Dearborn Heights’ annual Memorial Day Mass and Military Honors ceremony this year was again held next to the main office of the St. Hedwig Cemetery & Mausoleum.
Dave Endyke, the Memorial Day Chairman and commander of the Pvt. John Lyskawa-Tutro Post 7546, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, while thanking the cemetery and its manager Randy A. Dolney for holding the event, said that this was the 30th year he was participating in the event (four which he chaired). He had experienced rainy days, hot days and cold days, “and this day the rain held off.” Endyke expressed hope that rain would continue to hold off for the event’s guest speaker, Col. Rod Faulk.
Father Michael Zielke, minister provincials of St. Bonaventure Province, began the ceremony by celebrating the mass under the big tent. He began by joking, “I didn’t bring the rain from Chicago, I promise, so that’s all right, God’s blessing us,” before delivering a homily reflecting on three scripture readings from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Romans 5:5-10 and John 14:1-6 and 21.
Zielke began by reciting an ancient homily for Holy Saturday by an unknown author: “Something strange is happening. There is a great silence on Earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole Earth keeps silence, because the king is asleep.
“The Earth trembled and is still, because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh, and Hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parents as for a lost sheep, greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death.
“He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve. He is both God and son of Eve. The Lord approached them, bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.
“At the sight of him, Adam, the first man that he created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him, ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, ‘Awake, oh sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light, Christ will be your light.’”
Zielke said the homily was a great reflection for those gathering to celebrate the Memorial Day mass in St. Hedwig, “because we are a people of faith,” noting that the church had just spent the past 50 days celebrating the Easter season, preceded by 40 days of Lent, and concluding with the solemnity of Pentecost the previous day.
“(The Easter season is) where we recall and remembered for 50 days how Jesus conquered our sin, and how he rose from the dead” he said. “And those of us who keep the struggle of faith alive in our hearts will follow Jesus, and be victorious over death because of what Jesus did for us when he rose from the dead on that first Easter morning.
“It’s good for us to remember, it’s good for us to come as a community of faith to celebrate Mass here at St. Hedwig’s cemetery, because we Christians need to remember, and we need tangible things in our lives to help us remember,” Zielke said.
Zielke noted that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was referred to in the reading in John, in which Jesus was conversing with the apostles, his closest followers and the eyewitnesses of all of Jesus’ words and deeds. Though they were clueless on what he repeatedly told them about how he was going to conquer sin and rise from the dead on the third day; Zielke continued; when Jesus told Thomas “I’m the Way, I’m the Truth, I’m the Life,” those words struck a chord deep in the apostles’ hearts and “center of their being.” Once Pentecost happened, Zielke said, the Spirit enabled them recall to mind what Jesus tried to teach them on the meaning of his message and mission that had been recorded “in their hearts, in their souls and in their minds.
“Those three years Jesus was in public ministry; preaching and teaching about God’s reign; preaching and teaching how much God wants to be part of our lives: preaching, teaching and living, giving us concrete examples of how this God is about love,” he said. “A God of hope.”
The mass’ second reading from Romans explicitly declares, “God is hope,” Zielke said, and the hope does not disappoint because it is rooted in Jesus, and one remaining faithful to Jesus will share Jesus’ life. While it is sad to have to surrender a dearly loved one back to God, he said, “remember that Jesus conquered sin, that he conquered death, and because of what he’s done for us, we will share in his endless life.”
Zielke recalled the Memorial Day service that had occurred the previous day on the Mall in Washington, D.C., particularly the tributes given by family members to their parents and their siblings “who gave the ultimate sacrifice” and who became members of the military for this country. The common thread in all those stories, he said, was love.
“Why did they do what they did?” Zielke asked. “Why were they willing to lay down their lives for their countrymen and women?
“All because of love. There’s no other reason. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us, when he came and walked on this Earth 2,000 years ago to reveal the Father to us—he wanted to reveal God’s love for us, so every time we do what we’re supposed to do, every time we take seriously our vocation in life, we’re a living witness of love, what Jesus tried to do 2,000 years ago,” Zielke said.
Gathering to celebrate Memorial Day and offering the liturgy is a reminder that God is “counting on us” to be witnesses to His love, he said, and Zielke added the query that once people left the mass and the cemetery they visited their loved ones, how they would continue to be witnesses of this love, and allow God to work with and through them to tell that story of love to today’s world, since “doesn’t our world need authentic witnesses to God’s love?”
