I suppose, like most of you, annual holidays or days of remembrance affect me differently each year. Due to the fact that I have never served in the military and no one in my immediate or extended family served in any branches of the armed forces, I am embarrassed to say that maybe Veterans Day has not been as meaningful for me as it should have been. This year, however, feels definitely different.
As I may have mentioned last week at the various Liturgies,
I had the opportunity to travel to France during the last week of October with about 40 people from Old St. Pat’s. There was no specific reason why we went to France, other than the fact that many of us had never visited this country and the time seemed right. Among the many things we saw and experienced while in France, the most moving site we visited was, without a doubt, Omaha Beach and the memorial in honor of the D-Day invasion in the Normandy region. Standing on the shore and trying to imagine the reality of this highly significant WWII invasion (portrayed in a most realistic way in the opening scene of the film Saving Private Ryan), was particularly special. Moving along the coast of Normandy from Utah Beach to Omaha Beach, we of course paid our respects at the cemetery for the United States military. Nothing about that trip was more meaningful and sobering than walking amidst the 9,300 graves marked with white crosses or the Star of David, reading the names of those young adults who died in combat. Though I do not have exact statistics, it seemed the average age of those who perished had to be 22. While the cemetery itself is a chilling reminder of the tragedies of war, the space itself is beautiful, pristine, and maintains the highest level of respect for the fallen. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to visit this historic, yet sacred ground.
The other reason this Veteran’s Day weekend seems so different is from my reading of Laura Hillenbrand’s best selling book, Unbroken. If you have not read this book, do so. You will not put it down. Based on the inspiring life journey of perseverance and dignity, Unbroken tells the true story of Louie Zamperini, a World War II POW and 1936 Olympian. Zamperini was a bombardier in the South Pacific during the war and while on a reconnaissance mission his aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and another crewmember survived in a life raft for 47 days drifting 2,000 miles into Japanese controlled waters. Taken prisoner, Louie experienced the worst of humanity. After the war ended, he later revisited and forgave the men who tortured him during his capture. It is truly an unforgettable and sobering story of one man’s life.
Though Unbroken is one man’s story of incredible bravery and resilience,
I am mindful on this Veteran’s Day of all those women and men who put on uniforms in the past and those who still wear them today. While ending war and violence is the work to which we are all called, establishing peace is not an easy task. For all of those who serve and protect and stand on the front lines of humanity’s conflict with each other, thank you for your bravery and courage. May God bless the veterans among us and those buried in hallowed places throughout the world. May your sacrifice for the sake of Peace never be forgotten. “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with us.”
Have a great week!
Fr. Tom Hurley