NMCB (SeaBees) 28
As I walked into lunch the other day, I was followed by troops from NMCB28 (Navy SeaBees). I had one of those nudges from God that reminded me I had a great opportunity to share my appreciation for their work, and to let these fine ladies and gentlemen know that someone outside of the military is looking out for them, and cares for them as well.
As the waitress came to seat me and my cohorts for lunch (Rob Paulus and my daughter Sophia), I told her to go ahead and bring me the check for the servicemen and women that came in for lunch. She double checked to make sure - and I said 15 would be about what I could cover. Slowly the checks began to trickle back to my table, with the waitress checking each time to make sure this was what I wanted to do. I confirmed that it was each time she came by.
As the counter began to clear of the servicemen and women, I was greeted by each one in turn taking a moment to say thank you. I was frustrated that the waitress had told them I had done this. I was doing it because I could, and because it seemed the right thing to do.
(Of course, I had the reminder later that giving is hardwired in our brains to trigger the same emotional/psychological response as other pleasurable acts - like eating, laughter, and sex)
As the troops began to find their way out the door one of the men came to me and said that he would like to do something for me, as I had been so generous to them. I deferred and told him that they had already done something for me, as they were serving their country in this way. He continued and offered a letter from their commander, still to come, and he handed me a coin.
I took it in thanks, and began to look it over. Sophia, then “want it” and so I handed it to her to look over for herself. One of the servicemen at the counter next to me gasped for breath and his eyes went wide, as she fumbled it to the floor. He asked if I knew the significance of such a coin. I had to admit that I did not. He proceeded to tell me a condensed version of this story.
Air warfare was a new phenomenon during World War I. When the Army created flying squadrons they were manned with volunteer pilots from every walk of civilian life. While some of the early pilots came from working class or rural backgrounds, many were wealthy college students who withdrew from classes in the middle of the year, drawn by the adventure and romance of the new form of warfare.
As the legend goes, one such student, a wealthy lieutenant, ordered small, solid-bronze medallions (or coins) struck, which he then presented to the other pilots in his squadron as mementos of their service together. The coin was gold-plated, bore the squadron’s insignia, and was quite valuable. One of the pilots in the squadron, who had never owned anything like the coin, placed it in a leather pouch he wore around his neck for safekeeping. A short while later, this pilot’s aircraft was heavily damaged by ground fire (other sources claim it was an aerial dogfight), forcing him to land behind enemy lines and allowing him to be captured by the Germans. The Germans confiscated the personal belongings from his pockets, but they didn’t catch the leather pouch around his neck. On his way to a permanent prisoner of warfacility, he was held overnight in a small German-held French village near the front. During the night, the town was bombarded by the British, creating enough confusion to allow the pilot to escape.
The pilot avoided German patrols by donning civilian attire, but all of his identification had been confiscated so he had no way to prove his identity. With great difficulty, he crept across no-man’s land and made contact with a French patrol. Unfortunately for him, the French had been on the lookout for German saboteurs dressed as civilians. The French mistook the American pilot for a German saboteur and immediately prepared to execute him.
Desperate to prove his allegiance and without any identification, the pilot pulled out the coin from his leather pouch and showed it to his French captors. One of the Frenchmen recognized the unit insignia on the coin and delayed the execution long enough to confirm the pilot's identity.
Once the pilot safely returned to his squadron, it became a tradition for all members to carry their coin at all times. To ensure compliance, the pilots would challenge each other to produce the coin. If the challenged couldn’t produce the coin, he was required to buy a drink of choice for the challenger; if the challenged could produce the coin, the challenger would purchase the drink. ( Wikipedia )I commented that maybe that was why I had to buy this round of lunches for the troops, I didn’t have a coin. I was therefore grateful to have one now. I know that someone thinks of me as one of his own and would protect me.
Upon further reflection I realized that maybe for the sake of my life I ought to carry this coin. I can’t help but think of how that directly correlates to my life in Jesus Christ. Just by carrying his cross each and every day, my life is protected.
I wasn’t done learning lessons from this interaction, as I heard more of the story of the coin later in the week.
The history unit commanders giving their solders coins goes as far back as at least ancient Egypt. Records indicate that the ancient Egyptians were given golden bees or flies for individual acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. An accumulation of these "flies and bees" entitled the recipient to receive land, goods, and elevated status within the Egyptian society.
The Roman Legions routinely minted and distributed commemorative coins and medals for members who participated in various campaigns and battles. History has indicated that the Romans actually used the occupying legion or units logo as the coin of the realm. These coins were used to purchase goods and services within the occupied jurisdiction.( http://www.military-stars-and-stripes.com/s1main.cfm )
The rest of that story was that a soldier going off to war might hand one of his brothers-in-arms his coin as a challenge to care for the leaving soldier’s family should he fail to return. In that moment, I realized I was now responsible for any in that unit, should they fail to return. And, truth be told, I did all of the payment for the lunches in the name of the church, and so I by that turn indebted you all in like manner. I have since set my Google Alerts to monitor any headlines that mention the NMCB28 unit of the Navy, that I might keep up-to-date with what happens to these men and women. I have a responsibility to care for them and their families. I have some new family members.
Not surprisingly, I know that I have accepted just such coins from every member of the United Methodist Church, and the congregations I serve, in the name of Jesus Christ. I have a huge extended family, and taking care of each one is quite an expectation, but one I take up willingly and to the best of my ability.
So, here’s to my brothers and sisters - those in my family, those in Christ, and those I now have by way of the NMCB28.
For reference, here is an image of the front of the NMCB28 Challenge Coin.