COLUMN: Memorial Day and Uncle Bobby

Published 8:20 pm Monday, June 5, 2023

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Memorial Day is to honor men and women of the armed forces who served our country sacrificing their lives. For most of us in Virginia Beach we can likely name a close friend or relative that served and sacrificed. For me, it’s Uncle Bobby.

After completing two tours in Vietnam, Uncle Bobby claimed three comforts, he would never live without again: air conditioning, hot showers and toilet paper. Visit Bobby, you would be warmly welcomed but his house was always icy cold. 

Bobby was more like an older brother than an uncle. He was the fun relative: good for playing ball or sharing stories. Because his family was military, Bobby grew up in Nagasaki, Japan shortly after World War 2 and graduated high school in Nuremberg, Germany. Following in his father’s footsteps, Bobby served in the army most of his working life. Two of Bobby’s more interesting mementos include a section of floor tile from Nagasaki burned by the atomic bomb blast and a piece of the old Berlin Wall.

Bobby and his wife Jeanne moved to a retirement community near Wilmington, North Carolina. At that time, they both made a commitment to become more active in a local church. They attended Bible studies and volunteered at several of the local ministries. In the midst of his church activities, Bobby’s relationship with God deepened. Volunteering, which is something he once swore never to do, became a passion as Bobby became an influence and a mentor to others. 

Several years ago, Bobby and Jeanne were coming home from a vacation cruise. They had a flat tire on the interstate. When the service truck arrived, the driver set traffic cones but somehow a distracted driver hit the truck, slamming the service vehicle into Bobby, killing him and injuring Jeanne.

I’ve witnessed many tragedies and helped people look for signs of God. But this was personal. I didn’t want to say goodbye to Bobby. I wanted to argue with God, get angry, shake my fists, throw a fit and cry. But as I reflect on Memorial Day, I imagine many families who lost loved ones are experiencing those same emotions and asking those same questions. The promises of Scripture take on a deeper significance to those who grieve. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23  “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come?” Psalm 121 “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1

Over the next few days, I witnessed God at work providing comfort and help when needed most. Church members and friends by the hundreds visited or wrote letters and sent emails of encouragement. Prayers were lifted up by individuals, groups and churches. People who were deeply touched by Bobby came forward and shared their stories.

While preparing to give his eulogy, I asked myself: “What would Bobby want me to say?” I pictured him standing there with a smile saying: “Larry, I hope you miss me but get over it. Yes, our family experienced a tragedy but step back and look at the big picture. I’ve been richly blessed with a wonderful family, great friends, a loving church along with opportunities to serve God and my country and make a difference in people’s lives. Don’t let one tragic day define my life.”

Life is a precious gift from God. Enjoy every minute of it. Find a meaningful way to remember and honor those who sacrificed for our country. Don’t neglect the basics of family and friendships. Say, “I love you” often. Don’t neglect your relationship with God. Keep growing. Don’t let the tragedies and difficulties win. Remember the big picture.

This Memorial Day remember the men and women who sacrificed and honor those who serve today. Write a letter, send a card, take someone to lunch or honor their memory in some special way. Life is a precious gift from God, so enjoy every minute of it. Don’t neglect the basics of family and friendships. Say, “I love you” often. Don’t neglect your relationship with God. Keep growing. Most of all, don’t let the tragedies and difficulties of life win. Always remember the big picture and know God is in that big picture.

I am confident Uncle Bobby is in a place where he no longer needs to worry about air conditioning, hot showers or toilet paper. As much as I will miss having him around, I am deeply grateful for knowing Bobby as a cherished friend and mentor. I still miss him but with God’s help and encouragement, I will get over it. And in honor of Bobby, I will get over it with a smile.

Rev. Larry E. Davies can be reached at