(I first ran this back in 2011. It has proven to be one of the most popular posts I have written for TAC. Time to run it again.)
Some men become legends after their deaths and others become legends while they are alive. Lewis Burwell Puller, forever known as “Chesty”, was in the latter category. Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1918 he would serve until 1955, rising in rank from private to lieutenant general. Throughout his career he led from the front, never asking his men to go where he would not go. For his courage he was five times awarded the Navy Cross, a Silver Star, a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Bronze Star with a V for Valor, along with numerous other decorations. In World War II and Korea he became a symbol of the courage that Marines amply displayed in both conflicts.
His fourth Navy Cross citation details why the Marines under his command would have followed him in an attack on Hades if he had decided to lead them there:
“For extraordinary heroism as Executive Officer of the Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, serving with the Sixth United States Army, in combat against enemy Japanese forces at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, from 26 December 1943 to 19 January 1944. Assigned temporary command of the Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, from 4 to 9 January, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay. Assuming additional duty in command of the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, from 7 to 8 January, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Stories began to cluster about him. When he was first shown a flame thrower he supposedly asked, “Where do you mount the bayonet?” Advised that his unit was surrounded he replied: “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.” On an inspection tour of a Marine unit he became exasperated at the lack of spirit he saw and finally said,“Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines!” During the Chosin campaign in Korea when the Marines were fighting their way to the coast through several Communist Chinese corps he captured the tactical situation succinctly: “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” Little surprise that Marine Drill Instructors at Parris Island still have their boots sing good night to Chesty Puller some four decades after his death.
Puller was an Episcopalian. However he made no secret that he greatly admired Navy Catholic chaplains who served with the Marines, and had little use, with certain honorable exceptions, for the Navy Protestant chaplains sent to the Corps. His reasons were simple. The Catholic chaplains were without fear, always wanted to be with the troops in combat, and the men idolized them for their courage and their willingness, even eagerness, to stand with them during their hour of trial. Continue reading
Lieutenant j.g. Aloysius Schmitt had just finished morning mass aboard the USS Oklahoma. Acting chaplain of the Okie, a Sunday meant a busy day for him, a relaxed day for almost everyone else on board the ship. Since they were in port and the country was at peace a Sunday was a day of rest. Besides, the port was a tropical paradise. Life was good for the crew of the Okie.
Father Schmitt, born on December 4, 1909, was an Iowan, about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in the US. Studying in Rome for the priesthood, he was ordained on December 8, 1935. After serving at parishes in Dubuque, Iowa and Cheyenne, Wyoming, Father Schmitt received permission to join the Navy and was commissioned a Lieutenant j.g. on June 28, 1939.
On December 7, 1941 at 8:00 AM the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor began. The Oklahoma and the other battleships on battleship row were the primary targets. Alarms began to sound on the Oklahoma, and the ship was hit almost immediately by nine torpedoes from Japanese torpedo bombers. The ship began to list badly and every sailor knew that it was probably just a few minutes before the Okie would capsize. Continue reading
(This is a post I did in 2009. It seemed appropriate to repost it today in tandem with my Halsey post. Father Gehring pray for us that we may have the courage to face our challenges in life and win victories over them.)
Frederic Gehring was probably lucky that he was born and reared in Brooklyn. It has always been a tough town and it prepared him for the adventurous life he was to lead. Born on January 20, 1903, he went on to attend and graduated from Saint John’s Prep. Setting his eyes on being a missionary priest, he entered the minor seminary of the Vincentians, Saint Joseph’s, near Princeton, New Jersey. Earning his BA in 1925, he entered the seminary of Saint Vincent’s in Philadelphia.
