The Story About A Pilgrimage: From Catholic Military Chaplain, Vietnam Hawk And Medal Of Honor Recipient To Civilian Warrior For Peace
On July 29, 1986, Charles J. Liteky placed the Congressional Medal of Honor he received for his service in Vietnam at the base of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In his posthumously published autobiography, “Renunciation,” Mr. Liteky explains his reason for returning this award at a significant time in his life as he was taking the next step in his personal pilgrimage from a Roman Catholic priest, military chaplain and Vietnam hawk to a civilian warrior for peace.
Mr. Liteky passed away on January 20 of this year in San Francisco. A memorial service was held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church & Center in San Francisco on Saturday, March 4. “Renunciation,” which had been in development for several years, now has been published by friends who admired and often joined Mr. Liteky’s call for peace.
“Renunciation” is available on Amazon.com in paperback and ebook. The book also can be ordered directly from the new Charles Liteky website – charlieliteky.org . Learn more about the Charles Liteky story on the website and follow on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/charleslitekyrenunciation/
“Renunciation” explains Mr. Liteky’s journey from his impressionable days as a youth in Florida to his time as a Catholic priest and service as a U.S. Army chaplain. The story reflects on his decision to leave the priesthood and pursue a path as a peace activist.
Mr. Liteky displayed courage on the battlefield and then he displayed another kind of courage to question the military establishment and the church’s support of the Vietnam War. The story examines Mr. Liteky’s early days as a son in a military family, his path to the priesthood, military service as a chaplain and, then, after the war, working with courageous women and men to oppose U.S. military strategies around the world, including American foreign policy in Central America.
Horrified when four missionary women were murdered in El Salvador by that country’s national guard on December 2, 1980, Mr. Liteky and others opposed the training of Latin American officers at the School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. Mr. Liteky later opposed the war in Iraq.
“Throughout this book, Charlie’s voice speaks loud and clear for the silent and those who have been silenced,” said Joseph P. Fahey, a retired professor of religious studies at New York’s Manhattan College. “It is a challenging story for anyone in the military, for religious and for all of us. We hope that Charlie’s pilgrimage will inspire others to act when necessary and have the personal courage to change.”
Mr. Liteky never planned to publish a book about his life. He had written it to help “exorcise some of the demons” from his past. Mr. Liteky’s wife, Judy, finally convinced her husband to publish his story, insisting that his personal story would prove valuable to many others. Mr. Liteky agreed to publish his story once Mr. Fahey volunteered to see the book through to publication. A former nun, Judy Balch Liteky passed away during 2016.
Service In Vietnam
Mr. Liteky received the United States’ highest military honor for actions of bravery on December 6, 1967. He had volunteered, during 1966, to serve as a U.S. Army chaplain with the 199th Infantry Brigade. As he faced combat for the first time, he neglected shrapnel wounds and, without a weapon, helmet or flak jacket, exposed himself to mortars, land mines and machine guns to rescue 23 wounded colleagues who had been ambushed by a Vietcong battalion. He evacuated injured soldiers and administered last rites to the dying.
The Medal of Honor was awarded to Mr. Liteky for the lives he saved on the battlefield. He never thought that he deserved the medal any more than the many other courageous medics and soldiers who placed their lives in danger for their colleagues. These men included the medics who died on that same day.
Mr. Liteky is the only recipient of the award who is believed to have returned it in a demonstration of political dissent, opposing the U.S. government’s support for Central American dictators accused of brutally suppressing leftist guerrillas. Mr. Liteky placed the medal in an envelope addressed to President Ronald Reagan. He placed the medal at the Vietnam memorial. The National Park Service recovered the medal for the collection of the National Museum of American History.
Long after the war and after he left the priesthood, Mr. Liteky served two federal prison terms (1990 and 2000) for civil disobedience — his ministry of protest — for trespassing at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning. The reasons for his actions during the war and after were, according to Mr. Liteky, “to save lives.”
More About Charles James Liteky
Charles James Liteky was born in Washington, D.C., on February 14, 1931. Raised mostly in Jacksonville, Florida, he attended the University of Florida for two years. He then entered the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, a religious congregation in Silver Spring, Maryland, and he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest during 1960 as Angelo J. Liteky (the name under which he also received the military medal).
During his life, Mr. Liteky also resided in California, Hawaii, New York and Ohio, and his life was influenced by experiences in San Diego and San Francisco, Pearl Harbor, Brooklyn, Cleveland and Fort Benning.