MEMORIAL DAY: At 92, he helps vets find peace
SWEETWATER, Tenn. (BP) -- When Clinton E. Riddle goes as a certified hospice volunteer to meet with a military veteran near death, he has instant credibility, such as the shrapnel he still has in hand.
Riddle, 92, is a World War II veteran who understands the issues veterans face.
"Veterans have a special place in my heart," he said. "I know what they've been through. I know their problems and how to deal with them."
Riddle was overseas in the Army for 30 months during World War II, serving in six battle zones, including the Battle of the Bulge. His division received credit for 422 days under enemy fire.
Many veterans believe they can't be forgiven for things that happened to them during military service, he noted. "I counsel with them if they are willing to talk. I try to help them find peace."
Saved at the age of 14, Riddle felt God's call to preach at the age 15 but rejected the call.
While in Holland after a battle was over, Riddle said he was sitting in his foxhole, reading the Bible and praying.
"I promised God that if He allowed me to come home I would do whatever He wanted me to do," Riddle recalled. He still has the New Testament he was reading that day.
Riddle didn't immediately go home. He still had the Battle of the Bulge to endure but is convinced that "God placed a hedge around me to protect me, for He had a job for me to do when I got home."
Riddle sadly admitted he did not live up to his promise as he "ran from God" for several more years after returning home to Tennessee.
But, finally, on Jan. 12, 1959, Riddle preached his first message.
"Three souls were saved that night and from that point God has blessed to this very day," Riddle said.
He went on to serve as a bivocational pastor at four Tennessee churches over the next 30 years -- New Bethany Baptist Church, Murrays Baptist Church and Cedar Valley Baptist Church, all in Sweetwater, and Union McMinn Baptist Church in Niota, where he served for 12 years before stepping down in 1989.
He has preached in 100 different churches over the years.
He doesn't like to refer to himself as "retired." Since his last church, he has served 11 churches as interim pastor and continues to preach on occasion. He frequently is asked to speak at churches on occasions when congregations honor their veterans.
Earlier this year, Riddle celebrated 55 years of perfect Sunday School attendance, having found a place to attend Sunday School over the years even when he was out of state or out of the country. He once taught a Sunday School lesson while touring the Holy Land.
Sunday School has always been an important part of Riddle's ministry as a pastor, having emphasized it in the four churches he led and making a point of recognizing those with perfect attendance. He also served as Sunday School director at one time for Sweetwater Baptist Association in addition to a term as moderator.
Riddle is adamant that "great churches are built around Sunday School." But, he lamented, in some churches "there is no longer an emphasis on Sunday School like there used to be."
He is convinced that churches need to emphasize Sunday School once again. "The Bible needs to be taught. Teaching is just as important as the preaching," he said.
When he is not preaching or serving as a hospice volunteer, Riddle enjoys writing. He is a published poet. One of his poems, "Thanks to Mr. Veteran" is a tribute to veterans.
Riddle also is compiling his experiences during World War II into a book that he would like to have published in the future.
In his typed version, Riddle noted, "This was copied from the notes made while in combat. It has not been proofread or corrected. You don't worry about correct English while being shot at in battle!"
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector (http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, where this article first appeared.