Currently I am serving as a naval Chaplain on USS Ponce (LPD 15). USS Ponce is an amphibious landing transport dock (LPD) ship that can hold a company 400 Sailors and officers in addition to 700 Marines with air support up to six CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, nine AAVs (Amphibious Assault Vehicles), Hum-Vs, and ammunitions. This ship is designed to resemble a small aircraft carrier and its purpose is to put the Marine troops on hostile shores. Her homeport is Norfolk, VA, and a part of the ATF East (Amphibious Task Force) called, “The Magnificent Seven” Battle Group, which includes USS Portland, USS Saipan, USS Bataan, USS Kearsarge, USS Guston Hall and USS Ashland. Our present operation is mine countermeasure with the help of dolphins and sonar equipment, so that the humanitarian aids could steam through Khawr Abd Allah, which means "God of Channel," and disseminate the aids quickly to the people of Iraq.
Fallen Marines I was told once that when a chaplain loses a member of his congregation because he was killed in action (KIA), a chaplain experiences incredible heartache that he could not bear at times. I thought that would never happen to me as we steamed across half way around the world to put the Marines to the hostile shore of Kuwait. If I did lose a member of my congregation, I thought I was prepared.
When the KIA news traveled throughout the media, everyone wondered whether we knew anyone who was boarded on our ship. And nothing prepared me when I discovered a name that I recognized on a KIA list from Fox News web site. His name was Sgt. Michael Bitz, a Marine from Camp Lejeune, SC. He was one of eight Marines ambushed in vicinity of Nasiriyah, Southern Iraq on March 23, 2003. Eight Marines were carried in an AAV. Two Marines survived from the attack, but the rest did not.
I had a chance to know Sgt. Bitz during our transit to the Persian Gulf. He responded to one of my sermons in the beginning of transit, and he was serious about being right with God and being right with his wife.
We prayed together many nights in tears and searched God together. He attended my weekly Bible study and Protestant Divine Worship every Sunday with perfect attendance. Sgt. Bitz returned to Jesus, and he wanted so badly to know God and to love Him. He shared hours about his life, and how he was troubled from his past and with his wife. No one could ever be as transparent as he was. No one could confess how much he loved his wife. In one month of transit to the Persian Gulf, I never knew I could be so involved in someone’s life.
I had a number of opportunities to say hello to his wife back home, as she was about to give birth to twin boys. After he left the ship to shore, she sent me the pictures of twin babies in hoping that I could forward the newborn babies' photos to her husband. I was hoping that I could show him when he returned. The pictures are still sitting on my hard drive, and I am not at peace with the thought that he did not have the opportunity to see his babies.
When the Marines were about to head out to their unknown futures and the hostile shores of Kuwait, Sgt. Bitz boldly claimed his conviction. “If I don’t come back alive, I will see you in heaven.” These words are the last words I heard from him. These words are the last spoken words to his wife before he was boarded on USS Ponce. I will not see him again in my lifetime, but surely I will see him again. I long to see him everyday.
Sgt. Bitz gave his life for our country and also to free Iraq from the regime. He never had the pleasure of being in Baghdad, so that he could watch the people tearing down the statues made in the image of Saddam and rejoicing their freedom.
My memory of him will never be forgotten. On the night of the 26th of March, I offered a memorial service during Chaplain’s evening prayer through 1MC that the entire ship could hear at 2155. In his memory and those of the men who died with him, I asked all hands to have a moment of silence and prayer for eight fallen heroes who gave us company during the transit. I read his name on 1MC, “Sgt. Michael Bitz, 31, United States Marine Corps.” And the bell was rung for his bravery under fire. And I continued to read the names of all fallen Marines, the bell rang eight times throughout the ship. Bells continue to ring in my heart without a day goes by. I ask all the readers to hear the bell of liberty and freedom tonight. Signing off from Persian Gulf, Chaplain Philip N Park
LTJG, CHC, USNRUSS Ponce (LPD 15)FPO AE firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow up note: Please keep me/us in prayers. We are expecting to take the Marines back to their home state. I would appreciate my ability to minister to those who are coming out of post-war trauma, psychologically and spiritually. Most importantly, opportunity to share the gospel and bring them to Christ is obviously on the top of the prayer list.
The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary is to
glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders
for the proclamation of His Word and the
building up of the body of Christ worldwide.