Let freedom sing

Saturday, May 24, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com The St. Andrew Lutheran Church choir rehearsed for a patriotic concert to be held Sunday.

Whether you're a veteran, a veteran's relative or just a citizen, feelings of pride and freedom will be revisited with old, familiar tunes and perhaps one or two new ones at St. Andrew's Patriotic concert Sunday.

St. Andrew Lutheran Church's choir will hold a patriotic concert at 4 p.m. Sunday at the fellowship hall. All members of the community are invited, and invitations have gone out to all veterans organizations, including the American Legions, VFW and the Missouri Veterans Home.

Charter members Ken Bender and his wife, Martha, started singing in the choir in 1957, more than 50 years ago. Singing in the choir is a tradition for Bender. Patriotism is part of his identity.

"We were the first choir to sing at the first service," he said.

Bender has vivid memories of World War II. He was on the plane that photographed the bombing of Nagasaki immediately afterward and Hiroshima three days after the bomb was dropped. He was an Army gunner in World War II.

"I feel patriotic because of the time I spent in the service," the bass vocalist said.

When Bender remembers the time he was in the service — as a 19-year-old — he sometimes becomes teary-eyed. He said he's not good at hiding his emotions, but "once I get caught up in the music I'm so busy trying to get my part right that I don't have to worry about it."

Ken Bender, a World War II veteran, rehearsed for a patriotic concert with the St. Andrew Lutheran Church choir.

Selections they have been rehearsing include "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "America the Beautiful" "Pacem," "A Prayer for Our Country" (written after the Sept. 11 attacks) and a medley of service songs. The concert has been set up in five parts and includes choir anthems and audience participation.

"The church will be decorated in patriotic colors. The concert gives people a chance to stop and think about our country and meditate on its past, present and future," said Pat Palisch, the choir director.

The program begins with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a section focusing on peace, then a reading of President Washington's prayer dated 1783. The country's present is represented with a reading of the names of those currently serving and wraps up with a song about keeping the country strong in the future called "I Vow to Thee My Country."

"The choir is a very key part of traditional worship because it is God's word generated through music. People are sometimes more touched by scripture through music," St. Andrew Lutheran Church pastor Paul Short said.

Palisch "is doing a terrific job," he said.

The pastor said he believes the patriotic concert offers an opportunity for worship in the church, where traditional and contemporary services are available to the community.

Henry Gerecke II, a retired Army military police officer, plans on attending the concert, "because the church is putting it on and I support the church."

Gerecke, who served from 1943 to 1974, said he sometimes speaks at Memorial Day events but normally doesn't go out to attend an event.

In his military career Gerecke lived all over the world on American bases, viewing poverty from inside a "closed community," he said.

"When you see how others live, the despair and poverty they experience, you begin to recognize what you have at home," he said.

Understanding freedom helped Gerecke realize freedom isn't free.

"I'm proud of my heritage as an American and as a soldier," said Gerecke. The son of a Lutheran minister, Gerecke learned early on about freedom of religion, a core in American roots when he fought with another youngster over praying to the Virgin Mary instead of God.

"When I told my father about it he got very angry with me, and I never saw him that angry again," he said. It was then that Gerecke began to understand that everyone has the right to practice any religion.

"I'll protect your right as a soldier so you can practice whatever religion you want," he said.


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