I am thinking about my Uncle Tom on this Memorial Day. Yes, I had an Uncle Tom. I remember what kind of man he was and who he continues to be as he lives on in my cousins. He was a wonderful man who served in the Navy with dignity. I remember his funeral in Pensacola. As I reflect back, I remember the power of the 21-gun salute, the respect at which the flag was folded, and the grace in which the flag was presented to my aunt. Not only would my uncle have been flirting with the Navy Apprentices, but he would have also been honored at how they honored him.
As his “favorite niece” it was an honor for me to officiate at the service and provide the eulogy for my uncle and family. As I think about this Memorial Day, I reflect on the words I shared with them, in honor of my Uncle Tom and all those who serve.
It is my understanding that the core values of the Navy are based on three words: Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These characteristics are the foundation for the Navy’s service to their country and their lives. And for one who served in the Navy, Uncle Tom took these words and embedded them into his heart and mind. Because of that, they became the foundation for which Tom lived his life and we have the gift now to come and reflect on what that meant to him and every life he touched.
Honor – Tom was proud to serve in the Navy for 28 years, knowing that as an Air Traffic Controller and teacher, many lives were in his hands. He was honored and proud to serve in that capacity and held every life he encountered to that same honor and dignity as well; in the way he taught, led, mentored, and counseled. He was also honored and proud for what the Navy did for him, the education he received, the awards that were presented on behalf of his service, in the honor that was bestowed upon him at his retirement; and he was honored with the care that he and my Aunt Mo received during his illness.
Tom was so honored to serve in the Navy that for anybody who came to visit him, including me; that visitor was blessed with the infamous Naval Air Station tour that included the grounds, the Naval Aviation Museum, the tower, and of course, the people. If you were really lucky, he would bring in the Blue Angels for a special performance, just for you…at least, that’s what he told me.
Tom would be honored, yet quite humbled today, at the outpouring of support from all of you to Mo and to our family. Thank you for the way in which you have honored his life and supporting us at this time.
Commitment – I know Tom was committed to his work, to his teaching, to his students, and to passing on the torch for those who continued the tradition. One of his students signed his online obituary guestbook with these words:
To the family of Master Chief Pruett, Please know that the Master Chief personally touched many a Sailor… [he] was my instructor in….Georgia when I was an AC2. He was always a knowledgeable instructor and consistently squared-away in uniform, making an extremely favorable impression on this young Navy Bluejacket. …(Bruce Herman)
That is commitment and how the tradition carried on. But if there was a unit that he was more committed to than the Navy, that would be his family.
To his sister JoAnn, my mom, you two committed to one another as you helped each other grow up through the years, as you cared for Granny and Grandpa in the different ways they needed. And as you were there for each other. Mom, I have to say, that Uncle Tom was so committed to you that he never once told me any secrets that I could have use against you at a later time, no matter how many times I asked. From one with three older brothers…..that’s commitment.
To Scott, Tom, and Brett – he was honored to call you his sons and Michelle; he was honored to finally be able to call you daughter. He wanted you to have what he could not, as all good parents do, pushing for college and to be the best that you can be, to stand up for what you believe in and to stand for what is right. To step back and see how much you have accomplished and to see how much you love your mom – Your dad has passed on the tradition of commitment to you.
Mo – 46 years. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of your commitment to one another. He knows he got the better end of that deal. He knows what you had to put up with and what you sacrificed all out of love. Even though we ALL learned from his commitment to the Navy and to family, I can imagine that he would be the first one to say that he learned it all from you.
Courage – Courage is the strength to face whatever comes your way, whatever the opposition, whatever the danger or the struggle, and to face it all with dignity, bravery, and resolve. Tom gave every one of us a lesson in courage as he courageously battled cancer. He fought with strength and guts. He gave everything he had.
People will be asking, why did he have to go through this suffering? Why did he have to face cancer? We do not know. I will be the first one to tell you I do not know. Some may ask, “Where was God? Why didn’t God stop this?” I will also be the first one to tell you that just as I know that God does not give out diabetes or heart attacks, God did not give Tom cancer. I do not believe in that kind of God. What I do believe is that God was there in the courage that Tom had and in the way that courage was supplied. God gives us the courage to face whatever hand we are dealt and He did the same for Tom.
Tom’s courage came in the form of doctors and nurses. Tom’s courage came from his family who sacrificed whatever it took to help him fight. And Tom’s courage came from all of you, who wrote, called, visited, and prayed during this time. And it was that courage that took him as far as he could possibly go.
You are going to have your own battles to face and you will need courage to face them. Find courage with your family and friends; find courage with accepting help and hope from those around; and find courage in God Who is with you right now and Who loves you unconditionally; find courage in the One who will walk with you every step of the way and will carry you when you need.
Life is precious and we need to take time to live it. He lived 67 wonderful years of honor, courage, and commitment, but he also had fun too. I am standing up here talking about these core values but I also know that my uncle enjoyed life as well. I know that there are many stories hidden underneath the surface that can and should be told, no matter how joyously incriminating they may be to him. He deserves to have them told.
You are familiar with the poem, “Crossing the Bar” by Tennyson, It is about a man whose time has come to cross over the sand bar as the sun sets and as the light fades, to see his Pilot face to face. But in that poem, the man makes clear that he doesn’t want there to be moaning and sadness as he is about to embark on another journey. He wants the sounds of the crashing waves to be so loud that they cannot be contained. Uncle Tom wants us to tell the stories. He wants us to gather at the pool, pop open a cold beer, and laugh in such a way that it cannot be contained. You see, we don’t know what storm we will face as we travel along the shore, and we don’t know when it will be time for us to cross the bar, but we do know how to ride the waves in the way that my Uncle Tom showed – with honor, courage, commitment, and a little bit of laughter along the way. Amen.
Words of Committal and Benediction:
I stood watching as the little ship sailed out to sea. The setting sun tinted its white sails with a golden light. And as it disappeared from view, a voice at my side whispered, He is gone.
But the sea was a narrow one, and on the furthest shore, a little band of friends had gathered to watch in happy expectation. Suddenly, they caught sight of the tiny sail. And at the very moment when my companion had whispered, He is gone, a glad shout went up in joyous welcome with the words, yes, here he comes! (The Little Ship, by Anonymous)
(c) Rev. Linda C. Moore, given August 8, 2008
For my Uncle Tom on this Memorial Day, may we all learn to live with honor, courage and commitment, in the way you did and in the way all those who serve do. May your service to country and family inspire others in the way you have inspired me. I will drink a sangria in your honor very soon.
Your favorite Niece (Yes, I know I am your only niece.)