‘A sacred promise’

by Warren L. Maye

Commissioners Ralph and Susan Bukiewicz, territorial leaders in the USA Eastern Territory, attended their first memorial service at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y., Sunday, May 19, 2024. They led the annual ceremonies, which honored and remembered the 29 officers promoted to Glory and six soldiers interred since May 11, 2023.

Selections played by the New York Staff Band (NYSB) and a solo sung by Cadet Thomas Perez of the Defenders of Justice session, 2024, set the tone for the open-air and tent meeting under sunny skies with a comfortable breeze.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” said Lt. Colonel Hugh Steele, territorial secretary for business administration. “As we come together today for this year’s Eastern Territory Annual Memorial Day Service, we have much to be thankful for as we share and reflect on those who are buried here, those who have passed this past year. We celebrate the lives of those who’ve gone on before us.”

Under the direction of Bandmaster Derek Lance, the NYSB played “Gird on the Armor.” Originally a battle tune of the Civil War’s Union Army, today it is a song of spiritual victory.

Commissioner Susan Bukiewicz, territorial president of women’s ministries and territorial leader for officer development, said during her prayer of faith, “These men and women were officers and soldiers alike—examples of Your grace, examples of Your mercy, and even more examples of faithfulness and obedience.” She called the day one of celebration, remembrance, and thanksgiving. “Never let us forget the legacy they’ve left for us. They have made serving You easier for us. They have fought the hard fight. They have won the race, and now they are in Your holy presence, which we look forward to.”

The NYSB played “In Perfect Peace” (William Broughton), followed by a Scripture reading of Hebrews 12:1–3 by Lt. Colonel Kathleen Steele, territorial secretary for program. Cadets from the College of Officer Training then offered a solemn Salvationists’ salute, carefully decorating the graves with small Salvation Army flags. Lt. Colonel Cindy-Lou Drummond, territorial secretary for personnel, recited the name of each officer and soldier. “Taps” filled the air scented by an evergreen wreath.

A great cloud of witnesses

“For Commissioner Susan and I, this is the first opportunity, our first privilege, to be able to be part of this afternoon’s ceremonies,” said Commissioner Ralph Bukiewicz, territorial commander. “Even as we were preparing and anticipating what this afternoon would mean, we recognize that there are numerous names on stones throughout the Salvationist section of this cemetery that represent lives that transcend the dates that might happen to appear on their headstone. But they live on. First of all, in eternity where our hope is based. But also in our lives, in our memories, in our hearts.”

In quoting 1 Corinthians 15:57–58, Commissioner Bukiewicz reminded his audience and those viewers watching the ceremonies via livestream, that victory comes through the Lord Jesus Christ. “It is important that we build on that foundation of victory. ‘Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.’”

Elegant words 

“How do we best honor those who have gone before us?” Commissioner Bukiewicz asked. He shared this poem:

Beneath the trees where whispers sigh
In Kensico’s embrace they lie
Salvationists of steadfast grace
Who served with love, who ran the race.

In reverent tones we sing their praise
These stalwart hearts who lived their days
In service pure, in mission bold,
Their stories rich in love retold.

Through trials fierce and nights so long
They held the faith, steadfast and strong,
With every step their path they trod
A testament to the love of God.

In humble homes and far-off lands
They spread the word with gentle hands
And whispers soft, and shouts of grace,
They brought the light to every place.

Their eyes alight with hope divine
Their hearts aglow with mercies shine
They fed the poor, they healed their hurts,
In every soul, they saw their worth.

Generations rise and see
The legacy of what can be
When faith and courage intertwine
To forge a path both just and kind.

So let us honor, let us tell,
Of those who served and served so well
In fields of gold, their spirits soar,
Their faith inspires forevermore.

For in their lives the Truth is clear
The love of Christ is ever near
And in their footsteps we shall go
To spread the light they made to glow.

In Kensico, ’neath skies so vast,
We honor them, we hold them fast,
With every name, on every stone
We see their faith in lives they’ve sown.

In Kensico where now they sleep
A sacred promise we shall keep
To honor them in all we do
In faith and love, in service true.

After the benediction, it seemed as if all had been said and done. But as an officer couple slowly walked to their car, a driver stopped alongside them. She rolled her window down and said, “I work here at Kensico, and I want to thank you for the way you honor your officers and soldiers. I, my father, and his father served in the military, and I truly appreciate what I see here today.”