For the fifth year TFP Student Action volunteers went to Fort Benning, Georgia. The purpose of the trip was twofold: To rally support for our troops and oppose the leftist SOA Watch protest called “Occupy Fort Benning.”
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The statement below will be published by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) in the Ledger-Enquirer Newspaper this weekend and distributed in the city of Fort Benning, Georgia by TFP Members.
For over twenty years, pacifist protesters have gathered at Fort Benning in mid-November to oppose the activities of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly called the School of the Americas) and demand its closure.
The protesters are even invited to break the law and trespass upon the military base as a symbolic act.
The annual event is organized by the School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch). This year, the organization has admitted that they will be attracting a dwindling mix of protesters since many activists are “busy” in the Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide. These socialist advocates surprisingly claim to represent “99%” of the American people.
In fact, this year’s march is also being called Occupy Fort Benning. Like their comrades in the Occupy Wall Street movement, the activists say they speak in the name of the “99%.” We ask: Who do they really represent?
They do not represent the American people
The American soldier represents 100% of Americans, not “the 99%” or “the 1%.” The American soldier does not use idle
words, illegal actions, and Marxist jargon to do so. Rather, he defends the nation with his service, sacrifice and even his life. He represents the best of America and we should honor and be proud of our brave military heroes.
Not only does the American soldier wish to defend our nation, but he also extends an invitation to those in other countries, to learn from his experiences, and come to Fort Benning to better defend their countries against brutal Marxist movements.
To insinuate that a three or six-month course (where the curriculum is no secret) can turn South American soldiers into assassins is an insult to all these brave soldiers and their instructors. The whole school cannot be judged by deplorable acts of some of its graduates. It would be the equivalent of saying the Occupy Wall Street movement turns all its squatting occupants into criminals because of the increasing number of criminal opportunists who are appearing at “occupy” sites nationwide and committing crimes and sexual assaults that have led to a number of arrests.
By defending the whole nation, the American soldier represents 100% of all Americans. By dividing the nation, Occupy Fort Benning seeks to represent only those Americans sympathetic to its radical view.
Thus we must ask: Who do they really represent?
Looking at all the groups that usually attend the protest, we see scattered fringes of the religious, political and cultural left. The event is used as a platform to push ideas that range from communism to socialism, drug legalization to abortion, homosexual vice to women’s ordination, Liberation Theology to anarchy. Realistically, even the most optimistic observer is forced to admit that such views represent at best only 0.99% of Americans rather than 99%.
They do not represent the Church
Although participants may appear in habits and collars, it would be wrong to conclude that these protesters represent the authentic position of the Catholic Church. The strident socialist tone of the arguments presented by the protesters remind us of the words of Pope Pius XI who warned, “No one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”
The praising of Marxist guerrillas and despots like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro who promoted violent revolution in Latin America obviously does not represent Church teaching. Indeed, while the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation opens its doors to all democratically elected governments in the hemisphere, the protesters have the dubious distinction of favoring the oldest communist dictatorship in Latin America – the Castro dictatorship which has held sway for over fifty years and persecuted the Church.
The idea that protesters somehow represent Church teaching is refuted by the excommunication of Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois who has led the gathering for over two decades. His public support of women’s ordination and persistent dissent has set him at loggerheads with both the Vatican and his religious order.
Indeed, the Fathers and great saints of the Church consistently defend the mission of the soldier to establish order through just war. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, for example, that the military profession must have as its goal the defense of the public good, the poor and oppressed. Soldiers are therefore guardians of legitimate authority.
Yet again, in his role of upholding the Church’s teaching on just war, the soldier represents the full 100% while the Occupy Fort Benning activists represent at best a dissenting 0.99 % element that does not reflect the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.
A Call to Gratitude
The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) calls upon the public to thank our heroes. Let us thank them for defending the 100%.
Indeed, we need to thank – not protest – these heroes who put their lives on the line – and represent us all. These heroes guarantee the peace. We live freely because they made the greatest of sacrifices – even that of life itself.
