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Chaplain Death Toll Is 24; 3400 Serving Overseas

31 July 1944: Twenty-four Army chaplains have been killed to date, the War Department announced yesterday and 33 have been taken prisoner. Some 3,400 chaplains are now serving overseas.

Meanwhile SHAEF announced the names of 13 chaplains who jumped with the paratroopers in Normandy on D-Day from four to six hours before the first seaborne unit landed. They were:

Capts Raymond S. Hall, Episcopalian, the first jumping in the U.S. Army, who was injured; George B. Wood, Episcopalian; Matthew J. Connelly, Catholic; Robert H. Hennon, Baptist; John J. Verret, Catholic; James L. Elder, Baptist; Ignatius P. Maternowski, Catholic; killed in action; Kenneth M. Engle, Methodist; Francis L. Sampson, Catholic; Joseph Andrejewski, Catholic; Tilden S. McGee, Baptist; John S. Maloney, Catholic, awarded the DSC; and William Reid, Methodist.

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“The Stars and Stripes,” Vol. 4, No. 231, July 31, 1944, pg. 5.

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Original, from The Stars and Stripes, 31 July 1944 (TCK Archives)

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Truce in the Forest: The Story of a World War II Christmas Eve Truce Between German & American Soldiers During the Battle of the Bulge

 

Most people have heard the story of the front-line, Christmas-time, truce in France during World War One, partially due to its retelling in the 2005 movie, Joyeux Noël, but not many have heard of the small Christmas Eve truce forced upon a handful of American and German Soldiers by a godly German woman during the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two. In 1973, Fritz Vincken told the story of what young Fritz witnessed as a child, in his home on the German-Belgian border that miraculous Christmas Eve. It is reposted here, in its entirety, for educational purposes:

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Truce in the Forest, by Fritz Vincken1

It was Christmas Eve, and the last desperate German offensive of WWII raged around our tiny cabin. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door…

German-Cottage (2)When we heard the knock on our door that Christmas Eve in 1944, neither Mother nor I had the slightest inkling of the quiet miracle that lay in store for us. I was 12 then, and we were living in a small cottage in the Huertgen Forest, near the German-Belgian border. Father had stayed at the cottage on hunting weekends before the war; when Allied bombers partly destroyed our hometown of Aachen, he sent us to live there. He had been ordered into the civil-defense fire guard in the border town of Monschau, four miles away.

“You’ll be safe in the woods,” he had told me. “Take care of Mother. Now you’re the man of the family.” But nine days before Christmas, Field Marshal Von Rundstedt had launched the last, desperate German offensive of the war, and now, as I went to the door, the Battle of the Bulge was raging all around us. We heard the incessant booming of field guns; planes soared continuously overhead; at night searchlights stabbed through the darkness. Thousands of Allied and German soldiers were fighting and dying nearby.

When that first knock came, Mother quickly blew out the candles; then, as I went to answer it, she stepped ahead of me and pushed open the door. Outside, like phantoms against the snow-clad trees, stood two steel-helmeted men. One of them spoke to Mother in a language we did not understand, pointing to a third man lying in the snow. She realized before I did that these were American soldiers. Enemies!

Mother stood silent, motionless, her hand on my shoulder. They were armed and could have forced their entrance, yet they stood there and asked with their eyes. And the wounded man seemed more dead than alive. “Kommt rein,” Mother said, finally. “Come in.” The soldiers carried their comrade inside and stretched him out on my bed.

None of them understood German. Mother tried French, and one of the soldiers could converse in that language. As Mother went to look after the wounded man, she said to me, “The fingers of those two are numb. Take off their jackets and boots, and bring in a bucket of snow.” Soon I was rubbing their blue feet with snow.

Battle-of-the-Bulge-1We learned that the stocky, dark-haired fellow was Jim; his friend, tall and slender, was Robin. Harry, the wounded one, was now sleeping on my bed, his face as white as the snow outside. They’d lost their battalion and had wandered in the forest for three days, looking for the Americans, hiding from the Germans. They hadn’t shaved, but still, without their heavy coats, they looked merely like big boys. And that was the way Mother began to treat them.

Now Mother said to me, “Go get Hermann. And bring six potatoes.”

