While Greg was working at pursuing further education after leaving the seminary, but before he could obtain a deferment, he found himself drafted into the army during the Vietnam era. There he underwent artillery training and following this training he was shipped to Vietnam in 1968. Greg spent one tour of duty there during terrifying and unrelenting warfare. He also received the Army Commendation Medal while serving there.
While Greg was in Vietnam, I was stationed in Brunswick, ME, and twice deployed to Sigonella, Sicily, where we flew anti-submarine missions—largely trying to locate and identify Soviet threats.
From time to time, Greg and I would correspond, and I was looking forward to returning home from my second deployment to meet Greg, who would soon be discharged upon returning to the states. In fact, I can vividly remember meeting him after his discharge at Mom's house in Southington, CT where we decided to go to a bar in Waterbury that we once frequented. At this time, I was still in the Navy with some time left on my six-year contract and still stationed in Brunswick, ME.
During our time at the bar I was alerted to Greg’s fragile condition when an automobile driving past the bar back-fired loudly (we were sitting at the bar adjacent to the street window) and Greg literally hit the deck in an explosive second. We laughed a bit about this, and then proceeded back to Mom's house. The following day I headed back to NAS, Brunswick, ME. Later on, through my Mom I came to learn that Greg was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and that she was seeking help for him.
This sad event began the long sad saga of Greg's spiral into drugs and alcohol, and the many attempts of our mother to intervene and to obtain help for him. During this time, the VA was not inclined to assist Vietnam veterans in any meaningful way, and Greg, as well as many others, were pushed to the end of the line. Ultimately, he was declared ten percent disabled and received a small monthly stipend.
Then, much to our dismay, Greg disappeared from our lives for many years living a transient and homeless lifestyle and he was nowhere to be found despite our best efforts. During much of this time I was a reserve pilot flying in the Naval Reserves after leaving active duty. There I came to know a senior chief who worked for the Federal Government and who had access to military records. I provided him with Greg's social security number and this chief was able to track the mailing address for Greg's disability check to a YMCA located somewhere in the San Diego, CA area, but could not provide a specific address.
I then called my sister Gail (who lived in CT) and gave her this information. Following this call, my sister took it upon herself to call the Salvation Army office in San Diego and requested that it post a notice at all Salvation Army shelters with her telephone number indicating to Greg that his sister Gail missed him and that he could call her ‘collect’ at any time.
Incredibly, Greg saw this notice and called Gail collect. She was quite surprised, yet rejoiced that her initiative had produced fruit. Gail told Greg that he was terribly missed by all of us and invited him to return back to CT. Apparently, the timing of this call was such that Greg immediately drove nonstop across the US to Meriden, CT where he took a room at a local YMCA. There, Gail visited Greg which began the long task of integrating him back into the family. Eventually, with my approval, he took public transportation to Boston, MA where I picked Greg up and drove him to our home in Marblehead. There, he lived with us (Suzanne and our young daughter Casey) for a time.
We did not know what to expect—but hoped that over time we could work with Greg to restore his physical and emotional health as well as his spiritual well-being.
Drugs were Greg’s Achilles heel, and I warned him that should he begin to take drugs while living with us that I would have to ask him to leave. The inevitable occurred, but I did not have to toss him out onto the street and was able to locate him in a house on Front Street in Marblehead which was vacant for a few months. This house was part of an estate I was probating. Amazingly, he settled in there well and never presented me with an issue.
Over time I managed to qualify Greg for Section 8 housing, and he moved from place to place until eventually finally settling in Beverly, MA in a rented a small one-bedroom apartment. He stayed there for many years until his death. However, he continually ended up in trouble (including a six-month incarceration in NH) and we never knew what was going to happen next.
Then, on one Thanksgiving Day we all attended dinner at my brother-in-law's house (Robert) and Greg came along. He and I decided to go for a walk when he laid on me a time bomb—he had for the third time been charged with dealing drugs and he was heading for a criminal trial which could land him in prison for a considerable period. It was then, while walking in the cold and deeply concerned, that I heard my angel audibly say: "This too shall pass." While this comforted me, I still had to endure the events that followed and really wondered what this “word of knowledge” could mean.
Well, it took about a year to play out, and I remember well being involved with his defense attorney trying to resolve the impossible impasse erected before us. But my angel was correct, as the district attorney permitted my brother to act as a witness for the prosecution by identifying the dealer from whom he had purchased his drugs and the DA agreed to a reduction in charges as a settlement. Greg walked out of Court without sentencing subject to a period of probation. He had miraculously avoided incarceration.
From that point on Greg managed to avoid any more issues of a serious nature and settled into a quiet lifestyle in which he attended family events and even began to attend Sunday Mass. On occasion I would visit him and have lunch with him and we began to integrate him into our family activities.
However, after a few years of this peaceful settled life came the bad news. Greg had a serious case of prostate cancer and he would not be a survivor. He had never had good medical care and the VA had not acted in a timely manner to diagnose this serious medical condition.
So, now began another of life's painful journeys as Suzanne and I worked hard to obtain adequate care for Greg which finally led to his admittance into a VA home for the dying. It was during this period that I began to have Masses repeatedly said for Greg as I was concerned for his eternal salvation given his past lifestyle. And, while he had begun to attend Mass regularly, I was not sure that he had gone to confession. In fact, I decided to be profuse in my Mass requests for him and remember having probably twenty Masses said for him before his death. You might think that I was a bit compulsive, but I knew many graces would be required for him to passage into the Lord's embrace. My sister Gail had Gregorian Masses said for Greg.
I visited Greg daily at the VA home where he received the last rites of the Church which comforted me greatly. It was also at this time that I was further consoled regarding my brother’s eternal destiny.
This is what occurred: On the day before his death I was pushing Greg in a wheelchair outside in the fresh air. It was a bright and sunny day. There was also a wonderful and loving priest outside walking among the patients handing out and pinning on the sick the Miraculous Medal of the Mother of God. He came to Greg and pinned one on him.
Now this is very meaningful for several reasons. One, Greg did have a devotion to Mary, and secondly, we know that Mom (now deceased) was interceding for her son and asking the intercession of Mary. Upon leaving, the very last thing that I saw was my brother do was to look over and make sure that the Miraculous Medal was still there. I will never forget that moment.
The following day, while I was making the trek from Rowley to the VA home in Brockton, I received a cell phone call telling me that Greg had died during the night. I was grieved by this report, but I continued my journey so that I could say my final goodbye to him at the VA home. Following this, funeral arrangements were made, and Greg was moved by the funeral home to Rowley, MA for viewing and a funeral Mass at St. Mary's church. Many people showed up for his funeral at which Greg was given full military honors and we all saluted our flag. The reception following the burial was at the Rowley County Club, and there was a wonderful sense of peace there and throughout the entire day.
At his death the VA also declared Greg to be one-hundred percent disabled due to the nature of his death. Clearly, too little, too late, and only a token of the proper respect truly due to him.
Greg’s life's journey had ended, and all of life's hardships and misfortunes were now a thing of the past. Given the prayers of so many I had no doubt that Greg had made the passage to eternal life, but the day would come when I would receive a clear and reassuring sign.
I do not know how many months after Greg's funeral and burial that this occurred, but in a very quick dream vision given me by the Lord, I had the privilege of seeing my brother Greg in a state of contemplation. He was young (thirties), dressed in a grey robe (very much like monks would wear) and sitting solemnly and quietly on what appeared to be a large stone reflecting—it seems, on his spiritual state. In this picture, I found great hope and a sense of celebration. Not only was Greg on his way—he was almost there.