The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion could barely keep from laughing when they first saw their chaplain, Lieutenant Joe Lacy, a week before D-Day. These were young men, in peak physical condition. Father Joe Lacy was old by Ranger standards, knocking on 40, overweight by at least 30 pounds, wearing thick glasses and short, 5 foot, six inches. He was described by one Ranger as “a small, fat old Irishman.” No way would he be able to keep up when they invaded France.
On the trip across the Channel to France, Chaplain Lacy told the men: “When you land on the beach and you get in there, I don’t want to see anybody kneeling down and praying. If I do I’m gonna come up and boot you in the tail. You leave the praying to me and you do the fighting.” A few of the men began to think that maybe this priest was tougher than he looked.
On June 6, 1944 at 7:30 AM, LCA 1377 landed the Rangers on Omaha Dog Green Beach, the first landing craft to land on that section of Omaha Beach. Father Lacy was the last man out just before an artillery shell hit the fantail. Everything was chaos with the beach being swept by German artillery and small arms fire. Wounded men were everywhere, both on the beach and in the water feebly trying to get to the beach. Father Lacy did not hesitate. With no thought for his own safety he waded into the water to pull men out of the ocean and onto the beach. He began treating the wounded on the beach and administering the Last Rites to those beyond human assistance. On a day when courage was not in short supply men took notice of this small fat priest who was doing his best under fire to save as many lives as he could. While his battalion led the way off Omaha Beach, and sustained 50% casualties doing so, Father Lacy continued to tend their wounded and the wounded of other units. For his actions that day Father Lacy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor, after the Medal of Honor, in the United States Army.
Here is the text of his citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Joseph R. Lacy (0-525094), First Lieutenant (Chaplain), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as a Chaplain with the 5th Ranger Infantry Battalion, in action against enemy forces on 6 June 1944, in France. In the invasion of France, Chaplain Lacy landed on the beach with one of the leading assault units. Numerous casualties had been inflicted by the heavy rifle, mortar, artillery and rocket fire of the enemy. With complete disregard for his own safety, he moved about the beach, continually exposed to enemy fire, and assisted wounded men from the water’s edge to the comparative safety of a nearby sea wall, and at the same time inspired the men to similar disregard for the enemy fire. Chaplain Lacy’s heroic and dauntless actions exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.