This makes the world a better place and more filled with peace, he concluded. All of the veterans gathered at the St. Hedwig ceremony would attest that war is terrible and brings suffering to many, he said, but “fortunately, we have men and women who are willing and able to answer that call to be of service, to risk their lives, so we can continue living our lives, so the example and witness they are for us—not just today on Memorial Day, but it’s good we have a day to honor our veterans.
“Those who have died, giving the ultimate sacrifice, their very lives, it’s good we have a Memorial Day to remember,” Zielke said. “But let’s remember we are a people of hope, and let’s remember that the God of love is counting on us.
“He’s asking us to be his witnesses, he’s asking us to go forth and be his disciples. What’s our response to the Lord, how are we are going to answer his question?” Zielke said.
In the veterans’ part of the memorial service, Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel S. Paletko thanked St. Hedwig Cemetery and the Franciscan Order for putting on the event, as well as thanking the veterans present at the ceremony. Paletko gave strong assent to Zielke’s view that the motive for military service “is embedded in love, and the least we can do is remember them in a loving way.”
The one thing he wanted to share at the ceremony was one of his periodic lunches with other mayors the previous week. Paletko said the other mayors were talking about Memorial Day, like how their cities had extra bands for their parade or had more clowns than in another community. Then one mayor asked why Paletko was not saying anything.
“Then I explained to them the solemn terrific event that we hold to remember those who have served, the men and women of our country, and their jaws just dropped, and they couldn’t believe it,” Paletko said. “But I am very proud that this is a ceremony, the solemn event that we have that we can remember all of our loved ones.
“And Col. Faulk, I’m so proud to be his mayor, he does such a great job at inspiring talks, and when we need a speaker he’s always there but he’s so great, but I also know he can’t say no to (American Legion Carl E. Stitt Post 232 past commander and general manager) Joe Mitchell—and I can’t either, so I know the situation he’s in,” the mayor said.
Endyke introduced Faulk as a 32-year army veteran who had multiple overseas deployments. Faulk said more important than being an army reserve, “I am your neighbor.” He began his speech by telling about being out for a run that morning, and deciding to go on a little further than normal. “Just as my 29-year-old body (interrupted by his query, “I don’t look 29?” as the audience broke into laughter) was aching and telling me you should slow down and walk for a little bit,” he saw his friend Mitchell had gotten up at 7 a.m. and pulled up to the light at Warren and Beech Daly.
If Mitchell could be out at 7 a.m. and work to get the Stitt Post ready for the Memorial Day event, Faulk decided, then he could pick up the pace and finish the run. Faulk then asked for all the Gold Star families in the audience to stand, and he thanked them “for your gifts of selfless service” to America and their neighbors.
Faulk noted numbers seemed to define Memorial Day, as more than one million Americans had died since the Revolutionary War, and ticked off each of the numbers dead in recent conflicts: 116,000 in World War II, 36,000 in Korea, 58,000 in Vietnam, 4,500 in Iraq, and 2,300 in Afghanistan. However, he said, these numbers hide the human dimension of war.
“People are not numbers,” Faulk said. “They are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors, so I’m not going to focus on numbers today.”
Instead, Faulk focused on several military marches. Last weekend, in training with his army reserve unit, the 103rd Sustainment Command Expeditionary, he conducted a trail march with full pack load of equipment.
“It was an event oriented on enhancing the morale and fighting spirit of the unit, by participating in the joyful act of completing a common soldier task as a team,” Faulk said. “It was a quiet morning and it was early, and I had some time to think during the event.”
The march brought to mind other famous foot marches by other foot soldiers, according to Faulk, such as the relief of the besieged 101st Airborne Division in the city of Bastogne and the Bataan Death March. In the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st defending the road junction at Bastogne was the lone obstacle to the Germans seizing the roadways through eastern Belgian they needed to reach the port of Antwerp.
The scenery in the movie Patton depicted the harsh reality of having to march 90 miles to Bastogne, Faulk said, through that pass by motor vehicle or on foot in the snow. What made this effort more daunting was its size, he said, having the entire Third Army (with three corps, 14 divisions, 150,000 men along with all their supplies and equipment) withdraw from an attack near Metz in France, move in the dead of winter around Christmastime, and to immediately attack the besieging Germans.
