Politics & Policy

Son of Liberty

A son's calling and a mother's heartache.

Twenty-four-year-old Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, a Humvee mechanic, was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004, when his unit was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire in a firefight outside Baghdad. By now, the whole world knows that Casey’s mother, Cindy Sheehan, did not want him in Iraq and did not support his decision to serve in the military.

But Casey, a devout Roman Catholic, believed that he could do no other: He believed that God had called him to military service.

“It’s all he wanted to do was serve God and his country his whole life,” his sister, Carly Sheehan, told the Associated Press shortly after his death. “He was a Boy Scout from age six or seven and [an] Eagle Scout. It was kind of a natural progression to go into the military from that. He said he was enjoying the military because it was just like the Boy Scouts, but they got guns.”

Allison Corrigan, a family friend, said that Casey, who had reenlisted after the start of hostilities in Iraq, “definitely is one of those people who lived his life through a higher calling. He knew there was something big he was supposed to be part of.”

On a memorial website devoted to Casey’s memory, friends Judy and Jim Brennan recall Casey as “a person of dignity and purpose. Being in the military was important to him.”

And in a piece titled “Missing Casey,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported the Sheehan family told friends, “Casey was convinced that while in uniform he could help people, that Casey wanted to be a chaplain’s assistant and perhaps make a career out of the Army.”

This, of course, is precisely what his mother did not want him to do. I don’t blame her. I’ve been married to the military since 1987, the year my husband became a commissioned officer in the United States Army. It’s not a warm, fuzzy career choice, and military wives spend a lot of time worrying about where their husbands might be sent. Today we have two healthy sons who have reached draft age at a time when their country is at war, and likely to remain so for many years. Do I want them following their dad into military service? I admit it wouldn’t be my first choice.

If it were up to mothers, no son or daughter would ever volunteer for military service. We don’t like seeing our children do dangerous things, whether it’s leaping from the top of jungle gyms or volunteering for rescue missions in Iraq, as Casey Sheehan did.

But if mothers really could pick their children’s careers, what kind of a world would we have? We would wake up one morning to discover that we had no more soldiers, policemen or firemen, no freedom fighters, no prison guards or life guards. We would find ourselves in a world in which the strong preyed upon the weak, a world in which millions would be abandoned to the tender mercies of death squads and serial killers, to those who rape and torture, exploit and enslave. What a terrible world it would be.

In his book, The Call, theologian Os Guinness writes: “At some point every one of us confronts the question: How do I find and fulfill the central purpose of my life? … Answering the call of our Creator is ‘the ultimate why’ for living, the highest source of purpose in human existence.”

Some people are called to medicine; others are called to the priesthood. Still others, like Casey Sheehan, are called to put on a uniform, pick up a gun, and defend their country in times of war. “There is joy,” Guinness writes, “in fulfilling a calling that fits who we are and, like the pillar of cloud and fire, goes ahead of our lives to lead us… Our gifts and destiny do not lie expressly in our parents’ wishes, our boss’s plans, our peer group’s pressures, our generation’s prospects, or our society’s demands. Rather, we each need to know our own unique design, which is God’s design for us.”

This is not easy for parents to accept, but accept it we must. Whatever our children are called to do, our job is to honor their decisions and to pray for them as they carry out necessary human tasks in a fallen world.

Casey Sheehan was not the first to die performing these tasks, nor will he be the last. Next month we will recall once again the terrible events that launched the war against Islamofascist extremism. On recently released audio records of that day we hear the desperate cries for help, and of the valiant efforts to save the victims. A commitment to their callings led hundreds of police officers and firefighters, and at least one priest, to their deaths that day–brave and noble men killed in service to their neighbors.

A sense of calling means that each of us does our best to help free the world from the darkness and devastation that threaten to overwhelm it. Through work well done, we witness to the One who calls us–just as Casey Sheehan did.

Anne Morse is a freelance writer in Virginia.

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