Evan Hunsberger was 13 when he received his grandfather, Eugene Hunsberger’s worn, underlined copy of Strength for Service to God and Country. Eugene had kept this pocket-sized hardcover daily devotional from his days as a corpsman serving in the Navy in World War II and the Korean conflict. More than one million servicemen also carried this book with them during this period of war, before it went out of print in the 1950s.
Moved by the stories of comfort it brought his grandfather, Hunsberger decided to republish Strength for Service as his Eagle Scout project. Today, the book is bringing strength to a new generation of servicemen and women.
“We will never be finished with this project because a need for these books will always exist, whether they are for people serving overseas or at home,” said Hunsberger, a recent graduate of UCLA. “The book is meant for anyone who is in service of others.”
The Birth of Strength for Service
In the days after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, staff members of the Methodist Publishing House considered ways in which they could serve the thousands of men and women enlisting in the armed services. They decided to ask church and academic leaders from many denominations to write one-page devotions specifically geared for combat troops for each day of the year. The staff titled the book Strength for Service to God and Country.
The massive publishing project was completed in 1942, and local churches and individuals purchased books to give to troops as they were deployed to Europe and Asia. By 1944 the book had been given to approximately 800,000 troops, the largest publishing effort by the Nashville-based agency to that date.
A Grandfather’s Legacy
While a typical Eagle project takes about three months, Hunsberger worked tirelessly for three years to achieve his goal of republishing Strength for Service. He received 30 rejection letters before successfully receiving the book’s copyright release. Hunsberger gathered new meditations from a diverse group of contemporary spiritual leaders of all backgrounds to include in the updated edition. He also set out to update the text and recruited more than 60 people to edit and prepare the devotionals for reproduction.
What began as an ambitious Eagle Scout project soon grew even larger when the Pentagon requested a donation of 1 million copies following the September 11 attacks. Thanks to many contributions and grants, more than 330,000 books have been distributed to American soldiers stationed around the globe. Strength for Service is run and supported by the General Commission on United Methodist Men.
Chaplains Grateful for Devotionals
The books are typically requested by military chaplains who then distribute the books to those who want them. As Major Bill Schneider, a family life chaplain in Vicenza, Italy, reflected, “I have had the opportunity to utilize the Strength for Service books in past assignments and realized what a blessing they would be for our troops who will be deploying later this year. In sharing this resource with other chaplains, they too have seen its value. Just today I was able to turn over six of our eight cases to one of the units who will be heading down range. The chaplain was excited to receive them. It is very important that we provide our soldiers with the tools they need to ensure they remain spiritually fit during their deployment.”
Each month, thousands of copies of Strength for Service are requested and shipped. There is a shortage of chaplains, making resources like Strength for Service invaluable to the soldiers in sustaining their faith in the absence of chaplains. As Chaplain Colonel Curtis Wells said, “Military personnel are not always able to attend religious services for various reasons, which make religious literature like this critical to help sustain their faith. The devotional is ecumenical and is written from different church pastors, college personnel, denominational staff, administrators, missionaries and so many others involved in religious pursuits. Our military is made up of a lot of different faith groups and having readings with varying perspectives is important to them.”
In 2004, copies were distributed to 2,000 members of the 278th National Guard of Tennessee prior to their departure for Iraq. Upon the guard’s return to Tennessee, Randy Harris, public affairs director for the Tennessee Military Department, reported that the book was the only inspirational publication some of these soldiers has access to.
“I have talked with several of them and want to pass on to you what a profound impact this little book had on them,” said Harris. “It is a true demonstration of God’s love and how He works through organizations like United Methodist Men to spread His message of salvation.”
U.S. Navy Chaplain Dave Glassmire handed the pocket-sized books to troops in Iraq in 2003 while serving as the Marine Air Group 39 Forward Command Chaplain.
“When we chaplains deployed to forward operating bases inside Iraq, we took field kits loaded with devotional materials and necessary items to conduct divine worship services for the troops,” said Glassmire. “In Iraq, we ministered to Christians, Muslims and Jews, and the most highly sought after books remained the Bible and Strength for Service. We could not keep these (the devotionals) in stock.”
