The ghost in Bud Day’s obituary

Of the many wonderful parts of the New York Times, my favorite is the obituary section. Perhaps it’s being a pastor’s daughter, perhaps it’s that my mother’s side of the family were morticians, but I love reading a good obituary. Let’s look at one headlined “Col. Bud Day, Vietnam War Hero, Dies at 88.”

Col. Bud Day, an Air Force fighter pilot who was shot down in the Vietnam War, imprisoned with John McCain in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” and defiantly endured more than five years of brutality without divulging sensitive information to his captors, earning him the Medal of Honor, died on Saturday in Shalimar, Fla. He was 88.

His death was announced by his wife, Doris.

Colonel Day was among America’s most highly decorated servicemen, having received nearly 70 medals and awards, more than 50 for combat exploits. In addition to the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, he was awarded the Air Force Cross, the highest combat award specifically for airmen.

Col. Day was a genuine hero who earned much recognition. Later we get some details on how he was tortured:

Major Day was strung upside-down by his captors, but after his bonds were loosened, he escaped after five days in enemy hands. He made it across a river, using a bamboo-log float for support, and crossed into South Vietnam. He wandered barefoot and delirious for about two weeks in search of rescuers, surviving on a few berries and frogs. At one point, he neared a Marine outpost, but members of a Communist patrol spotted him first, shot him in the leg and hand, and captured him.

This time, Major Day could not escape. He was shuttled among various camps, including the prison that became known as the Hanoi Hilton, and was beaten, starved and threatened with execution. His captors demanded information on escape plans and methods of communication among the prisoners of war, as well as on America’s air war.

In February 1971, he joined with Admiral Stockdale, then a commander and the ranking American in the prison camp, and other prisoners in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” while rifle muzzles were pointed at them by guards who had burst into a prisoners’ forbidden religious service.

Great details, right? And isn’t that interesting that he was in a “forbidden religious service”? So what religion was Col. Day? And why in the world is this detail excluded from the obituary?

I’m interested in the religious views of … everyone. Whatever they are. Knowing how fully my faith in Christ informs everything, and seeing how others’ religious views inform them, it is the most important piece of information I look for in an obituary. When it’s not there, it confuses me. How could someone write up the life of an individual and leave out such an important part as their religion? It boggles the mind.

This is something of a common complaint I have, but in this case it’s also somewhat personal. I’m Lutheran, of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. So was Col. Day. I wanted to see how the Times dealt with his religion. Other than that reference to a “religious service,” it’s not.

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