We cannot agree with those who protest against the soldier and see his role as one buttressing “structures of oppression and power.” We do not agree with those who unfairly label those who fight against Marxism as murderers and assassins. We cannot turn a blind eye to a ruthless enemy who breaks all rules and conventions as Marxists have always done.
While we censure any abuses, of course, we will not stand silent while systemic and widespread abuses come from Castro’s Cuba, the FARC guerillas and other leftist movements that still cling to the outdated and iniquitous Marxist ideologies that so ravaged Latin America.
As Americans, let us be proud of these heroes who represent us all as they continue to fight and train others to defend their nations against those who threaten the peace.
May God protect them and their families in their daily battles around the world.
In Memoriam: Frederick V. Porfilio
by Mr. Joseph Ferrara
20 Years Later
1939 – 1990
“Our Lady loves us!” In the moments when the daily routine was the most difficult, one could often hear these words escaping the lips of fellow TFP member, Frederick Vincent Porfilio, better know as “Mr. Fred.” He had a keen notion of man’s contingency and the need of an unlimited confidence in the maternal solicitude and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mr. Fred was born of Italian immigrants in New York on September 28, 1939 and lived most of his life in the Bronx. He was a man of many talents and tried his hand at several professions. He was a taxi cab driver, carpenter, Army paratrooper, bartender and even an actor. The fact that he never persevered in any of them was a sure sign that Providence had other designs for this soul that would one day selflessly dedicate itself to the cause of defending Christian civilization.
When Mr. Fred met The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) in 1975, he had already discerned the emptiness of everything the world had to offer him. Like the prodigal son returning to his father’s house, he left the world behind to embrace once again the Faith of his ancestors.
He once confided to me that, when he was aspiring to an acting career, he had to put on airs to impress the “talent sharks.” Seeing the hypocrisy in this, Mr. Fred resolved one evening to tell his would-be mentors what he really thought of them, thus closing the door forever on his acting career. Many years later, Mr. Fred would put his acting skills to good use in plays and skits for friends, youth and supporters at TFP conferences.
Mr. Fred stood out for his readiness and dedication to the many duties required of TFP members. He excelled in street campaigning and could always be counted on to shout slogans, sell magazines or distribute fliers. He was also ready to travel across the country and back when duty called.
Among his many talents were his carpentry skills. He made everything from beds to kneelers and even a huge medieval banquet table. As every good Italian, he was often found in the kitchen providing a tasty repast.
In the last years of his life, Mr. Fred stood out for his leadership qualities. He was asked to lead a “caravan,” a group of young volunteers, which would travel the country in a massive petition drive collecting signatures for the independence of Lithuania. In 1990, Lithuania sought freedom from the tyranny of Soviet communism. In a worldwide effort, the TFPs collected more than five million signatures, across five continents, in what the 1993 Guinness Book of World Records termed the largest verifiable petition drive in history.
During this singular campaign initiative, the TFP caravans put in many miles and exhausting hours driving and visiting cities all across America. The caravans in the United States alone collected more than 800,000 signatures. During the long days, and the nights, the members were giving their all.
During this campaign, Mr. Fred was an example of dedication and enthusiasm. It was also at the height of this true service to Christian civilization that Divine Providence called Mr. Fred through a tragic car accident. On September 3, 1990, Mr. Fred died as a passenger in a van that accidentally went off the road and turned over in Tennessee.
God also called to Himself a young member of the caravan, Daryl Huang, who was the son of Chinese immigrants and was most dear to Our Lady in the short service he rendered to her cause.
On the twentieth anniversary of their deaths, The American TFP, its friends and supporters remember these two valiant souls and make their own the words and sentiments of TFP founder Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira who considered them as “two lilies that Our Lady harvested from the garden of the American TFP.”