Ordained as a priest on May 22, 1930, he was unable to immediately go to China due to military activity of the Communists in Kiangsi province. For three years he traveled throughout the US raising funds for the missions in China, and, at long last, in 1933 he was able to pack his bags and sailed for China. Laboring in the Chinese missions from 1933-1939 in the midst of warlordism, civil war and the invasion of China, commencing in 1937, by Japan must have been tough, but Father Gehring was always up to any challenge. For example, in 1938 Japanese planes strafed a mission he was at. Father Gehring ran out waving a large American flag in hopes that the Japanese would not wish to offend a powerful neutral nation and would stop the strafing. The Japanese planes did fly off, and Father Gehring was pleased until someone at the mission pointed out that maybe the Japanese had simply run out of ammo! In 1939 Father Gerhring returned to the States to raise funds for the missions.
Immediately following Pearl Harbor, Father Gehring joined the Navy as a Chaplain. In September 1942 he began an unforgettable six month tour of duty with the First Marine Division fighting on Guadalcanal. Marines, although they are often loathe to admit it, are a component of the Department of the Navy, and the US Navy supplies their support troops, including chaplains. (One of my friends served as a Navy corpsman with a Marine unit in Vietnam. After his tour with the Navy he enlisted with the Marines, was commissioned a Lieutenant, and spent his entire tour with a detachment of Marines aboard an aircraft carrier. As he puts it, he joined the Navy and spent his time slogging through the mud with Marines. He then joined the Marines and spent his time sailing with the Navy.)
Guadalcanal marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific. In August 1942 the US went on the offensive for the first time when the First Marine Division, the Old Breed, landed on Guadalcanal and took the Japanese air base there. This set off a huge six month campaign, where US forces, often outnumbered on land, sea and in the air, fought and defeated the Imperial Army and Navy. The importance of Guadalcanal is well captured in this quote from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey: “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours”.
Upon arrival on Guadalcanal, Lieutenant Gehring quickly became known as “Padre “ to the men of the Old Breed, the title usually bestowed upon chaplains, especially if they were Catholic priests. He soon became known for wanting to be where the fighting was in order to help the wounded and administer the Last Rites. Initially this took some of the Marines by surprise. Jumping into a foxhole during a heavy fire fight, a shocked Marine already in the foxhole, noticing the crucifix dangling from his neck, cried out to him, “Padre, what are you doing here?” Gehring calmly replied, “Where else would I be?” He would routinely say Masses so close to the fighting, that the Marines said that he would say Mass in Hell for Marines if he could drive his jeep there. The Marines quickly decided that it was a lost cause asking the Padre to stay behind the lines. They were doing well if they could convince him to stay within friendly lines! Three times he went out on behind the line missions to rescue trapped missionaries on the island, mostly Marist priests and sisters, rescuing 28 of them, assisted by natives of the Solomons. For this feat he was the first Navy chaplain to be awarded the Legion of Merit by the President. Continue reading
The video above depicts Father Michael Quealy saying Mass in Vietnam. The video has no sound, but without words we can see the fervor with which the priest is saying Mass. That was all Father Quealy. Whatever he did in this world he did 100%.
Born in New York City on September 11, 1929, he dreamed as a boy of being a missionary in Asia. He would go to Asia, as a priest, but as a Chaplain in the Army. A graduate of Seaton Hall University and Maryknoll Seminary, he had served as a priest in the diocese of Mobile Alabama, before joining the Army as a chaplain in 1965. He did so to bring the sacraments to soldiers on the battlefield in Vietnam. As much as it was in his power, he wanted no soldier to die fighting and go into eternity spiritually unarmed.
Assigned to the third brigade of the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One, in June 1966, he quickly began hitching rides on medical evacuation choppers. They would be going to where the fighting was, and as far as Chaplain Quealy was concerned, that was where he needed to be. He would land, help with the wounded, usually under fire, and give the Last Rites to the dying. He did not check to see if the dying were Catholics, reasoning that the sacrament would do no harm to non-Catholics, and might do them an infinity of good. Troops began to talk about this Catholic Chaplain who was fearless.
