Some of my fondest memories as a child were when my parents took my brother and me to the parade every 4th of July and reserved a prime spot for us on the corner of Tooele’s Main and Vine streets to watch the floats, the bands, the horses, the fire-trucks, and yes, the military men and women from Tooele Army Depot who didn’t just stroll down main street, but who marched in front of us with precision.
From an early age, the parade of military men and woman caught my attention because I loved everything about their military bearing: I loved their discipline, uniformity, conformity, cadence, lockstep, pressed uniforms and shiny boots, not to mention their weapons, which inspired me to no end. Needless to say, either in the front or back of my mind, I vowed with a “boyhood dream” that when I grew up and became a man, I would enter into the military. Ironically, my desire to enter the military existed long before my desire to become a Catholic priest, which at least in my mind, is an “army” in and of itself — an Army of God!
Because of my love for the military branches and appreciation of the men and women who have served and continue to serve, I am grateful that my turn to write this week’s article for the Matters of Faith came up this week just prior to Nov. 11, Veterans Day, and not just any Veteran’s Day, but the “mother” of all Veteran’s Day: The 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day!
In an article called, “From the Archives: Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War 1,” Scott Harrison stated, “One hundred years ago, on November 11, 1918, World War I ended. The fighting ended at 11a.m., the ‘eleventh hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. The armistice was agreed upon at 5 a.m. on November 11. While news spread quickly, fighting continued until 11 a.m. Army private Henry Gunther of the 79th Division was killed at 10:59 a.m., a minute before the Armistice took effect. He was the last American killed in World War I.”
These are interesting facts, but the article that really caught my attention is the article called, “100th Anniversary of World War I — 1918 ‘The End of the War to End All Wars.’” The author wrote, “It’s been called the Great War and The War to End All Wars. We know it as World War I. It began in 1914 and ended with an armistice on November 11, 1918. That morning, Germany bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with imminent invasion, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiegne, France. The First World War left nine million soldiers dead and 21 million wounded, with Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary France and Great Britain each losing nearly a million or more lives. In addition, at least five million civilians died from disease, starvation or exposure.”
I mentioned that as a child my first attraction to the military began with my appreciation of their military bearing that still inspires me even now. However, I can say that as an adult today, my appreciation for the military extends way beyond the uniforms; it extends to the heart and soul of every man and woman (past or present) who has been willing to sacrifice everything for our freedom. This includes their families (wives, husbands children and lives) so that you and I can take a stand, a stand for the flag, a stand for our freedom, a stand for our nation, and, most importantly, a stand for our God who set the example for every man and woman in the military, and for you and me, as to what it means to love, to sacrifice and to lay down our lives for our God, for our country and for others.
Let’s not forget that it was Jesus who laid down his live for you and me there on the cross!
In more than one way throughout his presidency, and especially during his Armistice speech 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson spoke about the fact that as Americans, we cannot just look out for ourselves; we must be willing to lay down our lives for others, to be that beacon of hope for the despairing and to be that light for those countries that are living in darkness:
“The peoples who have but just come out from under the yoke of arbitrary government aid who are now coming at last into their freedom will never find the treasures of liberty they are in search of if they look for them by the light of the torch. They will find that every pathway that is stained with the blood of their own brothers leads to the wilderness, not to the seat of their hope. They are now face to face with their initial test. We must hold the light steady until they find themselves.”
May these words by President Wilson, “We must hold the light steady until they find themselves” give us a spirit of gratitude for all the military men and women who have made us proud by their military bearing; by their willingness to lay down their lives and by their vigilance to guard and protect other nations by being that “steady light.”
As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, I am proud to say that just like the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh hour when World War I ended, I was blessed to be born on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour: Nov. 11, 1960.
I am also proud to say that my “boyhood dream” of wanting to enter the military when I grew up, came to pass. After I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served for three years. After I got ordained, I was commissioned with the Navy for one year, and several years later, I was commissioned with the Air National Guard. The military has been very, very good to me, and so I must say that it was the military that inspired me to become a Catholic priest and to join another army, the Army of God.
May God bless all of our Veterans, especially those who laid down their lives for our freedom. May they be counted among the saints in heaven, the choir of angels and the Army of God!
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.