July 21, 1945 – February 20, 2016
On Saturday, February 20, 2016, Col. Kenneth R. Wade stepped out of this world and stood at attention before his maker. I will not pretend to know what happened in that exchange. I would like to think, in my mind’s eye, that as Kenny reported for duty, God was ready with orders, for another of his soldiers had come home.
I would like to share some of my recollections of a man who I counted as a friend and some of the lessons I learned because of him.
When I met Col. Wade, I was a young man who had just begun attending Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Bulloch County, Georgia. I will never forget interacting with him in those early months. He had already retired from serving in the U.S. Army National Guard, but I could tell that he was a soldier. As an Army brat, I could see it in the way he walked and carried himself. I could hear it the clear and distinguishable way he spoke. He was man who know how to give orders.
I would later become an associate pastor and would serve that church for two years. During that time, I learned that I could count on Bro. Kenny. He was there to offer encouragement and words of wisdom to a young pastor. I enjoyed getting to know him and his wife, Linda, and his son Brian. I would meet his other son, Jason, later on, and we have now become good friends.
I did not know then, how important a role the Wade family would play in my life. But, God knew and orchestrated the meeting in a small, rural church near Statesboro, Georgia. As is the case, life pulls you in different directions and still, after all of these years, I hold onto the cherished memories made in a time now since past. They flood to the surface, as they often do when we are forced to remember by the tragedy of death.
Col. Wade helped me to navigate the early days of my journey in ministry in ways I did not understand and am still learning and that is debt I can never repay.
For those who may not know, the rank of Colonel is designated by a silver eagle. Sometimes called a “full bird” colonel to distinguish this rank from that of the preceding one, a lieutenant colonel. It marks a remarkable achievment in a military career. One of the results of the military life, if you have ever been around military personnel, is it is difficult to miss the distinct imprint of the military on a life lived by a clear set of rules. Col. Wade was no exception.
What most people do not understand, particularly if you were not a part of a military family, is the effect this has on the dependents. On a couple of occasions, I heard Kenny describe some of his regret for how his career had affected his family. This, too, is something I have seen as common among service men and woman across the branches. As I remember these moments of transparency, I also saw that there was something else, something not quite so easy to detect, that seemed to percolate underneath the surface. There was a growing realization that all of his training had not lent itself well to being a husband or a father—or so he seemed to fear.
He was not a bad man, by all accounts he was a good man. I don’t even think most people, if any, would have agreed with him on his alleged failures, and I remember wondering to myself, if such a good man struggled to be a good man, then I needed to be ready and willing to fight for my own family as well. I recognize now that this was a personal and internal struggle. One that I better understand today and only observed then. One that could be seen in and through everything he did. He had not failed his family. It seemed to me like he was overcoming some perceived failure in his own expectations of himself. His journey toward the eagle had taught him how to persevere and how to fight for what he loved and believed in.
I am not sure that he would have described it in this way. These are more my reflections on those conversations and his example over the years.
If there was one thing that astonished me about Col. Wade, it was that the man could start crying at the drop of a hat. If you knew him for any length of time you would know this to be true. When he talked about his wife and family. When we talked about his cadets. When we talked about his faith. I have known passionate people. But, Col. Wade was one of the most compassionate men I have ever known.
When Kenny cried as he talked about those things important to him, it was not weakness. It was resolve. It was the physical expression of the depth of his conviction and faith and love. When he spoke about these things I wanted to listen. I wanted to glean as much wisdom as I could because I knew he was speaking from a depth of experience. There was so much truth. Not the kind of a philosophical nature. It was the truth of experience. The truth that comes from having walked life out in the real world.
As is the case with all instances of death, I am saddened by the loss. I do not feel the weight of this as deeply as those closest to Kenny. I can only offer these reflections and these words as a sign of solidarity in mourning.
I find hope in the fact that Kenny’s faith and my faith in Jesus can bridge the time between his departure and our reunion. I will miss the stories and the voice. I will miss the passion and compassion. But, I think most of all, I will the tears from the crying soldier.