Eugene Tuttle, a soldier with the Big Red One, recalled Father Quealy:
My battalion was near Father Quealy’s the day he was killed in Tay Ninh province on Nov. 8, 1966. The terrible news reached me the next day, He had heard my confession in Lai Khe about a month earlier. Young men dying was bad enough, but it seemed like a sacrilege for a priest to be killed while providing comfort to the wounded and dying. I had met him months earlier on my first full day in the field, when before boarding our tanks and APCs, to be sent out as “bait” until reinforcements could rescue us, Chaplain Quealy invited the Catholics among us to join him. He told us that reconnaissance had just confirmed the VC were dug in and waiting for us in the bush. He then draped his stole over his shoulders, reminded us that an Act of Contrition could substitute for confession when one was in immediate danger of death. It was an unforgettably dramatic moment, and the chaplain was an unforgettably kind man. I regret just learning of this opportunity now to pay long overdue homage to him. God bless his soul!
On November 8, 1966, Father Quealy heard about fighting near Tay Ninh and rushed to get aboard a medical copter. A staff officer tried to dissuade him, saying that it was much too dangerous a situation. Father Quealy did not even slow down, but shouted over his shoulder, “My place is with them!”
The first battalion, twenty-eight infantry was under such intense fire that the helicopter Father Quealy was on board had to circle for an hour before it could land. When it did, Father Quealey charged into action. Here is a report of what happened next: Continue reading
(Much of the information contained in this post was taken from a post on Father Conway written by Bill Millhome. Go here to read his post.)
Early this year the Navy rejected efforts to have Father Thomas Michael Conway awarded the Navy Cross. I would be angrier at this injustice if I was not certain that the Chaplain had not been awarded the ultimate blessing of sainthood and the Beatific Vision immediately after his heroic death in shark infested waters at the tail end of World War II.
Born on April 5, 1908 in Waterbury, Connecticut, he was the oldest of three children of his Irish immigrant parents. Ordained a priest in 1934 he served as a priest in various parishes in Buffalo, New York. His main leisure activities was sailing a boat on Lake Erie. On September 17, 1942 he enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned as a chaplain.
On August 25, 1944 he was assigned to the cruiser USS Indianapolis as a chaplain.
July 29, 1945 was a Sunday, and the Chaplain had said Mass for the Catholic sailors, and conducted a service for the Protestant sailors. Fourteen minutes past midnight two torpedoes fired by the Japanese sub I-58 ripped into the starboard bow of the Indianapolis. The ship sank in twelve minutes, taking 300 men to the bottom with it. Nine hundred sailors, including the chaplain, were adrift in the pitch black shark infested waters.
Frank J. Centazzo, one of the 317 survivors of this ordeal, recalled what the Chaplain did, as he swam from group to group, tending the wounded, leading the men in prayer and giving the Last Rites to sailors beyond all human aid:
“Father Conway was in every way a messenger of our Lord. He loved his work no matter what the challenge. He was respected and loved by all his shipmates. I was in the group with Father Conway. … I saw him go from one small group to another. Getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued. He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached me and Paul McGiness. He was thrashing the water and Paul and I held him so he could rest a few hours. Later, he managed to get away from us and we never saw him again. Father Conway was successful in his mission to provide spiritual strength to all of us. He made us believe that we would be rescued. He gave us hope and the will to endure. His work was exhausting and he finally succumbed in the evening of the third day. He will be remembered by all of the survivors for all of his work while on board the ‘Indy’ and especially three days in the ocean.” Continue reading
Larry Lynch was born, the first of 12 kids in his family, in the City Line neighborhood of Brooklyn on October 17, 1906. He grew up on some pretty tough streets while also serving as an altar boy at Saint Sylvester’s. He came to greatly admire the Redemptorists, an order of missionary priests founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in 1732. In America the order had distinguished itself by its work in some of the roughest slums in the country and thus it was small wonder that a tough street kid would be attracted to them. Larry Lynch was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist Order in 1932.
