Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Courage of His Convictions

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Courage of His Convictions

Article excerpt

On the day my older brother was due at the draft board our father did not go to work. This was shocking. He always went to work. He never took a sick day. He barely took summer vacation. He rose early every morning and had toast and coffee and put on his fedora and walked through a thin scraggly forest to the train. But this morning he stayed at the table drinking coffee. This was startling.

He was never at the table when we three youngest brothers were at the table mowing through breakfast before school. But there he was this day sitting companionably at the head of the table reading the paper. This was The Long Island Press, a broadsheet newspaper as big as a heron when it wings opened. As the oldest of the youngest brothers I spoke for us collectively when speaking for us three seemed necessary so I asked our father politely why he was at the table.

My younger brothers listened silently. I will be accompanying your brother to the draft board, he said, from behind the heron's wings. We did not know what a draft board was.

When our mother and our sister said the words draft board their voices were low and their faces tensed. Our brother had been in the Navy for one year of college and one summer during which he was on an aircraft carrier and sent us postcards. He never wrote more than ten words on the postcards. He was a terse gruff blunt brother who used words sparsely and pointedly and bluntly. He had no small talk, as our sister said. We did not know what small talk was either. We thought it might mean talk that did not mean anything, like when people nattered outside church after Mass.

The draft board was two towns away to the north. It was Local Board Number Four. When our sister said those four words you could hear the stern bristling dangerous capital letters. Those four words could send you to the war and the war could kill you.

We saw the war on television and on the heron when it opened its wings. Our brother had quit the Navy. He did not think that shooting people was a sensible way to solve conflict. He is applying to be a Conscientious Objector, said our mother. We did not know what this meant. A boy down the street said that this meant our brother was a Yellow Belly Communist Coward and I punched him in the eye and his father stalked to our house and stood on our porch and shouted at our father and our father who never ever raised his voice loomed out onto the porch and spoke quietly but curtly and the other father stalked back down the street with a red face and our dad was grim the rest of that afternoon. …

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