On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Armistice with Germany went into effect, ending the hostilities of World War I, known at the time as The Great War, and The War to End All Wars. We began celebrating Armistice Day a year later, and the day was made a federal holiday in 1938. Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954, and it is a day to honor all military veterans.
Veterans like Dennis Rocheford. After graduating from high school in 1967, he joined the Marine Corps and was soon serving as a radio operator in Vietnam in Alpha company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. During the Tet Offensive in early 1968 he earned his first Purple Heart when he took mortar shrapnel to his face while taking Hill 881 during the siege at Khe Sanh. By the time he left Vietnam he had earned a second Purple Heart when he was shot through-and-through during a bridge ambush. He stayed in the Marine Corps another two years, went home to his high school sweetheart, then left for college at the University of Massachusetts. It is people like Dennis Rocheford who have earned our thanks and appreciation when we celebrate Veterans Day.
In November, we Catholics also celebrate something else: The Solemnity of All Saints, and it is also the Month of Holy Souls in Purgatory. In a sense, November is “Veterans Month” for Catholics as we remember and pray for all those who have battled Satan as part of the Church Militant, and have gone on before us to the Church Penitent and Church Triumphant. Individually, we are all soldiers in a daily battle for our own souls. Together, we are a band of brothers in the battle of Christ’s Church against the forces of Satan. Leading us into battle are our Deacons, our Priests, our Bishops, our Cardinals, and our Pope. And Dennis Rocheford.
You see, Dennis Rocheford attended a retreat during college where he felt a calling to become a priest. After completing his bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in philosophy in just three years, he chose the priesthood over his high school sweetheart. He enrolled in St. John’s Seminary in Boston where he was the only military veteran in his class of 225 when he was ordained in 1977. In 1987 Father Dennis joined the active duty ranks of the Navy Chaplain Corps where he served the spiritual needs of Marines and sailors from Parris Island to Kosovo until he entered the reserves in 1998. As a reservist, Father Dennis deployed twice to Iraq, adding a Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal to his decorations, while he provided spiritual comfort to those young men and women who were in harm’s way.
We are defended by those in harm’s way every day we wake up under the flag of freedom. But we must remember that every day, every one of our souls is in harm’s way. Our souls and the souls of those around us are under attack by an enemy who’s forces of the fallen want nothing more than to separate us from God. Our souls are in danger every day because we are all but mere mortal men, and no matter how much we pray and how pious we try to be, we are all susceptible to Satan’s evil schemes. Even Father Dennis.
On the early morning of September 10th, 2009, Father Dennis drove to Newport Bridge in Rhode Island, the largest suspension bridge in New England, and plunged into the waters below. We will never know the demons Father Dennis carried with him. All we do know is that morning, the demons won a battle they had been fighting for decades.
This month we pray for the souls of all those veterans who have left the ranks of the Church Militant, and ask Almighty God that His mercy be granted upon them so that they may rest with Him in eternal glory. And we also ask that those souls pray for us, so that we may pick up our swords and shields as we enter the fight again tomorrow, and emerge triumphant.