For Spellman's steadfast support for those serving in the U.S. military, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York received The American Legion's Distinguished Service Medal in 1963.
National Commander James E. Powers praised Spellman for his trips to battle ones in World War II. In fact, he was in the Pacific at the time of Japan's surrender and was the first American to celebrate Mass in Tokyo during the occupation.
Spellman desired to have been a veteran. "I tried to be in your armed forces of the United States, but I was rejected, so possibly now I am trying to compensate for my own feelings by making these journeys to visit our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen overseas at Christmastime."
Told he was too short, had a bad disposition and was not attentive to orders, Spellman military career ended before it started. "So you can see how grateful I am that I am being rehabilitated today by The American Legion," he joked.
As the longest-serving Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, Spellman led a very public life in pro-military, anti-communism political circles. From the beginning of his tenure as archbishop in 1939 until his death in 1967, Spellman also served as archbishop for the military services.
Ordained a priest in 1916, Spellman was named auxiliary bishop of Boston in 1932. Pope Pius XII named him a cardinal in 1946. Throughout his career, he visited U.S. troops stationed worldwide.
Spellman was a confidante to President Roosevelt and a supporter of the policies of presidents Nixon and Johnson. President Kennedy's opposition to federal aid for parochial schools ended the archbishop's association with the Catholic Kennedy clan.
When he died in New York at 78, Spellman was buried in the crypt under the altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.
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