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Young man’s tribute to grandfather provides hope and healing to U.S. troops

The late Eugene Hunsberger carried a book though World War II and the Korean War. As a Navy medic, he read to those who were injured or dying and gave spiritual comfort.

Although the book later went out of print, he continued to carry his copy to minister and mentor both to fellow military service members and Boy Scouts. In fact he carried it almost every day of his life.

The book he carried was called “Strength for Service to God and Country.” It was originally published in 1942 by the then Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, and helped service members of Hunsberger’s generation with its 365 devotionals written by the leading religious leaders of the era.

“The words that are in the book are the words that can shape lives. They are strong words that can reach hearts at critical times,” said Andrew Miller, Providence Publishing House’s President and Publisher. “They wrote with a great deal of certainty towards people who might not live out the year.”

Now, the book has been updated and expanded upon by Eugene’s grandson: Evan.

Evan, with the help of Miller and the General Commission on United Methodist Men hope to publish more than 1 million copies of the book and distribute to service members worldwide.

The updated version started as Evan’s Eagle Scout Service Project to honor his grandfather with a limited reprint to local military bases around Evan’s California home. Evan had been discussing the project with both Miller and Larry Coppock, National Director of Civic Youth/Scouting Ministries, for about a year prior to September 11th, 2001 with little success.

“Prior to 9/11 it was only a service project. There was nothing compelling to make it happen,” said Coppock.

“Then there was September 11th,” said Evan. “We knew [the book] would take a bigger role and that it was going to be very important to get it to them.”

“I wish that it would have come about by different means.” Evan added.

After 9/11, the vision expanded to go beyond the original printing and produce one million copies to go to all the military services, not just a few bases in California, according to Miller. Evan, Miller, Coppock and others worked through the military chaplains to get permission for distribution.

“The military okayed the distribution for a million copies, but 1 million books equals $3 million dollars,” said Coppock. So, the group raised what money they could from scouting and other groups. The initial result was more than $100,000 from about 3,000 donators from across the “Methodist Connection” of churches, scouting and other United Methodist related groups according to Coppock. More than half of the money came from Men’s groups.

The book, according to Miller is now in its third printing and has been to both Afghanistan and Iraq. The 50,000 copies printed have been distributed to all the services and now have a specially made, water-resistant tan cover at the request of the Pentagon.

The Pentagon also appreciated how the book was updated according to Coppock.

To republish the book, 45 volunteers helped Evan scan his grandfather’s original copy and they spent 2,500 hours correcting the text and making changes. They also worked to make the book gender neutral with only minimal changes “to keep the intent,” said Coppock.

Still, Evan wanted the update to be more nondenominational. To that end, Evan sent out hundreds of letters to both laypersons and clergy to get a broader base of writers.

“It is not only about faith but also ethnicity,” said Evan. He said that writings from African-Americans, women as well as the Jewish and Islamic communities have now been included.

“The strength of the book is that it’s nondenominational,” said Coppock. “It cuts across all faiths.” “It was written with broad perspective with a broad base of writers,” added Miller.

The group leading the effort is also nondenominational. Evan is Catholic. His Boy Scout Troop is Lutheran sponsored and GCUMM is helping with fundraising and handling distribution.

“My family is diverse and so are the men and women in military service,” said Evan.

Miller believes this book is very important to service members because it provides a context to open spiritual issues. He also hopes that they can take the content to heart and come out of the service with direction. Miller added that although his company prints local and regional religious texts, nothing else he has worked on has had “this kind of reach.”

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