by Sheila Baltzell-Linn for www.parkwayindependent.com with contributions by Becky Shope and Jill Thomas

Photos by Michelle Thomas

(November 16, 2020) St. Paul’s United Church of Christ members welcomed Tom Risch to the pulpit on November 8, 2020 with his Veterans Day message.  Becky Shope and Connie Sapp prepared the sanctuary for this occasion with red-white-blue flowers on the altar, organ and piano; flags for each branch of the military hung on the back wall; and the Fallen Soldiers Table displayed at the front.  

Veterans from St. Paul’s were welcomed forward, by Becky, to be recognized for their sacrifices. They included Jerry Bollenbacher, Denny Laffin, Marvin Schaadt, Jerry Schaadt, Gary Deitsch, and Gus Bollenbacher. Two veterans are in assisted living facilities now and were unable to be with us: Jerome Bollenbacher and Duane Linn. All received a card and gifts from the church.

Then Becky read and Connie re-enacted the touching symbolism of The Fallen Soldier’s Table. The significance of each is below:

1. The table is round to show the never ending concern for the missing comrade.

2. The tablecloth is white to symbolize the purity of their motives to respond when answering the call to serve their country.

3. The place setting is a clean, white placemat, plate, bread plate, cloth napkin and utensils. This setting represents your wish that the missing comrade could be present at the happy occasion with you.

4. The black napkin represents the sorrow of captivity.

5. The table is set for one representing the frailty of one prisoner against his oppressors.

6. The single red rose displayed in a vase represents the blood shed while protecting our freedom, the life of each missing American and their loving family and friends who kept the faith while awaiting answers of those who serve. They are held with highest respect for that is what they deserve.

7. The yellow ribbon represents our continued uncertainty, hope for their return, determination to account for them as we pray that they’re watched over and kept close to God.

8. The slice of lemon on the bread plate reminds us of the bitter fate of those captured in a foreign land.

9. The salt upon the plate represents the countless tears endured by those missing and their families who long for answers after decades of uncertainty.

10. The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.

11. The candle reflects the light of hope that lives in our hearts to illuminate their return home, alive or dead, away from their captors to open arms of a grateful nation.

12. The glass inverted represents the inability to share a toast.

13. The American Flag reminds us that many of them may never return and have paid the supreme sacrifice to ensure our freedoms and our nation’s strength and unity.

14. The chair is empty – the missing comrade isn’t here.

This table is to honor America’s POW’s, MIA’s, and Fallen Soldiers from each branch of our armed service: Army; Marine Corps; Navy; Air Force; Coast Guard; Army Reserve; Army National Guard; Marine Core Reserve; Navy Reserve; Air Force Reserve; Air National Guard and Coast Guard Reserve.

Included in the service was Remembrance Sunday and the families of four deceased members came forward to light a candle for their loved one – as the name was read by Becky Shope and the church bell was tolled by Mark Linn. It was solemn and fitting to remember the lives of the late: Anna Lee Linn; Clara Brinkman; Mary Luginbill; and Ruby Bollenbacher. They were faithful members of our church. Members then came forward to light a candle for others who have passed and are deeply missed.

Tom Risch spoke about his 34 years as the director of the Mercer County Veterans Association. He sees our Veterans when they come home, humble men and women, privileged to have served out country. He spoke of Mercer Countian Don Howell whose medals were lost or destroyed from WWII. Tom helped him get them replaced. He is the most decorated Veteran in Mercer County with his highest award the Navy Cross for his role while guarding the American Flag at Mt. Suribachi. This flag is known around the world. The Raising of this Flag on Iwo Jima is an iconic photograph of six United States Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi.  The Navy Cross was bestowed on Don Howell by the Secretary of the Navy and is the second highest decoration for Valor in Combat.

Mercer Countian Father George Wilson’s story was another that touched Tom Risch’s heart. He was a soldier in the Navy and captured in WWII when his ship was attacked. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and crossed an icy river 4 times. Tom said you never forget these stories, even after the Veterans have passed away. Tom also spoke of the widows and families left behind. Betty Shope is one who receives benefits from the service of her late husband Ed Shope, Sr.

St. Paul’s and an entire nation is grateful to the men and women who have served and those currently serving in the uniformed services of the United States and are ever mindful that the sweetness of enduring peace has always been tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifice.