My mother, Mildred, was home in the kitchen of the farm house. She immediately sensed that they were here about my brother Bill, Lt. William Lute, who was serving at the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, and the visit was ominous.
The two officials and my mother got into their car and proceeded “down the lane” to find my dad, Clarence, who was out in a field near the barnyard on his tractor, doing the spring plowing. As they walked out toward him, he stopped his tractor and began to contemplate the nature of this unusual sight.
“Your son, Bill, is missing.” The words were deafening to them.
My brother was flying in a routine training mission over the Atlantic in a formation with three other fighter jets, each carrying a pilot and a co-pilot. The airplane had gotten out of formation, and was circling around to come in again when the wing clipped another of the jets.
“We have a search party out looking for him and the other three pilots who are missing. The Air Force is searching the area in hopes of finding them alive,” the officers reported to my shocked parents.
When the Air Force officials had departed, and mom and dad were back at the farm house, they began to call family and friends about the situation. By evening, quite a troop of support had arrived and a solemn vigil begun, with quiet conversation and prayers lifted up for Bill and the others’ safe return.
One night and day slipped into two, with no word. Those present shifted into a new group of faces as some left for work or sleep and family responsibilities.
The jets all have an eject button which immediately can shoot the pilots and copilots out of their cockpit and deploy a parachute. The pilot of my brother’s plane had been found alive in his parachute in the waters below. With only seconds to push the button for life-saving capabilities, the pilot of Bill’s plane reported that he yelled twice, “Eject! Eject!” But he was unsure if Bill had indeed been able to push the button in time.
When day three arrived, hope was fading. A report came that the Air Force had called off the search. Weeks passed. Memorials were scheduled to honor my brother’s memory. A stone with his name and information was installed at the cemetery where other family members were designated. It was a bitter time for mom and dad, without a body to let closure begin.
I was becoming a student of the Bible around that time. I found a scripture in Revelation 20:13 that speaks of the future resurrection of all people. It gave me new insight into the pain and sadness of death. It includes this statement: “The sea gave up the dead who were in it,” indicating that those who have been lost at sea, and other causes too, would be brought back and given new life.
What an astounding image this brings to mind! Ships lost in storms, or in war; people who died at sea and whose bodies were thrown into a watery grave; planes that have gone down, like my brother’s, through accident or other causes, with occupants never to be seen again. All of these would be included in the dead that the sea is going to release. This is truly one of God’s “great and precious promises” that Peter describes in 2 Peter 1:4.
One Saturday morning when I visited my parents at the farm, I showed my mother that scripture. My dad was unable to talk about the loss that we had endured, but mom found comfort in this scripture. And I was greatly comforted myself in being able to bring her some sense of peace.
My parents have long since died, never seeing the fulfillment of that promise. But we can picture the great reunions that will take place someday of those separated by such tragedy. What a glorious time it will be when God fulfills His promise of new life to the world, and the opportunity for all to learn of and enter the Kingdom of God.