The counselor stood at the pulpit and looked out over the congregation. A kind man whose role at church was to support and assist the bishop. He paused and swallowed hard as he leaned into the microphone.
It was a cool Sunday morning in 1943. An ordinary day of worship in a not-so-ordinary time.
World War II.
A time when our country came together to support freedom. Families saved the fat from cooking and turned it into their butcher for shipment to the war effort in producing explosives. Gasoline was rationed. And women painted their legs because silk was not available for stockings.
A time when war separated boys from their homes. An incredible sacrifice shared by so many families.
The counselor looked out at families who had gathered to worship. He cleared his throat. Willing the words to come.
“I regret to inform you that Lieutenant Bambrough’s plane went down off the west coast of Africa.”
There was an audible gasp in the congregation. Lieutenant Bambrough was the pilot of a bomber aircraft. And he was the bishop’s son.
“There were no survivors. The entire crew was lost.”
My father Clark was just eight years old. It is a moment in his childhood that he’ll never forget. He remembers the hush. The emotion-filled chapel. Disbelief that another beloved boy was among the fallen.
Clark understood that his country was at war. His elementary school teacher Mrs. McArthur had maps of the world all over the classroom. Each day she taught students about the progress of the war. A history lesson in real time.
Clark saw boys come home from war as men dressed in uniform. They went to church wearing their uniform. A symbol of commitment, courage, and sacrifice.
Clark was aware that some boys never came home. There was a house up the street with four blue stars in the window. Four boys serving their country. One day on the way home from school, Clark noticed that one of the stars was gold. He knew what that meant. Ran home and told his mother. She broke down and wept.
Clark saw the tears and understood.
Years later the elderly bishop passed away. Clark’s father remembered the tragedy. He, too, never forgot the announcement … or the lost pilot. He researched and found no living relatives of the family in the mountain west. No loved ones to leave flowers as a memorial.
My grandfather pulled his family together. He led them in making a promise that Lieutenant Bambrough would never be forgotten. A tribute and a commitment to honor a sacrifice.
My grandfather understood.
For years he decorated a burial marker with flowers. Stood over a plaque in the ground at Memorial Park in Salt Lake City and told Lieutenant Bambrough that he remembered. A tribute paid by Grandpa until he left this earth.
This week a lost pilot would have celebrated his 97th birthday. He is not forgotten.
Eight-year-old Clark is now an old cowboy who continues to keep the promise.
His son Scott often goes along. He knows that he will continue to decorate Lieutenant Bambrough’s name each year after Clark is gone. An annual trip to Memorial Park where there are hundreds of plaques honoring those whose lives were lost, but bodies never found.
It is a story of tragedy. A story of freedom. And a story of sacrifice by brave young men who represented our country.
But it’s also a story about commitment.
A commitment which began in a small living room many years ago. A commitment to honor. To weep.
And to remember.