By Ryan Blessing
Photos by Annette Hanrahan
Men and women in uniform, from battle-tested veterans with decades of service to new cadets in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and ROTC programs, lined the pews at the Cathedral of St. Patrick during the 28th annual Red, White and Blue Mass on Sunday, November 3.
The Mass honored members of the Armed Services under the Department of Defense, as well as active, reserve and retired members of all the uniformed services. This year’s celebration also paid tribute to “Old Glory,” the popular moniker for the American flag.
The Reverend Thomas Hoar, the president and CEO of St. Edmund’s Retreat on Ender’s Island, was the celebrant and homilist. Father Tom is also the chaplain of the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton.
He told the story the late U.S. Sen. John McCain liked to tell of Michael Christian, a U.S. serviceman who was sent to a prison camp in Vietnam.
Using a bamboo needle and some thread from a Red Cross care package, Christian secretly sewed the United States flag on the inside of his shirt.
“Every morning after he was done, the prisoners would hang Michael’s shirt on the wall and pledge allegiance to the flag,” he said.
The prison guards found out and beat Michael Christian severely in front of the other prisoners. They ripped apart the flag and took Christian back to his cell.
“As soon as he could lift his arms and open his swollen eyes, he began to make another flag on another shirt,” Father Tom said.
He also addressed the young men and women in the Armed Forces.
“We need to pray that they not only do the jobs they are called to do, but that they do it as men and women of virtue.”
Everyone has been given many good gifts, including freedom, he added.
“We’ve been given the gift of freedom from sin and death by Jesus Christ,” he said. “These gifts are precious, and they are fragile. They are easily lost if we lose sight of them.”
Gift-bearers represented each of the military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Merchant Marine and the Coast Guard.
Several special moments in the Mass centered on music, performed by Armed Services members.
The Coast Guard Academy Glee Club performed “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” and “Stand for Fallen Heroes.”
Trumpeters played “Taps” and “Reveille” to pay tribute to those service members who died in the line of duty. Many, including those with Connecticut ties who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, were listed in the program booklet for the Mass.
Near the end of the Mass the Mystic Highland Pipe Band took up formation in front of the altar and performed a stirring version of “Amazing Grace.”
Following the Mass, many of the service members and their families gathered again in the church hall for a luncheon and to reminisce about their time in the service of our country.