Tags: Bronx, Chinese Immigrant, Christian Civilization, Confidence, Daryl Huang, Divine Providence, Frederick Vincent Porfilio, Guinness Book of Records, Lithuania, Lithuanian Independence, Mikhail Gorbachev, Plinio Correa de Oliveira, TFP, The American Society for the Defense of Tradition Family and Property, Vytautas Landsbergis
by: Michael Gorre
Thirteen TFP volunteers traveled fourteen hours from Pennsylvania to Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, to show their support and gratitude to our brave troops on November 19 through 22, 2009. They also made the trip to counter-protest leftist pacifists at the gates of the military base. The thirteen young men were treated to some glaring contrasts that made the long trip a memorable one.
Rally for the Troops
Gathered at the intersection of 13th Street and Broadway, the volunteers unfurled two large banners reading: “The American soldier guarantees the peace, not socialist protesters,” and “We are proud of our military heroes. May God bless and protect them!” The banners were accompanied by hand-held signs calling for passersby to “Honk for our brave troops!” The result was a cheerful chorus of honks from the majority of vehicles, from large trucks, police cars and even ambulances crossing the busy intersection.
“Knowing pacifist protestors were in town, the locals were extremely happy to voice their gratitude to the troops by honks, waves and thumbs up,” said the group’s organizer John Ritchie. TFP volunteers also passed out copies of their statement published in the local newspaper, the Ledger-Enquirer, titled “A Call to Gratitude: Who Will Thank Our Heroes?”
A few of the pacifist protesters passed by and briefly argued with the volunteers, but were visibly disconcerted by the overwhelming support from Columbus residents who would not stop honking. Then a lady in a mechanized wheelchair came along with a gentleman wearing an Uncle Sam costume. They held their own “Support the Troops!” signs and happily joined the campaign. “It was impressive to see a lady in a wheelchair join us able-bodied men at the street corner. I’m sure people also honked to congratulate her,” said TFP volunteer Thomas Schneider. “She showed us that if you love an ideal enough, you can redefine the word ‘disabled.’”
Meeting with a Hero
While in town, the TFP volunteers toured the newly opened National Infantry Museum, described by Major General Jerry White as a “multi-million dollar love letter to the American soldier.” The museum is simply awe-inspiring. Dedicated to the courageous infantry soldiers that have defended our country, the museum brings to life many historic wars and battles with sophisticated sound and visual effects, cast figures of real infantry soldiers and numerous historic items from actual battles, such as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that was damaged by terrorists in Iraq. The museum also sports a shooting range with M-4 and M-16 rifles modified for electronic target practice but still kick like the lethal versions. The glass encased Hall of Valor honors the nearly 1,500 infantry recipients of the Medal of Honor.
To make their tour of military history even more vivid, the TFP volunteers chanced to meet a newly commissioned 2nd lieutenant with an eye-patch over his right eye. His name is 2nd Lt. Peter Sprenger, the young soldier who sustained serious injuries including the loss of one eye to a suicide car bomb attack while serving in Iraq in 2003. This brave wounded soldier defied all odds and skeptics by passing U.S. Army Ranger training and going back to combat. Then, because of his exceptional dedication, the Army decided to grant him entrance into Officer Candidate School which he recently completed, receiving his 2nd lieutenant’s insignia from General David Petraeus himself. The TFP volunteers chatted with the unassuming soldier who, when told why the TFP volunteers were in town, thanked them for their support and gratitude. When he stated he was from California, the volunteers told him about the TFP campaign there in defense of traditional marriage. Lighting up, 2nd Lt. Sprenger said, “I voted for Prop. 8!” referring to the bill that protected marriage as between a man and a woman. As each volunteer bade him farewell, they could not but think they shook the hand of a true hero, one willing to lay down his life for his country.
Pacifist Protesters Promote Communism
In light of the above, imagine the contrast when the TFP volunteers campaigned close to the area where socialist pacifists picketed the entrance of Fort Benning. The demonstration against Fort Benning and the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) — formerly called the School of the Americas — was a conglomeration of confused leftist Catholic nuns — only a few wore a habit but most wore marked sweaters identifying them as nuns — communist agitators, rainbow-flag waving
pro-homosexual activists and many students from Jesuit high schools and universities. Right next to tables manned by leftist Catholic nuns was a well-frequented tent of a radical communist bookstore called Revolution Books that sold Che Guevara and Fidel Castro wall calendars and atheist communist literature calling for open Marxist revolution.
