Charlie Wingard

Charlie Wingard

Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Yazoo City, Mississippi

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D-Day – June 6, 1944

Today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the commencement of the Allied invasion of continental Europe. Within a year, Hitler was dead and the Nazi reign of terror over.

President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 speech at Normandy marked the 40th anniversary of the invasion. Reagan used the opportunity not only to honor the allied soldiers who fought their way ashore, but also to strengthen NATO’s resolve in the face of  threatened Soviet nuclear missile deployments to Eastern Europe. I introduced this speech to my high school rhetoric and debate students as one of the great presidential speeches of the 20th century.

My father, George Thomas Wingard, Jr., fought in Europe later in the war. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, which began on December 16, 1944, his 21st birthday.  My cousin, George King, son of Clinton and Magnolia Wingard King, was killed during the D-Day invasion. Their courage and the courage of all America’s military forces should be remembered.

Halsey’s Typhoon

Halsey’s Typhoon (Robert Drury and Tom Clavin) is the gripping story of Task Force 38, and its desperate struggle to survive a devastating typhoon on December 17-18, 1944. By the end of the storm, three destroyers rested on the ocean floor and nearly 800 sailors lost their lives, almost as many American deaths as in the Battles of Midway and Coral Sea combined.

Under the leadership of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, TF 38 was operating in waters 300 miles east of the Philippines. Charged with keeping Japanese planes based on Luzon out of the air during MacArthur’s Philippine campaign, Hasley chose to keep his fleet in station even as the surprise storm intensified. A number of the ships, unable to refuel, found themselves perilously unstable. A few exhausted their fuel supplies, leaving them crippled, helpless before the merciless winds and raging seas.

Particularly inspiring is the story of Lt. Commander Henry Lee Plage and the crew of the destroyer escort Tabberer. In spite of severe damage to their own ship and orders to leave the area, they remained and over the course of 55 hours plucked 51 sailors from the sea. Maneuvering the destroyer in turbulent waters alongside so many survivors, without killing them or their rescue swimmers, was a feat of extraordinary seamanship.

As one expects in a military history, Halsey’s Typhoon is the account of leaders making life and death judgments quickly and under extraordinary pressure. These are not my experiences, and I am moved by men struggling to do their duty in unimaginably harsh conditions.

The Battle of Midway: 75 Years Ago (June 4-6)

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the decisive turning point in the Pacific war. Fought June 4-6, 1942, America sank  four Japanese aircraft carriers, a military setback from which Japan never recovered.

Ian Toll observes:

In the American view, Midway eliminated the risk of a Japanese attack on Hawaii or the west coast of North America. As important, it relieved political pressure on FDR to transfer a greater share of forces to the Pacific, freeing him to emphasize his great priority, which was to keep the Soviet Union in the war against Germany. In that sense, the Battle of Midway ratified and confirmed the vital ‘Europe-first’ strategy. For that reason, it ranks as one of the most essential events of the Second World War, bearing not only on the conflict in Pacific but on the fate of Nazi Germany. (Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942,479).

This first photo below shows the American carrier Yorktown as it is hit by a Japanese aerial torpedo. The second shows the carrier heavily damaged and listing badly. She was eventually lost.

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American heroism at Midway should be remembered.

The Rev. George Lee Museum

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George W. Lee was assassinated on May 7, 1955 in Belzoni, Mississippi. A minister and entrepreneur, he became the first African American in the 20th century to register to vote in Humphreys County. A vocal leader in the voter registration campaign, he is sometimes identified as the first martyr of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Ambushed while driving his automobile, Lee’s assailants were never brought to justice. Rosebud Lee chose an open casket funeral for her husband. Photographs of his face, disfigured by the shotgun blast, drew national attention. Four months later, grieving Mamie Till-Mobley would leave open the casket of  her 14-year-old son, Emmett, lynched further north in the Delta.

George Lee is buried nearby at the Green Grove Baptist Church cemetery.

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IMG_7037.jpgFor a number of years, I wanted to visit The Rev. George Lee and Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights Museums on Highway 49 in Belzoni. Each time I stopped the museums were closed. So, I am very grateful to Helen Sims for taking my phone call, opening the museums, and giving me two hours of her valuable time.  I admire her and all those who manage grassroots civil rights museums in the Delta. They keep alive in our generation the courage and sacrifice of men and women like George W. Lee and Fanny Lou Hamer.

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75 minutes northwest of Jackson, I encourage RTS students to visit the The Rev. George Lee and Fannie Lou Hamer Civl Rights Museums. Before going, I suggest reading Timothy B. Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till for background information.

“Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron’s 715th

Today my RTS office is in an attic. 43 years ago my bedroom was.

On the evening of April 8, 1974, I sat at my desk doing homework. The radio was on and the volume low, the Braves-Dodgers game in the background.

In the second and the fourth inning, I turned up the volume when one of my boyhood heroes, “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron, came to the plate.

And it was in the fourth inning that he smashed his record setting 715th homer off Al Downing. Braves’ announcer Milo Hamilton called the historic shot.

Of the hundreds of Braves games I listened to as a boy, that was by far the most memorable. I recorded the home run on my old reel-to-reel tape recorder.

