The Catholic Thing
A Prayer for Soldiers Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 25 May 2009

The Cadet Prayer at West Point calls upon God, “Searcher of human hearts,” to help these future soldiers live above “the common level of life,” to chose . . .

. . . the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice, and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.

When you get to know cadets at the United States Military Academy, as I have had the privilege to do over the last four years, you are impressed by how thoroughly they take the prayer to heart, how dedicated they are to “Duty. Honor. Country.” (the academy’s motto), and how respectful they are of its blade-sharp honor code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

My older son, Robert Bradford Miner II, graduated from West Point on Saturday and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

My wife and I checked into the Thayer Hotel on Wednesday, since graduation festivities at West Point are pretty much a week-long affair. But unlike some visiting moms and dads of Firsties (West Point-speak for seniors) who may have been visiting the base for just the second time – the first being the weekend four years ago when they brought their son or daughter to the academy for Cadet Basic Training (aka “Beast Barracks”) – I have been to West Point scores of times (once or twice a month since 2005, including lots of football games), so I passed up some of the many Grad Week activities, which gave me a chance to spend time at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel, in prayer and with West Point’s chaplain, Fr. Edson Wood.

The Catholic Chapel

Fr. Wood has been at the Academy for sixteen years. I asked him for his impression of the cadets and military staff who are among his parishioners. “They are,” he said without hesitation, “the greatest people I’ve ever known.” I also asked if there were many weddings planned for the weekend – historically the various cadet chapels have hosted post-grad nuptials (cadets may not be married) by the score, one following upon the last.

“Not so much these days,” he said. “We have three scheduled, but graduating cadets don’t jump into marriage the way they once did.”

Because we’re at war and each of the new lieutenants will head to either Iraq or Afghanistan sometime in 2010?

“Yes. And that weighs on them. War and death are constantly a part of their realization of destiny.”

From my own experience, I know the academy staff makes sure – from the first prospective-cadet visit, through the complicated application and nomination process, and finally at acceptance and admission – that every new cadet and parent know that we are at war, we are likely to remain at war, and, as soldiers, West Point graduates will go to war.

For my wife, the most emotional moment came when she and I pinned Bobby’s gold bars on his first Army uniform, but that wasn’t what got to me. And it wasn’t the famous hats-in-the-air moment of graduation itself. For me it was at the final cadet parade on Friday.

The Class of '09 stands apart

As the rest of the Corps of Cadets marched away, back to the great stone barracks, the thousand Firsties remained alone on the wide expanse of grass known as The Plain. The music played by the USMA band echoed around the barracks arches, so that you thought you were hearing the answering sound of marches played by ghosts, welcoming the Class of 2009 into the Long Gray Line that reaches back to 1802 and beyond. Most of the rest of the Corps bore rifles on their shoulders; the Firsties carried swords, which glinted in the sunlight and made a most remarkable, martial sound as, regiment by regiment, the cadets sheathed them in unison. At one point, there was silence but for the drums and clicking cameras and, here and there, the sniffling of family and friends.

And I thought: Why am I crying now? And I realized: Because these noble men and women live by the highest ideal of all, self-sacrifice.

As the Cadet Prayer concludes:

Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer. Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country.

To which all of us (fathers, friends, and Americans) may say a hearty, “Amen!”

Oh, and “Hooah!” too. God bless all our honored dead, and also our newly minted soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen on this Memorial Day.

The author and LT Bobby Miner

Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing.

(c) 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (16)Add Comment
written by Beth, May 25, 2009
Thanks for this lovely tribute, Mr. Miner. My oldest is a Navy Chief Petty Officer and your piece brought back the pinning ceremony when he had earned that rank. How right we are to be proud of the great tradition of sacrifice through military service our sons have chosen! God bless them and all their brothers-in-arms.
Memorial Day
written by Pio, May 25, 2009
Amen! You and Mrs. Miner have raised a fine son. His generation and all past generations of soldiers should be honored for their selfless service to our country.
written by Kathy, May 25, 2009
Please accept the gratitude and prayers of Americans who value the sacrifices made by all the families whose sons and daughters preserve our freedom. God bless you and keep you.
written by Lee Gilbert, May 25, 2009
Self-sacrifice is indeed the highest ideal when it is undetraken out of liove for one's enemies, like the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of an army is to close with, capture or destroy the enemy. Or, as General Patton put it, the job of a soldier is not to die for his country, but to make the other poor bastard die for his country.