Wait. Didn’t the Berlin Wall fall twenty years ago? Apparently, liberation theology and the subversive communist ideas that built the wall are still alive.
After campaigning a block away from the pacifist demonstration, the TFP volunteers distributed copies of their statement: “A Call to Gratitude: Who Will Thank Our Heroes?” among the pacifists themselves. The look of consternation did not take long to form on most of the pacifists’ faces as they read the flier lauding our soldiers’ service and the training they offer South American nations to combat Marxist guerrillas. Ironically, many of the pacifists took a belligerent attitude towards the TFP volunteers, including one long-haired male organizer who shouted, “keep your propaganda away” and told other organizers to make sure the TFP volunteers stayed away from them. In the background, the loud speakers repeatedly blared a song with the lyrics, “the power of love…the power of love…” So much for peace, love and tolerance…
It is experiences like these that help one to better appreciate the heroism and sacrifice of soldiers like 2nd Lt. Peter Sprenger. Oftentimes, we need stark contrasts to awaken in us the admiration due to men of honor and to help us loath the harmful ideologies of pacifism and Marxism that seek to disarm and dishonor hallowed institutions like our military. May God bless and protect our heroes as they defend us from our enemies!
For nearly twenty years, a crowd has gathered at Fort Benning in mid-November to protest against the activities of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly called the School of the Americas) and demand its closure.
The annual event is more than just a protest. It is a gathering of the scattered fringes of the religious, political and cultural left who use the event as a platform to push ideas that range from drug legalization to abortion or even women’s ordination. Leftist Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois leads this gathering which includes a large collection of socialists, liberation theology advocates and anarchists. It is no surprise that the 71-year-old priest automatically incurred excommunication for openly opposing Church doctrine.
For nearly twenty years, both he and his protesters have resisted the Army’s efforts to “dialogue.” They reject outright the Army’s unconditional offers to open its doors to any who wish to review the school’s operation.
Nearly twenty years of protest calls to mind another twenty-year milestone – the fall of the Berlin Wall. In light of this commemoration, we offer some considerations.
A Continued Danger
On the twentieth anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall, we might be tempted to think that the world’s great military dangers have passed. However, that is not the case. We still live in a world of violence and uncertainties. Our enemies are no longer concentrated behind an Iron Curtain but are scattered about the world in the form of radical groups and rogue nations all too willing to threaten the peace.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, one would hope that at least the outdated Marxist ideas that caused so much misery all over the world would be consigned to the dustbin of history. However, that is not the case. Guerrilla groups in Latin America like Colombia’s FARC still defend their outdated Marxist ideas through violence and bloodshed. There is still Stalinist North Korea, poverty-stricken Cuba and Communist China oppressing its people and trampling on human natural rights. There is Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela exporting his Bolivarian socialist revolution across Latin America – including the building of a nuclear program.
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it would be hoped that the terrors of our age might also fall. However, that is not the case. Terror or the threat of terror lives as the tactic of choice among Islamic radicals who can be found in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan or Palestine. Iran’s mullahs stand ready to develop nuclear arms. Suicide bombers strike terror into whole nations and put fear into the hearts of thousands who might become the next innocent victims.
Pacifists Do Not Keep the Peace
Now more than ever, we need the soldier to keep the peace.
We note, however, that it was not the pacifists that brought down the Berlin Wall. Theirs was a constant message of concession, “dialogue,” and defeat.
When the terrible wall came crashing down, these Marxists were nowhere to be found to condemn the massive misery that lay exposed in those communist countries. They did not renounce their adherence to this system which they fought so hard to impose upon the West.
We tend to forget that it was the soldier that helped bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall. The soldier took upon himself the thankless task of confronting evil by force of arms. It was the soldier that risked all to do his duty wherever he was called to go without hesitation or complaint. The American soldier and his counterparts all over the world stood down the Communist threat in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
His services are no less needed in our days.
