Chaplain Assistants Killed on 7 December 1941

PFC Joseph Nelles

“Private First Class Joseph Nelles, 17th Air Base Group chaplain assistant, was killed Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, while preparing the altar for Catholic Mass. (Photo – PACAF History Office)”

“In addition to the more than 2,000 brave Americans lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor, 238 Airmen and civilians assigned on Oahu – at Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and Bellows Field, as well as defense and radar sites on island – were killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks.”1

“On December 7, 1941, Hickam Air Force Base had two Chaplain Assistants: Private First Class Joseph “Big Joe” Nelles and Private Joe “Little Joe” Jedrysik. While serving God and country, both Chaplain Assistants were among the 238 who perished during the attacks on Pearl Harbor.”2

“The present day Hickam chapel, located on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, is named after Private First Class Joseph “Big Joe” Nelles, the Catholic Chaplain’s assistant. Pfc Nelles is known to have died when a bomb completely destroyed the base chapel Dec. 7, 1941, while he was preparing the altar for Catholic Mass that Sunday morning.”1

Joseph Jedrysik

Private Joseph Jedrysik

“Private Joe “Little Joe” Jedrysik was the assistant for the Protestant chaplain. He was leaving breakfast on his way to the base chapel when the bombing began. He manned a machine gun in an open field near the base flag pole, firing on Japanese planes for as long as he could until he was killed by a bomb.”2

“Nelles, the Catholic Chaplain Assistant, had attended First Mass and was preparing the altar for a second service when a bomb destroyed Hickam chapel.”2

“In a letter to his parents, the base chaplain noted that Pfc Nelles had attended First Mass just hours earlier, saying, ‘All I can tell you at this time, is that he died at the alter (Sic) itself as he was preparing it for the second Mass… So the poor lad was ready to meet his Maker, and receive his reward for his death, though indeed most sudden, was not an unproved one… Joe was a splendid boy who did much for the Holy Mother church while here, being untiring in his efforts to lead his fellow soldiers to God.’ “1

” ‘Big Joe’ and ‘Little Joe’ were just doing their jobs – and then some – as they joined the 189 Army Air Force Airmen (including five civilians) killed on Hickam Field that day.”1


Hickam Field Chapel

“The old Hickam Chapel had originally been constructed on Luke Field (Ford Island). During Hickam’s construction, this chapel, along with many other facilities, was disassembled on Ford Island and ferried across Pearl Harbor to Hickam Field for reconstruction. (Photo – PACAF History Office)”




Pacific Air Forces website.

U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Facebook page.

Photo credits: PFC Joseph Nelles and Hickam Field Chapel, Pacific Air Forces website; Private Joseph Jedrysik, Cow Hampshire




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