Church celebrates faith, freedom on one special day

As a World War II veteran, John Miller didn’t have to think twice about organizing the Patriotic Extravaganza July 5 at the Congregational United Church of Christ at 3700 26th St. W. in Bradenton.

Miller is a former U.S. Marine who fought in the Pacific against Japanese forces.

“If we didn’t win that war, you’d be speaking Japanese or doing the German strut,” he said.

The special church celebration in honor of the Independence Day, although the day following the holiday, plans to honor all of those who have fought to keep this country free, said Miller. The public is welcome, he said.

“It’s a big deal,” said Miller. “It’s a patriotic time in history. There’s a lot of excitement.”

The celebration kicks off with a flag raising with the U.S. Marine Corps League Detachment No. 58, followed by a 21-gun salute.

“It’s very impressive,” said Miller, who is the church moderator and one of the celebration organizers.

Paul Scheele, pastor of the Congregational United Church of Christ, plans to sing “God Bless America,” and “God Bless the USA,” plus has a special message to the congregation titled “One Nation Under God.”

“It should be a pretty uplifting service and a wonderful way to celebrate our independence and liberty,” he said. “It’s going to be very inspiring.”

“One nation under God, with liberty and justice for all,” are the words at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Bible has always played an important part in American history, said Scheele. The Bible was the “bedrock” of this country when the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, he said.

“Thomas Jefferson once said ‘the tree of liberty must be nourished with the blood of patriots,’ ” said Scheele.

The church’s Patriotic Extravaganza has special meaning for Scheele because he was sworn into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis on July 5.

Back then as a young man, he had hoped to fly planes off an aircraft carrier.

“That was my dream,” he said. “Then I was called to serve a higher commander in chief.”

Scheele celebrated 49 years in the ministry on June 9, and has never forgotten the sacrifices made by those in the military.

“We have to remember what we stand for,” he said. “We have to remember the sacrifices made to preserve our freedom. We have so much to be grateful for.”

For Miller, the Patriotic Extravaganza is a reminder of those sacrifices made for freedom.

Miller, now in his 80s, joined the U.S. Marines at 17 after learning a close friend had been killed. His father was a World War I veteran, and his siblings had also joined the military.

“When you talk about a patriotic family, you’ve got it,” he said. “We weren’t unique. Everybody was patriotic; the whole nation.”

As an American during World War II, it became everyone’s duty to be patriotic, said Miller. General Motors was making tanks. People around the country planted victory gardens and rationed everyday items to help with the war effort, he said.

And everybody was happy to do it, said Miller.

“It was an all-out effort,” he said. “The whole country was pulling together.”

With so many veterans in the church’s congregation, including World War II and Korean veterans, Miller thought it only fitting they have a celebration to honor their sacrifices.

“Freedom is not free; you pay for it,” said Miller. “Just think of all the lives sacrificed so we could do this.”