Thank the Heroes
Thus, we need to thank – not protest – these heroes who put their lives on the line. These heroes guarantee the peace. We live freely because they made the greatest of sacrifices – even that of life.
We remember Medal of Honor heroes like Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis who distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty when he threw himself upon a fragmentation grenade and saved four soldiers from certain serious injury or death in Iraq in December of 2006. We remember Navy Seal Michael Monsoor, who likewise unselfishly gave his life, in order to save his fellow Seals on September 29, 2006.
We can also remember heroes like the late Col. John W. Ripley whose heroism in Vietnam was legendary. These and so many more make up those legions of heroes that deserve not our scorn but our gratitude.
Where Will They Turn?
There are those who protest against the soldier. They see his role as one buttressing structures of oppression and power. They are ready to label those who still fight against Marxism as murderers and assassins. They turn a blind eye to a ruthless enemy who breaks all rules and conventions as Marxists have always done. They would deny defenseless populations the training and tools needed to defend themselves against this enemy.
In the case of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, they ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of its graduates have committed no crime save that of wanting to keep their country safe and free. They are prepared to amplify any alleged crime of a soldier to gigantic proportions while reducing to nothing the blatant abuses of Marxists in countries like Cuba, China, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
We ask those who protest: When the fury of the terrorists turns upon them, who will they appeal to? When their freedom is taken away with the same disregard as Colombia’s FARC guerrillas take the freedom of their innocent hostages, where will they turn? When their right to protest is met with bullets and tanks like that of Tiananmen Square, who will be there to defend them?
They will turn to the soldier who defends even those who calumniate him.
A Call to Gratitude
The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) calls upon the public to thank the heroes.
Let us thank them for standing up to the Soviet menace that lurked behind the Berlin Wall that fell twenty years ago. Let us thank those who still fight and keep our nation safe and help other nations do likewise.
Let us, of course, censor any abuses, but let us also be consistent and condemn the systemic and widespread abuses that have come from Castro’s Cuba, the FARC guerillas and other leftist movements who still uphold the outdated and iniquitous Marxist ideologies that built the infamous Berlin Wall.
As Americans, let us be proud of our heroes as they continue to fight and train others to defend their nations against those who threaten the peace.
May God protect them and their families in their daily battles around the world.
Tags: Afghanistan, American TFP, Berlin Wall, Castro, Colonel John W. Ripley, Cuba, FARC, Fort Benning, Hugo Chavez, Islamic, Michael Monsoor, Pat Tillman, Ross A. McGinnis, School of the Americas, Stalin, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
A Story of Exceptional Valor and Faith
by Cesar Franco
An old adage states that you only meet two great people in a lifetime. After visiting Col. John W. Ripley, I can say I met my first one.
As Col. Ripley politely invited my colleagues from Tradition, Family and Property Student Action and me into his office on October 31, I felt tremendously honored to meet one of America’s greatest living war heroes — a man who served on active duty for thirty five years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Before serving two tours in Vietnam, he completed scuba, Ranger, airborne and jump master training. He was also an Exchange Officer to the British Royal Marines, during which time he participated in a Northern Malaysian campaign with the famous Gurkha Rifles.
One Marine Cripples North Vietnamese Invasion
Col. Ripley is most famous for blowing up the bridge at Dong Ha in Vietnam. He accomplished this act of epic heroism after three days of intense combat, without any food or sleep. A few sips of water from his canteen provided his only sustenance. This superhuman feat crippled the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter invasion which ended in defeat. Thus, the government honored Col. Ripley’s leadership, heroism and self-sacrifice at Dong Ha with a Navy Cross, America’s second highest military decoration.
Col. Ripley is also a man of faith. He attributes the destruction of the Dong Ha bridge to the grace of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He related how he felt all physical strength evaporate while placing explosives under the bridge. To continue, he composed a simple rhyming prayer: “Jesus, Mary, get me there… Jesus, Mary, get me there…” He repeatedly said this prayer on the bridge and a supernatural assistance came to his aid at a much-needed time. He stated: “This aid was tangible. It was all-consuming.” His mission would have been impossible without it.