His initial assignment was as a missionary priest in Brazil, in the parishes of Miranda and Aquidauana in the State of Mato Grosso, quite a change from Brooklyn! In 1937 he served at Old Saint Mary’s in Buffalo, New York with mission assignments to Orangeburg, North Carolina and Ephrata, Pa.
Prior to Pearl Harbor, in September 1941, Father Lynch enlisted in the Army as a chaplain. He served at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, Fort Polk, Lousiana, and in the Mojave Desert in California with the 31rst regiment of the 7th Armored Division. In December 1943 he was sent overseas to New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific.
Assigned initially to the 42nd Quarter Master Battalion in Noumea, Captain Lynch quickly began making himself unforgettable. The commander of the outfit was Lieutenant Colonel Julius Klein, a remarkable man in his own right who had served as an American spy in Germany during World War I. Klein, to his astonishment, found himself agreeing that he and all the staff officers in the battalion would be at Christmas Mass that evening, although he wondered what a Jew like him would be doing at a Catholic Mass! Father Lynch had that type of effect on people, his enthusiasm tended to overwhelm all opposition. He decided that the chapel was too small for the Mass and it was held in the base amphitheater. The amphitheater filled to capacity, the Christmas carols at the Mass were led by a soldier named Goldstein, a great tenor, who Father Lynch had met on the troop transport. Father Lynch explained the priest’s vestments prior to beginning for the benefit of the non-Catholics present:
“Father Stearns of the Navy will celebrate the Mass. Before he begins, there’s a lot even Catholics should know and I’ll bet a nickel there are some right here who couldn’t explain why a priest wears all those vestments, for example. Well, it’s time we all knew why and it won’t hurt you non-Catholics to know either.”
“Father Stearns will begin to put on his vestments, and while he does, well talk about them a little. First, as to the why. Every one of them is a symbol, a symbol of service to God.”
He picked up the amice and held it high. “This, for example. It’s just a piece of linen, and it is called an amice: A-M-I-C-E. Jesus was blindfolded, and the amice represents that blindfold. Okay, Father.”
He extended the amice to Father Stearns who put it on.
“Herod placed a garment on Jesus to make a fool of Him. You remember that. This white robe white to signify purity is an alb: A-L-B, and the alb is symbolic of that garment. Incidentally there are six colors used by the church and each one of them is significant: white for purity and joy, red for blood and fire, green is the symbol of hope, violet for penance. . . .”
The Mass had a huge impact on everyone present, and Colonel Klein announced that he was glad he came. Continue reading
Destiny attended Emmeran Bliemel at his birth on the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, in 1831 in Bavaria. From his early boyhood his burning desire was to be a missionary to German Catholics in far off America. Joining a Benedictine Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1851, he was ordained a priest in 1856. Continue reading
For love of Him they ought to expose themselves to enemies both visible and invisible.
Saint Francis of Assisi
Ignatius Maternowski entered this Vale of Tears on March 28, 1912, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the son of Polish immigrants He attended, appropriately enough, Saint Francis High School. Impressed by the Franciscans he encountered there, he decided to become a Franciscan priest. He was ordained to the priesthood on July 3, 1938. His gift for preaching manifesting itself, he was assigned as a missionary-preacher at the friary of Saint Anthony of Padua in Elicott City, Maryland.
From the time of Pearl Harbor he sought permission to serve as a chaplain and in July 1942 he enlisted in the Army. He served as a chaplain in the 508th regiment of the 82nd Airborne. In the aftermath of the chaotic combat drop into Normandy on the night before D-Day, Captain Maternowski busied himself in tending both American and German wounded. Continue reading
One of the most highly decorated chaplains of World War II, Father Elmer W. Heindl used to joke that his decorations were simply due to him being in the wrong place at the right time. Born on June 14, 1910 in Rochester, New York, the oldest of six children, Heindl decided at an early age that he was meant to be a priest and was ordained on June 6, 1936. He said that being born on Flag Day indicated to him that during his life he would do something to honor the Stars and Stripes. Continue reading
“God give me strength for I am not a good preacher.”
