ASHBURN — The Rev. Erwin Dodge, 91, hopes to someday be in heaven with his fellow Augustinians, and he doesn't want any guff when he arrives.
Dodge, a resident of the monastery at St. Rita High School, blessed a military memorial on Wednesday just outside of the chapel near his home at 7740 S. Western Ave. in Ashburn.
The memorial includes the seal of the United States along with the seals of the five branches of the military. A small plaque also lists all of the Augustinians in the Midwest province who were part of the armed forces. There's also a nod to all of the alumni, faculty and staff at St. Rita who served the country.
Dodge was ordained in 1961. He spent 36 years teaching at St. Rita and Mendel high schools. His name and branch of service is included alongside 10 fellow Augustinians. Dodge personally knew many of the men named on the plaque.
In fact, the memorial at St. Rita actually came as a suggestion from the Rev. John Shirley, an Augustinian who served in the Air Force. Dodge said he didn't want to face Shirley or any of the men listed in the afterlife without having installed the memorial at the South Side high school.
"I'd hate to go to heaven and see these people. They would say, 'Father, you never did this,'" Dodge said after the dedication on Veterans Day.
Dodge joined the Navy in 1943. He was 19 years old and one of four brothers growing up in the St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in West Lawn. He trained to become an operating room technician in the Navy and was assigned to the USS Gage on Nov. 12, 1944.
"He'll be 92 in February, and he is very excited that this (memorial) is finally becoming a reality," said the Rev. Bernard Scianna, who serves as provincial for the Midwest Augustinians. He's also Dodge's roommate at St. Rita.
Dodge crossed the Pacific eight times while aboard the ship. He spent most of his time in the medical area, making sure the operating room was always ready. He also attended Mass regularly, filling in as an alter server for the ship's chaplain.
"While aboard the Gage, the invasion of Okinawa — off the Japanese mainland — was the climax of my naval career," Dodge said.
He returned safely from his time on the ship and enrolled in Loyola University in Edgewater, studying zoology and philosophy. It was there that he began to consider the priesthood. He also wanted to teach biology.
"Okinawa had left its lesson. Obliterating a noble people was not a solution to world conflict, nor can it ever be," he said.
Tony Rodriguez graduated from St. Rita in 2002 and made a point to return to the school for the ceremony on Wednesday. Rodriguez, a resident of suburban Midlothian, served three tours in Iraq from 2002-2006.
"I did it because it had to be done," Rodriguez said.
He still remembers sitting in his homeroom class on the morning of Sept. 11. This had a profound impact on him, and he believes others felt similarly. Indeed, 10 members of his graduating class joined the military upon graduation.
Dodge proudly shook Rodriguez's hand after the ceremony and took a picture near the newly installed memorial at the all-boys Catholic high school. The veterans spoke briefly about their service before parting ways.
"I feel I have one more ocean to cross before I reach my final berthing place in the arms of God and that is to be an instrument of his peace," Dodge said.
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