War book is a ‘work of love’


By Father Joseph Breighner

If you like to read other people’s mail, you’ll love “Hearts Away, Bombs Away”. If you want a true story about real love, and real faith, you’ll love “Hearts Away, Bombs Away”.

My good friend, historian and writer, Jim Haas, gave me a copy of this book months ago. I slowly read it in various stages throughout the summer. Basically, the book is a compilation by Vince Gisriel, Jr. of more than 1,500 letters that his parents wrote to each other during World War II. His father was a bombardier on a B-17 in Europe. Vince’s mother, Martha, was mostly here in Baltimore.

For us “older folks” it will remind us of a time of simpler beliefs and basic values. Marriage was one man to one woman. Faith was simple as well. Martha writes of offering up communions and confessions and novenas for Vince’s safety. Throughout the book they speak of their faith in “Our Almighty Father, His Son, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother.”

It was a time of no emails or cell phones. They would wait weeks or months for letters to catch up to each other. You’ll read about Martha’s longing for Vince. They long to get married, and finally are able to arrange it. During the three years of his military service, they celebrate the very few times they get to be with each other. Martha writes of her thrill of being pregnant, and of her sadness that Vince is not with her to see all the cute things Vince Jr. is doing during his first year of life. It’s certainly a pro-life book as they both write of longing for more children, and all the things they’ll have to share with the grandchildren.

No doubt, for young readers this will seem like a visit to a time “long ago, and a galaxy far away.” Since I was born on March 1, 1945, just in time to end the war, it brings back many memories of the “old times” and the “old Church.”

You’ll probably learn a lot of things. As a kid, whenever I saw “war movies” it always seemed that the fighters were “grizzled veterans.” It’s shocking to think that our planes were manned by men in their early 20s! Our ground troops were as young, or younger.

You’ll learn, too, that not all of our challenges came from our enemies. You’ll read about how awful life was in some of our basic training camps here in the United States. Thousands of young men would come down with measles, and thousands of others would come down with pneumonia. As the old cartoon character, Pogo, once famously said: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

You’ll certainly learn a new appreciation of, and respect for, all those who defended our country in all the wars we have ever fought. Young men, and young women, have died, believing that the United States was worth dying for. Do we live lives each day with such goodness, love and gratitude as to be worthy of their sacrifice?

This book is a work of love. Vince Gisriel Jr. has obviously labored for hours to organize all those letters. It was worth the effort. It’s worth the read!

Yes, it’s sad that our unity as a nation was built around a war. But we were united in ideals and beliefs. May the best of those ideals and beliefs prevail today.

And, yes, the “old Church” is gone, but there are wonderful young people today in various ministries in the Church who still live up to those values and ideals.

And, yes, it is sad to realize that as a result of those many bombs dropped some loved one was not coming home in Germany or Japan. As we all know, those who fight our wars are not those who start them. Let’s make our collective prayer that we will address the “enemy within” – that we will heal our inner pain and anger and fear, – so that we do not have to project it onto enemies “out there.” In honor of Vince and Martha let’s work to make the peace of Christ real in our world. As John Lennon once said: “If we wanted peace as much as we wanted another television set, we would have peace.”

Copyright (c) Aug. 17, 2012 Catholicreview.org 

Catholic Review

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