Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Guiding Missal: In the Beginning

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When his son, my husband Butch enlisted in the Air Force in 1960, the book was passed to him. After completing basic and technical schools, he was sent to Germany for three years where he witnessed hostilities between the Russians and the West, culminating in the Berlin Crisis. While traveling with the Air Force football team, Butch had a life-changing epiphany as he passed through cities and towns his father had helped liberate almost two decades earlier. Upon his discharge and return home in 1964, once again the missal was placed in the old cedar chest.

When George, Sr. died, Butch searched the cedar chest in hopes of finding the military missal. He discovered it buried under a pile of quilts, sealed the book inside a plastic sandwich bag and put it in his jacket pocket.

As it happened, our daughter’s wedding took place that very same evening. She was marrying an army scout/sniper who had orders to deploy to Mogadishu, Somalia for Operation Restore Hope. That humanitarian effort disintegrated into vicious attacks on the UN coalition by the Somali militia culminating in the Battle of Mogadishu, portrayed in the book and movie, BlackHawk Down. Butch gave the missal to his new son-in-law, Specialist Terry Williams. Terry carried the book in his pants pocket during the entire deployment, emerging unscathed through many cruel and grueling firefights and returning it to his father-in-law one year later in the original plastic sandwich bag.

I was filled with awe-inspired gratitude for the brave and selfless service of all three men and was convinced, more than ever, this story had to be told.

Initially, I started a notebook to re-create Dad Panko's military history as a birthday surprise for my husband. Discovering there had been a massive fire in the army’s records center in St. Louis, Missouri destroying all of Dad’s information, I was momentarily stumped. “Now what?” I thought.

A week later, a phone call to Butch’s brother revealed a gold mine of information. Pete remembered Dad receiving a yearly newsletter from the secretary of the 289th Cannon Company. He had kept it! It had names, addresses and phone numbers. I felt like I’d won the lottery.

I contacted Harold Shadday, the gentleman who sent the newsletter, who encouraged me to call others on the list, giving me many names. These men had served with Dad and knew stories no one in our family had ever heard. I began personal interviews and received letters from members of the company, men in their eighties, who were eager to tell their stories. They gave three-dimensional life to Dad as a soldier. One man even sent a booklet of the history of the 289th Cannon Company. Others contributed actual war maps detailing their trek across Europe ending in the liberation of concentration camps and the surrender of the Germans.

Dad and his brother Joe were serving in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) at the same time. It was 1945 in France, and the brothers had not seen each other for two years. As fate would have it, they were reunited when they literally ran into each other in a tent. Both were marking time while waiting to be shipped back to the States. Uncle Joe added humor and laughter with page after page of stories of their antics.

Without the volume of material these men provided, it would have been impossible to tell Dad’s story. I began to compile the information in a notebook. That single notebook grew to three notebooks.

In February, I presented my husband with his gift. He was deeply moved.

After all the research put into the birthday project, I decided to tackle the rest of the story. It was an emotional journey to relive the struggles of military life and combat affecting loved ones. With months of interviews and tape recorded conversations from my husband and our son-in-law, along with well-documented historical facts, similarities and differences emerged. Three generations of men shared the guidance of the same prayer book, two experienced combat, one did not, all returned home changed men, sustained by faith and family love. I had everything I needed for the book "Guiding Missal.”

Once the outline was on paper, I realized the common denominator, the military missal, had to be the narrator of this story, with its unique and unexpected point of view. The prayer book was present in real time as history was being made. Fiction gave me literary license to empower it with unique abilities "bestowed" by God. The missal acts as a conduit for God’s wishes, allowing the Holy Spirit to affect decisions made by the men as they experience miracles.

As I wrote, the little book developed a spunky personality of its own and as it aged, I gave it some of the aches and pains we humans experience. The missal exhibits a holy, protective and encouraging nature while offering hope and prayers. As it guides each man through his military stint, the missal is a reminder of God’s grace. Over a fifty-year span, though its cover becomes worn and tattered inside, the eternal message remains ageless.

GUIDING MISSAL is a story of family, faith and fortitude against incredible odds.

Columnist: Behind the Mystery


E. E. Kennedy is the author of IRREGARDLESS OF MURDER, DEATH DANGLES A PARTICIPLE, MURDER IN THE PAST TENSE and INCOMPLETE SENTENCE, a cozy mystery series about a high school English teacher.
She grew up in far northern New York State where these mysteries are set. As an advertising copywriter, she wrote interview articles for art magazines and produced radio/TV commercials and print ads. She is a graduate of Huntingdon College and studied counseling and guidance at the University of Alabama. She and her husband live in North Carolina, are born-again Christians, and the happy, blessed grandparents of five little answers to prayer.
Her mystery website is:

There you'll find fun info, characters with their own pages and free preview chapters!
Join E.E. on Facebook (as Ellen Edwards Kennedy) and Twitter @eekmystery


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