Posts Tagged ‘world war ii’


On the morning of February 3, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, a converted cruise ship, was crowded to capacity with 903 service members, including four chaplains. The Dorchester, was moving steadily across the icy waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland.  It was struck by a torpedo and began to rapidly sink. Panic and chaos had set in on the ship. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were seriously wounded.

Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend to the wounded, and guide the disoriented toward safety. By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. When there were no more life jackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.

As the ship went down, survivors on nearby rafts could see the four chaplains–arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. All four voices were heard offering prayers until their last moments of life.

Today, a grateful nation remembers Chaplain George L. Fox, Chaplain Alexander D. Goode, Chaplain Clark V. Poling, and Chaplain John P. Washington for their heroic deeds as soldiers and spiritual leaders.

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D-Day June 6, 1944


Remember the courage and sacrifice that moved our world in 1944.  Today there are only 855,070 veterans remaining of the 16 million who served our nation in World War II.  When you see a WW II veteran, always stop to say hello and thank you for your service.  May we always remember what they did on our behalf.

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Thursday will mark another milestone for Army chaplains.  Chaplain (CPT) Emil Kapaun will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic and selfless acts of November, 1950.

Kapaun was a Kansas native.  He was born on April 20, 1916 and was raised on a farm near Pilsen.  In 1940 he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest at what is now Newman University in Wichita, Kansas.  He became a military chaplain with the US Army in 1944.  He was sent to India and served in the Burma Theater.  He was one of many chaplains who rejoined the military during the early days of the Korean War.

Below is a column from Mark W. Johnson, Ph.D., Branch Historian, U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, describing the events and lives of eight Army chaplains during the early part of that conflict.

Under Fire:  Chaplains in Korea, 1950


The start of hostilities in Korea during June 1950 caught most American officials off guard, and those in charge of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps were no exception. For the previous five years, America’s military focus had been on divesting itself of the huge force that had been employed during World War Two. There were 8,141 Army chaplains on active duty as that war ended in 1945; by the end of 1947, only a little more than 1,100 remained. Nearly 500 of those transferred to the recently-established U.S. Air Force in 1949. On the eve of the North Korean attack on South Korea, there were 706 active duty Army chaplains, with more in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve.

With war again a reality in 1950, the Army had to rapidly expand. Having just gone through the painful process of involuntarily releasing chaplains from active duty and forcing them into reserve status, the Chaplain Corps now had to reverse the process and recall reserve chaplains to active duty. Chaplain authorizations would more than double in the coming years, topping out at 1,618 in 1953. Even though numerous chaplains entered the active force through reserve component mobilizations, individual recalls, and an intense recruiting effort, the number of chaplains serving never matched what was authorized. Many veterans of World War Two were understandably reluctant to volunteer for combat duty again, and popular support for the war would wane during its final years as the conflict devolved into a stalemate.


While America mobilized in 1950, America’s Army went to war. The first American ground forces to deploy to Korea were the divisions that had been stationed in Japan as occupation forces following World War Two. In trying to stem the tide that was the North Korean invasion of South Korea, many hastily-deployed American units found themselves in desperate situations; it often came down to more of a battle for survival than it was an attempt to inflict harm on the enemy. Chaplains assigned to those units found themselves spending far more time comforting the wounded and praying for the fallen–and trying to evade capture–than they did in ministering to the living.

The first chaplain to serve in Korea deployed there with the initial American ground force to enter the conflict: Task Force Smith, an under strength battalion of the 24th Infantry Division’s 21st Infantry Regiment. The battalion’s chaplain, Carl R. Hudson, had been looking forward to a routine tour of garrison duty in Japan upon his assignment to the unit a few weeks beforehand. Chaplain Hudson and the rest of the task force’s 540 soldiers had little time to do anything after settling into a defense position just north of the town of Osan during the early morning hours of July 5, 1950. A large force of North Korean tanks and infantry attacked just a few hours later. By early afternoon the task force was completely overrun, its survivors scattered. Chaplain Hudson, along with the battalion’s surgeon and a large group of walking wounded, spent most of the following night and day making their way southward to the safety of the nearest American unit.


