TEMPLE — It’s not unusual for a Baptist preacher to preach to his congregation and encourage young and old alike to remain upon the straight and narrow path.
However, it’s not every Sunday a pastor starts listing specific acts of youthful indiscretion from 60 or 70 years ago while pointing at and calling by name the guilty individual who just happens to be sitting with his family in the front row of the crowded church.
On Sunday, Elton Lawson, senior pastor of Wildwood Baptist Church, described to his congregation how the “wild and reckless” Bobby McFarland grew up in the rugged coal mining camps of Tennessee: Discovering his grandfather’s moonshine hidden in the barn and drinking his share; stuffing a live, smelly pig into a burlap bag and carrying it onto a bus; being tied by his brothers and cousins to the back of a bucking mule. Perhaps McFarland was not a young hell-bound reprobate as much as he was just a normal kid from the mountains of Appalachia.
Lawson was mercifully reticent to accuse McFarland of actually lying to the U.S. Army upon his induction. But it was made clear to all in attendance that some sort of deception, spurred by patriotism, got McFarland into the military. Besides, Uncle Sam didn’t need to know about the childhood accident and the arrow that nearly cost McFarland an eye. After all, the Lord had given him two eyes and the other one was perfectly fine.
From the famous Battle of Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War to his shot-up and shot-down helicopters in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam, like so many other young Americans who are young no more, McFarland served his country with honor and bravery. In 1972 he retired to Copperas Cove as a master sergeant. In addition to two Purple Hearts, the medals and commendations McFarland earned would make most generals envious.
On Sunday, having now been closer than brothers for over 50 years, Lawson asked McFarland to join him in front of the congregation. With family and friends in agreement, the pastor thanked him for his many years of service and dedication to his church, his community and his country.