Meditation on Isaiah 6:1-8
Trinity Sunday/Memorial Day Weekend
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
May 30, 2021
I talked to my friend Bob from Florida on Friday. He’s a veteran of WWII and Korea. I called to see how he was—especially since the loss of his wife, Donna, in January after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. They were separated during the pandemic when she was in a care center—and that was so very hard. He is trying to adjust to this new life without her—after more than 60 years of marriage.
And I called because it is Memorial Day Weekend, when we remember and give thanks for our veterans and especially those who gave their lives serving their country. Bob has dedicated many years of his life looking for the remains of his relative, Jimmie Browne, who died in WWII when he was just 21. Bob’s search for him is the subject of one of his books, The Hunt for Jimmie and his latest article in Aviation History magazine, “Epitaph for a Hero.”
Jimmie was five years older than Bob, a pilot, cousin, neighbor, role model and Bob’s “hero.”
He was“personable, good-looking, intelligent and brought joy to our families,” Bob says.
Adopted by loving parents virtually at birth, he was “a happy boy in suburban Winnetka outside Chicago, but he was curious, restless and inclined to push the limits of his older but tolerant parents.” His parents sent him to a military academy in Gainesville, Ga., in high school where he was an average student, except in aviation.
“When he was first introduced to flying he knew he had found his calling,” Bob says. “His passion was flying—anything, anywhere—and apparently he was good at it.” Here’s his photo from the military academy.
Jim graduated in 1940 and had already received his private pilot and multiengine licenses. “The world was exploding,” Bob says, “and he felt the need to do his part.”
He tried to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps flight training program, but it required at least two years of college at the time. He joined the British Air Transport Auxiliary in England, instead, “ferrying aircraft to scattered British bases… He traveled to England and flew Spitfires, Hurricanes, Blenheim bombers, trainers, amphibians—anything except four engine bombers. Here is a photo.
He came home after 10 months and took another flying job, ferrying U.S. aircraft to Africa for Pan American Airways. But before he got started with Pan Am, the Air Corps canceled the Pan-Africa contract. As Pan Am owned 45 percent of the China National Aviation Corporation, Jim was invited to join with five other new recruits to work for CNAC. The Chinese airline had a U.S. Air Corps contract flying supplies on “underpowered, overloaded, worn-out transports over the mountains” on the Himalayan “Hump” route from India into China.
Three of the six recruits would be lost.
On Oct. 7, 1942, Jim started flying the route that began on the flatlands of Assam, India, and crossed three major rivers—the Yangtze, Salween and Mekong— before reaching the Himalayas
Forty-eight days later, on November 17, 1942, his parents received a telegram saying that Jim’s plane was overdue and presumed missing. The U.S. State Department certified his death 7 months later, though neither body nor wreckage were recovered.
“In those days there were no search and rescue units to look for downed pilots,” Bob says. “CNAC and AAF airmen were asked to look for wreckage as they flew their routes, but snow and high winds soon concealed lost aircraft. Jim’s C-47 joined the ranks of aircraft and crews lost on the pitiless Hump route, ranks that would tragically grow to unpredicted lengths in the coming months.”
Jim’s mother was devastated. She destroyed his letters, photographs—all memorabilia; in her brokenness, she tried to wipe away all traces of his life.
But if Jimmie’s calling was flying and serving his country that way, Bob’s calling, in addition to husband, father, grandfather, banker, Presbyterian elder, friend, and more, was to make sure that Jimmie’s life and death were not forgotten. He was determined to find out what happened and bring home his remains from the mountains of Southwest China.
Finally, in September 2011, when the U.S. and Chinese governments could not or would not help him in his quest, Clayton Kuhles of the nonprofit group, MIA Recoveries, pinpointed what he thought was the location of the crash site. He led an expedition up the treacherous slopes of Malong Peak on Cang Shan.
After three arduous ascents he found the site and identified the wreckage from the Douglas Aircraft construction number, 4681.
Against all odds, he had found CNAC no. 60, but there was no evidence of the crew.
The call of Isaiah through a vision of the throne of God echoes through the centuries to inspire all who are seeking to be faithful to God’s call. To answer the Lord’s, “Whom shall I send?” “Here am I. Send me!”
Of course, that isn’t Isaiah’s first response. His first reaction as the seraphim sing and the “house” of God fills with smoke is to have a meltdown in the presence of the divine, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Old Testament scholar John Goldinjay compares Isaiah’s vision with Paul’s vision on the Damascus road, “which revolutionizes his self-understanding; maybe up to this minute he has not realized how polluted Judah is and how polluted he is.” It’s at the moment of self-understanding that he realizes his need for God’s purification! Holiness for Isaiah is a gift of God’s grace! The Lord makes holy Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal. Now, God may use his prophet!
