‘No One Has Greater Love’ Than the Fallen

“Greetings from the President of the United States. Your friends and neighbors have selected you to represent [them] in the Armed Forces …” 

And so begins the so-called “friends” letter notifying a young man that he has been conscripted. The “draft” has not been used since the Vietnam War, yet we still honor draftees on Memorial Day. 

But to be clear, this holiday means more than the traditional start of summertime fun. 

Rather, it honors all who died defending the U.S. And we do mean “all” — no matter their birthplaces, ages, or genders. 

Consider that thousands of soldiers died at the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. Gen. George Washington observed the fighting from present-day Court Street and Atlantic Avenue (near what is now a Trader Joe’s market). 

“Good God,” he said, watching Maryland troops battle the British. “What brave fellows I must this day lose.” 

About 1,000 men captured at Brooklyn were held by the British on “prison ships” anchored around Long Island. Thousands more, including women, joined them. Most died of starvation or disease. 

On Dec. 13, 1862, the so-called “Irish Brigade,” mostly immigrants who lived in New York City, lost 530 men while attacking Confederate-held high ground in the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. 

The Irish Brigade’s 69th Regiment also gained distinction during World War I. Still, many died, including the poet and convert to Catholicism, Joyce Kilmer, who wrote the poem, “Trees.” 

Meanwhile, a Brooklyn priest, Father Ward Meehan, was an Army chaplain. Later, he became pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Jackson Heights. He suffered poisonous gas attacks during the war which may have contributed to a longtime illness. He died in 1949.

Other clergy killed in combat were the Army’s “Four Chaplains” lost in the sinking of the troopship SS Dorchester in 1943. Among them was Father John Washington of Newark. 

Korea, the “Forgotten War,” claimed Raymond Smith, a teen Army infantryman from Brooklyn. He was deemed “Missing in Action” in December 1950 at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. His remains were finally identified via DNA and returned to Brooklyn in 2021. 

In Vietnam, Father Vincent Capodanno, a Navy chaplain from Staten Island, died on Sept. 3, 1967, helping U.S. Marines in combat.

He is a candidate for sainthood. 

Brooklyn lost another son, Marine Maj. Eugene McCarthy, during the First Gulf War when his attack helicopter crashed in Saudi Arabia. 

It’s worth noting that this aviator’s older brother, Dennis McCarthy, died in 2018 of 9/11-related cancer he contracted as a federal investigator searching for evidence in the toxic rubble of the World Trade Center complex, the earliest battle in the Global War on Terror. 

All these stories attest to a supreme devotion for the “friends and neighbors” named in that old draft notice. Indeed, their sacrifices amplify John 15:13 in which Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”