This short story is a "shout out" to all veterans -- those who signed up and did their jobs, day in and day out. If someone called our number, we stood up and went to work.
Even duty in a combat zone duty can become routine, even boring, as you do your job, prepared for whatever comes. On one of those quite routine night in 1972 in the Gulf of Tonkin, around 1:30 a.m., we heard the radio traffic begin on the radio speaker dedicated to the Yankee Station Commander. A pilot had been shot down quite deep inside North Vietnam, just a few miles from Laos. The entire watch team felt a jolt of adrenaline. We had been on line for 20 days -- 20 days of port and starboard watches -- eight hours on watch, eight hours off watch. We were four or five miles off the coast of North Vietnam interdicting the flow of food and supplies from anchored Chinese cargo ships. We were just off the coast, near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 40 miles north of the DMZ -- the Demilitarized Zone.
We continued to hear the excited radio transmissions over the encrypted radio circuit. Dozens of questions began to get sorted out: was he alive, wounded, were there hostiles, what assets were available to rescue him? Was it too dangerous to rescue him, would we risk losing other pilots, is the Big Mother (a special armored rescue helicopter ) nearby, where could it refuel?
My team was on top of everything. Our ship had a flight deck and we were the closest asset to the rescue, so we became an important player in this scheme.
The rescue was on, then off, on again, then off again. Finally, just before dawn, the rescue was on, with fighter aircraft in place in case something went wrong. The Big Mother rescue helicopter headed in-country to pick up the pilot, verification was made, spotlight on, quick touch down, airborne, headed to us, the USS Cleveland, for refueling. After refueling, the helo was launched and vectored back to the flag ship further out in the Gulf. Lieutenant Loyd was safe. An hour later, we relieved the watch and began another day on station.
This short story is a "shout out" to all veterans -- those who signed up and did their jobs, day in and day out. If someone called our number, we stood up and went to work. My dad did, my father in law did, my son did, my daughter-in-law did, and I did. And millions of other men and women did, and are doing the same today.
We answered the call of duty with the intention of finding peace and of preserving liberty. We served our country. The story of Lieutenant Loyd is nothing compared to the heroism and sacrifice that so many others have made -- many have stories of unselfish heroism that we will never hear about -- that we might not even be able to imagine. So I wanted to tell this simple story as a reminder that veterans, whether they serve in combat or stood watches and trained to prepare for what might come, all veterans gave up their normal lives. They dropped everything they were doing -- their jobs, their home, mother's meals, their own beds, control over their own lives -- to answer the call of duty to the country. Veterans agree to go into harm's way for all of us out of a sense of duty to our country.
We all can't do that. Even if we combined the Army and Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, there would not be enough billets for all of us to enlist. But then we have already answered the call -- another more important call.
We are all called. Every time we attend Mass we sit answering that call -- a greater call -- the call of our Lord Jesus Christ who calls us to serve. He called us to listen to his word calling us to serve others, and he offers himself to sustain us. He calls us to receive the Real Presence of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
Jesus Christ himself answered the call of duty from his Father to suffer humiliation, beatings and a horrible death so that we can dream of going to heaven. We were drafted by Baptism and Confirmation and commissioned by Matrimony and Holy Orders to serve. What is he calling us to do -- what are our orders -- it is up to us to hear and answer it.
Dear God, let us pray for all veterans -- that they find your peace in their souls. And we pray that you shower us with your grace to help each one of us to find the path you laid out for us to follow to serve others. Amen.
DEACON TIMOTHY DONOHUE IS A PERMANENT DEACON OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON ASSIGNED TO MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD PARISH IN DOVER AND ST. THERESA OF LISIEUX IN SHERBORN.
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