“For Conspicuous Gallantry and Intrepidity in Action at the Risk of Life, Above and Beyond the Call of Duty . . . ”
As a kid growing up, I had a lot of daydreams floating through my head. Daydreams of Glory! The lines above (from the beginning of the citation for the Medal of Honor) would be read to throngs of adoring, thankful citizens as my exploits and heroic feats of daring-do and close-combat were read and celebrated throughout the land.
Is it any wonder that I was drawn to the vocation of a warrior?I wrote here about one of the Marines that every new recruit is taught about when he is undergoing either Marine Corps Recruit Training (boot camp) or Officer Candidates School (OCS). The Marine I am referring to is Sergeant Major Dan Daly. Was he a Catholic? Who knows? And frankly, that’s not the point.
The point is that the Marine Corps teaches all of her warriors her history. And if you like, you can think of Dan Daly, along with Smedley Butler, John H. Quick, Chesty Puller, O. P. Smith, Samuel Nicholas, John A. Lejuene, et al (I could go on naming Marines for hours) as the Marine Corps equivalent of the Communion of the Saintshere in the Church Militant. I have so much fun learning their names and reading about their heroic exploits! Talk about “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty”!
I don’t know much, but I do know this: Marines who have been “canonized” by the Corps were ordinary Marines who responded extraordinarily in a combat situation. A freshly minted private who has just graduated from boot camp is just as much a Marine as the hero Captain Kurcaba, whose bravery was written about by his comrade Joseph R. Owen in his memoir Colder Than Hell: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir.
It’s lump-in-my-throat time. As Owen recounts in his memoir:
Under enemy fire Captain Wilcox, Kurcaba, and Lee all walked straight up. It seemed impossible to me that they weren’t hit, especially Lee, who was usually far forward. It set a good example for the men, and I tried to do the same.
Yet when a fire-fight got hot, Owen would hit the deck and low-crawl to protect himself. Captain Kurcaba never “got down.” He said to Owen in the heat of a battle once, “If I get down, I may never get up again.” Owen writes, “I couldn’t speak to my superior officer who stood while I groveled on the deck [under fire]. I forced myself to stand up and I wished that Joe Kurcaba would get the hell away from me!”
Wow! — The saints are a lot like that to me too. Would you agree? Their exploits of daring are frightening and yet inspiring at the same time. Whether we’re talking about Joan of Arc or Charles Borromeo each challenges us to be better Christians the way the heroes of the Corps taught me to be a better Marine.
There is a fact about all Marines, whether they are flying F-18s or serving food in the chow hall: Every Marine is a rifleman. And there is a similar fact to be said of members of the Catholic Church: as Christians, each one of us is called to the Priesthood. Maybe not Holy Orders, but the Royal Priesthood all the same. If you don’t want this, then you joined the wrong outfit. If you were born into this, guess what, you still have to earn the title. Because Marines are made and not born, and so are Catholics.
But don’t worry and please don’t forget the mission of Our King’s Church: to save souls, at any cost. Most of us haven’t been called into the Church’s equivalent of the Officer Corps (Holy Orders). But we can still serve with distinction, whether we are butchers, bakers, or candle-stick makers. Again, one of the heroes of the Church (St. Francis of Assisi) serves as an example to me. “Preach the Gospel always,” he said. “Use words if necessary.” Also, there is no age requirements (17 – 28 to enlist) either and no minimum or maximum(6 – 8 years) contract length. Heck you can even get “out” and rejoin! Or join on your deathbed; just ask Oscar Wilde.
Our first Pope (dare I equate St. Peter with the first Commandant of the Marine Corps, Samuel Nicholas?) said as much in the second chapter of his first letter. Is this letter (1 Peter 2:9) similar to a Marine Corps Order? I’d say yes:
But you are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Mother Church has remembered her heroes and canonized them in the Communion of the Saints so that by their “conspicuous gallantry” they can demonstrate to both raw Catholic recruits and grizzled Catholic veterans how to be good Catholic Christians.
By the way, if you graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, you have to go to Marine Corps OCS if you decide you want to be an Officer of Marines. No excuses, no waivers, no questions. And if you were in the Army and want to try out the Marines next, you’d have to leave your rank behind and rejoin the Corps as a private.
Think about that the next time the “Renew” class is mentioned in your parish and you think to yourself, I don’t need that nor do I have the time.