This was a serious departure from our pre-Christmas plans. Hermann was the plump rooster (named after portly Hermann Goering, Hitler’s No. 2 man, for whom Mother had little affection) that we had been fattening for weeks in the hope that Father would be home for Christmas. But, some hours before, when it was obvious that Father would not make it, Mother had decided that Hermann should live a few more days, in case Father could get home for New Year’s. Now she had changed her mind again; Hermann would serve an immediate, pressing purpose.

While Jim and I helped with the cooking, Robin took care of Harry. He had a bullet through his upper leg and had almost bled to death. Mother tore a bed-sheet into long strips for bandages.

Soon, the tempting smell of roast chicken permeated our room. I was setting the table when once again there came a knock at the door. Expecting to find more lost Americans, I opened the door without hesitation. There stood four soldiers, wearing uniforms quite familiar to me after five years of war. They were Wehrmacht – Germans!

I was paralyzed with fear. Although still a child, I knew the harsh law: sheltering enemy soldiers constituted high treason. We could all be shot! Mother was frightened, too. Her face was white, but she stepped outside and said, quietly, “Froehliche Weihnachten.” The soldiers wished her a Merry Christmas, too. “We have lost our regiment and would like to wait for daylight,” explained the corporal. “Can we rest here?”

“Of course,” Mother replied, with a calmness, born of panic. “You can also have a fine, warm meal and eat till the pot is empty.” The Germans smiled as they sniffed the aroma through the half open door. “But,” Mother added firmly, “we have three other guests, whom you may not consider friends.” Now her voice was suddenly sterner than I’d ever heard it before. “This is Christmas Eve, and there will be no shooting here.”

“Who’s inside?” the corporal demanded. “Amerikaner?”

Mother looked at each frost-chilled face. “Listen,” she said slowly. “You could be my sons, and so could they in there. A boy with a gunshot wound, fighting for his life, and his two friends, lost like you and just as hungry and exhausted as you are. This one night,” she turned to the corporal and raised her voice a little, “This Christmas night, let us forget about killing.”

The corporal stared at her. There were two or three endless seconds of silence. Then Mother put an end to indecision. “Enough talking!” she ordered, and clapped her hands sharply. “Please put your weapons here on the woodpile, and hurry up before the others eat the dinner!:

Dazedly, the four soldiers placed their arms on the pile of firewood just inside the door: three carbines, a light machine gun and two bazookas. Meanwhile, Mother was speaking French rapidly to Jim. He said something in English, and to my amazement I saw the American boys, too, turn their weapons over to Mother. Now, as the Germans and Americans tensely rubbed elbows in the small room, Mother was really on her mettle. Never losing her smile, she tried to find a seat for everyone. We had only three chairs, but Mother’s bed was big, and on it she placed two of the newcomers side by side with Jim and Robin.

Despite the strained atmosphere, Mother went right on preparing dinner. But Hermann wasn’t going to grow any bigger, and now there were four more mouths to feed. “Quick” she whispered to me, “get more potatoes and some oats. These boys are hungry, and a starving man is an angry one.”

While foraging in the storage room, I heard Harry moan. When I returned, one of the Germans had put on his glasses to inspect the American’s wound. “Do you belong to the medical corps?” Mother asked him. “No,” he answered. “But I studied medicine at Heidelberg until a few months ago.” Thanks to the cold, he told the Americans in what sounded like fairly good English, Harry’s wound hadn’t become infected. “He is suffering from a severe loss of blood,” he explained to Mother. “What he needs is rest and nourishment.”

Relaxation was now beginning to replace suspicion. Even to me, all the soldiers looked very young as we sat there together. Heinz and Willi, both from Cologne, were 16. There German corporal, at 23, was the oldest of them all. From his food bag he drew out a bottle of red wine, and Heinz managed to find a loaf of rye bread. Mother cut that in small pieces to be served with the dinner; half the wine, however, she put away, “for the wounded boy.”

Then Mother said grace. I noticed that there were tears in her eyes as she said the old, familiar words, “Komm, Herr Jesus. Be our guest.” And as I looked around the table, I saw tears, too, in the eyes of the battle-weary soldiers, boys again, some from America, some from Germany, all far from home.