While the books are incredibly popular amongst the troops overseas, they also have a significant impact in the United States.
“When I place a copy of Strength for Service to God and Country in the hands of wounded soldiers, they are elated beyond measure,” said Captain Vincent Dominique, chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “The books continue to touch more souls every day.”
“The Strength for Service books have been very helpful here at Second Battalion,” said Chaplain Lieutenant Jason Rochester of the Second Recruit Training Battalion in Paris Island, S.C. “There are a variety of resources that I hand out to the recruits, but I think this is the best and most relevant. It really encourages them because it is written with a military focus. So many of the other resources are great, but don’t address the issues that we face here. Strength for Service speaks right to the heart of a warrior and hits on the topics that are at the forefront of our thoughts.”
National Chaplain Center Believes in Book
The National Chaplain Center is currently including information about Strength for Service in its new Veterans Community Outreach Initiative. This program focuses on educating community clergy and veterans’ caregivers about the special needs of veterans when they return home from war. Individuals are given packets of information that include information about Strength for Service, veterans health services, chaplain services, veterans benefits and warning signs for combat stress and post traumatic stress disorder.
“We believe that Strength for Service can positively impact veterans and their families because of military focus of the book, and we are grateful for its availability,” said Keith Ethridge, Acting Director of the National Chaplain Center. “We want chaplains, caregivers and community members to know that resources like Strength for Service are available to make the transition into every day life easier.”
Strength for Service has partnered with the Department of Defense’s America Supports You program, which recognizes citizens’ support for our military men and women and communicates that support to members of Armed Forces at home and abroad.
“The America Supports You program lets our troops know that America is behind them,” said Allison Barber, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. “We are pleased to have Strength for Service as part of our program and we are grateful for the support they provide to our military community.”
Other America Supports You organizations have also partnered with Strength for Service including Operation AC, Adopt-A-Chaplain and United We Serve. Organizations like these and others have increased awareness about the book and allowed it to get into the hands of those who need it most.
You Can Help
Strength for Service books are distributed to military personnel free of charge. This is made possible through the generosity of those who believe in the project, as well as through grants that have been secured. Even the most modest donation will make a difference. You can mail donations to Strength for Service/PO Box 340006/Nashville, TN 37203-0006.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Strength for Service ($7 a book), proceeds will support the publication and distribution of additional copies to military personnel overseas and in the United States. Books can be purchased on www.StrengthforService.org.
Numerous churches nationwide have hosted special Strength for Service Sundays, in which they introduce the project to their congregations and collect a special offering. These generous donations allow Strength for Service to print and distribute more books. A toolkit for churches to easily plan a Strength for Service Sunday is available on www.StrengthforService.org.
Your Strength for Service Story
AMVETs and Strength for Service are interested in learning about how Strength for Service impacted you or a loved one. If you have a story to share about this powerful book, please visit www.amvets.com/strengthforservice or write to: Strength for Service/PO Box 340006/Nashville, TN 37203.
With permission, Strength for Service will post people’s stories on its website www.StrengthforService.org.
United Methodist Bishop carried Strength for Service book
Bishop Robert H. Spain carried Strength for Service to God and Country while serving in the Navy during World War II.
“I was only 17 at the time I enlisted and I was a pharmacist mate second class,” said Bishop Spain. “Along with my ‘dog-tags’ and a few other personal items, my Strength for Service devotional book was a regular companion for much of my Navy life during World War II. I don’t remember the source of it, the giver or when I received it, but I do know it was a constant reminder of who I was and to whom I belonged. I would like to say that I read it every day and that each day’s reading prompted some meaningful faith expressions. That was not the case, but I still carried it and turned to it more than one might imagine. This little book was my connection with my faith community. It was a typhoon on Okinawa that separated my book (and everything else I owned) from me.”
A few years ago the bishop found one of the old Strength for Service books. “It today has a place in my home office and is still a reminder of who I am and of days away from family and home” said Bishop Spain.
Formerly bishop of the Louisville and South Carolina Area and now retired, Bishop Spain serves as the chaplain of the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville.