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Summary: Funeral message for Gary Pervall, Air Force veteran who died of the effects of Agent Orange.

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Being surrounded is threatening. Even when what surrounds

you is not dangerous, you still feel threatened. How do you

feel if you are closed in? Suffocated if there is too much of

anything surrounding us. I know of people, for example, who

don’t like to be in a small room; they get anxious when there

are too many people around. They cannot ride the Metro,

because it’s crowded. They cannot go to sports events,

because there are too many bodies. And at least a few of

them tell me they don’t like to come to church, because this

place is full, and ask about the good old days when you

could get in and sit by yourself and not be bothered with

other people! Surrounded feels threatening. Even when it’s

not really a dangerous situation.

A soldier knows what it is to be surrounded. If a soldier is

surrounded, normally it is that the enemy has put him in a

place from which there is no escape. A battalion of soldiers,

finding themselves surrounded by the enemy, has little

choice. Either they fight to the death, or they surrender and

face imprisonment. It is threatening to be surrounded,

because generally it is the enemy who surrounds you.

But what if the surrounding were to come not from the

enemy, but from your friends? What if you were to be

surrounded not so much by those who are out to destroy

you, but by those who are on your side, by those you

counted on as friends and comrades? Remember – it

always feels threatening to be surrounded; even when what

surrounds you is not dangerous.

Gary Pervall the soldier was surrounded. Flying missions in

Vietnam, of course he was surrounded by danger. The

enemy was one he could not always see, and whose tactics

were unconventional. Every day was a threat. Gary lived

day and night with the awareness that Vietcong partisans

were out there, maybe nearby, maybe surrounding him, out

to do him harm. That was a threatening experience.

But Gary did his job and did it well. He did what his country

asked and performed the missions assigned. As a helicopter

crew chief, he and his men flew mission after mission, using

Agent Orange to defoliate the jungle and expose the enemy.

They surrounded the enemy with this chemical, so that he

might feel threatened and surrender. What they did not

know, at the time, was that they too were surrounded.

Something was set in motion that was going to become,

unknown to anyone, a serious threat to health. Surrounded

by an unseen enemy on the ground and a poorly understood

enemy in the air. Being surrounded is always a threatening

experience.

And, indeed, Gary was surrounded by something more than

a toxic chemical. Gary was surrounded by the political

atmosphere of the time. Many of you will remember those

days – how Vietnam veterans came back home to face the

scorn of their fellow citizens. How some of those who

opposed the war – and I do not dispute that moral vision –

but how some of those who opposed the war poured out

their disgust on those who had simply done their duty. The

nation’s agony over the politics of Vietnam soon surrounded

its veterans and threatened them, surrounded them with a


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