Called to Serve God and Country
Throughout military history, chaplains have provided help with spiritual needs and bringing comfort and aid to service men and women and their families. These chaplains heeded the call to serve God and country and come from various faiths including Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. In their long history of serving our troops, they volunteer, most armed with only Bibles.
The Four Chaplains
Of particular note, is the story of The Four Chaplains. A civilian luxury liner converted for military service, the SS Dorchester, was torpedoed by German submarines on February 3, 1943. Four relatively new chaplains on board sacrificed their own lives to save civilians and military personnel.
The men known as the “Four Chaplains” were: Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Lt. John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister.
As the ship was sinking into freezing waters in the darkness of night with 902 souls on board, the four chaplains helped guide wounded and panicked men to safety. Facing a shortage of life vests, the four gave up their own to others and helped as many as they could into lifeboats. The chaplains then linked their arms together on the deck of the ship and sang hymns and prayed as the ship sank into the sea.
Some survivors report hearing the chaplains’ prayers in a mix of languages including Jewish prayers in Hebrew and Catholic prayers in Latin. In December 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. Additionally, a special medal, the Four chaplains’ Medal was presented to their next of kin.
Subsequently, The Four Chaplains were honored and commemorated in a variety of ways including Four Chaplains Day held on or around February 3rd, a commemorative U.S. postage stamp, numerous memorial foundations, chapels, stained glass windows, sculptures, plaques, and other remembrances. Even the 23rd Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (Northern Jurisdiction) is based on the Four Chaplains incident, teaching “that faith in God will find expression in love for our fellow man, even to the ultimate personal sacrifice.”
Standing Ready to Minister
Touching scenes of chaplains ministering during wartime are powerful and inspiring as shown in the examples below. Here, American chaplain Rabbi Herschel Schacter conducts religious services at the liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945:
The crew of the USS SOUTH DAKOTA stands with bowed heads, while Chaplain N. D. Lindner reads the benediction held in honor of fellow shipmates killed in the air action off Guam on June 19, 1944:
Chaplain Leo Peter Craig, O.P. (1913-1951), was killed while serving as an Army Chaplain in Korea. In this picture, taken moments before his death, Chaplain Craig is seen tending to a soldier who had been severely injured by a land mine:
Chaplain Francis Duffy is one of the most well-known chaplains during WWI. His hard work earned him the most decorated cleric in the U.S. Army. Duffy performs an American soldier’s burial service in France in 1918. The remains of some WWI troops were buried several times—first in battlefield graves, then in U.S. cemeteries in Europe, and finally in the States:
Touching Chaplain Prayers
Here are a few examples of inspiring prayers by American chaplains. These prayers still hold powerful truths, impacting lives then and now:
Good Weather – (Christian)
(Written by Chaplain James O’Neill, 3rd Army Chief of Chaplains, at the request of LTG George Patton, 8 December 1944)
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.
Christmas Prayer (Christian)
(From the program for the Christmas Day Dinner, Vietnam, 1968, by Chaplain (COL) Gerard J. Gefell, Staff Chaplain)
Heavenly Father, we confess that it is our custom to accept Thy gifts and direct little thought to the giver. We thank Thee for invading history that we might for all time understand the intensity of Thy love for us. We ask that the gift of Thy Son may guide us to present our gifts of service to Thee regardless of the station of those to whom Thy love is to be revealed. Make of us modern wise men who dare to serve Thee from the heat of Vietnam to the pavement of our cities. Grant that as we celebrate Thy Nativity our lives shall radiate Thy love, Thy humility, and Thy selflessness. Amen.
Prayer for Far East Forces (Christian)
(From “Places of Divine Worship: Far East Air Forces, United States Air Force” circa 1946-49)
Almighty God Who maketh the clouds Thy chariot and Who walketh upon the wings of the wind, regard, we pray Thee, with Thy love and continuing mercy all our brothers whose duty or pleasure it is to fly, that encompassed by assurance of Thy protecting care we may serve our country and our fellow-men with gladness; and without fear or regret.
Enkindle in our hearts and minds a deep loyalty to righteousness and liberty, that in service of the ideals for which our country was founded we may deal justly with one another and with all peoples of the earth who now are brought ever closer to us through the medium of flight.
Keep safe in Thy care all who are bound to us by ties of love, or friendship, or responsibility, and grant that by no carelessness on our part may their happiness or welfare be cast away.
Accept our thanksgiving for the accomplishments of all those comrades who have gone before us and now rest in Thee, that in remembrance of the costliness of their sacrifice we may here now strive to complete the works they would still seek to do.
Renew in us clean spirits, O God, and cheerful hearts, that with all our fellow-men, particularly those whose labors support our own, we may ever grow in mutual respect and helpfulness.
Enable us so increasingly to know the sources of true strength and courage that throughout all our days we may ever grow more kindly in thought, more gentle in word, more generous indeed.
All of this we ask in the name of Him whose service of Thee enriched us all. Amen.
On Sunday, June 6th, 2021, Dr. Peter Colon of The Friends of Israel ministries, presented a commemoration of the D-Day anniversary with the portrayal of a chaplain who was one of a handful sent with troops to storm Omaha Beach. Watch this thought-provoking D-Day presentation here.
==> Learn more about the importance of “Lest We Forget.”
==> Also read The Guarantee of Everlasting Life.
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