Army Chaplains During the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Combat Comes To The Chaplains
At 0755 that fateful Sunday morning Chaplain Terence P. Finnegan prepared for Mass. He stopped at Schofield Barracks chapel to get extra candles for service in the assembly hall. As he came in front of the little chapel, he saw the planes dive on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field; they flew so low he could see the pilots. He drove his 1931 Buick in a mad dash to the artillery area to disperse the men assembled for Mass. His car was strafed on the way. Finnegan dispersed the men, but a bomb fell and killed six men as they took up positions. He said the last rites for the dead, drove to the hospital in an ambulance full of \rounded men, and ministered there to the living and dying. More than 400 litters filled the hospital. In the afternoon he went out to a plane that crashed and burned, to pull out the broken body of the pilot and administer the last rites. He ate breakfast at 5 o’clock that afternoon and didn’t get his clothes off for the next three days. Assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, he was the only Catholic chaplain who served the Schofield Barracks hospital.50
Chaplain Alvin Katt at Wheeler Field heard blasts on the flight line and saw P40’s melt like wax. Within moments men were dying, two of them members of his choir. He had a new cantonment type chapel, one of the first in the Pacific; a Japanese Zero strafed it with incendiary bullets, but miraculously it did not catch fire. Katt joined Finnegan and Chaplain Harry P. Richmond at the hospital, where they ministered to the injured and dying.
At Hickam Field, Chaplain Elmer Tiedt heard his four children rush in the back door and shout, “There are planes with red balls on the wings-all over the place-dropping bombs! Ships are burning in the harbor!” The senior chaplain’s assistant was killed at the altar in the old wooden hangar used for a theater and chapel. Another assistant was killed while setting up a machine gun.
The base hospital was soon filled with casualties. None had dog tags, and the problem was how to offer prayer according to the individual’s belief. Chaplains Sliney, Mullan. Patrick and Tiedt made every effort to serve each man according to his faith. Thrust suddenly into a combat ministry, Chaplain Tiedt had an extra burden to carry: in the confusion the Commanding General informed him that Mrs. Tiedt was dead, and offered to help with the children. Not until the next day did he learn that she was all right. Jorgensen wrote:
“In those first troubled day the chaplains in Hawaii visited the sick and dying, set up a central clearing agency to check personnel records for bereaved women and children, set up a radiogram center to help men get in touch with anxious mothers, distributed cigarettes, candy, soap, razor blades, visited defense positions, and conducted burial services.”51
Chaplain Harry P. Richmond, a Jewish Rabbi, remembered his feelings that day of infamy. He heard about the attack on the radio and rushed to the hospital were, “observing patients; some on stretchers on the floor, others on whites sheets in beds, you knew that war, with all its unspeakable horror and terror was here . . . sooner than we dared to expect. . . . It was time for action. for ministration, for help to those who were first in service and sacrifice for God and country.”52
50 Jorgensen, The Service of Chaplains To Army Air Units 1917-1946, p. 84.
51 Ibid., p. 84-85.
52 Harry P. Richmond, A Rabbi Recalls Pearl Harbor, Opinion, Vol. XIII, No. 12, October
1943, p. 24.
This article (with footnotes) from Gushwa, Robert L., The Best and Worst of Times: The United States Army Chaplaincy, 1920-1945. Office of the Chief of Chaplains, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C. 1977.