“Patton’s army had already dashed across western Europe following D-Day, crushing the German army in its path,” Faulk said. “The Third Army overcame adversity to complete its mission to relieve the 101st at Bastogne, and on the way captured almost 765,000 prisoners of war.”
Faulk also told the story of what happened after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines, when the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly marched 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war 60 miles, while inflicting “severe physical abuse and death upon prisoners along the way.” Those who survived the beatings, bayonettings, mistreatment, receiving little food and water, heat and exhaustion, he said, found conditions no better after arrival at their new camp.
“Yet these American soldiers persevered this existence until their rescue during their great raid of Cabanatuan,” Faulk said. The prisoners were escorted back to American lines, he said, after a reinforced company of Rangers from the 6th Ranger battalion surprised and decimated Japanese forces in and around the camp in a 30-minute attack under the cover of darkness.
Faulk asked where can you find men such as those who participated in these marches? Faulk also noted that today’s U.S. Army has one quarter of its strength scattered across the globe; with Afghanistan, Iraq, Sinai, Korea, Central America and Africa being a few of the places they are stationed in. The 8,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and 2,300 more in Iraq are conducting train, advise and assist missions.
Just this past Saturday, he had sent one of his units of 25 to Afghanistan, so Faulk said the army reserve is scattered across the globe as well. Again, since all volunteered by swearing an oath that was like signing a blank check to their fellow United States citizens for “an amount up to and including their life,” he asked why they would do that.
“I expect the answer is rooted deep within their hearts,” Faulk said. “Nurtured by an upbringing with a family of sound moral fiber.
“But maybe they heard the calling from the Almighty, as in Isaiah 6:8. ‘Then I heard the Lord saying, whom shall I send, who will go for us? Here I am, I said, send me,’” he said.
Faulk also concluded the spirit in the American soldier that endured the Battle of the Bulge and Bataan was the same spirit in the American people, a determined spirit of individualism that enabled America’s forefathers to endure the first harsh winter in their settling the New World, even though half of them died of illness and exposure.
“Where do we find these brave men and women?” Faulk asked. “Who are these people, these patriots who defend us?
“They’re not ‘they,’ they are you, your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. They volunteered, and swore an oath ‘to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and to obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the uniform code of military justice, so help me God,’” Faulk said.
However, Faulk also passed along a warning from President George Washington that American young people would be only as willing to serve in any war, “no matter how justified,” as they perceived American veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated. Faulk said he would add to that warning his own caution that young Americans’ willingness to enter the service “as directly proportional to an understanding of the cost of freedom, and how they perceive we honor our war dead.”
The 2015 Memorial Day of today originally dates back to General Order No. 11 by John Logan in 1868, he said, as a day “to honor our fallen warriors.
“You know there’s a time for baseball and barbecues, and other beautiful things in life,” Faulk said. “There’s harsh reality that evil exists. and there’s unfortunately then also a time for taking to arms.”
Faulk quoted Albert Einstein as saying that whatever heroic sacrifices are made ungrudgingly for the cause of war, people should be ready to do the same in the cause of peace. Faulk added “there is no task more important or more closer to my heart” as the U.S. Army and its reserves are engaged globally.
“And today we remember their ultimate sacrifice–always remember, ‘All gave some, some gave all,’ because freedom is not free,” Faulk said. “I’d like to leave you with a verse, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.’
“Thank you, and may God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America,” he ended.
During the mass, prayers were offered for the pope, archbishop, clergy and religious laity “committed to the church’s mission of peace;” for honoring the memory of “all dear to our hearts” like fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers; for all buried and entombed at St. Hedwig’s; for civic leaders,; for all members of the armed forces; for those in need of prayers, especially victims of natural disasters; and for all of those assembling that day to celebrate the Eucharist.
Endyke directed the laying of the wreaths by Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 16, by the Stitt Post, by the Stitt Post Ladies Auxiliary, by the Stitt Post Sons of the Legion, by the Lyskawa-Tutro VFW Post, by the VFW 7546 Ladies Auxiliary, by the VFW 7546 Men’s Auxiliary, and by the Dearborn Heights city officials.
After the joint military honor guard of the Lyskawa and Stitt Posts ended the memorial service by firing three volleys and playing “Taps,” the Stitt Post members held a dinner at their post, while the Lyskawa Post invited all who attended the memorial service to come to the post for hot dogs.