After this operation, Colonel Ripley’s mission was far from over. Unlike Hollywood movies, in which a bridge blows up and everyone lives happily ever after, the North Vietnamese found an alternate route. During the next days of fighting, Life Magazine published a famous picture of Colonel Ripley running as a mortar round blows up nearby. He showed us this amazing photograph during our meeting and many other war relics.
Chivalrous Behavior for a Fallen Soldier
Pointing to his picture, he recounted its exciting story. As the enemy approached within yards, he loaded the dead bodies of five news correspondents into an armored personnel carrier, putting himself in harm’s way. Then the armored personnel carrier left without him.
He was stranded with the limp, lifeless body of his radio man. As the enemy drew closer, he refused to run for cover. Like the knights of old, he preferred to die rather then abandon his fellow soldier’s body. He would not leave his radio man behind even though he was in clear view of the advancing enemy.
He picked up the body of his radio man and walked away very slowly, expecting a bullet to hit him at any moment. Suddenly, some South Vietnamese bodyguards or “cowboys,” as he called them, popped up over a ledge about 100 meters away and addressed him by his Vietnamese nickname, which meant “Captain Crazy.” They told him to duck while they sprayed cover fire allowing him to make a desperate 100-meter dash for safety. Smiling, Colonel Ripley recalled how he ran those 100 meters in 3 seconds!
The Four Bullets
While showing us some of his war relics, he pulled something out of his pocket. It was a brass-colored safety pin that connected four bullets. Grinning, he said: “I am personally acquainted with three of these.” One bullet pierced through the deck of the chopper in which he was flying and struck a magazine clip on his ammo belt, barely stopping its entry into his abdomen!
“When I’m having a bad day,” he said, “I pull these out of my pocket and say to myself, no, it’s not that bad… I’m not having such a bad day.”
He also showed us a neatly arranged collection of stamps he had acquired from a captured North Vietnamese postal worker.
What Is True Leadership?
The most interesting part of our meeting was when Colonel Ripley explained the essence of a true leader is one who sets the example and shows his troops how to act, rather than tell them what to do from a desk and ask them to report back. Colonel Ripley is one such leader. He never shied away from action, but always preferred to be on the front lines with his men.
In addition to being deadly on the battlefield, this tough marine is also lethal in the realm of ideas. After hearing about
the TFP Student Action debates on university campuses, he described the wonderful time he had appearing on Crossfire to debate a female Air Force general defending the need for women in the military. She could not stand up against the bulletproof logic of Colonel Ripley’s real life combat experience.
Tribute, Respect and Admiration
Colonel Ripley deserves our tribute, respect and admiration.
He taught us that to be a true leader one must have faith in God and Our Lady. He explained how being a leader means setting the example. Moreover, his heroic actions at Dong Ha speak even louder than his words.
It was truly an honor and privilege to meet this model soldier, a man with profound zeal for the Catholic Church and high ideals for which he is willing to give his life. My TFP colleagues and I will never forget him.
Tags: Air Force, American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Army Rangers, British Royal Marines, Colonel J, Colonel John W. Ripley, Crossfire, Dong Ha Bridge, Family and Property, Gurkha Rifles, iwo jima, Life Magazine, TFP, TFP Student Action, Traditional Marriage
Written by Norman Fulkerson
It is not every day that one meets a veteran of World War II much less one who was present during the historic battle for Iwo Jima. But I knew something was different about Norbert Arnold as he approached me during a presentation about Fatima at his cousin’s home in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania.
He appreciated the chance to venerate the large pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima that day. “Looking at her mantle” he said, “brought back a lot of memories.”
There was a reason for this.
He is the son of German immigrants and was blessed to have a pious mother who gave him very valuable advice before he left for war. “Ask Our Lady,” she said, “to surround you with her mantle.”
Being a good son, Mr. Arnold did as his mother asked. As he faced the many trials of war, he often reminded Our Lady to do just that. This was made much easier by the fact that he always carried a small leather pouch which contained not only his rosary but also miniature statues of Saint Joseph and Our Lady.
