Friday, April 19, 2024

Veterans’ Voices: Candid Reflections on Years of Service

During our visit to Berwick on October 29 for the story about the parishes’ flag project in honor of those who have served, The Catholic Witness met five Catholic veterans who spoke about their time in the service. A portion of their remarks are shared below, with a full-length video of their interviews available online at

We are grateful to these gentleman for speaking with us, and we thank them, and all veterans, for their service.

David Hough, United States Navy

I served in the Navy for 5 years, and 17 years in the reserves. I flew P-3 Orion aircraft, which is submarine long-range patrol aircraft. I’ve had just under 5,000 flight hours. My first five years, I was in the Western Pacific, out of Barber’s Point Hawaii. In the reserves, I operated out of Willow Grove Naval Air Station outside of Philadelphia and I deployed to the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, South America. I’ve been around the world: so far west to the Persian Gulf and so far east to the eastern Mediterranean.

I had a very enjoyable career and enjoyed it a lot. Made a lot of great friends; I still communicate with guys I knew 45 years ago.

I was born and raised Protestant. I converted to Catholicism when I was in the Navy and met my wife. I converted to Catholicism while at Barber’s Point, Hawaii. I had to do Catechism classes. I met with the base chaplain, Captain Kelly, who was from Philadelphia originally and was a Navy captain. He was a wonderful gentleman. I’d do my lessons and then he and I would meet on Sunday mornings after Mass, and he baptized me into the Catholic faith.

Joe DiPippa, United States Air Force

I served in the U.S. Air Force, 1969-1972, stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Keesler Air Force Base, Vandenberg Air Force Base approximately two years; Vietnam 1971-1972.

I spent one year in Vietnam, at Tan Son Air Base in Saigon. There, I probably got the job of the year in taking care of the rest-and-recuperation people. It was a great job. I met a lot of very good people. Unfortunately, it was a tough situation but it worked and I got home safely.

I was very active at one time with the Catholic War Vets, for roughly 40 years, and very active with the American Legion of Bloomsburg, Pa. I try to help out as much as possible with veterans because, as everybody knows, when we came back from Vietnam, it wasn’t a good situation. I try to help out as much as I possibly can in helping people.

Emil Banks, United States Army

I was with the 82nd Airborne, 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, Charlie Company, and then I did a little time with the 25th Infantry. I served in Vietnam.

I want to tell you the importance of having a good chaplain with you. When you’re 18 years old, and you did your first firefight and you come back, you find out very quickly that you’re not in Kansas anymore. You need a good priest who can talk to you because you’re scared. Anybody who says they weren’t scared after a firefight ain’t telling the truth. You’re scared, you’re confused. Things that you learned as a child, you find out don’t count anymore. I know a good chaplain who helped me along the way, so it’s a very important program to support. A chaplain is very comforting to bring you back to reality. He’s a priest and quasi-psychologist. I was a small-arms specialist, a rifleman. That’s my story.

Thomas DiBattista, United States Navy

I joined the Navy in 1968…. They sent me to Beachmaster Unit 1 in Coronado, California. We had to go out daily and practice on the beach. When the Marines attacked, we’d have to say where all the boats would go: ‘Ammunition goes here, medical supplies go here, the wounded go here.’ We’d bring the boats in or send them out. We had Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo (LARC), five tons. Their tires were six-feet high.

One experience: If they’re jumping off a boat before it’s stable, they could die; the boat will run over them. I was in Japan on a beach op, and we were told not to go onto the ramp. The petty officer in charge was standing on the ramp and holding the cable. The cable went slack and we were in a five or six-foot surf. The boat lifted up, the cable went slack and then snapped, and the petty officer went under the boat. I was the only one there bringing that boat in. I dove underneath, but couldn’t open my eyes because of all the sand being stirred around. I thought, “I’m going to die reaching for this guy.” I finally felt his shoulder, then grabbed him across his chest, pulled him up and drug him out. He thanked me for saving his life. It’s not something you think about; you just do it.

Al Prasnikar, United States Navy

I shipped out on my first ship, the USS Capodanno, the only ship in the Navy blessed by the pope. It was named for Father Vincent Capodanno, a Marine who won the Medal of Honor serving his fellow Marines. I felt kind of good about that. I worked down in the bellies of the warships, down in the boiler rooms, and I asked one of the guys, “What it is that we do?” He said, “We’re known as a torpedo or missile sponge. If a missile or torpedo is going toward a carrier, we’re supposed to get in front of it.”

You’re on an 18-month cycle, where you’re deployed for six months, and your main mission is to keep the sea lanes open for shipping. But then you end up in these hot spots in the world, where people are being oppressed, dealing with tyranny or anti-freedom…. We decided to make a career and I did 30 years, retiring in 2010. Then I was invited to serve as an advisor to some decision-makers in the Navy, and I’ve been doing that for ten-plus years.

God’s plan for me was to live a life of value. I’m proud of what we do…. When you’ve seen some of the things that these folks have seen and that I’ve witnessed in the world, you realize that there’s no place like home. When somebody is disrespecting the flag and all the generations that came before it that spilled blood and sacrificed lives for the freedoms that we enjoy today, it rubs you. But I think that with hope and faith…there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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