Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May.
On Memorial Day we honor military personnel who died while serving our country, particularly those who died in battle or from wounds sustained in battle. On Veterans Day we honor those who served honorably in military service during wartime or peacetime. Both days offer opportunities to honor and thank military chaplains.
The Four Chaplains’ Medal recognizes the heroism of four Army chaplains — Rev. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Rabbi Alexander D. Goode; Fr. John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; and Rev. Clark V. Poling, a Reformed Church of America minister.
On Feb. 3, 1943 a Nazi submarine torpedoed the S.S. Dorchester near Greenland. Nearly 700 men died. The chaplains handed out life jackets, helped injured soldiers towards lifeboats, and gave their life jackets to four soldiers; then, they locked their arms, folded their hands in prayer and went down together with their ship. Their heroic actions were a sign of the unity for which Jesus Christ prayed. A postage stamp was issued in their honor with the words “These Immortal Chaplains — Interfaith in Action.”
Another heroic chaplain was Fr. Emil Kapaun, an Army chaplain who served in World War II and died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp. On April 11, 2013 President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to him posthumously. President Obama described him as “an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all — a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live.”
Rev. George Rentz, a Presbyterian minister, served as a Navy chaplain during both world wars. He was assigned to the USS Houston in 1940. An attack by the Japanese sunk the Houston on March 1, 1942. Hanging onto an overcrowded piece of floating material, he gave Seaman First Class Walter L. Beeson his life jacket; then, Rentz prayed and quietly disappeared. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. The frigate USS Rentz was named in his honor.
During my four years in the Navy, I appreciated the chaplains who served where I was stationed. They were responsible for the religious and moral well-being of service members and their families. Military chaplains perform other duties, but space and lack of expertise prevents me from sharing more.
Lange, the retired pastor of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Hazel Green, lives in Platteville.