Born in Marigny, France on April 12, 1813, Isidore Francois Turgis loved the classics and the Church. He was ordained on May 31, 1846. During the Crimean War he attempted to served as a chaplain, but was rejected for physical reasons. However, while his flesh was frail, Father Turgis had a spirit of pure steel and his persistence was rewarded in 1857 with an appointment to the Corps of Chaplains. During the Second Italian War of Independence he served with the French army at the battles of Montebello, Palestro, Magenta, Crossing of the Tessin, Marignan, and Solferino. He also served with the French army in Cochin China (Vietnam).
Some priests seem to be destined to lead adventurous lives. After returning to France, he decided that he was called to be a priest in New Orleans. Arriving there he was assigned to serve at the Saint Louis Cathedral. He quickly became popular with the creole population and was asked to serve as chaplain of the Orleans Guards. He hoped that he would not have to preach often as a chaplain in the Confederate Army: “God give me strength for I am not a good preacher.”
Letters from troops in his regiment, which later became the 30th Louisiana Infantry, attest to the courage, kindness and faith of Father Turgis. At Shiloh he was one of the few Catholic priests who was present at an engagement, and this fact still stuns even after 152 years, where more Americans were battle casualties, 23,000, than in all of America’s prior wars combined. His courage stood out during two days when courage was not in short supply on either side.
Lieutenant Colonel S.F. Ferguson, an aide de camp to General Beauregard, was placed in command of a brigade during the battle of Shiloh. One of the regiments was the Orleans Guard in which Father Turgis was chaplain. In his report to General Beauregard he stated “and of Father I. Turgis, who, in the performance of his holy offices, freely exposed himself to the balls of the enemy”, in commending the priest’s courage.
Here is a summary of a letter written after Shiloh that Father Turgis wrote to the formidable Archbishop Jean-Marie Odin, second Archbishop of New Orleans, in which he modestly told him not to believe what the newspapers were saying about his valor at Shiloh:
Turgis begs pardon for not having given (Odin) any sign of life since the terrible days of (April) 6 and 7. He has been trying ever since, as much as his energy permits, to make himself useful visiting the 18th, 24th, 17th, 13th and 4th regiments at Corinth, in all 296 sick, of whom 207 have confessed and 121 have received Communion. He begs (Odin) to believe nothing which newspapers say in his regard, the Orléans Guards are so favorable to him that they exaggerate everything, regarding as self-sacrifice that which is only the accomplishment of a duty. About the Battle (of Shiloh): There were about 18 to 20 thousand Catholics, all speaking or understanding French, and he was the only priest. He gave absolution for 18 hours without stopping, but he cannot prevent himself from weeping continually in thinking about those thousands of Catholics who asked for him and whom it was impossible to see. The pastor of the cathedral had told him there would be 6 or 7 priests and that he would be unneeded, but without him the elite of their Creole population would have been exposed to being lost for eternity. If (Odin) could visit some of the wounded in (New Orleans), such as Major or young Labar(?), etc., he believes it would result in great good and also greatly relieve their suffering. On the field of battle a colonel made him promise to spend eight days amid his brigade of 2,000 men, camped 40 miles away. All are Catholic. Captain Stayaise (?) of the 4th of Orléans Guards took the name of this place; he went to New Orleans without leaving this address for Turgis. He asks (Odin) to get it for him. Continue reading
I normally take great pride in being an American, but there are passages in our history which all Americans should be ashamed of. During our Civil War in many prison camps, both North and South, POWs were treated wretchedly with inadequate shelter, clothing and food. The worst by far was Andersonville. The vast tragedy at Andersonville came about for a number of reasons. Continue reading
Whenever the collection for the Archdiocese for Military Services comes around, I always dig deep to give a contribution and I hope all of you do also. As faithful readers of this blog know, I have special respect for Catholic Chaplains who go in harm’s way to bring the love of Christ onto the battlefield. Father Z reports that some Catholics on the left, surprise!, disagree:
Fishwrap (aka National Schismatic Reporter) has yet another attack piece against the important collection to be taken up this weekend for the Archdiocese for Military Services.