Just before midnight, Mother went to the doorstep and asked us to join her to look up at the Star of Bethlehem. We all stood beside her except Harry, who was sleeping. For all of us during the moment of silence, looking at the brightest star in the heavens, the war was a distant, almost-forgotten thing.

Our private armistice continued next morning. Harry woke in the early hours, and swallowed some broth that Mother fed him. With the dawn, it was apparent that he was becoming stronger. Mother now made him an invigorating drink from our one egg, the rest of the corporal’s wine and some sugar. Everyone else had oatmeal. Afterward, two poles and Mother’s best tablecloth were fashioned into a stretcher for Harry.

The German corporal then advised the Americans how to find their way back to their lines. Looking over Jim’s map, the corporal pointed out a stream. “Continue along this creek,” he said, “and you will find the 1st Army rebuilding its Forces on its upper course.” The medical student relayed the information in English.

“Why don’t we head for Monschau?” Jim had the student ask. “Nein,” the corporal exclaimed. “We’ve retaken Monschau.”

Now Mother gave them all back their weapons. “Be careful, boys,” she said, “I want you to get home someday where you belong. God bless you all!” The German and American soldiers shook hands, and we watched them disappear in opposite directions.

When I returned inside, Mother had brought out the old family Bible. I glanced over her shoulder. The book was open to the Christmas story, the Birth in the Manger and how the Wise Men came from afar bearing their gifts.

Her finger was tracing the last line from Matthew 2:21, “…they departed into their own country another way.”

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Not long after Vincken’s story appeared in Reader’s Digest, a short video was produced based on that event:

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Vincken, Fritz, “Truce in the Forest,” Readers Digest, January 1973, pp 111-114.

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Make 1944 a Record Year!

Chaplains have always found ways to remind their Soldiers, Sailors, Marines or Airmen about worship services. During WW2, one chaplain used these “Greeting” cards with a calendar to encourage attendance.

Likely distributed by the chaplain around Christmas 1943, this folded card includes a couple of verses and an invitation to attend Chapel Services. There is also an invitation to see the chaplain with any problems the Soldier may have. The inside includes a 1944 calendar to check off Sunday worship attendance as well as communion participation with the encouragement to “make 1944 a record year” and is pre-signed by the chaplain, Gilbert Johnstone (author’s collection).

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You can see more items that chaplains gave to Service Members on this page.

Commendation for Chaplains

LONDON, 3 April 1944: “No one has been going around pinning medals on chaplains in the U.S. Army for their fighting record, for fighting is not a chaplain’s job. His work, however, often takes him into the combat area, and figures just released by the War Department show that American chaplains have not hesitated to follow their military flocks.

“Casualties among Army chaplains have been exceeded on a comparative basis only by the loss of officers in the Air Forces and in the Infantry. During 1943 19 chaplains were killed in battle, 19 were wounded, one is still missing in action and 33 have died as a result of accidents or illness.

“During the Easter season, when our Christian faith is rededicated, it is fitting that work of Army chaplains should be gratefully acknowledged. It is the chaplain who through personal counsel, discussion of welfare problems, day room talks, service club lectures and at religious services, personalizes “Freedom of Worship” in the lives of us all, and freedom of worship is one of the principles that Democracy protects and for which we fight.”

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London: The Stars and Stripes, European Theater of Operations, 3 April 1944, pg 6.

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Fort Jackson’s Cantonment Chapel

Similar to U.S. military posts around the country during the train-up to our participation in WW2, Fort Jackson had built on it 17 cantonment chapels to accommodate the religious support of the thousands of new Soldiers who were flooding into it for training. Today, there are few of these chapels left, some posts having one or two being used, others with one being preserved as part of the museum system or historic districts. Fort Jackson has one of these chapels remaining which, due to budget cuts, is slated to be razed. On 13 December 2016, The State newspaper did an article on the future of their Memorial Chapel.

Should Fort Jackson’s World War II-era Memorial Chapel be saved from demolition?

Fort Jackson Memorial Chapel

Memorial Chapel (Originally Chapel #1) was built in 1941 (Photo from The State website).

