Into the Minefield

Father Craig in Minefield

October 27, 1913.  The Great War was soon to begin in Europe and Leo Peter Craig was born into this world in Everett, Massachusetts.  He was five years old when his mother died, leaving his father with five young children to raise.  Under these unusual circumstances, his Aunt, Veronica Craig, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield Kentucky, received a dispensation from her vows in order for her to help raise her brother’s children.  For 18 years she dedicated herself to this task, becoming a second mother to young Leo.  After the children were all raised, she returned to the religious life.  Leo attended the LaSalle Academy of the Christian Brothers in Providence, Rhode Island.  Going on to Providence College, he obtained his BA in 1935, at which time he entered the Dominican novitiate at Saint Rose’s in Springfield, Kentucky.  He completed his philosophy courses at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Illinois, and his theological training at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.  He was ordained to the priesthood on May 21, 1942.

Father Leo P. Craig

Subsequent to his ordination he taught at the Aquinas High School in Columbus, Ohio and was curate at Saint Andrew’s Parish in Cincinnati.

In 1949 he joined the Army as a chaplain.  Assigned to the First Cavalry Division fighting in Korea, he had a stop over in Japan where he was able to have a joyful reunion with his big brother Father Lawrence A. Craig, 18 years his senior, who was a mission priest of the Sacred Heart.

The First Cavalry Division was participating in the counteroffensive that had retaken Seoul on March 15, 1951 and was driving the Communist Chinese and North Korean armies out of South Korea.  As they withdrew the Communists left behind unmarked minefields to slow the advance of the UN forces.

Captain  Craig was donning his vestments for the afternoon Mass on April 5, 1951 near Chunchon, South Korea.  He was preparing to say Mass for the 99th Field Artillery Battalion of the First Cavalry Division.  Suddenly he heard a loud explosion.  A soldier had stepped on an unmarked enemy land mine.  Father Craig did not hesitate, even though he must have been aware that where there was one enemy land mine there were bound to be others.  Swiftly removing his vestments he hurried into the minefield to aid the soldier along with some other men.  Reaching the man, Chaplain Craig was kneeling and administering the Last Rites when a second mine, booby-trapped with TNT, exploded, killing him and seven others.  The picture at the head of this post was taken approximately 30 seconds before the second mine went off.  Father Craig has the white cross on his helmet.  The mortal remains of Father Craig were laid to rest in All Souls Cemetery in Pleasantville, New York by his brother Dominicans.  His gallant immortal soul, I am sure, is enjoying the Beatific Vision.

1st_Cavalry_Division_-_Shoulder_Sleeve_Insignia_svg

10 Responses to Into the Minefield

  • I was married in Holy Innocents Catholic Church in Pleasantville, NY.

    Thank you for this story.

  • Thanks for the great piece on Fr. Craig. Do you mind if I report it to our website?

  • Not at all Father. My chief reason for doing these posts on Catholic Chaplains is so that these brave men are remembered, so I am always happy to have these posts relisted on as many web-sites as possible.

  • Thank you for this post about Fr. Craig. I have included his story in my own posting, “Shepherds in Combat Boots.” Catholic priests pack the gear!

  • Oh, and I linked to Fr. Pietrzyk’s post as well as yours.

  • Thank you Anita!

  • Great idea to feature the story of Providence College alumnus Fr. Leo Craig OP ’35 in your edition which covered Veterans’ Day. Fr. Craig is honored at Arlington National Cemetery with his named engraved on a Catholic Chaplains Monument at Chaplain’s Hill. Also honored on the plaque are the names of approximately 75 Catholic Chaplains Killed in Service in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. The site also has monuments to WWI and Proetesant Chaplains.

    Our Sons of the American Legion organization is working with several Jewish organziations to add a fourth monument to this site which will honor ten Rabbis killed in service. We hope to gain approval and erect the monument by next Veterans Day.

    We were drawn to this project by the WWII story of the “Immortal Four Chaplains”, revered in the American legion, who’s heroism on a doomed troop ship became legendary. The four chaplains represented the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths. When their troop ship, the Dorchester, was torpedoed in the North Atlantic in February 1943, they did everything they could to help their fellow soldiers survive, even giving up their life preservers and gloves.

    Any individual or group interested in supporting the project is welcome to contact me. Pictures of Chaplains Hill can be found on our website.

  • A very worthy project Mr. Kraetzer.

  • FYI: We received an email from a city clerk in Everett, MA, where Fr. Craig was born. According to their records, Fr. Craig was born in 1913, not 1918. Thought you’d like to know. Thanks again for doing this posting.

  • Thank you Father for the correction. I have altered the post to reflect this information.

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