Iwo Jima probably has the sad distinction of being the most expensive piece of worthless real estate in the history of the globe. Expensive not in something as minor as money, but costly in something as all important as human lives. In 1943 the island had a civilian population of 1018 who scratched a precarious living from sulfur mining, some sugar cane farming and fishing. All rice and consumer goods had to be imported from the Home Islands of Japan. Economic prospects for the island were dismal. Eight square miles, almost all flat and sandy, the dominant feature is Mount Suribachi on the southern tip of the island, 546 feet high, the caldera of the dormant volcano that created the island. Iwo Jima prior to World War II truly was “of the world forgetting, and by the world forgot”.
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.
James K. Polk, President of the United States, had a problem. The year was 1846 and the US was at war with Mexico, a Catholic nation. A large fraction of the American army was Catholic, usually fairly recent Irish immigrants. Mexican propaganda portrayed the war as a wicked onlslaught by Protestants against a Catholic people and appealed to Catholics in the US army to desert to them, promising them land and a position in the Mexican army. Some troops took them up on their offer, with deserters eventually forming the San Patricios Battalion and fighting for Mexico during the war. To stem such desertions, Polk wanted to appoint Catholic chaplains to the US Army. Although Catholic chaplains had served informally in prior American wars, none had served officially in that capacity. To remedy that, Polk had a quiet private meeting with Archbishop John Hughes of New York. While Dagger John suspected Polk’s political motivations, he agreed to recommend two priests to serve as chaplains: Father Anthony Rey, vice-president of Georgetown and a Jesuit, and Father John McElroy, also a Jesuit, who went on to found Boston College and who will be the subject of a future post.
Joseph Verbis Lafleur was born into a large Cajun family in Ville Platte Louisiana on January 24, 1912. From early childhood his ambition was to be a priest. Entering Saint Joseph’s Minor Seminary in Saint Benedict, Louisiana he quickly became noted for his good humor, quick wit and athletic prowess. He also had a marked interest in French military history and would recite the last words of Marshal Michel Ney before his execution by the restored Bourbons after the Hundred Days: “Come see how a soldier dies in battle, but he dies not.”
John Washington first saw the light of day on July 18, 1908 in Newark, New Jersey. Continue reading
A leap year baby, Francis L. Sampson was born on February 29, 1912 in Cherokee Iowa.
Last week I posted on Father Francis Duffy who served as chaplain of the Fighting 69th in World War I. In World War II there was another Father Duffy, John E. Duffy, also an army chaplain.
When Father Francis P. Duffy, pastor of Our Savior parish in the Bronx, was appointed chaplain of the 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard in 1914, he was already an old hand at being a military chaplain, having served as one in 1898 during the Spanish American War, although he never saw duty overseas during that brief conflict.
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.
If you travel to Gettysburg you will see a statue to a Catholic priest, and here is why this statue was erected. One of the crack units in the Union Army during the Civil War was the Irish Brigade. On July 2, 1863, the 530 men of the Irish Brigade, survivors of the 2500 who originally enlisted to fight under the Stars and Stripes and the green shamrock banner of the brigade, were about to be sent into the Wheat Field. Brigade Chaplain Father William Corby addressed the troops.