By Heather Wilburn, Fort BlissDecember 11, 2008
FORT BLISS, Teaxs--Members of the American and German Catholic communities on Fort Bliss celebrated the holidays by unveiling a memorial to the nation's fallen servicemembers.
Parishioners in the Saint Michael Catholic Community, along with special guests including El Paso Mayor John Cook and Bishop Armando Ochoa of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, saw the dedication of a plaque, bench and living Christmas tree during the celebration at Center Chapel 2.
Paul Doran, a member of Boy Scout Troop 248, took on the creation of the memorial as his Eagle Scout project.
"This event would not have happened without the inspiration of an extraordinary young man with a vision," said Chaplain (Maj.) Don Van Alstyne while speaking of Doran.
"Paul approached me about doing a project that would qualify him to earn his Eagle Scout badge," Van Alstyne continued. "After a little brainstorming, we came up with the idea of having a living memorial Christmas tree dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces who have given their lives in defense of our country and the extraordinary principles we stand for."
Doran originally intended to plant a garden at Old Fort Bliss for his Eagle Scout project, he said, but that effort fell through. At the urging of a neighbor, he went to talk to Van Alstyne about other possibilities. Once they settled on the idea of a memorial to the fallen servicemembers, Doran got to work.
"We ended up raising over $1,000 in about three weeks," he said. "We did a lot trying to raise money at the church and the Veterans Day Parade. We got the plaque, we planted the tree on the 22nd of November - I had some of my troop help, and some other people, some of my friends."
Doran said he feels good about the completion of the memorial.
"I think it will be something people can look at whenever they pass by and think about the troops over in Iraq that are fighting for their lives," he said. "I just want it to be something everyone can appreciate, and something that adds to the community."
Engraved on the plaque that accompanies the tree and bench, a passage from Chapter 18 of the book of Psalms lies above the phrase "In memory of all who have given their lives in service of out country."
"He reached down from on high and seized me; drew me out of the deep waters," the passage reads. "He rescued me from my mighty enemy, from foes too powerful for me. They attacked me on a day of distress, but the Lord came to my support. He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me."
"How appropriate it was that, as we approach the Christmas season, Paul decided we should have a Christmas tree dedicated to our men and women in uniform," Van Alstyne said.
"May our men and women who are in harm's way feel our solidarity with them," he prayed. "May we understand their sacrifice and the war on terrorism as a mission to make all people free."
Following the dedication, a group of about 25 young Catholic community members took part in a living nativity Christmas pageant to bring to life the Christmas story.
"The pageant is a great opportunity for children to have the Gospel come live to them so they understand the true meaning of Christmas," said pageant director Kimberly McHugh. "That's why we have it: to make the children understand their faith, to make it more concrete."
McHugh, who has directed Christmas pageants at four different duty stations over the last seven years, took the reins at Fort Bliss for the first time this Christmas. Through it all, she said, the best part of directing the pageants has been the understanding the children gain of the birth of Christ.
"I believe that when they're acting out the story, they really understand the story itself, about Jesus' birth and what that means to us as Catholic Christians," she said. "When you get bogged down from all the holiday rush, just look in the face of a child and you'll see the real reason for Christmas."
Jacob Lockhart, 11, took part in the pageant for the first time this year, taking on the role of Joseph of Nazareth. Preparing for the pageant was hard work, "but not that hard," he said.
"My favorite part is that we get to celebrate Jesus' birth, and that he's going to be king someday," Lockhart said.
"We're celebrating that Jesus is born," agreed Connor McHugh, 13, who played a shepherd. "The pageant shows people how great it was for Jesus to be born."
After the pageant, members of the audience joined voices to sing Christmas carols in English and German. A visit from Saint Nikolaus, who came prepared with treats for children, capped off the evening's activities.