Author: Israel A.S. Yost
Puka Puka Parades, September 1962, v. 15 no. 9
Speech Israel Yost gave during the 17th Annual Memorial Service. He states that leaving the memory, the guest should feel uncomfortable in order to remember their motto “For Continuing Service.”
Chaplain Yost delivered the Memorial Address at the Club 100 17th Annual Memorial Service at Punchbowl Cemetery on Sunday, September 16, delivering his address from a few notes at hand. We were so impressed with the Chaplain’s speech that we asked him he could not reconstruct his speech. Although what follows is not his complete address, you will still find within it the substance of what men live and die for. “As we come to this cemetery we have memories, and we ought to feel uncomfortable when we leave. There are things we still have to do.”
Representatives of the military, parents, friends of the 100th and comrades: There was a verse of Scripture that sustained me as a Christian during the days overseas. I want to share it with you. It is Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purposes.”
No doubt you would like a few words today to make you feel good, on the basis of the record of our past deeds. But I must ask myself what God wants me to say, and what those whom we come to honor would have me say. Therefore I must say that most of us should leave this spot this morning with an uncomfortable feeling, and we should remain uncomfortable enough to put into action what our comrades who lie buried here would have us do.
At times you will notice that I am reading from something. It will be from letters I wrote to my wife during the days of combat. I wanted to remember the important events and the way I felt overseas; to do this I wrote these letters.
I recall my first meeting with Colonel Turner. After he had looked me over he said something like this: “Chaplain, I don’t know much about you and I don’t know how much you know about my men. I won’t tell you how to do your work, but I will suggest that you treat my men like Americans. If you do that, you’ll get along with my men.” His words need remembering today — by us.
We, too, must remember that all of our people are Americans, and we must treat all of them like Americans. My remembrance of big Jack Johnson is vivid, too. One day Major Johnson must have noticed the lines of distress in my face as I went about my task of bringing back the dead, for he stopped me and said: “That’s not a very pleasant job, is it, Chaplain?” My reply expressed the tiredness I felt. His next remark revealed how concerned he was about me and my feelings: “Chaplain, if I fall, just bury me where I fall. Don’t ever go to a lot of trouble getting my body out.” But when Major Johnson was hit we tried our very best to get him back for treatment, and we got him back as far as our outfit could. It was a snarl in a higher echelon that made it impossible for him to get further treatment, and I remember that night as one of the worst in my experience. But the point is that our executive officer was concerned about others and their headaches, just as today we ought to be concerned about the other fellow and his problems.
Remember how we said we would do things when — if — we got back? In one of my letters written at the beginning of the campaign in Italy I told my wife how one of our soldiers said that he would never laugh again at those who went to church, for he had come to understand the need for worshipping God. Once after a spell up front when we were relaxing during a rest period, I put this little verse on all the company bulletin boards:
A great many men will pray in a pinch
When the bullets and shells whistle near,
And then will forget to worship their God
When they are safe and there’s nothing to fear.
What about your worship of God now that you are back home? Indeed I wonder if we ought to have our memorial service on a Sunday morning. My wife and the members of my family regret that they cannot be here this morning, because they have their responsibilities each Sunday in the church of our choice. What about your duties of a religious nature?
I firmly believe that the only reason that you and I are here in the land of the living is because our God still has work for us to do. Those who lie buried here have finished their work, but God has brought us back because there is more He wants us to do. And as your chaplain it is my duty to remind you of it. Here’s what I wrote January 26, 1944: “Recently I’ve walked around the not-too-far-front, contacting litter squads and trying to speed up evacuation. I figure I’ve helped some thus. I’ve yelled at men who were just about physically exhausted — yelled at them to wake up and go carry another wounded. I think they forgive me; they realize I hate to do it, but we must get the wounded out if possible. If people could only see the horribleness of it all they would gladly vote to have their sons go overseas a year or so as a police force rather than have them slaughtered later on in an all-out war. Save these letters so I can never forget but may ever remind and remind again Americans of international obligations and self-sacrifice.”
Let’s remind each other of our duties. And let’s remember to help others. We had quite a Christmas party over there in the Monte Carlo tennis club pavilion — 700 French children had a real American party because the men of the 100th up on the mountain border between France and Italy had saved their candy for weeks before Christmas. Of course it’s nice to have parties for our own children, but what about the other children? Aren’t we concerned about them, too?
Our children are growing up. What about their ideals and their feelings about things? Here’s part of a letter I wrote home November 20, 1943, not too long after we first hit combat: “Last night two other officers and I got talking about the postwar world. They are strong for keeping an army prepared. I don’t know — perhaps they are right. So long as the world is not Christian we can’t expect Christian principles to keep the world from war. But I do know that we need more than military training for our young men; they ought also give some time to doing something constructive. Perhaps every lad of eighteen ought to spend six months in military training and six months on some project that will help toward world peace or better the country: slum clearance, hospital work, or the like. One year out of the life of each teenage boy would not hurt. They can put off marriage and the other things for their own future welfare.”
I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince my own children, but I intend to try. They must have the same things to fight for that we had. They must have ideals and be willing to sacrifice for them.
As we come to this cemetery we have memories, and we ought to feel uncomfortable when we leave. There are things we still have to do. The motto of the 100th is no longer “Remember Pearl Harbor.” It is now “For Continuing Service.” Soil taken from this cemetery will be just like soil taken from any military cemetery -unless soil from here comes from a spot where men will not only fight and die for their country but will also live FOR CONTINUING PEACE.