'Warrior Monk' Sees His Calling on Front
Theological Student Delivers Eucharist
By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 8, 2004; Page A16
HASWAH, Iraq -- His flak jacket was covered in dried blood, his blood. Look at the stains, Marine Lance Cpl. June N. Ramos said, pointing. There were dark red smears all over the front of his camouflage vest.
Ramos reached into the pocket of the flak jacket and pulled out a small silver tin wrapped in a plastic bag. He opened the container, which held a half-dozen Communion wafers.
"Instead of putting a grenade in here," Ramos said, fastening the pocket of his vest, "I put the body of Christ."
They call him the "warrior monk." Ramos, 32, was studying to be a Benedictine monk when he joined the Marines in 2003. He wants to be a chaplain, but first, he said, he must live the life of a Marine grunt.
So this is where he was on a crisp morning in Iraq, guarding a police station in this city 25 miles south of the capital, barbed wire surrounding the complex where he had slept fitfully in the cold air.
"I'm a Filipino citizen, serving in the United States Marines, fighting for the United States," he said, his body upright and at attention while he talked.
Ramos had just returned to duty after being hit by shrapnel from an improvised bomb in October. It was not the first time he had been hurt.
He picked up his helmet, which had a small wooden cross hanging from it, and showed the chin strap that probably saved his life. The strap was torn, shredded by the metal that had hit it before going into Ramos's neck. Metal lodged in a sinus cavity and his gums -- but it had been slowed enough that he survived. He remembered the experience clearly -- the explosion and then the pain.
When a Marine dies in combat, they say he's bought the farm. Ramos did not buy the farm, just a ride home. But when he was in the field hospital in Baghdad, Ramos said, he knew he had to return to the field. He had work to do. He is the man who administers Communion to Roman Catholic Marines on the front, and his job was not done yet.
"This is my calling, the reason why I am here," said Ramos, a slight man with an impish grin. He was bundled up for the cold, his green, Marine-issued scarf pulled tight over his head to cover his ears. He also wore a black stocking cap, like those worn by the rest of his platoon buddies in 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
He keeps surviving, Ramos said. He has been in mortar attacks, mine explosions, the roadside bomb attack that cut his neck. In any other place, he might feel invisible, but Ramos knows that danger does not start and stop. He has not yet made it out.
"God is always with me," Ramos said. "He's always there watching."
He was walking through a field a few months ago when a mine exploded. The sound was so loud that he thought for sure he'd been hit. He was covered in dust, feeling for his legs, when he realized he was walking. He was intact.
A few weeks later, he was in a concrete bunker that fellow Marines were reinforcing with sandbags. It collapsed on him, pinning him on his side. "I was so very lucky," Ramos said. He escaped with only a large bruise on his rib cage.
Before he became a Marine, Ramos was studying at a monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico, an isolated spot on a dirt road near the Chama River. After he serves his four-year tour in the Marines, Ramos said, he intends to return to his theological studies and become a monk.
His fellow Marines respect the life he has chosen, he said. "They totally understand. We are in war, but still God is watching over us."
He is not always in the holiest environment, Ramos said. The Marines around him swear and often take God's name in vain. But if he is to be a Marine chaplain, Ramos said, he has to live this life, has to know what the Marines have gone through.
"I can relate to them," he said. "It isn't that bad."
The hospital in Baghdad where Ramos recovered from the bomb blast in October had a special hallway reserved for insurgents who had been wounded and were being patched up by military doctors. Ramos said he was angry, hurt, in pain, but he decided to walk down that hallway.
"God told me not to be angry, " Ramos said. "I pretty much quoted what Jesus said on the cross. I prayed that they would know the real presence of God, that God would guard them and protect them."
He came back to his unit about two weeks ago, a man who had forgiven and was ready to fight again, Ramos said. He would not dream of being anyplace else.
"I trust in God and keep the faith," Ramos said. "If God is with me, who can be against me, right? Be not afraid, that's what I say."
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