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Thoughts from Dr. Joe:

Mothers of soldiers

May 13, 2010|By Joe Puglia

The scowl on his face matched the scar that ran from his ear to the tip of his chin. Both features depicted the tempestuous nature of Father Flynn. He was in a gunfight on Iwo Jima and joined the priesthood after the war to atone for the many lives he took.

“Hey, Joey Boy, you got a minute?” he asked.

Now that I was an adult and home from Vietnam, I thought it was just possible he was starting to like me. I was hanging with the old gang in front of my dad’s deli, and as Father approached our language changed.

He motioned me to meet him in the middle of the street and once again those piercing eyes told me that he was not pleased. “Joey Boy,” he said, “I haven’t seen you in church since you’ve been back. You didn’t learn a damn thing over there!”

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When Father Flynn spoke, I listened. His tone was not conciliatory. He had a score to settle, and it was with me. “I want you to know something, Joey Boy. When you were in ’Nam your mother came to church every morning at 6 a.m., lit a candle, and said the rosary. She prayed for you, so you’d survive the war. In the snow, in the rain, no matter what, for 13 months she never missed.”

His anger did not subside. Instead he thumped me on the chest repeatedly and said, “You know, Joey, she still comes, every morning, and gives thanks for your salvation.”

He took one more shot at my chest, then walked away.

Father Flynn had a way of getting to me. The next morning I left to rejoin the Fleet Marines. On the way to the airport, I asked my buddy Tony Malara to stop by the church. I wanted to say a prayer and light a candle. I took a seat in the back pew and there, sitting complacently, was Father Flynn.

“Joey Boy, been waiting for ya,” he said. I smiled at him and he at me, and for the first time his scowl and scar did not look that menacing. I had never seen him smile.

As Memorial Day approaches, my thoughts align with the troops’ mothers who bear the sorrows of war. Their very beings are intertwined with the children they gave birth to and subsequently raised and nurtured. I can’t imagine the pain felt by a troop’s mother when she learns of the demise of her child. It must be a dagger through the heart, and I can understand T.S. Eliot when he says, “We die with the dying; they depart and we go with them.”

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