Retired Army general, Gilbert deacon one of 12 Veterans Day Parade grand marshals

Dcn. John Scott holds aloft the Book of the Gospels prior to its reading during the Phoenix Diocese’s seventh annual Red, White and Blue Mass at All Saints Parish in Mesa Nov. 5. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Dcn. John Scott’s military career is extensive. His work with veterans in the Phoenix area is well-documented.

But beyond the battlefield, Dcn. Scott’s life brought him into a significant role of service as a deacon serving at St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Gilbert.

“I don’t separate service to God from service to country. If I were a [congressional] representative, would I leave my faith at the door?” Dcn. Scott asked during an interview following this year’s seventh annual diocesan Red, White and Blue Mass, honoring all U.S. veterans, at All Saints Church in Mesa Nov. 5.

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The organizer of the special Mass and a retired Army major general, Dcn. Scott was named Desert Storm Grand Marshal for the 2017 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade. Dcn. Scott, 71, is one of a dozen grand marshals, most of whom represent a specific military campaign. Former “M*A*S*H” television series actress Loretta Swit was the event’s celebrity grand marshal.

“He’s always been a man of faith,” said Tim Kraemer, 72, a member of St. Luke’s Parish in Phoenix who has known Dcn. Scott for over three decades.

Dcn. Scott’s nearly 40 years of military service includes time in Vietnam, the Cold War and Desert Storm. His final tour at the Pentagon ended in 2003, where he was recalled to active duty for two years just days after the 9/11 attacks. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Parachute Badges and Ranger Tab.

Dcn. Scott called his selection “humbling.”

I’m glad to represent all my brothers and sisters (soldiers) who are not able to be here. It was unexpected.”

He has a particular place in his heart for his comrades from the war in Vietnam, where he served north of Saigon.

“I’m doing it to represent all the guys who were with me in my platoon in Vietnam, all those guys whose names are on ‘The Wall,’” Dcn. Scott said, referring to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., “and all those who can’t have that opportunity. The good Lord has given me an opportunity to say ‘thanks’ to them. The guys I served with in Vietnam were the bravest people I have ever been around.”

Candles in patriotic colors surround the altar near a helmet and rifle in honor of veterans who have lost their life in the line of duty. The annual diocesan Red, White and Blue Mass for Veterans was held at All Saints Parish in Mesa Nov. 5. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

As a career soldier with deep combat experience who is now a Church leader, Dcn. Scott can relate to the challenge of mixing faith and fighting. He recalled sensing the contradiction during a battlefield meeting with a chaplain in Southeast Asia.

“You have somebody in combat shooting people and being shot at, and you’re trying to talk to them about how much God loves (your enemy). Here in the midst of all this is a guy trying to tell me, ‘God loves you.’ I said, ‘If He loved me, I wouldn’t be here.’

“When you come back from Vietnam, it is not a happy place. You’re trying to find your way in this world; ‘what am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ My wife and I met other couples who were Catholics and they seemed to be happy and I said, ‘I want some of that.’”

The chaplains in the military over whom Dcn. Scott had command influenced his decision to consider the diaconate. He was ordained in 2009 for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahasse, Florida and moved to the Diocese of Phoenix in 2011. He first served at All Saints before being assigned to St. Mary Magdalene in 2014. Dcn. Scott said aiding veterans “is all about love.”

The conflicting roles of soldier and servant of the faith were not limited to Dcn. Scott’s experience.

Crosier Father Robert Rossi, the Red, White and Blue Mass’ homilist, recalled during the sermon his “Uncle Fred,” who died fighting in Vietnam.

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“I can hear him asking himself, ‘Even if I have to bear arms, did I, deep inside, keep my heart open even for the enemy; boys who I can see were very much like me, fighting like me for their future, the future of their families and their country?” Fr. Rossi mused from the pulpit.

Pete Morales, 75, a member of St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Phoenix and one of the Mass’ candle-lighters, has known Dcn. Scott for nearly 40 years.

“He’s such a good man. He’s always thinking about the veterans. He’s a soldier’s man.”