When a dear friend and faithful member Rear Admiral Mort Cooley died in 2005, it was at the same time as my mother’s death and two other member of our congregation. It was a busy, emotional, overwhelming and amazing time in my ministry.
Our new sanctuary was complete; we were waiting for the certificate of occupancy from the city of Palm Coast. The season of Lent was about to begin. I had gone to Philadelphia to spend the day with my Mom. And then the phone calls began. Mom died. Mort died. John (Palkovitz) died. It was going to be one of those months.
Mort’s funeral was the first worship service in our new sanctuary, following his viewing in the chapel. We hadn’t even had our dedication service yet. Mort would be buried in the military section of Craig Flagler Palm cemetery. As a high ranking officer in the United States Navy, a flyover would be appropriate.
We were told the navy didn’t do flyovers anymore. That truth didn’t deter Mort’s widow Zo, who had smuggled bibles into the Soviet Union. Mort had been a naval aviator Zo got on the phone and got it done. There would be a flyover at Mort’s graveside ceremony.
It was an overcast day. After the worship service at the church we processed to the cemetery. Sailors from the Jacksonville Naval air station were on hand to man the command post and communicate with the pilot who patiently flew over the Atlantic Ocean. On cue, though we could only hear the jet because of the low cloud ceiling, a plane roared across the sky above our heads, honoring a man who had served God and his country protecting our freedoms.
It was a moving moment for this pastor who had learned much from this member who had faithfully attended so many Thursday morning Bible classes and Sunday worship services.