The current issue of All Hands magazine has a great feature on the street signs of Naval Submarine Base New London. Streets on the Groton, Connecticut, submarine base — where I am currently stationed — are named after lost, World War II-era submarines. The Public Works Department is replacing the old street signs, which featured only the name of the ship, with new ones that also feature the number of hands lost and the date the ship went down.
Since I came on active duty in February, I have been struck by the omnipresence of remembrance in the military. Everywhere you turn, there is a painting or a story about Captain So-and-so, just so you don’t forget why So-and-so Hall is named after him. Just so you don’t forget why you’re here, sailor.
Most poignant are stories of the working men who lost their lives fighting in some unknown ocean somewhere. Not the captains who had big funerals attended by admirals and statesmen. I mean the forgotten stories about Mess Specialist Third Class Thus-and-such, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Because my dad was a Navy chaplain, I imagine a chaplain and a Red Cross worker somewhere down a lonely Kansas dirt road knocking at dusk on the door of an old farmhouse. “Ma’am,” he says to a dusty woman with grey eyes and a blue apron, “we regret to inform you….”
This very natural human impulse — remembering those who paid with blood for our freedom — is what underlies the Orthodox doctrine of icons and saints. Sometimes, a parish priest will put a little snippet of a saint’s life next to an icon. I like that, because otherwise it’s just another maiden in robes with a cross. “Hello, how do you do? My name’s Basil; who are you?”
Next Sunday is All Saints, dedicated to the commemoration of every saint whose name is known only to the holy Trinity. Every time I pray for the departed, I try to remember those who have no one to remember them and no one to pray for them. I hope someone will be so kind as to do the same for me when I take my leave of this world.