The Soldier's Funeral

Thursday, November 9, 2017

We talk about the sacrifice our service people make defending our freedom, and are sincere in doing so, but for most of us it does not really come home. I had an experience many years ago that brought it home forcibly to me. I don’t tell it often because it really tears me up to remember. 

It was in the Philippines shortly after World War II. The Huk insurrection was at its height. There were daily gun battles between government forces and the Huks. The Huks were a communist led and financed revolutionary guerrilla army, which among other things liked to kidnap and kill Americans.  

Daddy had been invited to a Seventh-day Adventist boarding school in northeastern Luzon to conduct  a week of prayer, a special week of spiritual emphasis. Although the area where this school was located was not “controlled” by the Huks, its control was certainly disputed by them. We did not travel into areas known to be dangerous for pleasure. If it were for church business, however, we would go where we were sent. Daddy took me with him. I was only 12-years-old, but felt very grownup.  

It was Sabbath morning, the last day of the week of prayer. Daddy was to preach at 11 o'clock. I was dressed, but Daddy was only in his boxer shorts shaving. There was a loud knock on the door of the little guest house where we were staying.  I opened it and found a sergeant and six riflemen of the Philippine Constabulary standing there. 

The sergeant spoke, in good English: "Is Mr. Odom here?" 

Like an adult, I said, "Yes, I am Mr. Odom." 

He said, "I need to speak to your father." 

Daddy came to the door, half shaved with a towel around his waist. The sergeant said, "Mr. Odom, I have instructions to take you to Manila immediately." 

Daddy replied, "I can’t go; I have to preach at 11." 

The sergeant said, "I have instructions to use all reasonably necessary means to bring you to Manila, NOW."   

 "I will have to talk to the principal,” said Daddy. “I'll go see him now." 

"No!” said the sergeant. “I'll send for him."   One of the riflemen went to get the principal. 

When the principal arrived, there was an animated discussion in Ilocano. Then the principal said, "Elder Odom, you must get dressed and go with the men now. I will preach at church today." 

We quickly packed and went with the soldiers to the campus gate on the national road. The sergeant flagged down a bus, ejected several passengers to make room and we got on, surrounded by the soldiers. The sergeant gave orders to the driver, and we started south. The sergeant would answer no questions. 

In a very short distance we came onto a roadblock with two army trucks across the road and a large crowd of civilians. 

The sergeant jumped down and spoke to an officer.  The trucks parted, the crowd was shoved back, and the bus moved ahead. In the center of the crowd was an empty space. To the right was a green 1937 Chevrolet sedan riddled with machine-gun fire. Beside it were six ponchos covering corpses. As the bus eased forward the wheels slipped in the large pool of blood in the road. 

Daddy asked the sergeant,  "What happened?" 

The sergeant replied,  "Now I can tell you since you have seen it. We learned last night that the Huks were coming for you and your son. We went out to meet them. Before we met them they encountered two American airmen from Clark Field, their Filipino wives and two children who were all killed. Just as that killing was ending we arrived. There was a gunbattle, and one of my men was killed” 

We are on our way to Manila for his funeral.  We were ordered to escort you to Manila. The funeral is at 2 p.m. tomorrow at La Funeraria Paz located at 1501 Calle Azcarraga." 

We were quiet all the way home. Sunday we dressed up and took the bus to La Funeraria Paz.  A grieving mother and the sergeant were there. Two riflemen were at parade rest by the casket, two were waiting, and two were on break.  The casket was a plain, wooden, government issued box.  There were no flowers; the only decoration was the Philippine flag on the closed casket.  

When two o'clock came, the six riflemen gathered to serve as pallbearers.  No officer was present.  The sergeant was the highest-ranking person there.  Only 10 people were at the funeral of a man who had given his life defending the rest of us. 

A padre walked in, recited the funeral mass in Latin and left immediately without a word to the grieving mother. Daddy spoke to her.  She, the casket and the soldiers were transported to the cemetery in an open Philippine army truck. We took the bus home. 

This whole thing really hit me.   That man died protecting ME. 

John Odom


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