11
Nov
09

Praise the Lord and the Pass the Ammunition

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor at 7:55 AM on 7 Dec 41, church services were in progress.   Most chaplains found themselves caring for the wounded and dying on that ugly day.  However, Chaplain Howell Fogey, aboard the USS New Orleans, was luckier than his fellows: he joined the human chain passing ammunition to the cruiser’s guns.  At one point, someone scored a hit and a Japanese Zero fell from the sky.  Chaplain Fogey’s next words marking this event have passed into history: “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”

The tradition of the “fighting chaplain” predates Chaplain Fogey, however.  And in most cases it denotes a chaplain who remains with the men and women for whom he or she has assumed spiritual responsibility rather than a chaplain who actually fights.  In this regard, I might mention Father Francis P. Duffy of the very famous 69th “Fighting Irish” Infantry Regiment from NYC.  From 14-16 July 1918 Father Duffy cared for the wounded and the dying for forty-eight straight hours as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive ground itself out.  At one point, when it seemed that the regiment’s position was going to be overrun, Father Duffy was offered a couple of the remaining grenades with which to make a last stand.  He refused the offer, electing instead to remain in his own line of business, as he put it.

For his gallant service, Father Duffy was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, which is only one step below the Medal of Honor, as well as a number of foreign decorations.   Interestingly, the location we now know as Times Square is actually called Duffy Square in his memory, and a stature of Father Duffy stands at one end.

(English lit. types will remember the 69th because poet Joyce Kilmer was killed while serving with this unit in the Second Battle of the Marne.  His service is memorialized by Camp Kilmer.)

In addition to chaplains such as Chaplain Fogey and Father Duffy, there are also chaplains who have won the Medal of Honor.  Here I offer the actions of Chaplain (CPT) Charles James Angelo Liteky.   Chaplain Liteky served with A/4th/12th of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade at Phuoc-Lac, Bien Ho Province in South Vietnam.  His unit was ambushed and pinned down by enemy fire, and in the course of the evacuation Chaplain Liteky carried at least twenty men to the waiting MEDEVAC helicopters.  What strikes me as most amazing, however, is this section of his citation in which the reporting officer describes Liteky’s rescue of a wounded man who was isolated outside the perimeter:

In a magnificent display of courage and leadership, Chaplain Liteky began to move upright through the enemy fire, administering last rites to the dying and evacuating the wounded.  Noticing another trapped and seriously wounded man, Chaplain Liteky crawled to his aid.  Realizing that the man was too heavy to carry, he rolled on his back, placed the man on his chest, and through sheer determination and fortitude crawled back to the landing zone using his elbows and heels to push himself along.

If you would like to get a feel for the sheer physical strength this requires, you could put two hundred pounds of your food storage wheat on your chest and crawl around the yard for a bit…and I suppose you could get the kids to make that distinctive crack-thump noise that bullets make as they go overhead, too.

Anyway, Chaplain Liteky lived through his tour in Vietnam and is still alive today.   Not all chaplains, however, have had Chaplain Liteky’s kind of good fortune, and four in particular come mind.  These men, called the Four Chaplains of World War II, are Rabbi Alexander Goode, Reverend George L. Fox, Reverend Clark V. Polling, and Father John P. Washington.  All four were aboard the troop transport Dorchester on 3 Feb 43 when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat.  The four chaplains moved among the men calming them, and getting them off the sinking ship and into life boats.  When the life jackets were gone, the four men took off their own and gave them to wounded soldiers, then helped the men to the remaining lifeboats.  As the ship finally sank some thirty minutes later, the last sight the rescued soldiers and sailors saw was the four chaplains standing at the rail, arms linked, singing together.

Requiescat in pace et in amore

and a happy Veteran’s Day

to all those others who have done their part, as well.

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