Message about Independence

This message, prepared by Father Bob Phillips and originally written for his parish newsletter, was printed in the September 2008 issue of The QUAN.

The Meaning of Independence
by the Rev. Father Robert W. Phillips (affectionately called "Father Bob" by his POW friends and descendants)

I was asked to write this piece for our parish newsletter; it is based on my experience as a Prisoner of War; the experience, viewed through the lens of senior citizen and a priest, may add some meaning to the word “Independence”.  I hope it adds meaning to your celebration of all National Holidays.

Independence implies that we are free to live as we choose within the constraints of the laws of the land and within the constraints of moral and ethical beliefs; we call that “ Liberty”. Liberty is so precious that thousands of our military men and women lay down their lives for it; life without liberty seems not worth while.

Like so many other things, liberty is not appreciated until it is taken away from us.

Becoming a POW means that we have been totally overwhelmed by forces of an enemy; in my case my fellow soldiers and I were taken prisoners by the Japanese Army in the Philippine Islands; for more than three years (count them: 40 months; 1,212 days) we lost all of our independence and liberties and were submerged into a subculture of slave labor in the Japanese war industry.

Immediately, our primary duties were to stay alive despite the malnutrition, abuses, sicknesses and attacks by our own forces.  We had no assurance that we would survive; in fact we learned later that our execution orders had already been signed and the date for execution had been set.

I look back through the years and realize that, even though I couldn’t go to the “benjo” without permission, I had not lost the liberty to worship God.  No enemy was able to take that precious gift away from me.  Granted, I wasn’t able to “go to church”, but in my most simplistic way, I never lost my faith in Him.  I had been reared to know that God loved me and, even though I was surrounded by evil in many forms, I never begrudged serving my country and being caught in this subhuman situation; most Americans were also making some sacrifices.  I never doubted that being an American was a good thing and that good would prevail over evil.

As we all pray for the members of our Armed Forces, let us also pray for their toughness while under fire, that whatever circumstances befall them, they never doubt the reasons for their being in danger, that their sacrifices have mighty precedents, and that they learn to put their Trust in the Loving God who will sustain them through their worst experiences.

In the Faith,

Fr. Bob