I have been connected to the military for as long as I can remember.
My father was in the National Guard, and my brothers Gary and Tim fought in the Vietnam War. Several other family members also served in the military.
As a young girl, I prayed so much for my brothers to be safe, and I have vivid memories of my mother’s earnest prayers for my brothers to come home alive from the jungles of Vietnam. Tears filled in her worried eyes as she fervently prayed that God would save her sons.
Both brothers came home, but the war certainly took a toll on them. Gary has since gone to his eternal reward, dying of cancer due to the chemical weapons used on the battlefield. And my brother Tim is currently dealing with cancer.
War is ugly and changes everyone involved — soldiers and families alike. However, those who engage in battle to protect innocent human life are amazingly beautiful heroic souls.
G.K. Chesterton once said, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
Military women wrestle with and tackle countless challenges, too. Recently, I boarded a plane to meet up with hundreds of military women gathered in San Diego for a Catholic worldwide forum.
I slipped into my aisle seat and fastened my seat belt as I greeted the woman to my right, seated near the window. Her name was Mary Ellen, and she commented that the middle seat would be vacant and we’d be lucky to have extra room during our long flight.
I guess it’s the “mom in me,” but I couldn’t help but suggest that she keep her seat belt fastened throughout the flight, given the recent emergency landing (Flight 1380) fresh on my mind, in which, sadly, a woman sitting in a window seat died.
Mary Ellen and I immediately plunged into fascinating conversation, raving about Tammie Jo Shults, the heroic pilot who had safely landed the malfunctioning plane during an in-flight engine failure. The pilot was a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, one of the Navy’s first female fighter jet pilots and the first woman to fly a F/A-18 Hornet. As we chatted, I contemplated mentioning the heroic pilot in my speech to the military women.
This was not my first such presentation. Over the years, I have come to know a group of military women at West Point as a result of a presentation I gave them.
I know many of them personally, and they have shared with me their triumphs and many challenges.
Military women often bear burdens alone due to their husbands’ deployments and all of the moves and transitions that make up their lives. They need and crave resources that will boost their morale and nourish their faith.
Countless military women fight hidden battles in juggling the myriad endless, often heartbreaking and depressing demands that pull on their hearts, bodies and souls, as well as on their families.
They are uprooted continually, moving from one base to another; putting their family’s roots down, only to rip them up again and move on. They deal with the loss of their friends and neighbors during their many transfers, as well as their soldiers’ loss of limb and life due to war, accidents in training and even through suicide. They are forced to adjust to their husbands’ deployments and then struggle with transitions when their husbands return, changed forever by war.
The children are always affected. They learn resilience, but they suffer, too.
I remind these women that “Mary is our true mother. … [W]e must remember that she was human like us and needed to be steadfast in her faith and in her prayers. She knew and still knows all about life’s challenges and suffering. ... St. John Paul II reminds us, ‘This woman of faith, Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God, has been given to us as a model in our pilgrimage of faith.’ Let us turn to Mother Mary, asking her help in getting closer to Jesus and in becoming the beautiful Catholic women we are called to be” (By Dawn’s Early Light: Prayers and Meditations for Catholic Military Wives).
As St. John Paul II said, “War should belong to the tragic past, to history: It should find no place in humanity’s agenda for the future.”
Certainly, this should be our prayerful hope.
Yet we live with the reality of a darkened world.
Let’s be faithful in praying for the military, for soldiers and their families. They need and deserve our prayers.
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is an EWTN TV host,
international speaker and award-winning author.
Learn more at DonnaCooperOBoyle.com.