In other words they are attacking Catholic chaplains.
In the latest divisive hate piece Fishwrap has this suggestion:
Outside the clergy, a small, lay-led online effort seeks to offer Catholics opposed to the collection an alternative when the basket makes its way through the pews.
Catholics Against Militarism has made available on its website downloadable cards for Catholics opposed to the collection “to put in the collection basket instead of money, just to make their voices heard,” member Ellen Finnigan said.
The cards, in part, read: “A nationwide collection for AMS sends a message to American Catholics that the Catholic Church condones America’s current military activity and post-9-11 wars. … Church is no place to glorify the ideals of the professional military class, which run contrary to most, if not all, Christian beliefs and teachings, including the Christian Just War theory. Today, in a spirit of peace, I offer my dissent.”
Fishwrap upbraids those who create “divisiveness” or who use sharp rhetoric.
And yet here is Fishwrap attacking an established, recognized ministry to well over 1 million lay people, some of whom are children, some of whom are suffering in horrible life-threatening circumstances. Some of them are poor, they work for almost nothing.
Go here to read the rest. The collection is tomorrow in my diocese and the effort of the National Catholic Reporter is causing me to up my donation. I hope you will follow suit. Here are thirty-eight very good reasons to give to support these very brave priests:
Peter Paul Cooney was born in County Roscommin, Ireland in 1822. He went with his family to America at the age of 5. Raised on a farm in Monroe, Michigan. Studying at Notre Dame it was perhaps fated that he would become a Holy Cross priest, although he wasn’t ordained until the age of 37. When the Civil War broke out Father Cooney was at Notre Dame. Although at 39 he was rather old for a military chaplain, he enlisted in the 35th Indiana Infantry, nicknamed the First Indiana Irish, and served 44 months, the entire War, with the 35th.
In a regiment of brave men, mostly Irish, Father Cooney stood out. After the battle of Murphreesboro the Colonel of the regiment, Bernard F. Mullen, wrote:
To Father Cooney, our chaplain, too much praise cannot be given. Indifferent as to himself, he was deeply solicitous for the temporal comfort and spiritual welfare of us all. On the field he was cool and indifferent to danger, and in the name of the regiment I thank him for his kindness and laborious attention to the dead and dying.
After the battle of Nashville, Brigadier General Nathan Kimball summed up the chaplain:
Of Father Cooney, chaplain of the Thirty-fifth Indiana, I commend him as an example of the army chaplin; meek, pious, and brave as a lion, he worked with his brave regiment in the valley of the shadow of death, affording the ministrations of his holy religion to the wounded and dying, and giving words of encouragement to his fellow soldiers.
Before battles, Father Cooney would stand before the regiment, lead the men in prayer and give them mass absolution. The commander of the Army of the Cumberland, Major General William S. Rosecrans, a fervent Catholic convert, was so taken by this that he ordered the Protestant chaplains in the Army to do likewise!
Father Cooney noted in his letters home to his brother that Protestant soldiers would often attend Mass, especially before a battle, and some of them converted. He believed that the courage of Catholic soldiers in the Army helped break down prejudice against the Faith that some of their Protestant fellow soldiers had originally harbored.
I have been for the last two months very busy in preparing the men to complete their Easter duty, otherwise I would have written oftener, to you. Our division consists of about twelve thousand men and there are Catholics in every regiment. Protestants attend the sermons by thousands in the open field. I have baptized
many of them and prejudice against to the Church is gone almost entirely.
A short time ago I baptized and gave his first Communion to the Major General commanding our division. He is now a most fervent catholic and his example is powerful over the men of his command. I have every assistance from him in anything that I require for the discharge of my duties. He is extremely kind to me. Continue reading
The POW Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun received the Medal of Honor on April 11, 2012. Here is what he did to earn it.
