Tears at a military church
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Fifty years after preaching his first sermon,…
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Nearly a year ago, Marines and sailors from the battalion that Lt. Col. Mike Manning commands gathered with family and friends to pay tribute to fallen comrades.
A battlefield cross — consisting of boots, a rifle and a Kevlar helmet — stood in front of a photo of each Marine who gave his life during the battalion’s most recent deployment to Afghanistan.
“They were our brothers,” Manning, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, said during the ceremony. “They fought side-by-side with us day and day out. We shared everything. We will always hold a place in our hearts and our thoughts for these brothers.”
The battalion lost 10 Marines during its seven-month combat deployment last year.
An additional 168 out of the battalion’s more than 1,000 troops were wounded.
Through it all, faith sustained the battalion’s commander, a three-time Bronze Star Medal recipient for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that God was watching over me and giving me strength on a daily basis,” said Manning, a member of the Roosevelt Drive Church of Christ in Jacksonville, N.C., a 200-member congregation outside the gates of this 246-square-mile Marine Corps base.
Manning’s future wife, Kimberly, introduced him to the Roosevelt Drive church while they were dating.
Minister Ron Edwards baptized him and performed the couple’s wedding ceremony eight years ago.
In the Roosevelt Drive church, Mike Manning found a congregation that felt more like a family, he said.
“It’s not just another church — it’s a very tight-knit group,” Manning said. “They reach out to each other.”
From private first class to three-star general to no military background at all, the congregation treats everyone with the same love and respect, longtime members say.
“Everybody’s family,” said Sam North, a civilian and Roosevelt Drive member since 1975. “Quite frankly, when anybody walks in the front door or back door or any door, rank goes out the door. Rank stays outside.”
Said member Ron Himsworth, a retired Marine sergeant major: “When we come in here in the family of God, there are no ranks at all. We’re all brothers. Brothers and sisters.”
They are brothers and sisters who lift up member Marines and sailors in prayer when they’re away and take care of their families, Kimberly Manning said.
“When you’re a part of this congregation, they’re praying for you by name,” she said.
Mike Manning said he makes it a point to share his faith with his troops.
Marines and sailors without a strong belief in God struggle much more with fear of the unknown, he said.
“One of the things I worked with my chaplain in the battalion … was to reach out to young Marines and sailors to get them to believe in something, whether they became Christians or not,” Manning said. “We have an obligation to bring them on board and enlighten them to what Christianity is all about.
“Having that faith and knowing a congregation is going to take care of your family, it just eases the burden so much.”
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