“For more than 30 years, Kathryn Woodward has attended an interdenominational worship service each week at the World War II-era Memorial Chapel on Fort Jackson.

“Today, the chapel, along with all other World War II-era wooden buildings on Army installations across the country, is slated for demolition. They are inefficient, expensive to heat, cool and maintain, and they don’t fit the needs of the modern workplace, the Army says.

Fort Jackson Memorial Chapel

Interior of Memorial Chapel (photo from The State website).

“But Woodward, 92, believes the chapel should stay because in 1983 it was dedicated by then-Fort Jackson commander Maj. Gen. Albert Akers to all the soldiers who trained at Fort Jackson for service in World War II. Woodward’s late husband, Arthur, was also a World War II veteran.

 “The chapel — along with 16 others constructed at the fort during the buildup to World War II — were initially dedicated 75 years ago Wednesday.

“ ‘We’re trying to get an exception,’ said Woodward, who is joined in the effort by many of her fellow 40 or so congregants, along with a Jewish congregation that also worships there.”

Continue reading at The State website

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Pearl Harbor 75th Anniversary Commemoration

With 2016 being the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack and the United States’ official entry into World War Two, the various commemorations around the country are even more significant. I had the priviledge of attending the Pearl Harbor 75th Anniversary Commemoration  at the National World War 2 Memorial in Washington D.C. Present were seven Pearl Harbor survivors along with many more WW2 veterans. The keynote speaker was Senator John McCain, whose father and grandfather both served during WW2. The Invocation was given by Rev. Richard Young who is a Pearl Harbor survivor who became a minister after his military service. Navy Chaplain, Commander Michael Pumphrey, CHC, prayed the closing prayer with significant emphasis added through the accompaniment of the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Band.

Here are a few pictures from the ceremony, with videos of Rev. Young’s and Chaplain Pumphrey’s prayers:

Pearl Harbor 75th Anniversary Commemoration

 

Mike Hydeck

The Master of Ceremonies was Mike Hydeck, WUSA9 CBS Morning Anchor.

Pearl Harbor 75th Anniversary Commemoration

At the podium is Gay Vietzke, NPS Superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Seated to the left is Senator McCain, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Frederick Smith, founder and president of FedEx.

Elliott (Toby) Roosevelt III

FDR’s great grandson, Elliott (Toby) Roosevelt III, read FDR’s statement to Congress on the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s message to the nation on the evening of the attack.

Senator John McCain

Senator John McCain was the Keynote speaker. Not only is McCain a Vietnam veteran and POW survivor but his father and grandfather both served during WW2 and both became flag officers.

Pearl Harbor 75th Anniversary Commemoration

On the other side of the fountain, the dignitaries and veterans in attendance place wreaths at the Freedom Wall.

 

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WW2 Memorial

Volunteers of the NPS Living History program (dressed in period uniforms) escorted the WW2 vets into the ceremony.

National WW2 Memorial

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A Greeting From Your Chaplain

Published around World War Two, this brochure offers advice to Soldiers and Sailors, such as selecting companions carefully, living a morally clean life and establishing a reputation for good character. It was written by Chaplain Moehlmann, who according to the Wartburg College website, “… entered the Army chaplaincy in 1930 and was stationed in Hawaii at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He attained the rank of Colonel while supervising as many as 242 chaplains in the European Theater during World War II” (author’s collection).

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Battle Chaplain (WW2)

This article appeared in Yank magazine, 13 April 1945. Titled, Battle Chaplain, it highlights the ministry of Chaplain Yoder P. Leith of the 338th Infantry Regiment, 85th Division, typical of a chaplain in combat in the European Theater of Operations during World War Two:

He goes up under fire without arms, listens to the TS gripes of his GIs and writes home to their families when they fall.

By Cpl. George Barrett, YANK Staff Correspondent

WITH THE FIFTH ARMY– “I was the traditional clergyman before I came into the Army,” the chaplain said. “Guess I had the idea that being in the clergy I was favored by the Almighty-privileged, in a way. But my first experience under shellfire was with screaming meemies, and when the Jerries opened up with a barrage against my dugout I remember saying ‘Oh, God, wait a minute. Let’s talk this over.’ “

Read the rest of the article here…

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