Autobiography for Peace Activist Who Renounced His Medal of Honor Published Posthumously
He was a Roman Catholic Priest who served as a United States Army Chaplain during the Vietnam War. In a 1967 battle, he carried more than 20 wounded soldiers to safety. For his bravery and courage, Charles J. Liteky received the U.S. military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor.
Nearly 10 years later, he left the Catholic priesthood, and influenced by his wife, a former nun, became an activist for issues of social justice. However, in 1986, he became the only recipient to renounce his Medal of Honor award, placing it near the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial on the National Mall as a protest of then-President Reagan’s foreign policies in Central America.
Liteky passed away on January 20, 2017, in San Francisco likely from stroke complications. A memorial service was held for him on March 4th. Family and friends who admired his efforts and bravery and who often joined him in his call for peace and reconciliation in the world have posthumously published his autobiography, Renunciation, according to a recent press release.
In Renunciation, Liteky shares his reason for returning the award during a time of transition in his life, when he was leaving the Catholic priesthood as well as his duties as a military chaplain and wartime hero to become a civilian fighter for peace. The story reflects on what led to his decisions and how he felt coming into his role as a peace activist.
In Vietnam, he had volunteered to serve as an army chaplain. In combat for the first time, he exposed himself to land mines and machine guns. With no helmet or weapon, he rescued 23 wounded soldiers who were ambushed by a Vietcong battalion. He got the injured out to hospitals and gave last rites to those dying. His actions then and after were “to save lives.”
Liteky displayed courage on the battlefield and a different kind of courage as a civilian to stand up to the U.S. government and question the Catholic church’s support of the war in Vietnam as well as the military establishment. In making the transition from military man and priest to standing side by side with other brave men and women to protest military strategies around the world, he found a new mission in life: to speak up for those who had no voice.
Joseph P. Fahey, a retired professor of religious studies at New York’s Manhattan College, states, “Throughout this book, Charlie’s voice speaks loud and clear for the silent and those who have been silenced. 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.”
Liteky never planned to publish a book about his life. But his wife, Judy, convinced him that his story would be valuable to other people. He agreed to have the book published if Fahey promised to see it through. Indeed, that promise was well-kept.
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.
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