EDITOR’S NOTE: Southern Baptist military chaplains are called upon by soldiers and their families to bring encouragement, hope and comfort during some of life’s most challenging difficulties. This article chronicles the experience of SBC Chaplain (Commander) Manuel A. Biadog Jr. of the U.S. Navy, who accompanied the body of a fallen Marine as he returned home from battle in Afghanistan.
NEWPORT, R.I. (BP)–After the long journey from Afghanistan via Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, U.S. Marine Corps Private First Class (PFC) Kyle Coutu is finally back at home in Rhode Island with his grieving family. It was my job as a Navy chaplain to make this final trip with him.
Kyle and 10 other Marines were recently killed in action during a major combat offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. He was assigned with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Similarly sad journeys take place almost every day across the United States as America pays tribute to its fallen military service men and women. On a recent cold and rainy afternoon in February, Kyle’s final trip home became a sobering reality for the Coutu family and the more than 40 others who witnessed the dignified homecoming of his flag-draped casket at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I.
Appropriately, U.S. Marine Corps PFC Peter Lang also escorted his longtime buddy home. Peter had been Kyle’s childhood schoolmate and best friend since their fourth-grade days at Curtis Elementary School. Coutu and Lang enlisted and trained together at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., last June and graduated last September.
What stood out most vividly in my mind and moved me to tears the day Kyle’s body returned home was seeing countless citizens — young and old, military veterans, state and local police, firefighters and many others — lining the streets and highways, waving large and small American flags. These patriotic Americans waved the flags and welcomed their hero home. Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri ordered all flags at half-staff in honor of the young Marine — the same Old Glory that PFCs Coutu and Lang had saluted and promised to defend with their lives. And, as it turned out, Kyle did just that.
Kyle grew up in Pawtucket, R.I. He was a son, grandson, nephew, cousin, friend, classmate, student, fiancé and a Marine. Kyle was an all-American kid, awesome athlete, a patriot, a hero and a God-fearing loyal American. While in Afghanistan, Kyle knew there was no turning back. He threw himself into the fight and knew what bravery and courage were all about.
Unlike many other military service members like myself who have spent 20 or more years in the military, Kyle served a short eight months before giving the entire 20 years of his young life for this nation. In fact, Kyle was born in 1990, the same year I was first commissioned in the United States Navy. But Kyle — like so many other young men and women in the military who have given the “fullest measure of devotion” — will never know what it’s like to be a parent, grandparent or even a husband.
Kyle’s wake and funeral service was at once a heartbreaking and heartwarming experience for the citizens of Pawtucket and Rhode Island. The young man’s final homecoming brought many people together from all walks of life, paying their homage and respect to an American hero. More than 500 people packed the Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus Church for Kyle’s funeral Mass, celebrating and remembering his good and honorable life. As a final tribute to his longtime friend and fellow Marine, Lang recited the Marine Corps Prayer.
An American flag had also journeyed more than 6,000 miles from Afghanistan to Rhode Island draped over Kyle’s casket. Eventually, the flag, folded into a triangle, would be given to Melissa, Kyle’s mother, by U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. John Knight, who would also convey solemn and thankful words on behalf of the president of the United States, the commandant of the Marine Corps and a grateful nation for her son’s service to his country and the Corps. Melissa would also receive the Purple Heart Medal posthumously awarded to her brave son.
God bless you PFC Kyle Coutu and your family. Thank you for your sacrifice and faithful service to God and to the United States of America. I considered it a distinction and remarkable honor to be part of your final journey home. Semper Fi!
An endorsed Southern Baptist chaplain, U.S. Navy Chaplain Manuel Biadog Jr. serves as command chaplain at the Newport, R.I., Naval Station. The North American Mission Board is the SBC endorsing entity for 1,500 military chaplains. The military requires that all of its chaplains be endorsed and qualified by a recognized denomination. In all, 3,400 NAMB-commissioned and endorsed chaplains are ministering not only in the military, but also in institutions, corporations, health care and public safety.
The text of the Marine Corps Prayer follows:
“Almighty Father, whose command is over all and whose love never fails, make me aware of Thy presence and obedient to Thy will. Keep me true to my best self, guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and deed and helping me to live so that I can face my fellow Marines, my loved ones, and Thee without shame or fear. Protect my family.
“Give me the will to do the work of a Marine and to accept my share of responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm. Grant me the courage to be proficient in my daily performance. Keep me loyal and faithful to my superiors and to the duties my Country and the Marine Corps have entrusted to me. Help me to wear my uniform with dignity, and let it remind me daily of the traditions which I must uphold.
“If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith; if I am tempted, make me strong to resist; if I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again.
“Guide me with the light of truth and grant me wisdom by which I may understand the answer to my prayer.”