Lt. Cmdr. William Dorwart, who most recently served as a Roman Catholic priest aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, retired Sept. 22, a full 50 years after he first enlisted, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Raised in a devout Catholic family, the young sailor was drawn to a higher calling, so after completing his first enlistment, Dorwart enrolled in the University of Notre Dame, where he completed his Master of Divinity degree. And in 1980, Dorwart was ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest.
In 1985, Dorwart returned to the sea, accepting a commission in the Navy as a chaplain. Over the course of six years, he served with Marines in Okinawa, with sailors in Subic Bay and aboard the carrier Midway, an assignment that included a deployment during the first Gulf War.
The Catholic Congregation of Holy Cross called for him in 1991 to return to full-time duty with the church. Leaving active duty as a lieutenant commander, Dorwart ultimately had to resign his commission because his commitment to the church didn’t leave time for his reservist duties.
In 2008, Dorwart was working at the University of Portland, which had a student body of about 4,000. It was then he became inspired by the troop surge into Afghanistan, an increase that also totaled about 4,000.
“I said to myself and my colleagues, ’It’s like if you just uprooted this whole campus and sent it halfway around the world into battle,” he said. “It’s the same age group, 18 to 25.”
Dowart put on his uniform once more at the age of 57, although he did have to take a pay-cut, being moved down a grade to lieutenant.
At 62, he needed an age waiver to continue serving on active duty. The Navy agreed, as long as he was willing to deploy aboard the amphibious assault ship Makin Island.
“It was the great need for Catholic priests. There are only 45 of us in the whole Navy, Marines and Coast Guard,” Dorwart said of his reasons for staying.
Dorwart plans to return to his congregation in Notre Dame.
“You retire from the Navy,” the priest said, “but you don’t retire from the ministry.”
Mackenzie Wolf is an editorial intern for Military Times.