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My personal heroes and heroines

Rhonda Sedgwick-Stearns

Yesterday I attended the huge funeral of a hero. I have known him as a friend since we were kids in school. “Lonnie Dickinson” is the name that will be engraved above his military-honored grave in Black Hills National Cemetery upon his interment there, whenever his family takes that step.

The supreme American honor couldn’t be received by a more wonderful, deserving person! My hurting heart is warmed to imagine the solace the special occasion will bring to the many who loved Lonnie. I pray and believe they will all feel a great surge of pride, for having shared the privilege to know and live alongside such an American hero.

Lonnie Dickinson has always been “hero material” by my estimation. I guess I recognized the necessary qualities he carried by the look in his eye, and the air of determination he always wore when I first met him in the early 1950s. The determination was “softened” by some innocently sweet kindness that always warmed those eyes. An aura of “confidence in spite of insecurity” that accompanied Lonnie wherever he was underlined his determination.

I lived a half hour or more from town by school bus. Lonnie lived and was growing up somewhere around the edge of town. I think his family resided not too far from the fairgrounds. I probably met Lonnie the first year I rode the bus to “town school,” when I was 7-turning-8. I knew almost no one who lived in town. Home school had been my only experience, so I’d been taken by Mother to “visit class” for an hour or so one day. In spite of that brief introduction, I felt as lost as if the bus had dumped me on the moon.

Lonnie wore the clothing and had the style and persona of a “country kid” more than one reared deeper within the city limits. As a fellow “country kid,” I was drawn toward that similarity. Shy as we both were (and I believe we could “feel” that in each other), I felt comfortable around him from our first meeting. We saw each other daily at school, and I always believed Lonnie was a friend.

When I first entered the church today, a large family group was gathering in one big room. An usher asked if I was family and, upon my negative reply, pointed me down a hallway “to the sanctuary.” He added that family members were gathering in that other room “to pray before the service begins.” I thought, “Oh, Lord, all the layers of Lonnie’s family are going to miss him terribly! Please wrap them in your arms right now and give them peace.”

That prayer, and those thoughts, unleashed a flood of memories and mental snapshots inside my head. I was reminded of the many, many times in various places where the hugs and tears of my family members have borne us all up and unleashed “the power of one” within each individual. That melds with every other to somehow create a huge invisible shield in front of them. It deflects the fiery darts of the enemy and invites the kind, warm comfort of our God and our Savior to envelop us together. Like a huge God hug of security!

Military honors were paid during Lonnie’s funeral today, with the unfolding of his flag, the sounding of Taps and the ceremonial refolding of Old Glory before it was presented to the love of his life and mother of his children, wife Loa. That flag honored Lonnie’s heroism in the military service of his country in the 1970s.

Loa took the flag with tearful pride. The longtime wife of a hero, forevermore to be known as “Lonnie’s widow,” she must surely be a shocked, bereaved and unwilling heroine. Few dry eyes could’ve been found among the crowd that packed the large Newcastle Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sanctuary by the time that ceremony was completed.

There were surely a number of women present who had felt that flag pressed into their unwilling arms. Maybe the heart of each widow of a military man who had been so honored was carried by their minds across the room to surround Loa at that instant, willing her arms to move her hands to receive it. Did they will strength to her knees and silence to the sobbing screams they knew would be fighting to claw their way from her throat?

My prayer right now is that God and time will heal each broken heart — and each broken body, if there happen to be any. I continue to pray there will not. God is in charge. It is Sunday. His people have just met, in many churches across this area. They have prayed and returned home, knowing that continuing to trust Him is all we can do right now. His Word says that is enough. I believe.

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