JOE'S STORY

You won't believe it until you read it.

But when you do, you'll know a hero.

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Joe The Warrior:
A Hero

Joe Ladensack was one of the most highly decorated soldiers in the Vietnam War. He was awarded two Silver Stars, six Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, given for exceptional bravery on the battlefield.

 

Ladensack's commanding officer also recommended him for the Congressional Medal of Honor. But that honor was quashed after he agreed to talk to two reporters for Stars and Stripes newspaper and told them about the misguided orders of a general who sent Ladensack's mechanized unit into an ambush on foot for the first time simply because he was angry. Sixty-eight of the seventy soldiers who walked into that ambush were killed or wounded. 

 

Days after the interview, a colonel landed his helicopter in the field and dressed down Lieutenant Ladensack. 

“We don’t like young officers who talk to the press the way you talked to the press,” the colonel said, his face flushed. “We don’t like that at all. You’re gonna learn the hard way, that’s not done.”

Near the end of his tour in Vietnam, Ladensack was told his commanders planned to give him the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest award  for courageous action. Only the Congressional Medal of Honor is more prestigious. Joe turned it down, bitter about the casual way the award was being given out in the closing days of the war.

Joe The Priest:
A Hero Again

Joe Ladensack came home from Vietnam and entered the seminary to become a Catholic priest. Within weeks of being ordained in the Diocese of Phoenix, Joe began reporting fellow priests who were child molesters. He was assured by his superiors that the offenders would be punished. Instead, the predator priests were reassigned to other parishes and their crimes hidden. For eight years, Ladensack fought the good fight until, finally, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien -- himself later accused of molesting an altar boy -- had enough. O'Brien stripped Father Joe of his priestly faculties and gave him 24 hours to get out of town. Faced with death threats from the church and its most powerful political allies, Ladensack spent the next two decades "off the grid" in hiding in Southern Arizona.

 

Ladensack was still in hiding in the 1990s when he agreed to be deposed in a series of civil suits against predator priests in the Phoenix Diocese. Then, in 2003, as the Roman Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal was sweeping the country, Ladensack became the first priest to voluntarily testify against his peers and superiors before a grand jury. At the end of his graphic testimony, three members of the grand jury stood and one asked if he could say a few words. 

“All three of us are Vietnam vets and there’s an awful lot about Vietnam vets that people aren’t proud of,” he said. “We just want to say we are proud of your service. We are proud of what you are doing here today. And we are proud that we can call you a brother and a Vietnam vet.”

Then all three saluted Ladensack -- a hero in Vietnam and a hero for all sexual abuse victims.