He was the first man to enter the service from Franklin County, Texas in World War I, and he enlisted in the US Navy. After boot camp, he was assigned duty aboard the USS Von Stueben, a captured German ship. He would end up serving his country cruising the North Atlantic delivering men and supplies for the war.
On one of those cruises across the North Atlantic, his ship was in the sights of an unexpected enemy; the Spanish Flu! It was running throughout the ship, and it was deadly.
He got sick, and he continued to get worse. He got so sick that they thought he had died. He was declared dead, and moved to a room where they were keeping the dead.
I don’t know why they weren’t burying the dead at sea immediately. Maybe they were so shorthanded due to the Spanish Flu? Or maybe the seas were too rough in the North Atlantic that time of year making it too dangerous to be above deck for very long? Who knows?
At some point in the next day or so, he woke up. It must have frightened him to wake up in a room full of dead sailors, and it certainly must have frightened the poor sailor who heard him cry out from inside the dead room “Get me out of here!” They got him out of that room, and he fully recovered. He was saved!
He would go on to complete thirteen round trip cruises in the North Atlantic. The war ended, he was released from his eight-year enlistment early, and he was soon on his way back home to East Texas.
He got married, raised a family on a sharecropper’s farm, and enjoyed the time God had given to him. And even though times were tough, he knew he was blessed!
He raised his kids in Church, taught them about all of the life lessons he had learned, and he instilled in them the confidence they needed to make it through the toughest of times. They were all strong, tough, confident, and grateful servants of Christ.
His kids grew up, his boys served in their own wars, and time continued to move on. He passed away in 1957 at the age of 62.
His name was Early Major Burton, and he was my granddaddy. I never got to meet him because I wasn’t born until 1963.
From the way my daddy, Sammie Earl Burton, raised me I got a glimpse of my grandaddy’s confidence that only comes from surviving and overcoming the near-death experience I mentioned above.
Daddy expected perfection. He wouldn’t take no for answer. There was always a way, and he was faithful to raise me in Christ’s Holy Church!
This coming Easter Sunday I’m going to remember that beautiful day that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ defeated death, and rose from the grave! I’m going to remember my grandaddy as well. I’m looking forward to the day, and hopefully it’s many years from now, when I finally get to meet him. You see, he was saved!
In 2 Corinthians 5:20 - 6:2 we read: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”
Rev. Tommy Earl Burton is the pastor of Tapp United Methodist Church in New Boston, Texas. If you are ever in the area, Tommy and his congregation would love to have you come worship with them.
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