"You must love your enemy even while you are pulling the trigger," said our chaplain. We may hear this again at the Resurrection of the dead.
written by Susan Armstrong Torrens, May 25, 2009
I was so deeply moved by your article, Brad. You may not remember me -
Sue Armstrong Torrens, from Worthington. I share your pride in the young men and women who have selflessly committed their lives to the service
of our country. Today in Worthington, we had the annual Memorial Day parade - there were many veterans of wars past, including my own Father, Harold Armstrong. And now your young man joins the legions before him who have brought such honor to our country. You must be so proud
To Susan
written by Brad Miner, May 25, 2009
Sue: Of course I remember you. I've forgotten lots of other things but not you and not Worthington. I wish I'd been there to see the parade, although we had a pretty nice one where I live--made especially pleasant by having Bobby at my side and by the marching sailors and Marines in the NYC area for Fleet Week. -Brad
private-to brad
written by debby, May 26, 2009
since i cannot email u, will u respond 2 me?
my son (10) is enamored w/army guys. he offers much of his pain for the soldiers, esp 100 degree NJ humid days. he tells me about be a cook for the army, i hear him "kill all the bad guys." i have such a hard time w/this. i have declared,in front of my husband,that he was not born to kill anyone, but to save the life or better the soul of another, that he was born to give life, not take life. i understand the military as a VOCATION just as the Priest
to brad-continued
written by debby, May 26, 2009
Priesthood is a Specific Call. i know as a woman i'm not designed by God to desire war. i have tried but cannot reconcile my Catholic Faith w/military agression. i'm not talking about WW2 types of missions. but obama as commander in chief? how do you & mrs do this? i really want to be open to whatever God made Joseph for. please help me on this one.
i also love the noble men at arms.i just don't know ANY young ones; i've only heard bad contempory stories & glory old stories.HELP!
written by Raymond Mason, May 26, 2009
Brad, Very good. I just passed by West Point while returning to Columbus from a race at Lime Rock Park in Conneticut. My very best to your son. Please feel free to call when you are "back home"!
To debby
written by Brad Miner, May 26, 2009
Of course, my son's commitment began before Obama was elected; it will likely continue after BHO leaves office. Just as the institution of the presidency endures, so too the profession of arms will go on as long as there is an earth. What's key is duty. And honor. And country.
written by Mike Martin, May 26, 2009

Very nice. You really get to the core, in my mind, of what makes West Point in particular, and military service in this country in general, such an important part of our culture. I'm so happy to see your son - a great kid and soon to be great Army officer - carry on and enhance (which he certainly will) that tradition.


P.S. I love the last photo.
written by Steve, May 27, 2009
Many thanks for your wonderful article. It brought tears to my eyes.
I have a copy of the Cadet Prayer hanging on the wall behind my desk. I pray I will live up to the high standard it sets.
USMA '68
written by Rev. Kate Braestrup, July 02, 2009
Dear Mr. Miner,
My son Zach is a Marine, so I'm with you. I, too, am so moved by the nobility of these men and women: I remember thinking (weepily, of course) God, this is so precious. They are so precious. Please, please don't let us waste this. Don't let us waste them. Amen. Vaya con Dios.
To Rev. Kate Braestrup
written by Brad Miner, July 02, 2009
They are precious. I just received a photo of my son with SECDEF Robert Gates at the USMA commencement. Mr. Gates said: ". . . know that I think of each of you as I would my own son or daughter. I feel a personal responsibility for each of you. I have committed myself and the department I lead to see that you have everything you need to accomplish your mission and to come home safely to your families and to the honor and gratitude you will have earned." His voice broke. He meant it.
God bless them
written by Michael Hurst, October 12, 2009
Your article made me weep. I wept for the entire 4 years my son was at West Point and the entire 5 years he was in the Army. Like you, my wife and I went to West Point many times. These young men and women are truly our best. In their hearts and in that fabulous place lives the American soul. In this age of "self", they dedicate themselves to something greater than themselves - "duty, honor,country." God bless and protect everyone of them.
For Mr. Hurst
written by Brad Miner, October 12, 2009
Amen to that.

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