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Catholic hero: This Medal of Honor recipient turned to St. Michael the Archangel

Edward Byers Jr.
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An interview with retired Navy SEAL Edward C. Byers, Jr., on the role faith played through combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

COLUMBIA: Can you speak a bit about your life as a husband and a father, and the challenges of balancing military and family commitments?

BYERS: My wife is an incredible woman. She’s extremely tough. She’s had to be, as a military wife and especially the wife of a SEAL. The beautiful part is that we’ve been together since I was a corpsman with the Marines, so she’s been a witness to the entire process. I think that has really helped keep us together. I don’t know the exact figure, but the divorce rate in the special operations community is significantly higher than the national average.

Relationships aren’t perfect, and perfect isn’t real. Marriage takes work, and we’ve been able to manage the ups and downs. I think it’s a testament to both of us of realizing that, “for better or worse,” you stick together and you figure out ways to get through.

It’s particularly hard for someone to be at home and never have any idea what you’re doing. In our community, you don’t talk about what you’re doing and might not have any contact for months. It takes a lot of faith, courage and commitment to be in that relationship.

And we’ve been blessed to have a beautiful daughter, who was born right before my very first deployment to Iraq. She is going into high school now. She is a competitive figure skater and extremely talented. For most of her life, I was gone away at war, and she didn’t know if her dad was going to come home.

I am at home a lot more now, but I’m still gone quite a bit because being a recipient has you on the road a lot. So, we just try to focus on having quality time together and make the most of it when we are with each other. As a husband and a father, I just do my best to honor my commitments and recognize how resilient and strong my wife and daughter are.

COLUMBIA: How did you learn about the Knights of Columbus, and what led you to join the Order last year?

BYERS: I’ve known about the Knights of Columbus for a long time, since I was growing up. I always had an inclination to join the Knights, but there’s only so much time and bandwidth that you have in life. So I pushed off joining.

Finally, I came to the realization that if I don’t join, I’m going to keep having this excuse that I don’t have time. If I join, I’ll start making some time.

I joined because the Knights of Columbus is like the religious extension to how I live my life in the SEAL community.

The military does humanitarian work all around the world following natural disasters. And through the Medal of Honor Society’s character development program, we work to instill the virtues I mentioned earlier. The Knights of Columbus has the same kind of concept — focused on values like family and charity toward people at home and abroad, doing your part to make a better society. There’s also unity and fraternity, which is like our brotherhood — a group of like-minded individuals coming together and the power of coming together as a team, combining everybody’s goodwill and nature and intelligence and resources. Finally, there’s patriotism and pride in one’s country.

These tenets just really fall in line with who I am.

COLUMBIA: Do you have any words of advice or wisdom to share with your brother Knights?

BYERS: First, if you’re a Catholic man thinking about joining the Knights of Columbus, there’s no better time to do it than right now. Things will naturally work out, and you’ll end up making time to do your part.

For those who are already members, I would remind them to look out for your brothers and sisters to the left and to the right of you. An important cause for me is veteran suicide. An astronomical number of veterans commit suicide. And it’s because they have lost hope and don’t have that support network they once had.

There’s so much depression in the world, and I think it comes from a lack of hope. Never forget about those people on the margins. Focus energy on those who need help the most. Help them feel that they’re important, and help instill the virtues that God intends for us to have — faith, hope and love. You can bring hope through your good nature and the works you can do for somebody.

When I was first becoming a medic, an instructor said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” People need to know that you care about them. And as we deal with everything that life throws at us, the Church invites us to come back in communion with Christ. Even when we fall, there’s hope to rise again.

This article appeared in the November 2019 issue of Columbia magazine and is reprinted with permission of the Knights of Columbus, New Haven, Conn.

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