Faith for the Journey of Life

My Thoughts on Faith, Life, and 2,000+ Years of Catholicism / Christianity

26 October 2006

Military Chaplains Serving God and Country

For as long as Americans have been going off to war, ministers, priests and other clergy have been accompanying them as chaplains. Military chaplains have been serving the spiritual needs of America’s service men and women since colonial times, through the Revolution, Civil War, and two world wars and now in the global war on terrorism.

The Army, Air Force, and Navy all provide chaplains for their members. In addition, the Navy provides chaplains for the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.

Military chaplains pre-date the establishment of our nation. In 1775, the Continental Congress adopted legislation providing for chaplains for first the Continental Army and then the Continental Navy.

Military chaplains have honorably served throughout America’s toughest battles and campaigns. At Gettysburg, Father William Corby granted absolution to the soldiers of the famed Irish Brigade before they plunged into the maelstrom of the Wheatfield. Chaplains served in the trenches of France during World War One and Navy chaplains were with the Marines in their epic Battle of Belleau Wood.
During the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Navy Chaplains Thomas Kirkpatrick of USS Arizona and Father Aloysius Schmitt of USS Oklahoma were among the 2,403 military personnel killed that day. Just before the Battle of the Bulge, Third U.S. Army's Chief Chaplain Msgr. James O'Neil drafted a prayer for good weather for General Patton and several days later, God granted good weather for Third Army to halt the German Army's surprise counter-offensive.
Navy Chaplain Father Joseph O’Callahan was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism aboard the carrier USS Franklin when she was nearly sunk by kamikazes off Japan in 1945.

During the Korean War, Army Chaplain Father Emil Kapaun was captured and imprisoned by the Communist forces. Enduring appalling living conditions, Father Kapaun ministered to his fellow prisoners until succumbing to pneumonia. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kansas is promoting his cause for sainthood. Visit for more information.

Army Chaplain Father Charles Watters of 173rd Airborne Brigade and Navy Chaplain Father Vincent Cappodanno of the 3rd Battation / 5th Marines both were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for ministering to the wounded in the midst of fierce battles in Vietnam. Father Watters was also a 4th Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

During my time in the Sandbox, I was impressed by the great efforts that our Armed Forces make to provide religious ministry to service members. At my base - which was one of the larger ones in Iraq - the Army and Navy chaplains pooled their resources to provide religious ministry. On any given Sunday, there were a dozen different worship services - Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, non-denominational, contemporary Protestant, evangelical, etc. - held in four different locations on the base. During the week, there were Bible studies and prayer groups. Our base did not have Jewish or Mormon chaplains assigned so lay leaders coordinated the worship for their faith groups. A Jewish chaplain was flown in for the Jewish soldiers and Marines to celebrate the High Holy Days. I was able to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day that I was there. In addition, the Catholic chaplains flew out to the forward areas regularly to provide worship services for the smaller bases.

Military chaplains have served America’s military members in every conflict and war. They have ministered to the wounded and dying, often while under fire. They have held worship services aboard ships, at established bases and under the most rudimentary field conditions. They have provided counseling and spiritual direction. Back at home they have comforted the families of those who have fallen. They have lived the words "for God and country."


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