8 Heroic U.S. Military Chaplains

While researching the post 10 Heroic Battlefield Medics, I came across a couple of fascinating stories about military chaplains and their wartime exploits. Those stories were filed away for later, and they grew into a list of stories that deserve to be told and remembered. They are presented here in more or less chronological order.

1. Anthony Rey

Some contemporaries wrote of the Mexican-American War as one of U.S. Protestants against Mexican Catholics. President Polk responded to such allegations by appointing two Catholic priests to serve as military chaplains. Father Anthony Rey, a Jesuit from Georgetown University with no military background or training, participated in the battle of Monterrey in September of 1846. He tended to the wounded on the battlefield and gave last rites to the dying. Afterward, serving in north Mexico, he ventured out of the U.S. garrison to minister to the locals, despite warnings of the danger. In 1847 he said a mass at the village of Ceralvo, and never made it back. His body was found a few days later, stabbed through by lances. He was mourned by both the U.S. troops and the Mexicans he served.

2. Horatio Stockton Howell

Presbyterian minister Horatio Howell was chaplain of the 90th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. Most military chaplains at the time wore clerical black, but Howell preferred a regulation captain's uniform. On the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, Howell was serving at the infirmary set up at a church in Gettysburg when he went to the door and was confronted by a Confederate soldier demanding his surrender. The minister began to argue that he was a non-combatant and not subject to capture, but was shot and killed, probably due to the uniform.

3. John P. Chidwick

Father John P. Chidwick was the chaplain serving on the battleship USS Maine when it exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898. Tensions were already high, and this incident was the spark that began the Spanish-American War. Father Chadwick worked tirelessly through the night to rescue injured sailors and tend to their wounds. He was the last man to leave the ship. Two days later, Chadwick conducted the funeral rites in Havana for those who died.

4. John B. DeValles

Father John B. DeValles earned the nickname the "Angel of the Trenches" during World War I. He ventured into No Man's Land in France to search for wounded and dying soldiers, and ministered to both the Allies and the Germans. During one foray, he did not return and was found unconscious and wounded, next to a dead soldier he had tried to help. DeValles' wounds caused his health to suffer, but he continued to serve in France until 1919. He died a year later, never having completely recovered from his wartime attack. France awarded DeValles the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor. Only a half-hour before he died, DeValles was notified that he would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. It was pinned on him at his funeral in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The funeral carried full military honors, and all town flags were flown at half-staff. A school in the town was named in his honor.

5. Colman O'Flaherty

Father Colman O'Flaherty was an Irish immigrant who was educated in Canada and then worked to establish several schools in South Dakota in the early 20th century. When World War I began, he joined up and was sent to France as a chaplain with the the 28th Infantry. O'Flaherty was shot and killed while helping the wounded on the front lines on October 1, 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism in action.

6. Francis P. Duffy

Canadian-born Father Francis Duffy served in the Spanish-American War, and returned to service in 1916 to accompany troops in Mexico. Then during World War I he ministered to soldiers on the front lines in France. During battle, Duffy administered first aid and last rites as well, often under heavy fire. For his service and bravery, the priest was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal. After the war, Duffy served as pastor of Holy Cross Church near Times Square in New York until his death in 1932. Duffy Square in the city's theater district is named after Father Duffy. He was portrayed by Pat O'Brien in the 1940 film The Fighting 69th. Father Duffy is pictured on the right.

7. John G. Burkhalter

Rev. John G. Burkhalter was a professional boxer who became a Southern Baptist minister in Florida in 1932. He then earned a degree in history and immediately joined the military when he graduated in 1942. Burkhalter was assigned as a chaplain with the First Infantry and landed in Normandy with Allied forces during the D-Day invasion on August June 6, 1944. In October, Burkhalter worked to recover the wounded and dead during the Battle of the Bulge. He went missing for several weeks and was discovered in a French hospital, having sustained several head wounds during the battle. Burkhalter was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star as well as a Purple Heart for his activities under fire. After the war, he stayed with the army, eventually serving in the Korean War. Burkhalter retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1969. In 1992, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

8. Francis L. Sampson

If you've seen the movie Saving Private Ryan, you might be surprised to learn that the real hero who reunited the soldier Private Ryan was based on with his remaining family was a chaplain. Father Francis L. Sampson was "The Paratrooper Padre" with the 101st Airborne Division who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, landing behind enemy lines in a river. He dove to the bottom to retrieve his equipment because he couldn't lose his Mass kit. Sampson was once captured but was saved from being shot by an enemy unit leader who was Catholic. He ministered to friend and enemy alike, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his activities in France. Sampson then went into action in Holland, where his parachute jump landed him again in water -a castle moat. He was captured by Germans during the Battle of the Bulge and imprisoned near Berlin for four months. That camp was liberated by the Russians in 1945. But that wasn't the end of Sampson's heroics -he went on to serve in Korea, then stayed with the army to train other chaplains and eventually became Chief of Chaplains. He retired with the rank of Major General and a slew of medals in 1971. But that's not all! Father Sampson was then appointed to head the USO, and he spent the rest of the Vietnam War visiting troops with entertainment tours. He died in 1996 at the age of 83.

We've only made it to World War II, and there are other heroic stories from the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts. Those are found in the post 12 Heroic U.S. Military Chaplains.

8 Surprising Uses for Peeps

You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.


Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.


Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)


If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.


With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).


Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.


There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.


We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.


Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.


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