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The refreshing spring of grace
By Glenn Rutherford
Chances are we all know friends or relatives who’ve answered their nation’s call for help, gone off to war and returned home a far different person.
There’s a now-87-year-old family friend who left Louisville, his family, and his high-school sweetheart and—as a teenager—took up residence, from time to time, in the ball turret of a B-24 bomber over various islands in the Pacific. He’ll talk about the 35-plus missions he flew, led by an “old-man” of a pilot who was all of a wizened 22.
On good days, he’ll tell you about the mission to a refinery in Borneo that began with 24 planes and ended with just five; about the 104 holes in his bomber that somehow flew on with two of its four engines blasted to pieces.
He’ll tell you that on that mission, he helped to save the bombardier’s life and, in doing so, felt the presence of God with him. It was a life-altering experience.
Then there’s a friend who was wounded in Vietnam—three times. He began as a Ranger; was trained to become a sniper and ended up a “tunnel rat,” killing people face-to-face in those narrow corridor’s carved beneath the ground by his Viet Cong enemy.
It wasn’t God he found in Vietnam, he says; it was a form of hell and it changed him forever, too. He still visits the local VA hospital monthly; still deals with the pain of his injuries and the pain he feels for doing what he was asked to do.
Winning the Silver Star didn’t help the pain much; neither did being part of a ceremony of honor at a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. “I want my life back,” he still says all these years later. “And I know I’ll never get it.”
“War,” said Winston Churchill at the start of World War II, “which was cruel and glorious, has become cruel and sordid.”
And here’s the thing: While veterans of past conflicts are recalling their travails and accomplishments, several hundred thousand U.S. service men and women are still involved in two conflicts on the other side of the globe this very day.
While most of us are steeped here at home in relative comfort, worrying about the snow, road conditions or school closings, there are more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan, many of them wallowing about in mud and snow while other people try to kill them. In Iraq, there remain about 94,000 troops, and though most military action there has ceased, there are almost daily explosions to remind the troops of the continuing danger.
Which brings us to Janie Woodard’s letter to the editor in (the Jan. 27 The Record). It serves as a reminder to all of us—we cannot forget that the nation is still at war.
Debate the causes and policies all you want; that debate is an important aspect of our free society. But don’t ignore the service and sacrifice being made by military men and women who find themselves at the van of the nation’s foreign policy.
Ms. Woodard wrote her letter to ask the churches of the Archdiocese of Louisville to remember our service men and women in prayer each week. In a telephone interview a few days ago, she said she’d visited several parishes around town and was frequently disappointed to find no mention of our military people during prayers.
“It shouldn’t be so hard to remember,” she said on the telephone. “We’re still at war. This nation is still fighting and young men (and women) are still dying. We ought to remember them in our prayers each and every week. But when I go to Mass, sometimes it seems like everybody has forgotten what’s going on.”
At several parishes around this city, intercessions are sought on behalf of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and women on a regular basis. But there is no question that here at home the horror of war is far removed from our lives and can slip from our minds like yesterday’s news.
The only people being asked to sacrifice in any manner these days, it seems, are those in the military and their families—it’s as if they’re fighting the wars unilaterally while the rest of us watch “American Idol.”
Ms. Woodard wants us to remember the sacrifices of those others; wants us to pause and ask God to watch over and guide our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, moms and dads who are serving in far-off lands.
War, Pope Benedict XVI once said, leaves only “grief and destruction in its wake, and has always been rightly considered a calamity that clashes with God’s plan.”
Those caught in that clash and calamity while serving in the military need to be remembered. They need our prayers.
It’s the least we can do.
This editorial appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Record, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky. It was written by Glenn Rutherford, editor.