Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr. was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on March 1, 2016.
Byers was a SEAL in the U.S. Navy, and after serving eleven deployments to include nine combat tours, was awarded the highest honor of the U.S. Military. He is the 3,497th service member to receive this decoration. What might come as a surprise, Byers is only the sixth SEAL to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He, being from an elite group of soldiers, joins an exclusive family of our country’s bravest.
Having just returned from my own deployment in Afghanistan four weeks ago, this is icing on the cake. It is truly amazing to walk in the mere vicinity of the boots of these remarkable men and women who have served with such skill and heroism. Day after day we would see the Armed Forces Network’s PSA commercials that described the courageous moments which people like Edward Byers endured in order to save the lives of others. For me, as a fifth-generation veteran with brothers who served honorably in the Marines, Navy, and Army, when a service member is awarded a Medal of Honor it is like a win for the whole Armed Forces because of the credit it reflects upon our whole family.
The official citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a Hostage Rescue Force Team Member in Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM on 8-9 December 2012. As the rescue force approached the target building, an enemy sentry detected them and darted inside to alert his fellow captors. The sentry quickly reemerged, and the lead assaulter attempted to neutralize him. Chief Byers, with his team, sprinted to the door of the target building. As the primary breacher, Chief Byers stood in the doorway fully exposed to the enemy fire while ripping down six layers of heavy blankets fastened to the inside ceiling and walls to clear a path for the rescue force. The first assaulter pushed his way through the blankets, and was mortally wounded by enemy small arms fire from within.
Chief Byers, completely aware of the imminent threat, fearlessly rushed into the room and engaged an enemy guard aiming an AK-47 at him. He then tackled another adult male who had darted towards the corner of the room. During the ensuing hand-to-hand struggle, Chief Byers confirmed the man was not the hostage and engaged him. As the other rescue team members called out to the hostage, Chief Byers heard a voice respond in English and raced toward it. He jumped atop the American hostage and shielded him from the high volume of fire within the small room. While covering the hostage with his body, Chief Byers immobilized another guard with his bare hands, and restrained the guard until a teammate could eliminate him.
His bold and decisive actions under fire saved the lives of the hostage and several of his teammates. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of near-certain death, Chief Petty Officer Byers reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. (SOURCE)
After he was awarded the medal and the Commander in Chief had given his speech, the Senior Chief was provided an opportunity to give his remarks. After crossing himself in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Byers gave his speech. What he said was thoroughly Catholic! The address itself can be seen in the video above, starting at the 40:20 mark. Here is a full transcript of his remarks:
Thank you. Good afternoon everyone. I’ve realized throughout my life that time is the most precious commodity you have, and I sincerely thank you all for your time today. I will speak just long enough to give credit and recognition to the heroes in my life and to those who deserve to know that they are the reason I am standing here today. Those heroes are my family, my faith, and the brotherhood.
Family is the reason I’m able to do this job, and it’s also the reason to live, and to return home safely. Madison, my incredible wife; Hannah, my beautiful daughter: this could not have been possible without your resiliency and love. Your strength in my absence is something I’ve always admired and respected. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I would never forget how I returned home from long times away. You’d be waiting to pick me up, sometimes in the middle of the night, waiting to give me a hug and a kiss. Especially you, Hannah. I would not be the man that I am if it were not for the two of you. You are my heroes. I love you.
Hand in hand with my family is my faith. While it had a more quiet aspect in my life, it has always played a significant role. I grew up Catholic and continue to grow in my faith, thanks especially to my brother Trevor. He taught me to turn my heart and soul towards Christ when I have strayed to lost my way. Prayer has always provided calm amidst chaos for me.
On my first deployment to Iraq some eleven years ago, I arrived in country and I saw another SEAL standing there with a St. Michael the Archangel patch on his shoulder. I’m not sure what drew me to it, but I walked up to him and asked him if I could have it. He was leaving the combat zone and made it through a safe deployment, so he was absolutely willing to give it to me. He handed it to me without hesitation. I’ve worn that patch on my kit on every single mission I’ve ever been a part of, and I prayed the St. Michael prayer while moving in the toughest missions I faced. And it does start by saying, “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle and be our protection.
On that day in December 2012—the day you’ve heard recounted several times about my team, and the way we carried out the mission to rescue an American hostage—on that day just like every day, I prayed. I prayed on my way to the target, and again, I prayed over my friend Nicholas Checque, for his soul, as he gave his life to save another American. Nick Checque was a warrior, brother, and a friend. I know I’ve said this repeatedly since this has started, but this award in inseparable from his death. Nick embodied the brotherhood. Nick Checque embodied what it meant to be a Navy SEAL: he was hard as nails, resilient; a “never quit, never fail” mentality. Nick, along with the rest of our team, carried out some of the most difficult and dangerous missions our country could have asked us to do. Nicholas paid the ultimate sacrifice doing what he loved. On the battlefield, because this is what you brothers do, they will lay down their life for you, if they have to.
We are again reminded this morning of the continued sacrifices the men and women of our nation make. The hotel which many of us are staying overlooks Washington D.C., the Pentagon, and Arlington National Cemetery. As the sun came up over the city, an unfamiliar, almost alarming sound reverberated through the air and a layer of thick, light-gray smoke, covered our nation’s capitol like a security blanket. The cannons fired and shook, probably some of you, to the core because you were hearing the sound of sacrifice. I, along with many of my teammates, have been to many funerals at Arlington—probably more than we should at our age in our life. We have seen too many good men buried. So many may ask, “what is it that keeps you going? How are you standing here after such loss?” The answer is, undoubtedly, without question, the brotherhood.
I saved the brotherhood for last. I want to emphasize that I am no different from any one of my teammates. I am certain that any on of them would have taken the same exact actions I did that day. I’ve seen countless heroic acts in my time working with the nations most elite operators. I feel sense of responsibility with the recognition that has been bestowed upon me. My brothers who are still fighting, who are still in the shadows, deserve to share the spotlight. We are a community of quiet professionals and those men would not expect or seek recognition for their actions. I probably wear this trident to try to represent the brotherhood. And now I’ve been welcomed into another group of exceptional military heroes.
I look at the names in the Hall of Heroes, and to the brave men right in front of me here, and realize a tremendous amount of bravery that flows through our American veins. Freedom is in large part paid by blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve never imagined my life would lead me here. I’m truly humbled to represent the Navy and the Navy Special Warfare community. My only desire is that my representation is something my brothers who I served with would be proud of, because the deed is all, not the glory.
May God bless you, and may St. Michael the Archangel protect our warriors in battle. Long live the brotherhood. Thank you.