WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Today is Veterans Day. I am a Vietnam Veteran and this day means a lot to me.
As a young sailor, I still remember landing in Danang, South Vietnam under a rocket attack and then hustling into the receiving area. There, on the floor, were young men of my own age. Many were bandaged, in wheel chairs or on crutches. At that moment war became more than a story I had previously reported as a broadcast journalist; it was real.
Today, I remember my shipmates from the Navy who were a part of our Western Pacific or "WestPac" operations. Our destroyer had been hit once by an enemy rocket but only minor injuries. I had not yet reported aboard when it happened but the stories were still being told.
I remember classmates from high school and college who also served. Some never came back; others came back but were never the same.
I remember my father, a World War II veteran, who told me stories of flying into war-torn Europe and being a test pilot for fighters and bombers that were destined for the front lines.
Most of all, I think of the blood red sacrifices that were made on behalf of our country in many wars. Their lives are remembered in graveyards across our nation, at Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields near where I live, and at national cemeteries like Arlington, Punchbowl in Hawaii and Normandy, France that I have visited.
As a Fourth Degree Knight and Past Faithful Navigator, patriotism has become more alive to me in recent years. We have seen the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and other symbols of our country abused by dissidents and, more sadly, discounted by rank and file Americans. As Catholics we must especially remember that our "One Nation Under God," not only needs our commitment but also our Catholic Conscience.
America needs Catholics, faithful to the teachings of the Church, who will vote their values, communicate their values and live out their values. America needs Catholics who pray for her leaders and work to protect the life, family, freedom while maintaining a solidarity with the poor and downtrodden.
Last year, when I was Faithful Navigator for our Assembly, I sent the following to our Sir Knights on Veterans Day:
"On June 28, 1919 the treaty of Versailles was signed, ending World War I. However, an armistice had been reached seven months earlier and fighting actually ceased at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.
"Beginning the following year, November 11 was known as "Armistice Day." President Woodrow Wilson established the day by saying, ""To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."
"On May 13, 1938 November 11th was declared a legal holiday by Congress to remember the cessation of fighting and those who had served in 'The Great War.'
"It was in 1953 that Alfred King, the owner of a shoe store in Emporia Kansas and World War II veteran, had the idea of expanding Armistice Day to include veterans of all wars. He presented the idea to the Emporia Chamber of Commerce and quickly all businesses in the town supported the concept and closed on November 11th in honor of veterans. The town's Board of Education also agreed, closing school.
"U.S. Representative Ed Rees, who represented the area took King's idea to Congress and proposed a bill making November 11 Veterans Day. With the help of then-U.S. Rep. Ed Rees, also from Emporia, a bill for the holiday was pushed through Congress. President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law on May 26, 1954.
"In 1971 the U.S. tried to turn Veterans Day into a movable holiday to provide a three-day weekend. This ended up in a lot of confusion and frustration. Then, on September 20, 1975 President Gerald R. Ford returned Veterans Day to it proper place on November 11.
"Today we honor all the men and women who have served their country in all branches of the Armed Services. As Fourth Degree Knights, this is a great time to renew our commitment as Catholic Patriots. At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington in May of 2009, Archbishop Raymond Burke stated:
"'Before the fundamental and great challenges which we as a nation are facing, how better to express our patriotism than by celebrating the teachings of our Catholic faith. The most treasured gift which we as citizens of the United States of America can offer to our country is a faithful Catholic life.
"'It is the gift which, even though it has often been misunderstood, has brought great strength to our nation, from the time of its founding. Today more than ever, our nation is in need of Catholics who know their faith deeply and express their faith, with integrity, by their daily living.'"
As a Vietnam Veteran (USNR) and Past Faithful Navigator, I want to say to all the veterans - thank you and God bless you!
As Christians, I want to challenge us to live out our faith to the fullest of our ability as God gives us strength, for His glory, the good of our Church and the good of our country. Those who died should not have died in vain.
They gave their lives for a country who believed that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." We can live our lives standing for the same principles.