YANK Field Correspondent

SOMEWHERE IN AUSTRALIA—Chaplains down here fly thousands of miles to minister to servicemen. They build chapels of ammunition cases, and hold services in mud and among swarms of flies. They follow soldiers through the thick of the jungle and up the hellish battle trails of New Guinea. They bear no arms.

The average chaplain here is a fellow with a high-school and college education, who has had three years in a seminary and three more as an active preacher, priest or rabbi of a regular church. He has passed tiff verbal and written examinations. With much to be done and little to do it with, the chaplain tries to bring to battle-worn men the strength given by religion.

usmc chaplains iwo jima

A US Marine Corps Chaplain conducts services on Iwo Jima

He does his job. There was Chaplain Albert Hart of Los Angeles, whose unit, separated by jungle and water, was in three different places. Hart’s plane cracked up when he tried to serve the whole outfit. He was the first man of God to die down here.

Chaplains don’t waste time bickering about whose religion is the right one. Fighting men aren’t’ particularly interested in the fine points of dogma and theology. They want someone who will listen and clean up last minute details. They have debts to pay off, financial and moral, and maybe a last word to a wife or a special message to the girl back home. So the chaplain does his best to fix thing up, regardless of creed.

If a fellow is a Catholic and the chaplain is a Protestant, the latter will do his best to get a priest to take care of any confidential matters. Whatever their faith, chaplains try to get each other to the places where the need is the greatest. For instance, Chaplain J. O’Donnell, Roman Catholic, found a group of Jewish boys; the nearest rabbi was 700 miles away. Chaplain O’Donnell was loaned a Methodist Church and a Jewish boy led his buddies in the service.

Negro troops have Negro chaplains. There is Chaplain Robert C. Dubra whose flock is making history at one censored spot. While Chaplain Dubra was hard at work, a bomb fell by his slit trench, some say only 10 yards away. Anyway, it was mighty close. Chaplain Dubra went on working.

Sometimes serving communion can be quite a problem. In a cool wine cellar, the primary liquid of the holy service holds its taste, but it’s another matter in the tropical heat. A chaplain is liable to start out with grape juice and wind up with something else.

Every chaplain here is an American citizen, but they joined up from all over. Chaplain Thomas A. Shanahan, executive chaplain for the forces here, and a former Jesuit missionary, was holding forth in the Philippines when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor. Chaplain E. A. Levi, former rabbi of Central Synagogue, Sydney, comes from Auburn N.Y. Three combat officers hereabouts were preachers back home. If a full-fledged chaplain isn’t around, these officers pinch hit.

Chaplains do plenty of financial worrying for the boys. They aid them with their tangled personal affairs, and help them get money to dependents, wives, children, or the girl back home. Almost $15,000 in money and valuables cleared through one base chaplain’s office in three days.

Church-going may have seemed sissy back home but down here it’s different. In fact, the chaplains claim the Army average is better than the civilian. The average soldier worships at least once a month—a lot of boys oftener.

Every 1200 men are supposed to have their own chaplain but that doesn’t mean you can count chaplains’ noses and figure strength. That would be too easy for the Axis. Actually the Army provides chaplains as the case demands. If 1200 men are spread all over the lot, it naturally takes more chaplains. One chaplain travels 1500 miles to cover his “parish.” It takes another two solid weeks to bump around by jeep. By comparison, the itinerant preacher of horse-and-buggy-days had a soft job.

For More on WWII Chaplains Check Out:

No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II

A Chaplain’s Duty: Letters Home from a WWII Chaplain

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