Billy Peel. My uncle. Active-duty Air National Guard. He and his flight crew were on a secret mission.
May 1972. 9th grade. Memphis, Tennessee. Friends, relatives and members of Highland Heights Methodist Church gathered at my Aunt Dorothy’s house for days and weeks after hearing the news: Uncle Billy’s plane dropped off the radar. Missing.
I remember the men in uniform coming to her door.
August 1996. Twenty-four years later. My father had just died. Fred and Janice Day were at my mother’s home before the memorial service to offer their condolences. They met my Aunt Dorothy and cousin Phyllis who had just flown in from Memphis.
Aunt Dorothy: You were missionaries in Surinam — Surinam, South America? My husband’s plane went down over Surinam – in the mountains — in the jungle. We never really knew what happened.
Fred Day: That was in the 70s. I remember.
Aunt Dorothy: You do? You were there? It was 1972. You know, we were never told anything about what really happened. Everything was so hush hush. State Department business.
Fred Day: Janice and I were serving as missionaries to the Indians there. The entire colony knew what happened. Some even witnessed it. I am sure communication back then in that area was rough. It was night. The jungle was thick. The only lights in the area were that of the dam. Your husband’s flight crew mistook the lights of the dam for the lights of the runway. The plane hit the side of the mountain.
October 2010: Fourteen years later. Arlington National Cemetary, Washington, DC. I visited the cemetary and found Uncle Billy’s grave that he now shares with two of his flight crew.
I read the headstone, and again I was reminded:
(1) How God chose to shed light on this mystery – even twenty-four years later.
(2) He picks the time, the place, the message and the messenger.
(3) Missionaries remain holy messengers long after they “retire.”