Towards the end of the war, he and his fellow soldiers were low on everything including food and water. Mr. Arnold decided to leave the safety of his foxhole to obtain supplies for his men from the headquarters a short distance away.
Upon leaving headquarters with his supplies, an officer yelled out: “Arnold, you forgot your water.” Already weighted down, he decided to leave the water for a return trip. While walking to his foxhole, a can of pineapple fell out of his jacket. When he returned to get the water he had left behind, he tripped on the can. Instead of continuing on to headquarters which would have been the most logical thing to do, he decided to take it back to the fox hole.
A moment later, the headquarters received a direct hit from a shell which killed everyone. The explosion sent shrapnel flying in all directions. One three-inch piece went spinning through the air until it hit, and tore into Mr. Arnold’s jacket.
“If it would have hit me in the face,” he recounted, “it would have killed me.” Upon further examination he found that the shrapnel did considerable damage to his jacket but left him perfectly unscathed.
He later attributed this to Our Lady and remembered what his mother had told him.
The Breaking of a Myth
As I looked into the eyes of this 84-year-old marine, I could not help but admire him as he recalled these miraculous events with such unpretentiousness. Here was a man that truly represented the ideal soldier. He not only answered the call of duty to his country but remained a man of faith conserving that which is most important to a Catholic: a love of God and devotion to Mary Most Holy.
Men with faith such as this often go unnoticed. The current trend is to portray American soldiers as mere beasts who take delight in bringing pain and suffering to those they combat. This negative image was only enhanced with the lamentable episodes at Abu Ghraib, about which the mainstream press gave more than ample coverage. Photos of flag draped coffins and sordid stories of prisoner abuse, generously provided by the media, depict America as an “imperialistic” country only concerned with flexing her muscle in the conquest of weaker nations. This is the last place one would expect to find anything closely resembling the ideal soldier.
However, the ideal American soldier can be found wherever Americans have serviced. A few facts from our military history prove this.
“I’ll Say a Mass Beneath it”
This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the battle at Iwo Jima and there are few Americans who have not seen the famous sculpture which immortalized that battle. Everyone knows about the flag raising, but few know about the Catholic Mass celebrated immediately afterwards. This fact was related in the book, Battlefield Chaplains Catholic Priests in World War II, by Donald F. Crosby, S.J.1
He narrates how anxious marines, as they approached Mount Suribachi, quipped: “Wouldn’t it be nice to plant the flag on top!” None of them balked when Fr. Charles Suver suggested something even better. “You get it up there,” he said, “and I’ll say Mass under it.”
Days later he kept his promise. As curious Japanese popped their heads from cavernous hideouts, seasoned American soldiers, with rifles locked and loaded, united their sufferings with those of Our Lord in the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary on the summit of Mount Suribachi.
Father Crosby relates many similar stories where soldiers, entrenched in battle, practiced their faith, requesting confession and communion. In one such incident, a group of soldiers in a foxhole were killed from a direct hit only hours after receiving sacramental absolution from the Church.
Devotion in Vietnam
Similar examples were also found in the Vietnam War. They provide a clear contrast to the fabricated image of Vietnam veterans as drug-abusing baby-killers.
Sam Gallaher was there and as a personal friend often told me stories of his adventures. He is never so eloquent as when he speaks of the consolation he received from the sacraments of the Church.
“Every six days we would have mass,” he explained. The soldiers would construct the altar themselves by stacking their ruck sacks on top of each other. “You would look forward to it because it was the time you could escape [the war]” he said. “I never attended mass, like I did when I was in Nam.”
He did his duty, stayed close to God and, in spite of his 6 feet 8 inch frame which made for an easy target, miraculously survived the war. He, like Mr. Arnold, attributed his safety to Divine Intervention.
Equally impressive are two facts about Col. John Ripley, one of the most decorated living Marines.2 He almost single-handedly stopped a North Vietnamese offensive at the village of Dong Ha. He does not fail to credit the intercession of our Lord and His Holy Mother. When he was out of strength, he turned to them. “Jesus, Mary, get me there” was his own improvised version of the rhythmic chants often used by Marines.
