May 25, 2015

Dear Friends and Family of the Diocese of Eau Claire,

As we honor those who have died defending our nation, it is time to recognize that the role of our military in American life has changed. This began with the end of the draft during the Nixon administration. Prior to that time the concept of the citizen soldier prevailed. While the draft only applied to males, its impact made nearly every family a military family.

Today there is a socio-economic division between those who serve and those who don’t. The military remains the best means for young people to escape poverty, poor education, and a ghetto existence. The military may be harsh, but it is the most fair institution some young people have ever encountered. In our armed forces you have no choice but to work hard, think clearly, and serve others. Unlike civilian life where you can quit or a business can ignore you or deal capriciously with you, the military evaluates you, forces you to work even when you hate it, and rewards your good work with promotions.

Today’s military doesn’t want people who don’t want to serve. Still, the loss of the citizen soldier is problematic. Today’s Congress has fewer members with military experience than in perhaps the past 100 years. I am not comfortable when leaders can commit our military into wars when their own children are immune from danger. I hate war. When a future president decides to send troops into combat, it would be helpful for him or her first to visit a VA Hospital. There he or she would be forced to spend time with wounded veterans from past wars.

I enlisted in the Navy in 1970 because I was about to be drafted into the Army. A year later I became a commissioned officer. When I was released from active duty in 1974, I thought someone let me out of a closet. My college classmates were way ahead of me in developing their careers. I soon realized how much I had grown because of the Navy. I had patience. I was a problem solver. I knew the world didn’t revolve around me, and I wasn’t as important as I might like. Self-discipline and hard work had become part of my character. Finally I learned that if I were doing my job properly I didn’t need to be afraid of anyone.

In 1986 I became a Chaplain in the Navy Reserve. I served another 22 years before retiring in 2008. My time with the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are today treasured memories. During my total of 26 years service my life was not my own. I was mobilized during the first Gulf War in 1991. I was fortunate not to be killed or injured. As a Navy Chaplain I helped many people in the military and became a much better priest and now bishop as a result. My wife, May Ruth, and our three children suffered some of the hardships and enjoyed many benefits of military life. I never would have done this if the draft hadn’t forced me to enlist. What began as a curse became a blessing. God in his wisdom has special ways of guiding his people. I wish you a meaning-filled and reflective Memorial Day. Do what you can to support our troops. They are worthy of it! With my love and best wishes, I am,

Your brother in Christ,