Rector's Ramblings November 18, 2020
I was planning to reflect on Veteran’s Day last week, but I was under the weather most of the week and was not able to get a Rambling written. This is my belated reflection. As I try to do every year around this time, I re-watched the HBO docudrama, Band of Brothers, and its later companion, The Pacific. Both series were produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and are incredibly well done. They are based on dramatized accounts of real people, taken from interviews and books. Both Stephen Ambrose’s book, Band of Brothers, and Eugene Sledge’s book, With the Old Breed, were used as source material for these series. I highly recommend both books along with both series.
Each time I watch these shows, I am reminded of the sacrifice that veterans are often called upon to make in service to our country. Even survivors are often left with battle scars that can’t be seen. In their own ways, both the European and Pacific theatres of the Second World War were brutal. Those men and women who were called upon to fight were incredibly brave, and certainly paid dearly through their efforts.
If you’re not familiar with the series or the book, Band of Brothers, they both follow the men of E Company (known as Easy Company), 2nd Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment 101st Airborne Division. It covers their training through the conclusion of the war. This particular company faced some incredibly difficult missions and sustained heavy losses on multiple occasions. One of those was the Siege of Bastogne.
The Siege of Bastogne was a part of the larger Battle of the Bulge, a battle that remains the single largest battle in US Army history. Elements of the 101st Airborne were sent to the town of Bastogne to keep it and the crossroads it contained out of German hands. Eventually, the Germans completely surrounded the Airborne troops, including Easy Company. They were shelled mercilessly, far outnumbered, were short on ammunition, food, and many of the soldiers did not have proper winter clothing, despite the frigid temperatures. For more than a week these US soldiers held the line, until General Patton’s armor was able to break through the German lines and reconnect and resupply the soldiers around Bastogne. One of the legendary reflections on the battle was that while Patton said he rescued the 101st, the 101st never asked to be rescued!
This time around, one small detail caught my attention in the Bastogne episode of Band of Brothers. That episode focuses on the Easy Company medic, Eugene “Doc” Roe. Roe was from Louisiana and is portrayed as on the line between hysteria, depression, and shock during the battle, although friends say he was more rough and tough than the character we see on screen. Short of supplies he tries his best to take care of the soldiers in his care, but it is hard to see them suffer and die and going out to help them in the midst of the shelling is terrifying work. During “his” episode, after a rapid-fire series of interactions with sick and ailing members of his company, Doc hops into a fox hole and recites a portion of the prayer we know as attributed to St. Francis. The prayer was very popular during WWII.
Hunkered down in the fox hole, Doc prays, “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love…with all my heart.” I never really caught that on earlier viewings. Doc Roe’s obituary says he was a Methodist, but with his French-Cajun background, there’s a good chance he was at least partially Roman Catholic. After he prays it, the screen fades to black and the next thing we hear is a wounded soldier screaming out in pain, “Medic!”, which sends Doc running through shell bursts to help.
I found it comforting to see a portrayal – even it if it is dramatized - of a soldier battling fear, exhaustion, and everything else being thrown at him, praying for the strength/will/perseverance to keep himself focused on the “other.” That is what Francis’ prayer is all about, after all. It denotes that peace ultimately comes from putting the other before ourselves. Whispering just a portion of it puts us in mind of the entire prayer and how it calls to us to be and do more for others. And in a sense, that’s the heart of a soldier. Service for another, which puts that soldier’s life on the line.
Where so many didn’t come home, Doc was one of the lucky ones. Despite being wounded during Operation Market Garden, Doc finished out the war with Easy Company. Among his awards is a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster. He moved back to Louisiana and raised his family, dying from cancer in 1992. Just one of thousands of soldiers to survive WWII, Doc Roe represents the best of the human spirit and faithful service to neighbor. I was glad to connect his service to our faith through that quick recitation of such a well-known prayer. I am grateful for his service and his faith, and that of so many veterans who have served this country on my and our behalf. Thank you all.
The greatest gift we can give our veterans is a world of peace, so that no one need fight and die in any more wars. It’s not likely to become a reality any time soon, but it should never stop being our goal. Francis’ prayer is a good place to start.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are
born to eternal life. Amen.