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Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John Howard Farmer

Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

 Marines are called to take the beach

 Because of my choice in parents I have inherited very fragile skin. I am bedecked with blotches and freckles. My thin, scaly covering does not respond well to sun­shine. Therefore, my treks along the beach (old and new) are best lim­ited to cloudy days, early mornings and/or late day ex­cursions. That has, however, not deterred my love for sand between the toes, wind in the face, waves chasing my feet.

As a young Marine, I was discussing with an old salt, a sergeant major, my love for the ocean, for the beach. He quipped, “Well private, one of the loveliest beaches in North America is just over your shoulder.” My eyes must have sent him a message my mouth was too timid to speak. His very next utterance was, “Here let, me write you a pass and you can go out there.”

Uncle Sam owned a spot on the eastern Atlantic shore, which is a pristine haven for beach lovers. It is a glorious creation of the hand of God. There are high sand Carolina dunes, along a clean shoreline, almost always addressed by crashing waves.

Of course, there are times when the nearby artillery range kept one in a low profile.

Easter Week 1998, when the late Judge Dixon L. Foster and I were homeward bound, north in the Intracostal Waterway (The Ditch) we scooted through just as the 2nd Marines amphibs burst from the trees and splashed across, just behind Dick’s yacht, the Benchwarmer. Those Marines were to “take the beach.”

I recently found the 1982 obit for our senior Camp Lejeune chaplain – “Msgr. Francis J. Kelly, the ‘Father Foxhole’ of World War II who insisted on front-line duty with the Marines, died of a heart attack at 71 years old.

Monsignor Kelly, a Navy chaplain, captain, in both World War II and the Korean War. In World War II he shared foxholes with Marines on Guadalcanal and other islands in the Pacific. He had been mentioned frequently in the book Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis, Monsignor Kelly was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart. Father Kelly was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.” He sure knew some memorable beach experiences.

As a Baptist, I was privileged to help him serve mass, when the Catholic Jarheads had all fled the base for a weekend at home.

Anyway, my 1960s first duty assignment, was Camp Lejeune Protestant chaplain’s assistant, to a Navy lieutenant commander, of Presbyterian leanings. Captain Kelly was everybody’s boss.

He had a favorite religious poem: Footprints in the Sand. A copy was on his office wall. He was glib to quote it. Many a sermon made reference to the “Footprints.”

My USMC beach pass memory never left me. It was a personal rewriting of that poem. It anchored itself amongst my thought processes so secure that it has never left me. My time in solitude among the dunes, etched it into my memory. I suspect it a favorite of our readers. Let’s read it again:

“One night I had a dream. I was walking along the beach with the Lord and across the skies flashed scenes from my life. In each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One was mine and one was the Lord’s. When the last scene of my life appeared before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand and to my surprise, I noticed that many times along the path of my life there was only one set of footprints. And I noticed that it was at the lowest and saddest times in my life. I asked the Lord about it: ‘Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you would walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why you left my side when I needed you most.’ The Lord said: ‘My precious child, I never left you during your times of trial. Where you see only one set of footprints I was carrying you.’”

Odd, the things I remember and when a few seasons ago I printed our church bulletin on a color rendition of that same poem, the late judge’s son, Deacon R. Dixon Foster, shared with me that it was one of his favorite religious poems.

Following my North Carolina stint, my feet dipped into San Francisco Bay. There was a wee spot of beach near Fisherman’s Wharf, which was a favorite afternoon spa.

Later still my feet walked Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach, the Pacific sand atoll of Roratonga, Cook Islands, New Zealand; and a few other not so glorious shore spots. Always, though the sand between my toes, wind in my face and ebbing waves cleared away the weight of circumstances. Sunburn is a necessary evil.

My early years, here along the Rappahannock, Corrotoman and Chesapeake, had wet my appetite for beaches.

The late hours I kept as a young adult, along the beaches in my mind, were ones of solitude. Being alone with God, on the beach, has always returned a blessing to me.

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