Other chaplains of the 24th Infantry Division had experiences similar to that of Hudson during that difficult month of July 1950, narrowly escaping as one American position after another fell before the North Korean advance. All survived, with the exception of Chaplain Herman G. Felhoelter of the 19th Infantry Regiment. With his battalion falling back as the American position along the Kum River collapsed, Felhoelter volunteered to remain behind with a group of critically wounded men. A North Korean patrol came upon the group and executed the prostrate soldiers and their praying chaplain. Felhoelter was the first of twelve chaplains to die in action or as a prisoner during the Korean War. The second also perished in July 1950, when Chaplain Byron D. Lee of the 35th Infantry Regiment (25th Infantry Division) was mortally wounded during an attack from an enemy aircraft.

Amazingly enough, no chaplains were captured during those confusing initial months of the Korean War despite all the American setbacks. That would change within a few months, however. After the front stabilized at the Pusan Perimeter and then the Inchon Invasion changed the strategic focus of the war, during the final months of 1950 American units and other forces of the United Nations command no longer retreated but instead advanced deep into North Korean territory. China entered the war in October 1950, when American and South Korean troops approached the Yalu River, the border between Korea and China. The first major American-Chinese clash took place near the town of Unsan during the first week of November, when a powerful Chinese attack overwhelmed the 1st Cavalry Division’s 8th Cavalry Regiment. The regiment’s battered 1st and 2d battalions managed to withdraw, but the 3d battalion was surrounded and largely annihilated. The 3d battalion’s chaplain, Emil J. Kapaun, was captured.


The 1950 Chinese counteroffensive generated heavy casualties on both sides. Within a month of Kapaun’s capture, three more chaplains also became prisoners of war: Kenneth C. Hyslop (19th Infantry Regiment), Wayne H. Burdue (2d Engineer Battalion, 2d Infantry Division), and Lawrence F. Brunnert (32d Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division). Two other chaplains were killed during those weeks: Samuel R. Simpson (38th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division) and James W. Conner (31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division). The fate of the four captured chaplains was unknown until the release of surviving American prisoners in 1953. Sadly, none of the four chaplain POWs survived their incarcerations.

For the opening battles of the Korean War, as with most wars, those who are already in uniform at the start of the conflict bore the burden of the opening battles. The eight chaplains lost in 1950 were all members of the pre-war Chaplain Corps. Six were veterans of World War Two. Burdue, Lee, and Simpson had served continuously since the 1940s without a break in service. Hyslop, Kapaun, and Felhoelter also served in World War Two, but were released from active duty in 1946. Within two years, however, they decided to continue their service to God and country; all three volunteered for recall to active duty in 1948. Conner and Brunnert joined the others in the pre-war era, being commissioned in 1948 and 1949 respectively.


None of these eight veteran chaplains knew what the year 1950 would bring, but all rose to the challenges that came with ministering to Soldiers under fire. Only a few received public recognition for the actions that ultimately cost them their lives: Conner was awarded the Silver Star, Felhoelter the Distinguished Service Cross, and Kapaun received numerous awards. It is safe to say that all eight earned the undying thanks and gratitude of the Soldiers they served–the only award for which any of them would have asked.

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Memorial Day allows us to remember the meaning of sacrifice.  Veterans, soldiers, and veteran groups frequently celebrate Audie Murphy and his sacrificial efforts during World War II.

As a soldier, Murphy was credited with destroying six tanks, killing over 240 German soldiers, and capturing many others.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle of Holtzwihr, France.  In this campaign, Murphy’s unit was reduced to 19 out of 128.  As they continued to take losses, Murphy ordered his men to fall back while he provided rifle fire to protect their escape.  When he ran out of ammunition, he climbed on top of a burning M10 tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machine gun to fight the enemy.  He also called in artillery fire to slow the German advance.  Murphy continued to shoot and call in artillery for an hour until he was wounded in the leg.

When asked after the war why he had seized the machine gun and taken on an entire company of German infantry, he replied simply, “They were killing my friends.”  His selfless service and sacrifice is celebrated every year.

Each Memorial Day we celebrate the suffering and sacrifice of veterans.  But to understand sacrifice we must  look past the holiday weekend.  To understand sacrifice we must look to God.

John 3:16 shares that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  A sacrifice was made for us.  Christ was wounded for our wrongs.  Isaiah 53 is titled the Suffering Servant.  This chapter in the Old Testament shares how the Son of God would be “pierced for our transgressions” and suffer on our behalf.  His actions would bear our iniquities and justify us before a Holy God.

As Christians, we understand that Jesus went to the cross for our sins.  His substitution on the cross ultimately atoned for the sins of the world.  He interceded to save us.

While stories of sacrifice, war wounds, medals, and heroism will take center stage this holiday weekend, remember that we understand sacrifice through the love and devotion of Jesus Christ.  He is truly our Savior.


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