start of our wonderful Maryland summer. What can we learn from the men of Ranger 12 and all of those women and men who have given their all for the sake of the freedoms and liberty that we enjoy? We learn that life is very precious, life is short, and life is truly in the Lord’s hands – ALL things, for His purpose!

We learn that military members and families serve around a volatile world and in many very dangerous environments. Too often, we take this service and sacrifice for granted as we enjoy and live our busy lives. This Memorial Day, let us reflect and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice by living our lives with gratitude and purpose … His Purpose. (Romans 8:28)

In His Service, 

 James W. Hamill 

Commander, U.S. Navy (ret)

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