The Catholic Defender: Father Duffy of the Fighting 69th
One of my favorite old movies is called “The Fighting 69th”.
This is the story of a largely Irish regiment with the additions of other ethnic groups who had fought in the Civil War with distinction. I remember the 4th Alabama that fought for the South had once defeated the “Fighting 69″ in the Civil War, now they were being merged as one unit.
One of the greatest American Chaplains of all time served for this unit during World War I, Father Francis Patrick Duffy.
He was a Catholic Priest who served as an Army Chaplain during the Spanish and American War.
Because of the impending war to end all wars, Father Duffy was appointed as Chaplain of the “Fighting 69th” based out of New York in 1912.
Father Duffy by this time was promoted to Major and served as the senior chaplain of the 42nd Division.
Joyce Kilmer, a noted poet of the time wrote of the sea voyage across the Atlantic, “as long as the mess-line,” people would be waiting to go to confession.
Can you imagine this today? This is powerful. I will insert a story in Iraq that a Priest told me of a Soldier who came to Confession, he had been in several conflicts and was worried he might not make the next one out alive.
Father heard his confession and sadly, the Soldier was killed within six days in a battle.
Father Duffy continued to have long lines of Soldiers going to confession.
Father would offer Mass every morning using a make shift altar from a long board on two nail kegs.
It did not take the “Fighting 69th” long to enter the war, they arrived in France in November 1917.
If you scene the movie “War Horse”, you can get an idea what the trenches was like.
The Fighting 69th took position from French forces at Luneville in the Lorraine sector in 1918.
After two days of bombings they were hit by mustard gas killing over 400 Soldiers.
Father Duffy was always up on the front lines hearing confessions and offering Mass.
He was well loved by all the Soldiers as he encouraged them.
Father Duffy was most known for his presence among his troops.
He would travel with the medics which is common today, I was graced to serve with several Catholic Priests in a war zone.
I remember always having a chaplain with our aid station in the Gulf War. I would be serving Mass daily (Father would make an altar using MRE boxes) in the Saudi Arabian desert and Father and I would walk around the perimeter praying the Rosary together.
Operation Iraq Freedom was different in that we were not set up like a conventional front line situation. We were set up in Joint Security Station’s (JSS) many of which never had a Catholic Priest.
I was utilized by the Archdiocese of the Military as a Catholic Minister offering Catholic “Liturgy of the Word” Services.
Father Duffy showed great moral courage in the face of the heaviest fighting.
He was there to give care and comfort to the wounded offering the Last Rites to the dying.
Father Duffy's story really is a great inspiration. In a world when PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is common due to loud explosions, in the old days we would call that "Shell Shock". For some, faith and adrenaline would make some people react heroically while others fall apart. You really do not know how a person will react until the situation presents itself. Training is very important because most people will react in automatic mode when situations take place. Situations will happen that will require you to have to react. Chaplains in the Military are very important because of their position of support in the heart and souls of the Soldier.
Father Duffy exhibits a strong leadership quality that brought people back to reality, to get a hold of themselves. I want to show a scene from the "Fighting 69th" when Father Duffy was able to cause an effect that changed a Soldiers life:
Father Duffy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal.
After the War, Father Duffy would serve as a Parish Priest in New York City.
If anyone out there from New York would like to send pictures of any monument that would be great!
Father would publish a book, “Father Duffy’s Story” about his experience in World War I. He died in 1932.
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."