While our veterans will today recall what they went through for us, the rest of us will do what we can to pay off our debt to them. We will pray for them, we will interest ourselves in their causes, as we will stir up our memories of them.
In September 1940 every young man eligible for the draft was assigned a number, then their numbers were drawn from a hat to determine the order in which they would be drafted. Our local draft board took over an empty store, using the store windows as a place to post the order in which the young men’s numbers would be called up. My brother and my sisters’ boy friends were at work everyday, so as a twelve year old, I joined the big crowds at the store windows, making notes on when each of our guys would have to go.
Through their almost daily letter we went through boot camp with each of them, and when they were overseas we agonized through the weeks when no letters came. Afterwards, while worrying over how the war had done damaged them, we hugely appreciated the college courses given them through the G.I. Bill of Rights.
I was a missionary in Korea from 1953 to 1967. The war was concluded the month before I got there, but there were still hardships. When three guys in a quarter ton truck washed out to sea by choosing the wrong place to ford one of our rivers, the fellows in their barracks had to pack up their things for home. What was harder on them were the results of things like blasting mishaps. There was one kid who had good hopes for an opera career but a mountain road collapsed under his jeep. I stood with the others, looking down at his body bag.
When I was doing graduate work during the Viet Nam War, guys in my classes were talking of slipping off to Canada. Two boys, Ray and Mark were writing Gospel songs together; and Mark, though recently married, couldn’t get out of going to Viet Nam. He was killed, and with my knowing his father-in-law, and with my high school classmate Father Tom Mullen being his uncle, I joined a long line of priests coming in through the Cathedral’s back door. Even now I shudder at the memory of Ray Repp, guitar in hand, standing in the sanctuary singing the hymn he and Mark wrote together, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, he who believes in me shall never die.”