Remarks at DeCamp Retirement Ceremony

First Army HQ, Fort Gillem, GA
24 March 2011
1100 hours

Passion to defend what we love.

Well, the bad news is that a preacher has the floor. The good news is that it will be brief…by a preacher’s standards!

Thank you, Major General MacCarley, Sir. You rode the red eye last night from California to be here to officiate this morning. Thank you, Sir. And Command Sergeant Major Andrews, thank you for honoring me with your presence here this morning.

And thanks to all of you, dear friends. Thank you, Chaplain Meek, Sir, for your mentoring and friendship; Chaplain Holley, for your winsome spirit, and your knack for making things happen; Chaplain Thomas, for being a tremendous deputy and seeing to all the details of this day—what a joy!; Chaplain Bedsole, for faithfully applying your intellect in the effective training of our chaplains and chaplain assistants; Sergeant Major Penick, for being our treasure trove of military knowledge and technical expertise, and for your skill in teaching and leading others; Staff Sergeant Townes, for being completely reliable, and for ensuring that every task is performed in an outstanding way (except for making stir fry!); and—yes—Arlene, who patiently reminds us, sometimes prods us, and always fully supports us.

Thank you to our friends from the Morrow Presbyterian Church for coming. They are golden; they are the salt of the earth.

Though they could not be here, thank you to our wonderful children, Dorothy, Rob and David, who never complained when Dad was away…again.

But most of all…thank you to Ruth, my dear wife of 40 years—31 of those in the United States Army in one manner or another. You went with me to Germany, Korea, and back to Fort Benning…again; and stayed behind when I deployed to the desert.

This is for you, Darlin’. [a dozen pink roses…and a kiss]

It won’t surprise you to hear a chaplain say, “God has led me all the way.” One of my favorite expressions is “The Lord is good!” And, indeed, He has been so very good to me. It has been a joy to share God’s grace. I love to pastor and I love to Soldier, and as an Army chaplain I’ve been able to do both.

But in a more earthly sense, I have worn the uniform of my country for one reason: freedom. I have always loved freedom’s defender: the United States military. I grew up in Korea of missionary parents. My father said to this young boy in the early 1960s, “Jimmy, the South Koreans are the only people in the world who have lived under Communism and then been freed from it.”

I was to grow in my understanding of that.

We had GIs in our home every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Then my dad took me to see them in their units in the Second Infantry Division, between Seoul and the DMZ. As a young boy, I drove a tank! (That was before they had Risk Assessments!) As a boy, I wanted to be like Soldiers, because they were fighting for our freedom.

All I ever wanted to be was a Soldier. I almost dropped out of college my sophomore year so I could wear a Green Beret in Vietnam. But to honor my parents, I stayed in school.

(Incidently, God bless all of you who served in Vietnam: Weeghmyn Lewis, Donn Ladson, Andy Anderson…quite a number in this building. I never want to miss an opportunity to thank our Vietnam vets; you all paid a much higher price in some ways that those who come back from war today. I honor you for your sacrifice.)

Then I wanted to transfer to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point and start all over again in year-one, but by then, a beautiful young lady had entered my life!

In the interest of getting to lunch, I must leap over 40 years. (And for those of you who brought your kitchen timers, ’less than 10 minutes left!) But I come back to the reason I have worn the uniform.

“Freedom isn’t free,” was the refrain of a popular song in the ’60’s. It’s an old truth; the only thing that changes is the battlefield on which it is proved.

I love my country, because she is about freedom. But like that person who is most precious to us, freedom is there to be cherished, nurtured, defended.

We can serve our country by wearing the uniform, of course. But also by strengthening our Family; by praying—“God help us!”; by helping a neighbor—like Celeste, who’s probably helped everybody in this building!; by working tirelessly (did you ever think of that as a patriotic thing to do?); by inspiring young people to invest their lives in a noble, righteous cause.

And I’m going to add one other—what, for me, is a new way to love my country, one that goes all the way back to its founding.

What is the one document many of us have sworn to “…support and defend…against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”? In the last five months, I have wrapped my arms around this North Star of our country: the United States Constitution.

Last November, I set out to read it once a week; now it’s once a month. Print it out; it’s only 21 pages, including Amendments. (Congress read it out loud in 85 minutes. I’m not a fast reader, but I can read it in less time than that.)

I couldn’t stop asking questions: “Why does it say that?” and “Where did this concept come from?”

I was attracted to The Federalist Papers, a collection of over 80 essays that promoted ratification of our Constitution during the two years it was hotly debated. I’m about half-way through The Federalist Papers, and this exercise has transformed my appreciation of the land I love.

If you want to see what intelligent discourse is, read The Federalist Papers. They reach back, for examples of good and bad government, to the Greek city states and the Roman Empire––right on through the eighteenth century. There is no poverty of thought in The Federalist Papers!

The Bible says, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge.” My passion for freedom did not need more fuel; it needed more knowledge. Our children and grandchildren will continue to taste sweet freedom if we teach them, and inspire them to cherish, nurture, and defend it. Do not delegate that high calling to anyone!

I love freedom the more today because I am being instructed in the roots of it. So please—if you are inclined or as you are led—read the Bible and the Constitution, then instill in your Family a longing to follow God and to breathe free.

God bless you, and God bless this Shining City on a Hill. Amen