By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published November 11, 2021
ATLANTA—During November—National Veterans and Military Families Month—Americans are encouraged to honor veterans and their family members.
John Cahalen put on his Army uniform after taking ROTC at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Connecticut native and cradle Catholic served in the Army from 1967-1973 with two years on active duty. His highest rank was first lieutenant.
Being in the Army was kind of an adventure, said Cahalen, 76.
“You get to meet a lot of different people and you learn a lot about leadership and a lot about yourself,” he said.
John and his wife, Pat, are parishioners at Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch. They have volunteered with the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter for four years, handling client intake and assisting with the food pantry.
Cahalen is a third degree member of the Knights of Columbus in his parish and a fourth degree member of the Lanier Assembly council #2844 based in Flowery Branch.
“If you’re a citizen, you have certain obligations to serve country and serve your community as well,” said Cahalen. “So I try to do that when I can.”
On Oct. 29, President Joe Biden proclaimed November as National Veterans and Military Families Month.
“As we approach this season of thanksgiving, we send our gratitude to millions of service members, veterans, military families, caregivers, and survivors who have served and continue to serve our nation,” said the president in the proclamation.
“We as a nation have a sacred obligation to properly equip and prepare our troops when we send them into harm’s way and to support them and their families, both while they are deployed and when they return home,” said President Biden.
Each Nov. 11, the United States honors its veterans—living and dead—who served their country honorably in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Space Force.
Originally named “Armistice Day,” President Woodrow Wilson originated the observance on Nov. 11, 1919. It honors the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918 that signaled the end of World War I. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.
Other countries honor their veterans on or around Nov. 11, while the name and commemorations differ from those in the United States.
As of Oct. 30, 2018, there were an estimated 697,000 veterans living in Georgia, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. Catholics make up about 20 percent of active duty military, reported the Congressional Research Service.
Faith and service
Members of the armed forces and police from around the world filled St. Peter’s Square on April 30, 2016, for a special jubilee audience with Pope Francis.
“[You] have the mission of ensuring a safe environment, so that each and every citizen can live in peace and serenity,” said the Holy Father. “In your families, in the various areas in which you operate, may you be instruments of reconciliation, builders of bridges and sowers of peace.”
Larry Vecellio, a Pennsylvania native and cradle Catholic, was an Army sergeant, joining three of his brothers who also served in the military. He enlisted right after high school in 1959.
While in Korea, Vecellio would drive himself and his Catholic commanding officer to 8 a.m. Mass on Sundays. He also helped the Korean children by giving them food and learning about their livelihood.
“It was a ministry right there, helping out the people over there too,” he said.
Vecellio, 80, has been a parishioner at St. Michael Church since 1972. At the Gainesville parish, he is an usher and member of the Knights of Columbus, where he has served as a grand knight and district deputy.
Overall, Vecellio enjoyed his time in the Army. Some highlights of his service were meeting President John F. Kennedy, teaching communications and working with others.
“It’s important to be standing up for your country, standing up for your flag,” said Vecellio. Being in service is one of the greatest honors, he said.
While Georgia provides benefits to its veterans, many return with difficulties navigating life outside of the military.
A recent survey by the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) reports Georgia veterans face a 4% unemployment rate with more than 7% living in poverty. Nearly 23% of Georgia veterans struggle with housing costs.
Catholic Charities Atlanta provides resources for veterans which include public and VA benefits assistance, financial education and mental health counseling. These services help veterans access their eligible benefits and become self-sufficient as they adjust to civilian life.
The Knights of Columbus is a global Catholic fraternity founded by Father Michael J. McGivney in 1882. Historically, the fraternity has supported veterans and their families, with patriotism being one of its four principles alongside charity, unity and fraternity.
According to the organization’s website, fourth degree members of the Knights of Columbus glorify God by serving their communities and nation. They work “to keep God in the civic area, serving the life of the church and defending laws that recognize the sanctity of life and true religious liberty.”
Mark Lobstein, 66, is a member of the Knights of Columbus and Air Force veteran who served from 1976-1982. His highest rank was staff sergeant E5.
“My faith influences everything that I do,” said Lobstein.
Originally from St. Louis, Illinois, Lobstein was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school. Before a recent move to Florida, his family worshipped at St. Michael Church for 20 years. While at the Gainesville parish, he was a eucharistic minister, lector, usher, religious education teacher, RCIA sponsor and as a member of the Knights of Columbus, served as financial secretary.
Lobstein helped to raise awareness and celebrate veterans at St. Michael Church. This included recognizing veteran parishioners and sharing information about veteran programs.
“We’ve had an impact and an influence on our parish and our community,” he said.
Parishes and ministries can support veterans by donating to Catholic Charities Atlanta and other veteran organizations, volunteering at a VA hospital and praying for them.
Lobstein shared his thoughts on Catholic veterans—“I think we all share along with the love of our church, our love of country.”