By Chaplain (Capt.) Brad Kattelmann, STB, 75th Ranger Regiment /
Father, chappy, padre, chaps, preacher, rabbi, imam – each of these is a familiar name for the man or woman responsible for providing the religious support to our nation’s Army. Since the Independence War, chaplains have served alongside our fighting forces in every American conflict. They have walked the miles of roads, prayed over the injured and fallen and they have died for our nation.
Shortly after standing up the Continental Army, George Washington requested that the Continental Congress authorize chaplains. On July 29, 1775, the Congress granted his wish and approved the position of chaplain with a pay of $20 per month, just above the salary of a lieutenant. In the Mexican War, Roman Catholic priests joined the ranks. During the American Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies appointed chaplains within their armies, and Jewish and African-American chaplains were welcome to serve. Shortly after the turn of the century, chaplain assistants were added to support the work of the chaplain. In 1979, the first female chaplain was commissioned. Today, approximately 1,500 chaplains serve in the active duty Army in every echelon from battalion to the Department of the Army.
Although their duties have primarily revolved around providing religious rites and counseling, many chaplains have demonstrated unheralded bravery. Stories abound of chaplains providing last rites in the midst of withering fire, dashing into the open to rescue their wounded comrades or performing other heroic acts without concern for their own safety. Perhaps the chaplains aboard the SS Dorchester during World War II and the actions of Father Emil Kapaun after he was captured during the Korean War best illustrate this.
The SS Dorchester was carrying troops between New York and Greenland, including four chaplains, Methodist minister George Fox, Jewish rabbi Alexander Goode, Catholic priest John Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister Clark Poling. On Feb. 3, 1943, panic ensued when German subs catastrophically struck the ship with torpedoes. The leaders aboard quickly realized that too few life boats and too few life jackets ensured a massive casualty. The four chaplains gave up their life vests to other Soldiers, linked arms, prayed and sang hymns as the ship sank. Not only do these four chaplains signify the plurality of our Army and chaplain corps, but their sacrifice exemplifies bravery and selflessness.
During the Korean War, Chinese forces captured Kapaun on Nov. 2, 1950. While in a prison camp near Pyokton, North Korea, he smuggled food and medicine to other prisoners, mediated disputes, led acts of defiance, dug latrines, led uprisings against the guards and exhibited constant selflessness and bravery. He eventually succumbed to wounds and pneumonia. Even to his last breath, he inspired the other U.S. Soldiers to represent their country with honor.
Whether walking on road marches, praying at hospitals, ministering at casualty collection points, jumping during airfield seizures or patrolling with platoons in combat, chaplains have constantly sought after the core principles of their profession: nurturing the living, caring for the wounded and honoring the dead. Men and women have volunteered to provide for and protect the religious freedoms of our Soldiers and in so doing, they exemplify the principle motto of the chaplain corps: Pro Deo et Patria, (for God and Country). Happy 241st Birthday, U.S. Army Chaplain Corps!
For any help we may offer, call the MCoE and Fort Benning Religious Support Office at 706-545-2289.