The Return to Say “Thank You”

In early September 1957 we moved into our quarters on “D” Street at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico.  I remember that first bright, sunny Thursday, when Mom came home from the Commissary with a trunk load of groceries.  As I was helping her unload, she told me I was going to catechism on Saturday.

“Well, okay then,” I replied, “what’s catechism?”  And she went on to explain it was Lutheran instruction for confirmation.  I didn’t ask her what ‘confirmation’ was at the time – I didn’t want to look too dumb!

For the next 3 years I attended Lutheran Catechism every Saturday morning; and beginning the 3rd year, I went twice a week – Thursdays and and Saturdays.  The pastor was Chaplain Martin Baumgaertner – what a great name for a Lutheran  minister!  And he made the instruction so much fun!  I still remember the stories… I think I may have only missed 2 or 3 classes over the 3 years.

At Confirmation, Chaplain Baumgaertner told us that at some point in our lives most of us would walk away from the church.  I remember sitting there in the pew that morning, praying that it wouldn’t be me who walked away, but somehow knowing that I would…


In June 1994 I was ‘bankrupt.’  Physically, morally, emotionally and almost financially.  Every morning I would wake up and ask God, “God, please don’t let me drink today – only to open my first Bud Light by 0830 0r 0900!”  And I would drink all day until I passed out – usually 22 – 24 cans of Bud Light.  And the next day, it would all begin all over again…

Somehow I found my way into a local Lutheran Church one morning, here in Whitehouse, OH.  I had no where else to go…

I managed to quit drinking, but I was nowhere “sober.”  For many years I fought “Bob.”  I don’t think I actually “hit bottom” until well after I quit drinking.  I didn’t know how to “surrender,” nor do I think I wanted to.  I didn’t want to drink – I had proved to myself for many, many years that Bud Light could kick my ass – I just wanted to die…

I once got to the point of actually grabbing a weapon to commit suicide.  As I sat in a Metro Park down by the river, I considered 3 options: 1. pulling the trigger, 2. drinking and 3. getting honest with myself.  I first ruled out drinking as I sure as hell didn’t want to play “Stump the Dummy” with alcohol counsellors again.  The first time was rough enough.

Considering suicide, the lessons of my catechism kept coming back to me.  I knew it is a cardinal sin to take one’s own life, and the last thing I wanted to do was piss off God.

So I sat there for over 2 hours, languishing in so much anger and angst; all I wanted to do was die.  And I was so angry at God for not allowing me to die!  And through it all, through all my anguish, that chapel at Ramey sat peacefully in my mind.  I knew from the lessons of my childhood, that my life was not mine to take…


This meant that I had ‘to get honest’ with myself, my last option.  And probably the toughest.  Damn…

So, one of these days, I will find my way back to Ramey – to sit quietly in that chapel, to just say, “Thank You…”  I am so grateful today for discarding Options 1 and 2.

(Thanks Julian, for the picture of ‘my church.’)

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2 Responses to The Return to Say “Thank You”

  1. John Barger says:

    I was at Ramey 1955 to 1959 as a dependent: third through sixth grade, so even if we weren’t in the same classes will likely play on the same playground together. My sixth grade teacher was Mrs. Buzan, and our class was the one that could be reached only by going through the library and the second floor.

    Next to me that year was Chaplain Baumgaertner’s daughter, Marcia, with whom I am still in touch. I have forwarded to her your post, for which I think she will be grateful.

    John Barger

    • marcia B. Petty says:

      My name is Marcia Baumgaertner Petty and the person in the photo John Barger sent you is my dad, Martin Baumgaertner, who was the Protestant chaplain at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico at the time you were confirmed. ( I was confirmed then, too. ) I have since become a Roman Catholic. I have never left the Christian faith, although I have been an Evangelical, a Methodist, an Episcopalian, and in various Bible churches. I finally decided that ancient is better. so I joined the Catholics seven years ago at St. Mary’s in Fairfax, Va.

      My Mom and Dad are both gone now. My Dad led Ascension Lutheran Church in Charlotte, NC for 20 years before he died of pancreatic cancer in 1989. Mom died in 1997 in Chicago, where my brother is a lawyer for the Southeastern District Merit Systems Protection Board. His wife is Dean of HUmanities at Wheaton College in Chicago. They are both still working.

      My husband john works fixing boats for a company called Watercraft Solutions on Swift Creek Lake near Richmond, Va. He loves his recreational work and is making me a wooden kayak. I worked for years at the Univ. of NC at Greensboro, N.C and then at Queens College in Charlotte. I am now officially retired.

      Thank you for providing a window into the past.

      Marcia Baumgaertner Petty.

      I married an Air Force Officer

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