Military chaplains enrolled in the MEDCOM Doctor of Ministry program at Erskine Theological Seminary spoke about their fallen comrades May 28 during a Memorial Day observance in Due West.
The chaplains were among some 100 participants in the event, which was co-sponsored by Boy Scout Troop 54, Cub Scout Pack 992, the Town of Due West, and Erskine College and Theological Seminary. The Boy Scouts conducted a “Retiring of the Colors” ceremony at the flagpole near Watkins Student Center on the Erskine campus.
Participants included each of the 14 Scouts present, along with some parents; Professor of Psychology Dr. Robert Elsner, Scoutmaster of Troop 54, who opened the ceremony; the Rev. Calvin Draffin, pastor of the Due West ARP Church, who offered an invocation; Due West Mayor Lee Logan; BSA Unit Commissioner Joe Suddeth; Assistant Scoutmaster John Paul Marr, who is also pastor of Troy ARP Church; eight chaplains; President Emeritus Dr. Randall T. Ruble; and several local veterans and family members of lost military personnel. Professor of Sociology Dr. Steve Sniteman was on hand to take pictures.
Elsner described the atmosphere on the Erskine Mall. “With flags waving and townspeople and Boy Scouts standing at attention and holding a salute, the chaplains and other veterans and family members reminded 100 people why this nation is worth defending.”
Twenty-three torn and tattered American flags were placed carefully into a bonfire. Near the end of the ceremony, Elsner dedicated the last three flags to “unknown service personnel who have died, those fallen who are not remembered, and those not in uniform who died defending the nation.”
Chaplain James Hall, one of the MEDCOM participants from Erskine Seminary, said, “I was surprised at what a well done program the Scouts of Troop 54 did. It was solemn and meant a lot to me personally.”
Elsner noted that although it is not unusual for a large group to gather on Memorial Day, “It is another thing for that many people to get together on a holiday in Due West without a hot dog or hamburger in sight.”
Hall expressed his appreciation for the character of the community event. “I think our country often sees Memorial Day off to cook out or go to the lake,” he said.
“The Boy Scouts here at Erskine saw it as a day to respect those who have fallen for the freedoms of America. I am deeply indebted to Troop 54 for their solemn ceremony to honor those who have fallen for their country.”
Elsner described the purpose of both flag ceremony and the focus on the deceased. “This ceremony is meant for two things really—teaching and catharsis,” he said.
“It teaches the Scouts and citizens history and laws concerning the flag and how it is to be handled. Just as important, however, it also allows those who have lost friends and family to find some release and closure, remembering that their loss has not been in vain.”
Elsner expressed thanks to maintenance personnel of both the Town of Due West and Erskine College, who built a temporary fire pit to protect the grass and concrete during the ceremony.
“Once the fires were out, senior patrol leader Sam Elsner dug the grommets out of the ashes,” he added. “We wrote thank you notes to all of the chaplains, vets, Rev. Draffin, and others who participated. In each card we tied a grommet with yellow ribbon to be a meaningful memento of the event.”
Elsner said a number of people thanked the Scouts and asked that the ceremony be made an annual event.