Vin Scully’s call of Aaron’s homer is much more famous, but it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to tune in anywhere but WSM Nashville, and catch the game with Milo Hamilton, voice of the Atlanta Braves.

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942

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My interest in America’s Pacific War (1941-1945) began in elementary school. One of our readers included the story of Jimmy Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid. I was captivated by the stunning story of 16 Army B-25 Mitchells that were outfitted for this unique objective and flown by specially trained crews. Launched from an American aircraft carrier that had slipped to within several hundred miles of Japan’s coast, the odds of survival were slim.

Theirs was a no-return mission. After dropping their bombs, the crews headed for destinations in China and Russia, harrowing escape attempts that led to freedom for some, and prison, torture, and death for others.

Doolittle’s Raid came less than six months after Pearl Harbor. The enemy was caught off guard and given a foretaste of the nightmare to come. American morale, which was at a low point, soared.

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One of the captured flyers, Jacob DeShazer, obtained a Bible while in prison and through his reading was converted to the Christian faith. At the war’s end, he was released and came back to America, only to return to Japan to serve as a missionary for three decades. Mitsuo Fuchida, the flight leader who led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was converted to Christianity under DeShazer’s ministry.

Ian W. Toll’s Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 is a compelling account of the story of Dolittle’s Raiders and the many other momentous events of the war’s opening months. He sifts through the personal experiences of President Roosevelt and his top military advisors, as well as the sailors, airman, soldiers and Marines who defended our nation and who fought desperately just to stay alive. Thoughtful consideration is given to the war as experienced by Japan’s leaders and people.

This first of three volumes covers the war from Pearl Harbor to Midway.

About the Battle of Midway – fought June 4-6, 1942 – and America’s sinking of four Japanese aircraft carriers, a military setback from which Japan never recovered, Toll observes:

In the American view, Midway eliminated the risk of a Japanese attack on Hawaii or the west coast of North America. As important, it relieved political pressure on FDR to transfer a greater share of forces to the Pacific, freeing him to emphasize his great priority, which was to keep the Soviet Union in the war against Germany. In that sense, the Battle of Midway ratified and confirmed the vital ‘Europe-first’ strategy. For that reason, it ranks as one of the most essential events of the Second World War, bearing not only on the conflict in Pacific but on the fate of Nazi Germany. (479)

 

 

In Memoriam: Thomas Ashcraft (1937-2017)

 

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My thirty-two years of ministry have been exceptionally joyful – in large part, I believe – because of the wonderful staff associates God has given me.

Tom Ashcraft, who passed away last Thursday, was among the best.

I remember the first time I met Tom. We had an opening for music director at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Recently retired to the area, Tom was not currently serving a church. His daughter Stefanie, a good friend of our family, mentioned that he might be interested in the position.

It took enormous effort to contain my enthusiasm. First, finding a talented music director committed to traditional Christian worship is not an easy task. And then there was the additional fact that Tom was a legendary choral director in the PCA.

Before our meeting, I listed all the reasons why I hoped he would at least consider the position. Whatever persuasive skills I have, I was ready to deploy them.

Tom entered my office, we shook hands, and then sat down. Tom looked at me, and said, “Well, when do I start?” Thus, without fanfare, our relationship began.

During the time we worked together, Tom made all the music selections for Lord’s Day worship – not just choral selections, but hymns and responses, too. I had complete confidence in his choices. He prized what I prized, texts faithful to the scriptures and that the congregation could sing with confidence.

Tom was a leader, a model servant of Jesus Christ, and a man to be followed.

He had suffered poor health for sometime, and I was concerned that the responsibilities of his work might be too much.  I shouldn’t have been; he was tough. He always reported for duty, prepared and cheerful, never complaining.

I encourage my staff to park away from church buildings, and leave the best spaces for visitors and persons in the congregation who need them. Of course, I never expected Tom to do that. One evening at a Bible Conference, I stood out in the parking lot, winds howling and flurries falling. In the distance, I saw a couple bundled up, walking to the building. It was Tom and Emily! Whatever the standards, he met them, whether expected of him or not.

I remember the first time Tom led the choir on a Sunday morning. Same choir as the weeks before, but the volume was noticeably improved. One of the entrepreneurs in our congregation came up to me after the service and said, “Now there’s a leader. He can take the same group of people and get so much more out of them.”

During the time he served with me, I watched Tom build the choir and incorporate young instrumentalists into the worship of the church. Tom put to lie the myth of the generation gap. Young men and women want skilled, competent, and experienced leaders – leaders who set high standards and care about the glory of God and the people they serve. Tom was that kind of leader.

Tom and Emily brought professionalism to our choir rehearsals, and also plenty of good cheer. His and Emily’s 57 years of marriage was a testimony to faithfulness. That their two daughters, Alicia and Stefanie, are faithful servants of PCA churches speaks volumes of their character as parents.

I pray that God will comfort Emily, Alicia, and Stefanie, and the grandchildren. Tom has entered glory, but his presence among us will be sorely missed. His example will endure, and his funeral service will be a time to give thanks to God for a life well lived. It will also give opportunity to take to heart the biblical admonition: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

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Obituary for Thomas Ashcraft