It was Easter Sunday morning in 1970 and I was away from home for the first time on an Easter. I was undergoing Marine Corps Recruit Training, or boot camp, at Parris Island, S.C. I don’t remember why but, on Sunday morning, I was alone and standing looking east across the water at the rising sun. I must have been on guard duty at the boat basin. Otherwise, I was never alone except for this type of assignment. The date was March 29.
I had arrived at Parris Island some weeks prior on Friday the 13th of February. I had a long way to go until graduation and, because of the horrendously busy training schedule, I had not had time to feel homesick. Until now.
Now, as I watched the sun come up, I began to think about home. I turned 19 in January and had graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School, in Kingsport, Tenn., the previous June. I worked construction for four months before trying my hand at college life. Not knowing what I wanted to do with my future, I enlisted. Now that world seemed so very far away.
I let my mind wander. Before long, my parents and my 10-year-old brother, Wayne, would be waking up. My friends, with whom I had gone to church for the past five years, including Steve Duncan with whom I had been close friends since we were 5, would be getting ready for breakfast and traveling to Mountain View United Methodist Church for Easter services where the Rev. Fred L. Austin would preach the resurrection message.
I missed them. I missed all of them and the feelings were palpable. Mercifully, I was relieved of duty soon, went back to the squad bay, and would be in church myself at the 2nd Battalion Chapel for Protestant Divine Services, as they were called. I didn’t get homesick again. There just wasn’t time for it.
This Easter, my grandson, Isaac Epps, will be missing Easter services. He, too, is at Parris Island and in the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, almost 47 years to the day since I was there for boot camp. For him, since Easter is later, he only has three weeks to go.
But the day after Easter, on April 17, another grandson, Tristan Epps, is scheduled to ship out to Parris Island. For a short time, they will both be on the Island together, although it is highly unlikely that they will see each other. There is no liberty, no days off, essentially no free time, no phone calls, no ability to move around and see the sights. It is the Marine Corps and boot camp is incredibly strict.
I have prayed for Ike every day and have written him almost every day. As soon as I get his address, I will do the same for Tristan. I know what it takes to do what they are doing and I respect them both for wanting to serve and for attempting this great challenge.
I don’t think I have missed an Easter Sunday service since that day in 1970. In fact, there’s no other place I’d rather be. All across this globe, our men and women in uniform will spend Easter away from family and friends. This Sunday they, too, will be in my prayers as they combat a longing to be home.
May God bless Isaac, Tristan, and all those who celebrate this sacred season. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]