‘We need Memorial Day to keep us thankful’

'We need Memorial Day to keep us thankful' Major Sandy Aakre, chaplain of the 153rd Engineering Battalion, addresses Vermillion's Memorial Day services Monday morning at the Clay County Veterans Memorial. By David Lias "What do you truly own? What do we truly possess? What will you take with you when you depart this world?"

The Rev. Sandy Aakre wrote those words in his personal journal on Sept. 6, 2004, while stationed in Iraq.

Monday morning, during Memorial Day services in Vermillion, he asked those questions again to local citizens who gathered at the Clay County Veterans Memorial to honor our nation�s war dead.

Aakre asked his audience to focus not so much on this life, but on what lies ahead in the next.

It�s a lesson, he said, that�s quickly learned by anyone who serves in combat.

Aakre, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Vermillion, recently returned home after being called to duty to Iraq, where he served as a chaplain.

�Praying comes real easy for soldiers ? and I can tell you there are no atheists in foxholes, or bomb shelters or submarines or ships or anywhere else. When those mortars start coming in, everyone starts praying,� he said.

Aakre said the priorities for every serviceman and woman stationed overseas were the same.

�The single most important thing on our minds was our family. It wasn�t a pickup, or a car or a vacation home, or toys,� he said. �It was our parents. God had proposed a way to help us see the most important thing we had in our lives.�

A soldier in Aakre�s unit

just turned 18 after they arrived in Iraq.

�He said, ?You know Chaplain, I won�t ever mind cutting the grass at home ever again.� And one fellow told me, ?I guess I didn�t understand before now how hard my folks tried to teach me what was right, and I owe them a debt of gratitude. I hope I get home to tell them that.��

Aakre admitted to being in awe after traveling from the United States to a far-off place in that world that, in many ways, was so familiar.

According to the Bible, Iraq was home to the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. It was the place where Satan made his first appearance.

�Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq, was known as the cradle of civilization, lying between the Tigris and Euphrates River. The Babylonians who lived in Iraq destroyed Jerusalem,� Aakre said. �Daniel was in the Lion�s Den, and I was able to see it � it�s really just a pit.

�No other nation except Israel has more history and prophecy associated with it than does Iraq,� he said.

Aakre said his service in that barren country reminded him of mankind�s true role in the world.

�We never really own any of it (the world). The real question is, and should be, what kind of legacy will my stewardship leave behind me? he said.

In his role as chaplain, Aakre often was called to his base�s mortuary.

He shared an excerpt from his journal:

�The men had to work at cataloguing the personal effects of soldiers who are brought into the mortuary, and of course as a chaplain, I was always on mortuary call, and I was one of the few chaplains that would do it.�

Aakre said a fallen soldier�s personal effects typically included a small amount of cash, two credit cards, a phone card and military I.D. card, a driver�s license and set of dog tags, two photos from family members, and clothing from the military.

�Except for the uniform, these worldly possessions are cleaned, inventoried and placed in a large envelope. They are signed for and countersigned. Aakre, in his capacity as chaplain, would also add his signature, before the items were placed in a sealed plastic bag and put with the body before it is shipped home.

All of a fallen soldier�s other personal items, from his shaving kit, to his boom box, are shipped home in two duffel bags.

Aakre continued reading from his journal: �A life so young, lost to his family and friends and community; dreams and plans that he will never see realized.�

Aakre said the mortuary crew asked him to say a prayer for this soldier and his family. They also requested a second prayer, for themselves to help them with their grim task.

�What are you planning for and praying for in your life? Have you made facing God part of that plan?� Aakre asked Monday�s crowd. �What will be your legacy of stewardship? What will your list read?�

Aakre said his hope is that Americans don�t lose sight of what is important: �trusting God, an appreciation of what we have, and a thankfulness and a worship of God.�

He fears that many citizens are beginning to forget these cornerstones of society.

�There are powers attacking these lessons. We have so much that we�ve begun worshipping things in this country. Our great abundance and freedom has made us lax,� he said. �I believe we need Memorial Day to keep us thankful for the sacrifices that give us a very great country � sacrifices that we�ll need to keep our country free.

Aakre said he knows the prayers said for him by his fellow Vermillion citizens helped keep him safe.

�I ask that you continue to pray for the soldiers who have come home, for the soldiers who are there, and for the soldiers who are going to be deployed to the Middle East again soon,� he said. �Your prayers make a difference, and I believe your prayers honor all of those who could not be here today.�

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