“Gates of Vienna” worships at a little Episcopal church in the countryside of central Virginia. The Rev. Bruce Weatherly is an occasional supply priest there, and he recently brought his photo album to church and told us an inspirational story.
Fr. Weatherly was in the Marines in World War Two and was discharged in 1946. By the time the Korean War came along, he had been to seminary and was an ordained priest. He wanted to do his part for his country, and volunteered for another stint in the service, this time as a Marine Corps chaplain.
He comes from a military Episcopal family: his father was in the military and was an Episcopal priest, and the same goes for his son John.
In June of last year, John arranged for a surprise ceremony for his father. The Weatherly family met in Arlington under the pretense of a visit to the Iwo Jima memorial, and Fr. Weatherly was presented with an American flag after it had been raised and then lowered by a Marine captain at the memorial.
Fr. Weatherly was greatly moved, and was barely able to retain his composure. He reports the unnatural and surreal experience, as a lowly sergeant, of being saluted by a captain.
Here’s the email about the event that Fr. Weatherly’s son Mark sent to the family afterwards:
|From: Mark A. Weatherly
Sent: Thursday, June 03, 2004 10:31 AM
Subject: Re: the Greatest Generation
|I just gotta say John pulled off one of the best surprises ever seen, for a fine and deserving member of the Greatest Generation. My hat is off to you bro; it was a real class act.|
|I’m sure the story will be told and re-told, but the image I have is Dad, Mom, Melissa, John and Bev striding across the large green lawn surrounding the Iwo Jima/Marine Corps Memorial on a breezy, beautiful early summer day. The Memorial’s figures are huge, moving and far more impressive when viewed up close. The Marine Corps captain on duty in fatigues greets Dad (“Sargeant Weatherly”) and guides him subtlely over to the center of the Memorial walk as a couple Marines climb the memorial. A group of what appear to be Marine boot camp survivors on their first weekend out materialize and line up in two rows behind Dad and the captain. The Marines lower the huge flag while everyone salutes, attach a smaller, new flag and run it smartly up the flagpole, then lower it slowly, carefully fold it, and descend from the memorial. One Marine marches it over to the Captain, then turns on his heel and faces Dad, and presents him with the flag. The Captain then reads a citation to Dad and presents that to him as well.|
|Dad momentarily appears in shock, but salutes smartly from somewhere deep in his subconscious.|
|And one of the best, amazing aspects to me was the number of young recruits who then came up to Dad to shake his hand, or embrace him, thank him for his service, and have their picture taken with him (when Marines take pictures they don’t say “cheese”, they say “Semper Fi!”). A great, great moment, for damn sure.|
|Awfully glad I got to witness this, and thanks for the ride back to the office, guys. It was an event to cherish. Huge kudos and many thanks to John for arranging it.|
While the photo album was being passed around, Fr. Weatherly talked a little bit about his time in the Marines. He said, “I was no hero. I was just a Marine.”
Fr. Weatherly, I submit to you that those two words are synonymous.
On a related note, Will May is the organist at our church and now attends the College of William and Mary. Several years ago, for his Eagle Scout project he videotaped and interviewed ten World War Two veterans living in our area. He wrote up his account and then published and sold it as a small book, with the proceeds going to charity. The online version of the book, Right in the Thick of It, is worth a look.
Group photo, left to right:
The Rev. John A. Weatherly (Rector, St. Mark’s Church, Alexandria, VA, and Chaplain [Major] 29th Infantry Virginia National Guard, son of Bruce)
Margaret H. (Mrs. Bruce) Weatherly
Melissa Weatherly (daughter of Bruce)
The Rev. Canon Bruce A. Weatherly (Sgt., USMCR 1942 – 1946, Lt. [Sr. Gr.] USMCR Chaplain Corps)
Mark A. Weatherly (son of Bruce)
Thanks to the Weatherly family for all the materials.