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No time for quitting

September 10, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The approaching sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was marked with a service of remembrance for the victims Sunday at Letterkenny Chapel, but this week could also mark a political milestone in the war on terrorism.

About 50 people gathered in the chapel, built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, to remember the nearly 3,000 people killed that day, and to honor those who have since served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ceremony came a day before Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, is to report to Congress on the war.

"Our men and women in uniform aren't about to quit," said guest speaker Col. Philip A. Mahalic, the Catholic chaplain at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., at the end of his address. "And it's up to us to make sure no one else quits on them."

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"I was privileged to watch the Master touch many lives," Mahalic said of the service personnel he ministered to before their deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, and during his time in that region in 2005-06.

"If your thing is ministry, you're going to love it here, because we go 18 to 20 hours a day," Mahalic said he told other chaplains.

The priest recalled one soldier calling him in the middle of the night asking for prayer after a convoy was attacked, not because anyone was killed or wounded, but in thanks that everyone had been spared.

At Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, however, he remembered the bodies of 10 soldiers being brought in, the victims of a Chinook helicopter crash. Rosaries and religious medallions were pinned to some of the body bags, he said.

Soldiers delivered hundreds of pairs of donated shoes to a boys' orphanage, he said, careful to give them directly to the children rather than to the headmasters to ensure the shoes did not end on the black market.

"Our American men and women have big hearts" and some would have adopted orphans, Mahalic said. However, the government of that country "won't take a chance these children might be brought up Christian."

Love of God, country and family still motivate many soldiers, all of whom volunteered to serve in the military, Mahalic said. They also "know they're doing the right thing," he said.

Since 2003, the chapel, built originally to serve Letterkenny Army Depot, has been owned by the United Churches of the Chambersburg Area, which sponsored Sunday's service and hosts other ecumenical services during the year.

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