"We are all worried for the safety of both my nephews," Father Van Durme said. "I encouraged them to do what they had to do, and to keep praying and asking God for help and protection."
Matthew Van Durme is captain of an Army tank battalion and is stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. He has already served two tours in Iraq, and Father Van Durme said it's quite possible that he'll return.
"His was one of the first tanks to go into Iraq right at the beginning of the war, and he has seen the many difficulties and lost many of his friends," the priest noted.
Jonathan Van Durme is a sergeant in the Army's 128th Infantry. He left for Iraq out of Fort Riley, Kan., in early February and is stationed in the Baghdad area.
"He is newly enlisted, so all this is new to him," Father Van Durme said.
Matthew and Jonathan come from a family with a long line of military service, including Father Van Durme himself. Two decades ago the 42-year-old pastor served at the Army Signal Center in Fort Gordon, Ga.; he later was a Reservist. His other family military links are:
* A nephew and niece, Joshua and Hilary Daily, are a married couple who returned home in the summer of 2006 after separate Army hitches. Joshua was a sergeant who served two tours in Afghanistan in the 3rd Artillery Division, and his wife was a sergeant with the 8th Ordnance and did one tour in Afghanistan and another in Iraq.
* Matthew Van Durme's father, also named Matthew (he is Father Van Durme's brother) was a senior master sergeant in the Air Force intelligence services, logging more than two decades before retiring a few years ago. He served mostly out of Fort Mead, Md.
* Another brother, Tom Van Durme, served the Army in the early 1980s as a military police sergeant at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
"I am very proud of all of my family members that have served, and are currently serving, in the military," Father Van Durme said.
He added that it's vital to lend prayerful support toward all people currently in active service, regardless of one's personal stance on the Iraq War.
"We here in Hornell just had our local Army Reserve group go to Iraq, and so it is something important for the whole community," he said. "We may all have very different views of the war, but I know that we all pray for the safety of the men and women that are in harm's way. We may not agree about the president or the various commentators and politicians, but these young people are doing their best and stepping up when asked to help in this effort. There are real people over there in Iraq, and they need help. Only God knows the best way to help them, but we will pray for wisdom."