Hero to hero


When Father Patrick Killilea was in the Fall River Diocese, I always enjoyed conversing with him; absorbing his joyful demeanor and quick wit. I once had the pleasure of serving on an Emmaus Retreat team with him.

When he was assigned to the Island of Molokai, fortunately he agreed to write a column for The Anchor. Again, I have always enjoyed his wit and heart. And with the move to Hawaii, he became affectionately know to me during Anchor staff meetings as “Father Ukulele.”

In this Anchor edition, Father Ukulele wrote about one of his heroes, St. Damien; a man who should be high on the hero list of every Christian and person of good will. Whenever our beloved priest in Hawaii writes of St. Damien or of St. Marianne Cope, I can’t help but think of my dear old dad, Larry.

As I have often mentioned in my column, Larry was one of my greatest heroes for just about everything he did in his 96 years on earth. I find it appropriate that I can make a connect with Father Killilea’s hero and mine.

Again, as I have often mentioned in columns, Larry enlisted in the United States Navy shortly after the deadly attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. Despite the fact that they didn’t have a uniform to fit the height-challenged Jolivet (a French-Canadian trait that has carried on for a couple more generations now, much to my children’s dismay), he was quickly brought through basic training and sent out to the South Pacific aboard a Navy destroyer. At such a horrendous time, the country and the world needed as many able bodies as possible, no matter how large or small.

In his final years, when his mind and body were failing him, Larry shared the many troubling stories of war he endured aboard that vessel. Not until his later years did he share any of them.

As he told them, I would look into his blue eyes and see he was back aboard that ship in the South Pacific.

There was one tale he would often repeat. One that stuck with him, and has since adhered itself to my memory. Occasionally the ship he served on would travel north from Japanese territories to Hawaii to restock and for a brief respite from the horrors and anxieties of war. But the trips north weren’t totally without stress.

The Island of Molokai was still home to hundreds of Hansen’s Disease or leprosy patients who were ostracized from the rest of the world. These folks and the people who cared for them endured great suffering from not only the disease and its ravaging effects, but also from being shunned by an entire planet.

If that weren’t enough, the U.S. military would use parts of the island for war exercises. In Larry’s case, the ship on which he sailed would use part of Molokai for target practice. The five-inch guns would take aim at the tiny island. They weren’t firing where there was a human presence, but there is no doubt that the inhabitants of Molokai could hear and see the shells blasting into the terrain. Surely these people who already had more than their share of misfortune were terrified by the sights and sounds. Who knows if they even knew if the shells raining from the sky were friend or foe?

Larry knew very well who the island’s inhabitants were, and his heart bled for the people there and what they lived with every day of their lives. And his heart was broken for the fact that war ships were peppering their home with weapons of destruction and fear.

When the war ended four years later, Larry came home and made a point to regularly donate to the people on Molokai; a tradition he carried on for the rest of his life. When he was admitted to Catholic Memorial Home, I would look through his mail at my mom’s house and he was still receiving mailings from Molokai for assistance. That, too, left a great impression on me.

St. Damien just missed being a part of the ugliness of World War II, having died in 1940, but I’m sure Father Ukulele’s hero was smiling down on my hero as he kept the “misfits” of the world in his heart always.


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