April 16, 2013
“Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind,” the Admiral said. He was offering a short eulogy to our friend, retired Navy Captain Nori Endo. Yesterday was Nori’s committal ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. I had never attended a burial on this hallowed ground of our nation, and Nori was a friend. As Rev. Dr. Terry Martin-Minnich said in her brief devotional, “Nori befriended you before anyone friended you.”
We met, some eighty of us, in the Fort Meyer Chapel. It’s a modern structure, with a vaulting wooden ceiling. Open to the sky through clear windows, we can see the blossoming of the trees, each one bearing the promise of new life. “Our Lord had written the promise of the Resurrection, not in books alone,” wrote Martin Luther, but in every leaf in springtime.” Following an earlier impressive memorial service at the Naval Academy Chapel, we are here to witness Nori’s firm belief in that Resurrection.
The Chapel, though modern in design, proudly shows the flags of America. There are “Don’t Tread on Me” flags—in yellow and in red-and-white stripe versions. There is the Grand Union flag with its English Union Jack and thirteen red-and-white stripes. There is a Pine Tree flag, with the motto: “Appeal to Heaven.” It reminds us of our country’s Christian heritage. From the beginning, Americans appealed to the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. And for most of us, that appeal rang forth most powerfully from the pulpit.
On the altar is an old wooden cross draped in Easter white. It, too, is a symbol of age for this mostly aged congregation. No, actually, it is a symbol of timelessness. That cross reminds us of Him who is the Alpha and the Omega.
Nori’s beloved widow Ruth is escorted to her place of honor in the front pew by a young, crew cut Navy enlisted man. He does his duty with all ceremony and solemnity. Let no one despise your youth, sailor.
Six enlisted men of the Navy Honor Guard heft Nori’s flag-draped casket onto a carriage, where it is wheeled silently to the altar. Nori is saluted by the sailors, and by everyone there, merely by our presence. He was, as they said, “a beloved husband, father, captain, believer.” Nori had endured internship as a boy, along with thousands of his fellow Japanese-Americans, during World War II. But he never expressed bitterness and raced on to his life of achievement and honor. He lived a Christian life, as the speakers said, and seemed at times to be almost an “anachronism in a secular world.”
We are all anachronisms, or should be. The world is telling us to be now people. But God wants us to be forever people.
After the Navy band played “Onward Christian Soldiers,” we return to our cars and follow the horse-drawn Army caisson slowly, deliberately to the gravesite. Down Bradley Drive, then Porter, then Eisenhower, the street names at Arlington this misty spring day are a roll call of America’s military past. We pass the row upon row of tombstones standing in silent serried ranks as if on parade. This is what they have called “the bivouac of the dead.” And amid these warrior stones we see others. “His wife.” “His wife.” There is a lesson here, too, united they are in death as in life.
Under a canopy, the casket rests as the Honor Guard folds the flag Nori served so well. The bright blue triangle displaying only its brilliant stars is passed down the line of sailors and handed with deepest respect to a Navy Captain. He is in full dress uniform. The soft jingling of his medals and sword the only sound heard as he presents this flag to Ruth with the thanks of a grateful nation. Then, the rifle squad fires three rounds—crack-crack-crack. And we hear the strains of Taps on the bugle.
Finally, Rev. Martin-Minnich quotes from John 15:15
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
And so we bid farewell to Nori Endo, our friend and His friend.