Faith for the Journey of Life

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

07 December 2006

Remember Pearl Harbor

Sunday, December 7th, 1941 began as a peaceful, sunny morning in Oahu, Hawaii. The battleships and other warships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet lay at anchor in Pearl Harbor. At bases all across the island, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were all enjoying a relaxing morning in this tropical paradise. Just before 0800, Father William Maguire, Chaplain of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was about to board a motor launch to take him to the battleship USS California for Sunday Mass.

Then suddenly without warning, dozens of Japanese warplanes screamed down out of the sky, raining death and destruction upon the American forces caught by surprise on the land and ships below.

“Standing there with my foot on the gunwale of the boat, I felt stunned and strangely sick,” Chaplain Maguire later wrote. “The only words that came were: ‘God help us --- we’re in it!’”

Despite the dangers, Chaplain Maguire made it over to USS California. He offered a General Absolution to the crew and ministered to the wounded and dying until the ‘Abandon Ship’ order was issued. After that, the Chaplain helped organize the evacuation of wounded to hospitals ashore and continued his ministry there.

Nearby, the battleship USS Oklahoma was struck by several aerial torpedoes which opened up her side and caused her to capsize. Aboard USS Oklahoma, Catholic Chaplain Father Aloysius Schmitt helped a number of sailors to escape from the ship via a porthole. Unable to escape himself, Chaplain Schmitt drowned; witnesses later reported that his final words were “Please let go of me, and may God bless you all.”

Most of the casualties suffered that horrible day occurred aboard the battleship USS Arizona when a bomb exploded one of her magazines. Protestant Chaplain Thomas Kirkpatrick was one of the sailors and Marines who were killed aboard Arizona.

The surprise attack was devastating. Twenty-one Navy ships were sunk or damaged. Four of the Pacific Fleet’s battleships were sunk; the other four were all damaged to varying degrees. “Pearl Harbor was a scene of desolation,” wrote Chaplain Maguire. “Battleship Row was a sight to break a sailor’s heart.” On the military and naval airfields around Oahu, 188 American aircraft had been destroyed and another 159 damaged. Altogether 2,403 Americans had been killed and another 1,178 Americans wounded.

This week, America remembers the 65th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Let us remember as well and thank God for those lives whom He saved that day and the freedom we enjoy today.

See also...
Donald F. Crosby, S.J. Battlefield Chaplains: Catholic Priests in World War II. (Lawrence, KS: U of Kansas P, 1994).

William A. Maguire, CAPT, CHC, USN. The Captain Wears a Cross. (NY: Macmillan, 1943).


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