Serving as a chaplain at Fort Bliss, Father Kapaun was ordered to Japan in 1950. Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, he was assigned to a front line combat unit, the 3rd battalion, 8th cavalry regiment, 1rst Cavalry Division.
With his unit Father Kapaun participated during June-September 1950 in the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter and then in the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, which, combined with the Inchon landings in Operation Chromite, the brilliant stroke by General Douglas MacArthur, led to the eviction of the invading North Korean armies from South Korea and the capture of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on October 19, 1950. During all of this Father Kapaun was a whirlwind of activity: tending the wounded, administering the Last Sacrament to the dying, keeping up the morale of the troops. He said mass as close as he could get to the battle lines from an improvised platform on a jeep.
On November 1, 1950 Chaplain Kapaun’s unit ran headlong into advancing Chinese Communist forces at Unsan, North Korea, about 50 miles south of the Chinese border with North Korea. The official citation of the award of the Distinguish Service Cross to Chaplain Kapaun tells of his role in the battle:
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Emil Joseph Kapaun(O-0558217), Captain (Chaplain), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection withmilitary operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Chaplain with Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division. Captain (Chaplain) Kapaun distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, on 1 and 2 November 1950.
On the afternoon of 1 November 1950, and continuing through the following 36 hours, the regiment was subjected to a relentless, fanatical attack by hostile troops attempting to break through the perimeter defense. In the early morning hours, the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defenses, and hand-to-hand combat ensued in the immediate vicinity of the command post where the aid station had been set up. Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety, calmly moved among the wounded men, giving them medical aid and easing their fears. His courageous manner inspired all those present and many men who might otherwise have fled in panic were encouraged by his presence and remained to fight the enemy.
As the battle progressed, the number of wounded increased greatly and it became apparent that many of the men would not be able to escape the enemy encirclement. Finally, at dusk on November 2, 1950, the remaining able- bodied men were ordered to attempt to break through the surrounding enemy. At this time, although fully aware of the great danger, Chaplain Kapaun voluntarily remained behind, and when last seen was administering medical treatment and rendering religious rites wherever needed.
Along with the other Americans captured Father Kapaun was marched north in bitterly cold winter weather approximately 100 miles. One of his fellow prisoners, Herbert Miller, was wounded and had a broken ankle. Mr. Miller survived the war and here is a recent statement by him on what happened next. “I was wounded with a broken ankle and the North Koreans were going to shoot me. He brushed them aside, reached down and picked me up and carried me. How he found the strength, I’ll never know. He was the bravest man I ever saw.”
Father Kapaun and his fellow POWs were taken, after their two week march, to a temporary camp which they called The Valley located 10 miles south of Pyoktong, NorthKorea, the first in a series of camps in the area where Father Kapuan and the men from his unit were held. Of the approximately 1000 Americans who were taken here 500-700 died. I was astonished in researching this article to learn that during their first year of operation the Chinese POW camps had a death rate of 40%, which makes them worse than the Japanese POW camps during World War II in which approximately one-third of the Allied prisoners perished.
Then the events began which made Father Kapaun unforgettable to the men who survived this Gehenna on Earth. First, the men needed food. On the miserable rations they had from the Chinese they were starving to death. Father Kapaun staged daring daylight raids into surrounding fields to scavenge for hidden potatoes and sacks of corn. If he had been discovered it is quite likely that he would have been shot on the spot. He always shared his food with the other men, and his example shamed his fellow prisoners who also scavenged for food outside of the camp to do the same and share their food. Continue reading
The sons of Saint Dominic have supplied many heroic military chaplains throughout their illustrious history, and one of these men was Father Paul Redmond. Born on March 27, 1899 in New Haven, Connecticut, he served as an enlisted man in the United States Navy during World War I. He was ordained a priest in the Dominican order in 1930.
