Fr. McNellis, who is teaching philosophy at Boston College this year, served as an Army infantryman in Vietnam before entering the priesthood. He joined more than 30 fellow veterans last Friday in the Lower Campus Dining Hall Heights Room for the inaugural Boston College Veteran's Day ceremony.
Standing before veterans whose service ranged from World War II's Battle of the Bulge to the modern military's high-tech environment, Fr. McNellis recalled the old infantry soldier's refrain: "You have never lived until you have almost died. And to those who have done so, life has a sweetness that the protected will never know."
The ceremony, sponsored by the Office of Human Resources and the campus Army ROTC unit, honored the 183 known Boston College students and graduates who gave their lives in World War I, World War II and Vietnam. It was organized at the request of Local 254, the Service Employees Union at Boston College, according to Associate Vice President for Human Resources Robert J. Lewis.
Lewis said that while Veteran's Day is not an official University holiday, employees who had served in the military wanted to commemorate the day's significance. Based on the inaugural ceremony's turnout of veterans, representing all military branches and a wide range of University departments, Lewis said the event may well become a campus tradition.
Facilities Services groundskeeper George Thompson, who served in Vietnam with an Air Force security unit at Da Nang in 1967, was one of the University employees who helped launch the idea of a veterans' event.
Rev. Paul McNellis, SJ, who served in Vietnam, speaks during the Nov. 10 ceremony recognizing military veterans in the University community.
"We talked to our shop stewards about having some sort of ceremony to commemorate those who lost their lives, as well as those who served and are still with us," Thompson said. "The ceremony was a very touching moment. I hope that it will be the first step to having a memorial service each year, and maybe someday we will have a memorial plaque that lists the names of all alumni, faculty and staff who gave their lives for our country."
During the ceremony, student members of the University's ROTC unit read a roll identifying 60 of BC's deceased war heroes. Each name was recognized by a response of "I answer for him" delivered by one of the veterans in attendance.
As a coda for the event, Fr. McNellis read part of the homily delivered to the Class of 1943 by the late Rev. William Leonard, SJ, at a Mass celebrated for those students heading off to military service.
"'We who have taught you and given you our best and come to love you, we shall miss your bright faces, your boyish honesty, your unspoiled goodness,'" read Fr. McNellis. "'We shall look for the happy day when you come back to us for the years of peace.'"
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