I've got mail! (E-mail is making snail mail more exciting than ever!)
Today I received a treasure box from Fr. LaFleur's family: leaflets, booklets and other memorabilia, all to promote awareness of this nearly forgotten chaplain. He volunteered for the Army Air Corps in 1941 (before the US entered World War II) out of concern for draftees who didn't have a choice about military service, and when he was assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group, it turned out that he was the first chaplain they had ever had. When their base (Clark Field) was hit, Col. E. L. Eubanks wrote, "he went among the wounded soldiers...never once did he take cover." When the 19th Bombardment Group was ordered away from Clark Field, their ship was hit by machine gun fire from Japanese planes. Fr. LaFleur crawled on deck, somehow dodging the bullets, to pull a wounded officer to safety. As the ship sank near a small island, Fr. LaFleur stayed on board helping the others shove off. He was the last man off, diving into the ocean and catching a ride on one of the small boats. It was on that island that he was eventually taken prisoner of war (he refused the chance to leave by plane with a small group of men).
As a parish priest, Fr. LaFleur had hocked his watch to buy sports equipment for his kids. As a P.O.W., he traded his glasses to get good and supplies for the sick and wounded. On Davao (Philippines) he built a chapel with his own hands. He called it "St. Peter in Chains." He used an eye dropper to measure out the wine for his daily Mass.
It was only in character for him to die as he did: helping men out of the hold of a burning ship.
Fr. LaFleur and others like him really "left all things" and followed Christ. They didn't look out for themselves first and then, with what was left, take care of other people: they really gave themselves wholeheartedly to their people, trusting their own lives to the care of God. The more I think about it, the more I think Fr. LaFleur's story needs to be told, and that he ought to be proposed as a model priest to the young men in our seminaries.