A Terrible Beauty

vietnam-war-larry-burrows-01Below is an excerpt from a speech given August 13, 2018 at a conference by Archbishop Chaput (Philadelphia).

a photograph with the title “Reaching Out.” I want you to study it. October 1966 saw a series of heavy firefights between American Marines and North Vietnamese regulars in the jungles and hills just south of the DMZ. This photo was snapped on Hill 484, moments after a hand-to-hand battle for the hill had ended. The man with the head wound is a gunnery sergeant, or “gunny,” the senior enlisted man in a Marine company.

Two things are obvious. The Marines around the gunny are trying to get him to a medic. And the gunny is doing the opposite – ignoring his own pain to help a wounded young Marine bleeding in the dirt. What’s not obvious is something outside the frame. The same Marines had just dragged the sergeant away from the body of their dead company commander, who had called down friendly artillery fire on his own position to keep his men from being overrun. The beauty in this photograph – what the poet William Butler Yeats called “a terrible beauty” – is the love among men in the shadow of death; men in the extremes of pressure and suffering. Not a romantic love. And certainly not an erotic love. But the loyalty-love of men made brothers by the tasks and burdens they share.

Men don’t often talk about this love, but it’s real. It’s the love that enables a man to sacrifice his own life in service to someone or something more important than himself. It’s the love that takes the male of our species and remakes him into a man.

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