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.
In March of 1942 he joined the Army as a chaplain. Assigned to the 2nd Battalion of th 148th infantry attached to the 37th Division, he served on Guadalcanal, New Georgia and in the Philippines. He quickly gained a reputation for utter fearlessness under fire, giving the last Rites, tending the wounded and rescuing wounded under fire. In regard to the Last Rites, Father Heindl noted that he did not have time to check dog tags to see if a dying soldier was a Catholic. “Every situation was an instant decision. You didn’t have time to check his dog tag to see whether he was Catholic or not. I’d say, in Latin, ‘If you’re able and willing to receive this sacrament, I give it to you.’ And then leave it up to the Lord.”
He earned a Bronze Star on New Georgia when on July 19 and July 23 he conducted burial services, although in constant danger from Japanese sniper fire. The citation noted that his cheerful demeanor and courage inspired the troops who encountered him.
During the liberation of the Philippines, Captain Heindl participated in the bitter fighting in Manila. He earned a Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award in the United States Army for valor, during the fighting at Bilibid prison to liberate American and Filipino POWs who had been through horrors at the hands of their Japanese captors that I truly hope the readers of this post would find literally unimaginable. Here is the Distinguished Service Cross citation: Continue reading
I can think of few things more appropriate for Flag Day than Red Skelton’s immortal explanation of the Pledge of Allegiance. When my sainted mother became a naturalized American citizen, she was given a little American flag. I have a treasured photo of my Mom and Dad just after the naturalization ceremony, both happy, and my Mom clutching the flag of a land that she loved long before she became a citizen. I still have the flag, one of my most precious mementoes of my Mom. Continue reading
Today is Flag Day. Edward Everett Hale, in his short story A Man Without A Country, reminds us that patriotism is a very powerful form of love. Hale, a great nephew of Nathan Hale who died on a British scaffold and uttered the deathless ”I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.”, wrote the story in the midst of the Civil War in 1863 to help inspire patriotism.
The story is a simple one. Philip Nolan was a young artillery lieutenant in the United States Army. He became involved in the vague scheme of Aaron Burr to detach some territory from the United States and form an independent nation. All the big fish escape conviction, but Lieutenant Nolan does not. At his courtmartial the following takes place:
One and another of the colonels and majors were tried, and, to fill out the list, little Nolan, against whom, Heaven knows, there was evidence enough,–that he was sick of the service, had been willing to be false to it, and would have obeyed any order to march any-whither with any one who would follow him had the order been signed, “By command of His Exc.A. Burr.” The courts dragged on. The big flies escaped,–rightly for all I know. Nolan was proved guilty enough, as I say; yet you and I would never have heard of him, reader, but that, when the president of the court asked him at the close whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a fit of frenzy,–
“Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” Continue reading
On June 14 we celebrate Flag Day — to commemorate the adoption of the flag of the United States, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress in 1777.