While speaking to a TFP audience about this incident he was brought to tears when recalling that among the civilians in the village of Dong Ha he saved, was a school full of innocent children. This tender solicitude for the weak and defenseless was an essential characteristic of the medieval knight but often overlooked when exhibited by an American soldier such as this.
Skeptics will disregard what has been pointed out thus far as examples of “old devotions” and noble attitudes perhaps practiced long ago by a few, but now discarded in favor of a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude often attributed to the American soldier.
Critics such as these have not heard about what Sgt. Frank Ristaino and his ten children are doing.
Realizing the consolation of the rosary in time of combat, they came up with the unique idea of the Ranger Rosary. The soldier’s rugged and often grueling life was the main consideration for the creation of these Marian military beads. The final product was a rosary made with an almost indestructible parachute cord and the necessary camouflage color for use in the field. These rosaries are now found all over Iraq and other battlefields. It is the type of rosary a soldier can hold in one hand while gripping an M-16 in the other, providing him the means to honor Mary and, at the same time, fight terrorists attacking innocent civilians.
What began in Sgt. Ristaino’s living room in the late nineties has grown a lot. With the help of schoolchildren, rosary guilds, and a variety of other Catholic organizations, over 30,000 rosaries have been produced thus far.3
One military chaplain, whose identity was concealed for security purposes, wrote back to express his appreciation:
The soldiers have been briefed on the importance of devotion to Our Lady and we rely on her protection. The battalion has already undertaken to program a trip to Lourdes as soon as we return safely to Germany.
Your rosaries have been a huge hit with everyone. Words cannot express the gratitude we feel for all of the hard work that you and your rosary making team have gone through to support our mission here in Iraq. Though the violence continues unabated, I am sure that things would have been worse had it not been for the constant intercession of Our Lady. Your efforts have helped to increase the devotion to her intercessory powers.4
Not Even Pat Tillman is Spared
Contemporary society is so racked by scandals which consistently place individual gratification above man’s obligations to God. Few would think to look towards our armed forces for examples of the contrary. Their brand of knightly honor is passed over in favor of negative news.
Even Pat Tillman’s unselfish sacrifice was briskly downplayed with the excuse that, “he would not want all the attention.” Much attention would later be given to the fact that his death was the result of friendly fire. (As if that takes away from the sacrifice he made by forgoing a hugely lucrative NFL contract.) His heroic tale is now callously presented as merely a means of the military, “to foster a patriotic response across the country.”5 Patriotism is a virtue and one that becomes much easier to practice when inspired by such examples as this.
Perhaps this was the reason for my enthusiasm when meeting Norbert Arnold. He is an elderly gentleman who has carried with a great degree of dignity something of the ideal American solider as he reaches the end of his life.
Mr. Arnold is now being treated for physical ailments that come with age and the lingering pains of war in the form of post traumatic stress syndrome. Yet he relates all this with an admirable patience and an attitude which can only be defined as supernatural. “When I say my morning prayers,” he said, “I am ashamed to include myself.” Such is the self-sacrificing attitude of a man who is still alive thanks to Our Lady.
On the 60th anniversary of the battle for Iwo Jima, I felt deeply honored to shake the hand of one who had been involved in such a noble endeavor. True soldiers such as he are an image of the medieval knight who accomplishes his duty no matter the hardships. He defends the weak and helpless and does so primarily because of his love of God. These are the qualities of all those mentioned above.
Amidst the barrage of disparaging propaganda belittling the efforts of our men of arms, I believe we should be looking at the ideal American soldier among them. Their dedication and pious devotion is a tale so often untold.
In the modern armies in our secular world, one would hardly expect to find soldiers inspired by the knightly idea and religious devotion in the United States of America.
Yet it is the part of the paradox of our fascinating society. Amid the selfish hedonism of our day, this ideal soldier is a shining example of something found “only in America.”