These Catholics Died While Serving Their Country This Year

Every year I try to share a few stories of Catholics who died in service to their country since the last Memorial Day and, heartbreakingly, they aren’t hard to find.

They leave behind children, spouses, parents, parishes, and friends — but also a legacy of love and inspiration.

Captain Casey comes home.

The body of late Marine Captain Jack Casey was brought home to Dover, New Hampshire, for his funeral in February.

He died at age 26 in a helicopter that crashed during stormy weather in a training exercise in California, but not before being awarded the National Defense Service Medal and other honors during his time in service.

Local Catholic schools held a day of remembrance for him. Casey graduated from St. Mary Academy and St. Thomas Aquinas High in Dover. He played football and lacrosse, and was on the robotics team.

“Jack was an epic human being. He was bright, hilarious, and a light in this world from the moment he was born. He was the youngest of five and learned the precious skill of knowing when to take the high road,” says his obituary. “His personality was a remarkable combination of drive, ambition, and intelligence, tempered with an incredible sense of fun, humility, and kindness, with the unending ability to make any room he was in a happier place.”

A local veteran of  World War II and the Korean War was among the mourners. “How could we not be here to support him?” he told a reporter “He’s a hero for us now and the family needs the love and support.”

Dr. Karen Rupp, a leader of doctors and mother of five.

Dr. Karen Ann Rupp, of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, died on April 14 and received a Mass of Christian burial at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Shelbyville, Alaska.

She is survived by her husband, Joe, and five children: three girls and two boys.

She had an impressive career that culminated in her position as Chief of Aerospace Medicine at the 354th Medical Group, overseeing Aerospace Medicine Operations, Public Health, and Occupational Medicine at Eielson Air Force Base.

A classmate remembered her from school days, saying on Facebook, “She left quite a few of the cadre speechless when she did the Counseling Capstone exercise —  some gave her a ‘Best Seen To Date.’”

One well wisher said, “Thank you Karen for your service, God Bless you, and God Bless your family. May you forever feast on cheese and crackers, French onion soup and salad, Alaskan salmon with asparagus.”

Supporters closed the street for Jacob Galliher.

U.S. Air Force staff sergeant Jacob “Jake” Galliher died on Nov. 29 in a training mission off the coast of Japan with eight other servicemen. He leaves behind his wife and two sons, a newborn and a 2-year-old.

The street in front of St. Agnes Church in Dalton, Mass., had to be closed to accommodate all of the mourners.

“Jacob was an incredible son, brother, husband, father and friend to so many. His short life touched and made better the lives of hundreds, if not thousands in Pittsfield, in this region and everywhere he served,” said his family. “We are mourning and ask for privacy and prayers for his wife, his two amazing children, and all of us while we grieve and prepare for his return home.”

Galliher was an airborne linguist specializing in Chinese-Mandarin and a “model airman” according to Major Gilberg Summers, who served with him.

“With a ready smile, Jake brought the unit together on and off-duty through humor and an inexhaustible supply of energy, whether it was on the aircraft, in the gym, or on the slopes with the team,” he said.

Jason Araiza, a beautiful soul.

Jason Araiza, was remembered at a funeral at Holy Family Catholic Church in Duxbury, Mass., after he died unexpectedly on Nov. 28, as an active member of the U.S. Navy stationed in Norfolk, Va., and assigned to the U.S.S. George Washington as an Interior Communications Electrician.

As a freshman at Duxbury High, he played football. “After suffering a concussion, he continued to support his team, cheering them on at every game,” reported his obituary.

His life’s dream was to serve his country in the military, and he did so in the Navy after high school, achieving the rank of Petty Officer Second Class. His awards included the Navy and Marines Corps Achievement medal.

He was a fan of fencing, sailing, and taekwondo, where he achieved a blackbelt.

“He will be remembered for always being his authentic self and known by family and friends as funny, kind, accepting, selfless and supportive,” said his obituary.

“Rest easy, Jason. You touched the lives of everyone you met and your beautiful soul will be missed every day,” said a supporter.

Memorial day is a day to mourn, but also to celebrate.

The sacrifices made by those who serve in the U.S. military are especially impressive in the 21st century. People are more cynical than ever and are afraid of the future. Yet these men and women gave themselves to a profession that calls for the ultimate sacrifice, and whether they died at home or abroad, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.