By Sidnee Grubb (’18)
Veterans never say die, especially when it comes to giving to others.
These two veterans not only astounded us with their assistance in United States conflict, but with their whole-hearted dedication to a lifetime of service.
Father John McBride, S.J. (’49) now resides in Los Gatos, California, alongside other Jesuits who are retired. It’s a perfect setting for reflecting on where life took him, which he was happy to do with me during a pleasant phone visit this fall.
Fr. McBride shared the struggles and victories of his fellow soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII and in the jungles of the Korean War. He assisted Washington State Senator Warren Magnuson as a military aide when he was working on a Japanese peace treaty. He guided the Gonzaga ROTC program in its infancy. He created a sense of family among the students of Monroe High School in Fairbanks, Alaska. He led and revived an indebted congregation of a church in Woodburn, Oregon. He practiced deep care of the individual the Jesuits foster among the prisoners of McNeil Federal Penitentiary.
In the summer of 2016, Fr. John McBride was honored in San Francisco for his service with the famous 7th Calvary Regiment in the Korean War. His name is now forever among those who risked their lives for the liberation of South Korea. This memorial stands for so much more than gratitude or recognition, it stands for remembrance.
The moment Father McBride looked upon his plaque, he was reminded of the impact he had on the world, and the impact it had on him. While this memorial represents the weight of remembering, and how it is a load the living must bear, it is not always burdensome. For Fr. McBride, being remembered and remembering is a point of pride, one that he circles back around to the Gonzaga community that he has never forgotten.
At only 18-years-old, John enlisted to fight in World War II, training in the summer, traveling in the fall and fighting in the winter. On a 30-day leave from the European front, he anticipated being sent next to Japan. It was on that leave in the fall of 1945 that the war ended, and John moved into the next stage of his life: Gonzaga University. Here, John found great military science development at the university.
Spurred by war time, the Gonzaga academic experience included war time education. All freshman and sophomores were required to complete courses in military science, and the first Gonzaga ROTC chapter was being established. McBride, being a young veteran, was promoted to senior ranking and was later awarded for the leadership he brought to the program.
“I am very happy that I had the service, and I had it at ROTC at Gonzaga University,” he shared. “I could study the Sermon on the Mount in one class in the morning, and later in the day have lessons on infantry life and attack method. It was two different parts of life that really impacted an officer in his life and his career.”
After graduating from Gonzaga, McBride was drafted for the Korean War, which demonstrated that the influence of the Jesuits and the ROTC program had made him an even more adept leader. He became not only an officer in the famous 7th Calvary, but also was offered the opportunity to be a military aide to Senator Warren Magnuson who served on the Senate Committee for Fishing and Maritime. He found himself a participant in historical moments and a companion to the powerful.
When McBride returned to the United States, he contemplated on what was next for him in life, and despite being offered a life of political glamour and continual service to his country, he sought service to God through the Jesuit order.
“I always prayed with the wounded and dying in my platoon. When you have a soldier who is wounded and dying he yells, ‘Mama, where are you?’ that instinct (to pray) comes out. I thought if I were a priest I could do a lot more,” says McBride.
That thought lingered in his mind, even as he fought in battles. He wrote a letter to Father Corkery, president of Gonzaga at the time, who replied, “Maybe you should do something about it.”
Fr. McBride’s life as a Jesuit has led him through schools, prisons and hospitals. There was Monroe High School in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he says it was like family. In fact, he still hears from about five of those students. He led men’s spiritual retreats in Portland, Oregon, then pastored a struggling church in Woodburn, Oregon, and in 1971, found himself chaplain at a federal penitentiary on McNeil Island in Steilacoom, Washington. There he created a community of compassion.
“You can’t change their sentence, but you can make programs that make their time more bearable,” said Father McBride of his prison ministry. As an example, he led a prisoner’s assistance program which created funding opportunity for the struggling families of prisoners.
“We have to work for the common good every day,” he said.
For some, simply remembering isn’t enough; one must jump into action. For Patrick Rooney (’71), a recent experience aboard a Navy medical ship was a decision made based on a whim and a stirring in his heart to help others. If you ask him what impacted him the most, it’s not the personal impact on him, it’s continual praise for the active duty members of the United States forces who he met.
“This recent experience included the third generation of those in service to our country. Those serving today are simply the BEST! The training, morale, dedication to mission, the can-do attitude, respect for senior personnel, self and fellow sailors and Marines, the pitch-in-and-get-it-done mindset, relying on each other to finish the job, and respect for the uniform and what it stands for, especially in foreign lands with others watching.
With the provocative actions by certain players against other more vulnerable players, the United States continues perhaps 100 years of diplomacy in the Southeast Asia region. Dr. Rooney himself experienced the struggles of that diplomacy during his service in the Vietnam War, but says, “As imposing as military strength can seem or be portrayed, the United States of America is a very compassionate and humane member of the world neighborhood.”
Dr. Rooney is usually a family practice dentist, but while aboard the USNS Mercy was a dentist, doctor, and teacher to thousands of people of the Philippines. He harkens back to a time when he had a Gonzaga University chemistry degree and no certain plans for his future. Serving others in the armed forces, giving love and commitment to his wife and children, and now stepping out of his comfort zone to share his skills and talents with those in need has given his life new purpose.