By Joseph Kenny
Catholic News Service
ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Dan Riordan was brave and selfless.
He took risks in reaching out to classmates who weren’t included by others. He stopped to rescue a woman being beaten by a man outside a bar.
His bravery and selflessness extended to his desire to serve his country. He was a first lieutenant in the 1st Calvary Division’s 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, from Fort Hood, Texas, when he and three other soldiers were killed June 23 by a roadside bomb in Taji, Iraq, about 20 miles north of Baghdad.
Riordan was unafraid to show his Catholic faith. “It’s one of the things that made him cool. He was a real man and a man of faith,” said his mother, Jeanine Rainey.
“As tough as Dan was physically, he had a gentle heart. He befriended people who were left out. He volunteered at an animal shelter. He visited and befriended those who were elderly, disabled, disenfranchised. He was compassionate,” she told the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the St. Louis Archdiocese.
Rainey wanted to tell her son’s story to show support for and inspire other young people, urging them to stay connected with and live out their faith.
The faith of the 24-year-old St. John Vianney High School graduate was a lifelong development, his mother said. “He never left or lost it. He lived it with good deeds and service, with Christian values and an unselfish, giving heart, treating everyone with respect. He prayed a lot and went to church.”
In Iraq, he carried on a correspondence with the Vianney community. While in school, he and his twin brother, Nick, received the Marianist Award from Vianney for exemplifying the values taught by the Marianists, who run the school.
“He understood that there was a greater force than himself,” Rainey said.
His grandmother has a strong devotion to Mary, praying the rosary daily. When her oldest son, Bob Windish, left for combat in Vietnam, she gave him a rosary that he carried in his back pocket during his tour of duty.
Windish, Riordan’s uncle, had it restrung and gave it to him before he left for Iraq. Fellow soldiers told his mom he had carried it with him at all times and had said the rosary to himself on long marches. He also prayed with the men before firefights.
Riordan always had a deep insight into the needs of others, Rainey said. When he was about age 5, the family attended a wake, and he wiggled away from his mom. He went to talk to an elderly woman. When his mom asked why he left her side, he said that the woman looked sad and lonely, and he thought she needed someone to talk to.
When he was 8, his mother asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and he said: “All I want is for peace in the world.”
He was young when she became a single parent; his father, Rick, now lives in Florida. Rainey and Sister Leonette Juengst, a School Sister of Notre Dame and a pastoral associate at Queen of All Saints, started a support group for families going through divorce.
Later Dan, his brother and his sister, Suzanne, would help during meetings by entertaining the younger children.
Riordan entered the Air Force ROTC program at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Mo. He earned a pilot training slot but failed one portion of the eye test, keeping him from being a pilot. The Army contacted him and he was commissioned an Army officer.
His mother talked to him before he had to make a final commitment to the service, after the country had gone to war, telling him it was OK for him to walk away. He told her he was more committed than ever.
“Before he left for Iraq in October, I was so worried about him. He said, ‘Mom, this is what I’m called to do,'” she said.
A humble person, he would have been embarrassed by tributes paid to him at his June 30 funeral, she said.
One heartfelt tribute was a handmade card from a little boy who wrote: “Sorry about Dan. He was a good man. But I know he will go to heaven.”
The family and their friends will continue to send packages to Riordan’s platoon and to the five other soldiers they have adopted in Afghanistan.
They have set up a scholarship fund at St. John Vianney High School in Riordan’s name. They also ask for prayers for peace and that people continue to remember those in military service.