By 1942, Father Redmond was 43 years old, about a decade older than the average chaplain. No one would have said anything if he had sat this World War out. Instead he joined the Navy and became a Marine chaplain, and not just any Marine chaplain. He took a demotion in rank from corps chaplain to battalion chaplain to serve with the 1st and 4th Raider battalions, elite combat formations. Among men who were brave simply by virtue of qualifying to join such outfits, Chaplain Redmond stood out. During the campaign on Guam, Father Redmond would go into the mouths of caves occupied by Japanese troops to attempt to convince them to surrender, and I find it difficult to think of anything more hazardous offhand.
In the midst of the attack on Orote Peninsula on Guam, the Chaplain was tending the dying and wounded while under fire. He called to his assistant Henry to give him a hand. His assistant was understandably reluctant to expose himself to enemy fire. Father Redmond yelled to him that as long as he had led a good, clean life nothing would happen to him. Henry yelled back that he had not led a good, clean life and therefore he was going to sit tight until the firing let up.
One Marine recalled Redmond’s almost preternatural courage: Continue reading
“Your soldier’s heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin fearlessly rush to their deaths. The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish brigade was beyond description. We forgot they were fighting us and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines!”
Confederate Major General George Pickett in a letter to his fiance
A moving video of the Irish Brigade at the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, based on the movie Gods and Generals. It was criminal military malpractice for Burnside, perhaps the most incompetent general in the war, to assault the fortified Confederate positions, but his idiocy does not derogate in the slightest from the extreme heroism of the Union troops who suffered massive casualties while attempting to do the impossible.
The Irish Brigade was one of the units called upon that day to do the impossible. One of the regiments in the Brigade was the 69th New York, the Fighting 69th as they would be designated by Robert E. Lee for their gallant charge at this battle, a unit faithful readers of this blog are quite familiar with. This day their chaplain personally blessed each man in the regiment. They called him Father Thomas Willett. That was as close as they could get to pronouncing his actual name.
Thomas Ouellet, a French Canadian Jesuit, fit perfectly among a regiment of tough Irishmen. Normally mild mannered and kind, he could react sternly to sin or to any injustice done to “his boys”. Abbe Ouellet had been with the regiment from its formation at the beginning of the war. During the battles of the Seven Days of the Peninsular Campaign earlier in 1862, he had barely slept as he tirelessly tended the wounded and gave the Last Rites to the dying. After the battle of Malvern’s Hill, he traversed the battlefield all night with a lantern after the Union army had withdrawn, seeking wounded to help and dying to save. He was captured by Confederates, who, learning he was a priest, treated him with kindness and swiftly released him. Continue reading
When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today
Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.
World War I was a ghastly conflict with tens of millions of men slaughtered in all the horrors that war in the industrial age was capable of mustering. After the War which ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Veterans Day was set aside on November 11 to honor those men who had fought with courage for their country. In our country Veteran’s Day eventually came to honor all those who had served in the military. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “It is all together fitting and proper that we do this.” Why it is important that we do that I will leave to Father Francis P. Duffy who served as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th in France in World War I. You may read prior posts about him here and here. Father Duffy was a man of faith and courage, so much courage that it was proposed that he be nominated for the Medal of Honor until he laughed at the idea. His leadership skills were so valued that General Douglas MacArthur even briefly considered placing him, a chaplain, in command of the 69th, which would have been a first in American military history. When the 69th got back to New York after the War Father Duffy wrote about its reception and why it was important to honor the men who had served, and, especially, the silent victors who remained in graves in France:
It was a deserved tribute to a body of citizen soldiers who had played such a manful part in battle for the service of the Republic. The appreciation that the country pays its war heroes is for the best interest of the State. I am not a militarist, nor keen for military glory. But as long as liberties must be defended, and oppression or aggression put down, there must always be honor paid to that spirit in men which makes them willing to die for a righteous cause. Next after reason and justice, it is the highest quality in citizens of a state. Continue reading