World War I
“If you want an example of how you ought to worship God, go over to the 69th. You’ll see hundreds of sturdy men kneeling on the ground hearing mass.”
Father Francis P. Duffy in a letter to Cardinal Farley
A recent National Guard video on Father Francis P. Duffy. I have written about Father Duffy here. His courage as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th made him a legend in his own time. However, courage was only one of his virtues. Just as appreciated by the young soldiers he helped shepherd through the hell of trench warfare in World War I France was his sense of humor. Here are a few samples:
Amongst the sturdiest and brightest of our recruits were two young men who had recently been Jesuit Novices. I amused one Jesuit friend and, I am afraid, shocked another by saying that they were exercising a traditional religious privilege of seeking a higher state of perfection by quitting the Jesuits and joining the 69th.
The newcomers are not yet accustomed to the special church regulations relieving soldiers of the obligation of Friday abstinence. Last Friday the men came back from a hard morning’s drill to find on the table a generous meal of ham and cabbage. The old-timers from the Border pitched into this, to the scandal of many of the newer men who refused to eat it, thus leaving all the more for the graceless veterans. After dinner a number of them came to me to ask if it were true that it was all right. I said it was, because there was a dispensation for soldiers. “Dispensation,” said a Jewish boy, “what good is a dispensation for Friday to me. I can’t eat ham any day of the week. Say, Father, that waiter guy, with one turn of his wrist, bust two religions.”
I asked one of the men how he liked the idea of going to confession to a priest who cannot speak English. “Fine, Father,” he said with a grin, “All he could do was give me a penance, but you’d have given me hell.” Continue reading
When I was 12 or so, my father picked up a newly released album of World War One music entitled, after the most famous American song of the war, Over There. It is now long out of print (though still occasionally available used). As is sometimes the case with highly singable songs one heard as a youth, several of these songs had been on my mind lately, and so when the breakdown of the dishwasher the other night set everyone to washing and drying dishes, I put it on and we sang along to the oddly cheerful songs inspired by one of the world’s darker interludes.
“Over There”, written in 1917 by George M. Cohan (I didn’t like the historical versions I found on YouTube as much, so I made my own with the Feinstein rendition of the song.)
It is hard to believe they all gone now, the millions of Americans who fought against the Kaiser in the American Expeditionary Force. Frank Woodruff Buckles, 110, America’s last Doughboy, went to join his fellow soldiers on Sunday, February 17, 2011. He lied about his age to enlist in the Army at age 16. He served as an ambulance driver in England and France. He left the Army in 1920, but that was not the end of his wartime adventures. In World War 2 he endured three years as a guest of the Emperor, as a civilian POW in the Philippines. God rest his soul. Continue reading
Frank James Cooper, a\k\a Gary Cooper, was a child of the last century, being born into it on May 7, 1901, the son of Charles and Alice Cooper. Unlike Alvin C. York, Cooper was born into a prosperous family, his father being a farmer turned attorney who would eventually serve on the Montana Supreme Court. His parents were English immigrants from Bedfordshire, and from 1910-1913, Gary and his brother were educated in England.
After high school, Cooper went on to study at Grinnell College for a few years, although he did not receive a degree. After an unsuccessful attempt to earn a living as an editorial cartoonist in Helena, he followed his parents out to Los Angeles where they had retired. Cooper later said that if he was going to starve, he might as well do it where it was warm rather than where it was freezing.
Out in the land of fruits and nuts, Cooper tried his hand at many things in order to earn a living: promoter for a photographer, a seller of electrical signs and even applied for work as an ink-stained wretch at a newspaper. Out of desperation for employment rather than any burning desire to be an actor, Cooper began to work as an extra in movies. A friend, Nan Collins, advised him to change his name to Gary after her hometown of Gary, Indiana, and Cooper took her advice. After several years as an extra, Cooper achieved early stardom in the western, The Virginian. Although he would appear in every type of film imaginable in his career, Cooper always appeared most comfortable in Westerns, a genre which fit his understated, laid back acting style, and his laconic speech. Cooper specialized in playing ordinary decent men, trying to do their best in extraordinary situations. He also had a flair for comedy where his dead pan delivery, combined with a dry wit, ensured laughter whatever “funny” lines he was attempting to deliver.
The archetypal film during this period of his career for Cooper was The Westerner where he played a cowboy who tangled with “Judge” Roy Bean, “Law West of the Pecos”, magnificently portrayed by Walter Brennan who appeared with Cooper in several films, including Sergeant York as York’s pastor. The film is a skillful mixture of comedy and drama, with Cooper giving a bravura performance.
Alvin C. York had been approached by Hollywood producer Jesse Lasky several times, beginning in 1919, to make a movie of his life. Each time he refused, summing up his position simply with the phrase, “This uniform ain’t for sale.”
In 1941 the film Sergeant York was released. A biopic on the life of America’s greatest hero of WWI, it brought together two American originals: Alvin C. York and the actor Gary Cooper.
York arrived in this world on December 3, 1887, the third of the eleven children of William and Mary York. He was born into rural poverty. Although both of his parents were quite hard-working, the Yorks lived in a two-room log cabin at a subsistence level. None of the York children received more than nine-months education, as their labor was desperately needed to farm the few hard scrabble acres that the Yorks owned and to hunt for food to feed the large family.
A truly remarkable interview conducted in 1982 of the experiences as a Catholic Chaplain of Father William Bonniwell, O.P. during World War I. At the time of the interview Father Bonniwell was 96 and I think his vigor and clarity of recollection and speech are astounding. I have done my best on this blog to tell the stories of some of the Catholic Chaplains who served in the military in our nation’s history, and it is heartwarming to be able to present a video of one of these brave men telling his story.
After the War he had an illustrious career. He was a professor of homiletics at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Illinois. He was head of the Preacher’s Institute in Washington DC. For many years he was on the staff of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City. He was the author of ”Margaret of Castello,” , a biography of the 14th-century Italian Dominican nun, who is a true patron of unwanted children, as she was born a dwarf, hunchbacked, blind and lame and was ultimately rejected by her parents, and throughout her travails radiated the love of God. He translated from Latin ”The Martyrology of the Sacred Order of Preachers”, and produced the groundbreaking History of the Dominican Liturgy 1215-1945.
In a tribute to common sense, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Cross raised in 1934 as a tribute to U.S. soldiers who died in World War I may stay at the Mojave National Preserve. The depressing part of this news was that the vote was 5-4. Stevens, who is retiring, voted with the four justices who viewed the Cross as a threat to our constitutional order.
There are some whom denigrate soldiers and policemen and the plan God has for them in Salvation. I disagree completely and there are many examples of saints and popes who have honored the soldier and policeman in defense of justice and peace.
“The great French Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.”
Today is Anzac Day. It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I. Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.