Michael had never seen Mass as an obligation, but rather as a source of strength and spiritual fulfillment.The opportunity despite his chaotic surgical schedule to attend mass daily on the base was his anchor in this sea of madness. Father Ray a Jesuit chaplain celebrated mass when it was possible each morning, and would make the rounds in the infirmary distributing communion and blessing all of the individuals under his care. Father Ray or “: Father Nails” as he was affectionately called because he was an extraordinary man who was deeply admired by everyone on the base .While on patrols with other Marines he never ran when the firefights began .He tended to the wounded and dying with a calmness that defied logic. One morning after making surgical rounds and receiving communion Michael was invited by Father Ray to have a beer and a smoke outside the infirmary .The two sat on the steps of the hootch and clinking two bottles of beer sipped the ice cold brew.
Father Ray took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket ,and offered Michael a cigarette. Michael never had a cigarette in his life and waved his finger at Father Ray in a dismissive fashion. He told Father Ray smoking was a habit that would have dire health consequences . Father Ray smiled and said “living in this hellhole you believe that smoking is even near the top of the things that can do personal harm to me?Every day I deal with snakes,rashes,dysentery sniper fire , and you think I should be alarmed because of my smoking?” Michael laughed and said “I guess on the list of the things that would impact your health smoking is probably very low” Father Ray took a cigarette out of his pack lit it ,, took a deep drag and said” How are you holding up Michael? “”I guess as well as could be expected Father. Some days are overwhelming when you deal with so many lives that are changed forever Father Ray took a deep drag and said” I can imagine because there are things that you and I see that will be embedded in our minds forever.” Michael nodded in assent. and said” However I have to tell you in some way I feel privileged to be here. I am humbled by the approach of these young kids with regard to their buddies. Frequently while attending a wounded Marine the first thing he will say is I’m okay Doc take care of my buddy he’s a hell of a lot more severely wounded than I am.” These kids are so brave that I feel privileged to operate on them. Also I have developed a strong love for the Marine Corps, and the sacrifices these kids are willing to make”
. Father Ray was silent for a few seconds but finally responded.” Michael this may come as a shock to you but the reason I asked for this assignment has little to do with the Marine Corps or with the US involvement in the war,” Michael was confused by the statement.”Not sure what you mean by that Father.”Reaching for another cigarette Father Ray responded “I don’t believe in war Michael, and I am here only to minister and help. I take no pleasure in the killing, and though I keep it to myself there is no joy for me me in viewing the bodies on the rice patties there are referred to as “Gooks”. Those are just like our kids,they are persons.”Michael is not used to anyone on the base feeling this way and has difficulty digesting Father Ray’s words. ” Don’t you believe in the just war theory?”” Michael I think the just war theory is bullishit. Every day you and I deal with the horrors of the so-called just war.There has to be a better way for people to behave in this world “Michael immediately responded” but there is evil in the world that must be addressed.”” Michael people in high places start these damn wars and young people pay the price. Those kids on the other side believe as deeply as our kids that they are fighting for some noble cause.. Or they are fighting to protect the life of the kid next to them. Once war starts morality flies out the window.”
Michael is to some degree shocked by Father Ray’s beliefs ” I gather that you are of the school of Father Berrigan and all the protesters in the states “” I know Dan Berrigan and do not always agree with his tactics, but I totally agree with his position on war.” Michael did not wish to be involved in confrontation, but needed more deeply to understand Father Ray. ” Would you disagree that the United States should have fought against the evils of Germany and Japan during the world war?”No I would not; my point is that war is always the result of human failure, political failure, social injustice ,poverty, greed and a host of other moral failures “I respect your views Father but I guess I’m still very patriotic, and believe in the righteousness of what we’re trying to do”” I’m also patriotic Michael but not blind to the false premises of all politics Every time I cradle a mangled kid and anoint him I am filled with anger for any and all who cannot see the insanity of the situation.”