Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day--Thank You for Your Service, of All Kinds

There were different kinds of service, sacrifice, and even martyrdom. We shouldn't forget the less obvious ones this Memorial Day.

Today, I especially remember my cousin Tommy Fitzpatrick [Tommy Fitzpatrick on the Virtual Vietnam Memorial Wall], who was killed in Vietnam on April 18, 1969, just over 48 years ago. Tommy grew up with us in Euclid, Ohio, went to St. William's with us, then on to St. Joseph High School and Euclid High School, where he graduated in 1967. Less than two years after high school graduation, Tommy was killed in Vietnam, a devastating loss to his family, friends, and community. Tommy was the second St. William's boy killed in Vietnam, along with Raymond "Buddy" Chasser. Buddy's mother was a Horkan, a shirttail cousin of my mother.

And today I also remember Steve Shields [Steve Shields, on the virtual Vietnam Memorial Wall], my Notre Dame and Innsbruck Program classmate. Steve was in ROTC at Notre Dame, graduating in 1970. Two years later, on June 20, 1972, the helicopter he was piloting was shot down in Vietnam, and Steve was killed. I went to the funeral in Philadelphia and the burial at West Point. Steve was mourned by hundreds of people, family, friends, and classmates. Steve was just 23 years old.

There were so many other huge sacrifices. I think about my father in World War II, 20 years old, a Signalman in the Navy, at war in the South Pacific, aboard a small wooden ship called a "Subchaser." My father-in-law, Art Sanders, also in the Navy in the South Pacific, an 18-year-old machinist. My many uncles who served in the war. At least three of them came back with serious PTSD, a condition that had no name back then. They were haunted the rest of their short lives, self-medicating their anxiety and depression with alcohol.

Not all the heroes were war heroes. Some were anti-war heroes; others played roles in the background, either supporting the war effort or the anti-war effort.

In 1970 I had to decide if I would fight in Vietnam. I read, thought, and prayed about this issue and finally decided that I would not. I felt at the time I had three or four options: I would go to Canada (or try to); I would go underground (again, I had no idea if that were even possible); I would go to jail; or I would try to take the legal path and apply for Conscientious Objector status. So in the summer of 1970, I applied for CO status. I also took my draft physical, along with hundreds of other young men, in a basement area of Erieview Tower in Cleveland. That summer I submitted my CO application and later had a kind of trial or hearing before the draft board. They eventually, to my astonishment, granted me CO status. I would next have to do two years of Alternate Service. During these 6 months of uncertainty, I was working with Gene Killeen and many other wonderful people at Terminal Parking, at West 6th and Superior. In late January of 1971, I said goodbye to Gene and my work friends, said goodbye to my family, and moved to Cincinnati to try to find an acceptable Alternate Service position. That summer, I finally located such a job, in the Health Education Department of the 12th Street Clinic. There I worked under Dr. Joseph Alter, who I heard had also been a CO many years earlier. I worked with Charles Couch, Becky Meyers RN, June Mealey, Dale White, and many other wonderful people at the clinic. My pay was $2.50 per hour. My job was located in the Cincinnati ghetto of Over-the-Rhine, but I didn't consider it dangerous. I did some service for the neighborhood and my country. My sacrifice was not like Tommy's or Buddy's or Steve's. But I played a role.

When I moved to Cincinnati I met a group of dedicated people called "Peacemakers." They were pacifists, and many of them had spent time in jail for not participating in war efforts and for refusing to pay war taxes. Their sacrifices were huge. I'm thinking of people like Maurice McCrackin, Ernest Bromley, Marion Bromley, Dan Bromley, Wally Nelson, Juanita Nelson, Chuck Matthei, Kenny Przybylski, Richard Gale, Chris Cotter, Peggy Scherer . . .  gee, so many other incredible,  dedicated people who said no to war and yes to peacemaking.

For all of the people mentioned, the warriors and the peacemakers, the Conscientious Objectors and conscious participators, I say, "thank you for your service."

And PS, thanks to Tim Musser for his service as a Conscientious Objector!

1 comment:

Joe Metz said...

Bob, it always strikes me as serendipitous that you & I connected. I know your blog popped up when I was researching something on Google; but our connecting points are considerable: Cincinnati, baseball, Catholic, peace movement and likely many more.

I was examining applying for CO status when I applied for my draft card. I knew as a Catholic, it might be difficult to get since our church didn't have a tradition of pacifism, although it was Catholic peacemakers who drew me to that point (Gordon Zahn, Daniel & Philip Berrigan). The truth is the draft was winding down by the time I turned 18 (1972) and I just looked at my lottery number (156) and they only took up to lottery number 95. When I went to the federal building to get an application, it took forever to find the office as the draft board had been relegated to one about the size of a closet. They informed me they weren't taking applications at that point.

I'm anxious to see Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical which is supposedly going to be on peacemaking. I understand that it will essential put the "just war theory" to bed since modern war essentially has made Augustine's arguments ones that cannot be met, a truth that has been a reality for over 100 years. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.