I never noticed before, but unlike Moses and Jeremiah, Isaiah volunteers for God’s service, responding to the question, “Who will go for us?” And I am intrigued that God says “us” instead of “me.” Some Christians see this as a reference to the Trinity in Hebrew Scripture. But scholars say no; when God says “us” he is referring to “his entire heavenly cabinet.” Scholars DO see the Trinity in the repetition of the singing of, “holy, holy, holy.” Just as we sing in our old, familiar hymn slide: Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!…God in three persons, blessed trinity!
With Isaiah volunteering to serve the Lord, without first hearing what God would require of him, we find a good example for all of us seeking to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives. After Isaiah replies, “Send me,” the Lord tells his prophet to go and declare judgment on the people!
Isaiah cries out in 6:11, like the psalmist, “For how long, my Lord?” The Lord’s answer is—until the country crashes into ruins and desolation. God is speaking of the conquests of Judah in 598 and 587 BC and the captivity of the Jewish people in Babylonia.
But there is hope in the remainder of a tenth of the land that will once again be restored for grazing, “like a terebinth tree or like an oak of which there is a stump after their felling. Its stump is the holy seed.” (Isaiah 6:13).
When I talked with my friend, Bob, I hoped he would share some of his story, as well as Jimmie’s. There are not many WWII veterans still living to tell their stories! But like most veterans, he was reluctant to share.
He did tell me that he graduated from high school at 17 and enlisted in the Army Air Corp’s new aviation cadet program on Dec. 17, 1943.
He had earned his private pilot license in high school. He went to college for 6 months, while the war was winding down, but then he and a buddy transferred to infantry, went to basic training, and he was sent to U.S. Officer Candidate school at Fort Benning, GA. The war ended in August 1944, before Bob would have been sent as an 18-year-old officer to an invasion of a Southern Japanese island scheduled for November.
He served in the Army again in early 1951, being sent to Korea to work as a wireman, laying wire for communications. He still had one class to finish before he graduated from Knox College with a bachelor’s in economics, and he managed to do it through correspondence school. His degree was delivered to him while he was in a foxhole! At the time, he said, he would have traded it for being warm. “I was the coldest I had ever been in my life,” he says. He had to be evacuated because of frostbite.
He later would discover that he was sent to Korea because of a clerical error. The report of his failed physical exam didn’t reach his commander until 3 months after he arrived in Korea.
Bob is still determined to bring recognition to Jimmie for his sacrifice. He applied for an Air Medal and a Distinguished Flying Cross and was turned down because there was no eyewitness of the event. He applied for a gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery and was told Jimmie doesn’t qualify; at the time of his death, he was a civilian, but after the war the government gave veteran status to Pan Am pilots who served in combat areas and referred to them as “active-duty designees.”
Finally, Bob’s family purchased a stone to be placed with his parents in Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Ill. It is Jim’s only memorial in the U.S.
But China has honored Jimmie’s service. A bust of him was recently placed in the Square of Chivalrous Friends of China, at the Jianchuan Museum near Chengdu.
And he is listed, twice, on the Monument to Aviation Martyrs in the War Against Japanese Aggression in Nanjing.
And he has been added to the list of those lost in a CNAC plaque in Beijing’s National Aviation Museum.
In 2015, Bob and his son, Tom, came the closest so far to being reunited with Jimmie’s remains. The Chinese Government sent them to Dali where Jim’s crash site is located on Cang Shan Mountain. About 20 villagers surprised them with an impromptu ceremony at the cable car platform at 9,400 feet. They presented Bob with yellow flowers.
Bob took the flowers to a corner facing the crash area and had a brief prayer.
Sometimes, friends, I think we make the calling of God more complicated than it needs to be. We worry too much. We don’t have to know all of God’s plan! We just have to trust our Triune God, who has sent His Spirit to live with us today. And we have to be ready to say yes to God today. To volunteer, as Isaiah did, to love and serve the Lord however the Spirit leads us, trusting the power of love within us.
Are you ready to say yes today to God?
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
“Here am I! Send me!”
Let us pray.
Holy Triune God, we give you thanks and praise for our salvation through the Son. Thank you that each of us are your Children. Help us to trust, Lord, and be ready to say yes to you, to say yes to your Spirit to lead us in your will, revealing the details of the call day by day. Humble us, Lord, as you did Isaiah, so that we remember our great need for you and how your Spirit always wants to help us! Stir passion in us, Heavenly Father, as you also did for Isaiah, so that we answer your call without hesitation. Give us your patience and perseverance, such as you gave to my friend, Bob, looking for Jimmie, so that we may do your work and never give up. Comfort him in his grief as he mourns the loss of his wife, Donna. And we pray for all our troops, like Jimmie, who are Missing in Action in foreign lands, that they may be found and returned to their families. In the name of our Holy Three-In-One we pray. Amen.