I grew up at St. Joseph’s Parish in La Porte, Indiana, and our parish cemetery was located about five blocks from the church. To this day, a Mass is celebrated in St. Joseph’s Cemetery on Memorial Day, followed by coffee and doughnuts, and then private visits to the graves of veterans and deceased loved ones.
Buried there is Harvey Neary, my father’s uncle, who was presumed dead in France in WW I after they found his dog tag on the battlefield. My great-grandmother refused to believe the telegram that she received saying he was killed in action, and by some miracle, he was eventually found alive. One of my cousins received a battlefield commission in Korea when his squadron was ambushed and he was one of the few that survived.
My own father served in the Air Force during peace time, serving for a time in Alaska, and then in Cottonwood, Idaho, where he met my mother—for which I am eternally grateful.
While at Notre Dame, I served as an R.O.T.C. chaplain and came to know the officers who taught there quite well. I met one Air Force colonel who told me that he had been imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam, and was filled with hatred towards his captors. He realized one day that hatred was destroying him, so he prayed for and received the grace to forgive his captors.
His words echoed those of Erich Maria Remarque in his novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, who wrote, “Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying, and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”
Some of the most courageous, wise, and humble people I have met in my life have been people who have served in the Armed Forces. Almost none of them have come from privileged backgrounds. They were guided by higher principles, and if they ever experienced the horror of war, refused to glorify it. They knew that war always represents the failure of human beings to love one another, or to heed Christ’s unceasing call to love our enemies.
Let us honor those who paid the ultimate price in serving our country this Memorial Day, and honor all of you who are veterans in our parish.
We also pray for those affected by the 40 active conflicts in the world today, that human hearts can awaken to love, and that one day the scourge of war may cease forever.
Yours in Christ,