The video above depicts Father Michael Quealy saying Mass in Vietnam. The video has no sound, but without words we can see the fervor with which the priest is saying Mass. That was all Father Quealy. Whatever he did in this world he did 100%.
Born in New York City on September 11, 1929, he dreamed as a boy of being a missionary in Asia. He would go to Asia, as a priest, but as a Chaplain in the Army. A graduate of Seaton Hall University and Maryknoll Seminary, he had served as a priest in the diocese of Mobile Alabama, before joining the Army as a chaplain in 1965. He did so to bring the sacraments to soldiers on the battlefield in Vietnam. As much as it was in his power, he wanted no soldier to die fighting and go into eternity spiritually unarmed.
Assigned to the third brigade of the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One, in June 1966, he quickly began hitching rides on medical evacuation choppers. They would be going to where the fighting was, and as far as Chaplain Quealy was concerned, that was where he needed to be. He would land, help with the wounded, usually under fire, and give the Last Rites to the dying. He did not check to see if the dying were Catholics, reasoning that the sacrament would do no harm to non-Catholics, and might do them an infinity of good. Troops began to talk about this Catholic Chaplain who was fearless.
Eugene Tuttle, a soldier with the Big Red One, recalled Father Quealy:
My battalion was near Father Quealy’s the day he was killed in Tay Ninh province on Nov. 8, 1966. The terrible news reached me the next day, He had heard my confession in Lai Khe about a month earlier. Young men dying was bad enough, but it seemed like a sacrilege for a priest to be killed while providing comfort to the wounded and dying. I had met him months earlier on my first full day in the field, when before boarding our tanks and APCs, to be sent out as “bait” until reinforcements could rescue us, Chaplain Quealy invited the Catholics among us to join him. He told us that reconnaissance had just confirmed the VC were dug in and waiting for us in the bush. He then draped his stole over his shoulders, reminded us that an Act of Contrition could substitute for confession when one was in immediate danger of death. It was an unforgettably dramatic moment, and the chaplain was an unforgettably kind man. I regret just learning of this opportunity now to pay long overdue homage to him. God bless his soul!
On November 8, 1966, Father Quealy heard about fighting near Tay Ninh and rushed to get aboard a medical copter. A staff officer tried to dissuade him, saying that it was much too dangerous a situation. Father Quealy did not even slow down, but shouted over his shoulder, “My place is with them!”
The first battalion, twenty-eight infantry was under such intense fire that the helicopter Father Quealy was on board had to circle for an hour before it could land. When it did, Father Quealey charged into action. Here is a report of what happened next:
1st Infantry Division
Rel No. 1484-11-66
Nov. 16, 1966
DI AN, RVN, (1st INF DIV IO) – It was a short ride from Soui Da to the battle area, but the fighting was so intense on November 8th that the Dust Off chopper was forced to circle the “clearing” for more than an hour. “When we finally went in,” the pilot remembered, “we were being fired at from three sides. I don’t know how we ever got out. But Father jumped out and helped load on the first wounded. I never saw him again.”
Chaplain (Captain) Michael Quealy of New York City joined the Army in early 1965 because he wanted to serve the soldier who had no time to search for the Sacraments. He knew that if there is no priest to celebrate the Mass, to serve Communion, to hear Confessions, to Anoint the sick, then the soldier will go into battle and perhaps into eternity, spiritually unarmed. And Father Quealy did not want that to happen.
Commissioned a First Lieutenant, Father Quealy underwent training at the U. S. Army Chaplain School, then was assigned to Fort Ord, California. In January, 1966, he was promoted to Captain. In June, he was assigned to Vietnam, to the 1st Infantry Division.
Serving with the 2nd and, more recently, the 3rd Brigades, Father Quealy gradually formulated a solution to the question he was forever asking: How can I be sure to be in the right place at the right time? He rode the Dust Off medical evacuation helicopters into the battle area, then, when there was more than one wounded, would jump off into the action, there to help treat and evacuate the wounded, to pray with the injured, give Extreme Unction to the dying, and to console the shaken survivors.
He had seen battle in Operation El Paso, Operation Shenandoah, and, finally, in Operation Attleboro. For him, the battle of November 8 differed only in the way it ended.
“He was talking to the wounded who were laying on litters around the Command Post. Bullets were coming from everywhere, but he kept going from one man to another, doing his job,” said one lieutenant.
“He asked me where the most action was,” a sergeant recalled. “Then I saw him run right down there and start pulling the wounded out. I know at least five of those guys owe their lives to him.”
“The bravest man I have ever seen, said Jack Whitted, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry.
A soldier who was near him when he died explained how it was: “there were three machine guns firing at us down in this corner. One of them got Father Mike and he fell, right on the edge of the battle area.” And so, trying to save a soldier’s life and soul, Father Michael Quealy was killed.
“Greater love that this no man has, that a man lay down his life of his friends.” “As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for Me.”
Father Quealy would be posthumously awarded a Silver Star.
After he was hit, his diary fell out of Father Quealy ‘s pocket. The last entry was a passage copied out from the Gospel according to Matthew: “So will my heavenly Father treat you unless each of you forgives his brother with all his heart.”