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12 Heroic U.S. Military Chaplains

After I posted 8 Heroic U.S. Military Chaplains last week, we heard from a Catholic writer, a chaplain who worked under Father Sampson (who was featured), and the pastor of the home church of one of the Four Chaplains, in comments and email. We appreciate everyone's input! Military chaplains are classified as non-combatants, but they still put their lives on the line to serve their country and its military members—and often civilians and enemy soldiers, too. Many went above and beyond the call of duty, and their stories should be remembered.

1. Joseph T. O'Callahan

Father Joseph O'Callahan was not only a priest, but a math and physics professor. He joined the Naval Reserve Chaplain Corps in 1940 and served in various combat and non-combat locations. O'Callahan was aboard the USS Franklin near Japan on March 2, 1945, when a Japanese pilot dropped two bombs on the ship, killing, injuring, or blowing overboard around 1,000 men instantly. O'Callahan immediately went to work to rescue those who were injured or trapped, put out fires, and direct survivors to wet down ammunition to prevent further explosions. He also administered Last Rites to those who did not survive. O'Callahan and the crew members who stayed aboard spent three days working to put out fires, evacuate the wounded, offload dangerous ordnance, and keep the ship afloat. His leadership and encouragement kept the other crew members going. For his service aboard the USS Franklin, O'Callahan was awarded the Medal of Honor. He remained in the Naval Reserve after the war, retiring in 1953 with the rank of Captain.

2. George S. Rentz

Rev. George S. Rentz was a Presyterian minister who served as a Navy chaplain during both World Wars. He was assigned to the USS Houston in 1940. Rentz served tirelessly during the Battle of Makassar Strait when the ship was attacked in February of 1942. Another attack by the Japanese sunk the Houston on March 1, 1942. Hanging onto an overcrowded piece of floating material, Rentz tried to relinquish his life jacket to a younger sailor, but no one wanted to take it. He ordered Seaman First Class Walter L. Beeson to take the life jacket, then Rentz prayed and quietly abandoned the float and disappeared before the other men knew what he was doing. He was one year away from retirement. Rentz was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, and the frigate USS Rentz was named in his honor.

3-6. The Four Chaplains

The U.S.A.T. Dorchester was an Army transport ship that was carrying 902 people, both military and civilian, from Newfoundland to Greenland in February of 1943. Four of those were Army chaplains of various faiths on their way to European theater assignments. There were also German U-boats in the water, and three Coast Guard ships assigned to protect the Dorchester. A German torpedo hit the ship, killed dozens of men, and knocked out all communications. The ship sank in 20 minutes. That's when the four chaplains went to work.

They were Methodist minister George L. Fox, Jewish rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Dutch Reformed minister Clark V. Poling, and Catholic priest John P. Washington, all with the rank of lieutenant. Each immediately went to tend the wounded, rescue those trapped, encourage the frightened, and pray for them all. The evacuation was chaotic; although the escort ships moved in, many men jumped into lifeboats or rafts. The chaplains all helped hand out life vests, but there weren't enough of them. When the supply ran out, each chaplain took off his vest and gave it to another man. As the overcrowded lifeboats moved away from the sinking ship, witnesses saw the four chaplains with their arms linked, saying prayers as the Dorchester went down into the icy water.

Reverend George L. Fox had already served in World War I as a medic, even though he had to lie about his age to sign up. For his service in Europe with the ambulance corps, he was awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the French Croix de Guerre. After the war, he went home to finish high school, then college, and became a Methodist minister in 1934. He rejoined the military as a chaplain in 1942. His son, Wyatt, also signed up with the Marine Corps.

Rabbi Alexander D. Goode was the son of a rabbi and became one himself after graduating from college. He went on to earn a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. Goode also founded a mixed-race, mixed-faith Boy Scout Troop. He was turned down by the Navy, but then entered the Army as a chaplain in 1942.

Reverend Clark V. Poling was the son of an Evangelical minister who became a Baptist minister. Poling was ordained in the Reformed Church in America in 1936. He joined the Army soon after the U.S. entered World War II. Shortly after Poling died in the Dorchester incident, his wife gave birth to their second child.

Father John P. Washington felt called to the priesthood at an early age. He sang in the choir and served as altar boy before completing his education. He was ordained in 1935. Washington was appointed to serve in the military shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Most of the Dorchester crew and passengers died of hypothermia in the cold water. There were 230 survivors. The Four Chaplains were all awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. Since the four men were not eligible for the Medal of Honor under its strict requirements at the time, a new medal called the Chaplain's Medal for Heroism was introduced in 1960 and awarded to the Four Chaplains in 1961. They are the only recipients of the award to date. The Four Chaplains story is commemorated in foundations and organizations, chapels and sanctuaries, and various memorials such as scholarships, parks, sculptures, shrines, stamps, and stained glass, to illustrate how different faiths can work together for the greater good.

7. Herman G. Felhoelter

Father Herman Felhoelter was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1913 and was ordained in 1939. He served as an Army chaplain in World War II and received a Bronze Star for service under fire. After that war, Felhoelter became an assistant pastor in Cincinnati, but was re-commissioned in 1948. During the Battle of Taejon in July of 1950, North Korean troops cut off a supply line road, preventing evacuation of wounded U.S. troops. A group from the 19th Infantry tried to carry them over the hills, but became exhausted by the rough terrain and put down the litters of those who could not walk. One medic, Captain Linton J. Buttrey, and chaplain Felhoelter stayed behind with the wounded men. Both were unarmed, and both men wore the insignias of their vocations, clearly indicating they were non-combatants. A North Korean patrol approached them, and Felhoelter ordered Buttrey to flee. He did, but was shot in the ankle while running. The chaplain continued to give last rites to the wounded. The enemy patrol shot Felhoelter in the head, then proceeded to kill all thirty wounded men. The attack was witnessed from hills some distance away through binoculars by other members of the 19th Infantry. Felhoelter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. He would have turned 37 years old the next day. Felhoelter became the first of several military chaplains to lose their lives in the Korean conflict.

8. Emil Kapaun

Father Emil Kapaun was ordained in 1940 and served as an Army chaplain from 1944 to 1946 in Burma and India. He rejoined the Army in 1948 and was sent to Korea in 1950. Kapaun worked the battlefields, retrieving the wounded and the dead, often under fire, and earned the Bronze Star. On November 1, his dwindling unit was captured and marched north to a P.O.W. camp near the Chinese border. There, Kapaun earned the nickname "the Good Thief" by sneaking food supplies from their captors and giving it to starving prisoners. He also cared for sick compatriots, led Mass, heard confessions, and shared his rations with those who were weaker. But Kapaun himself became ill under camp conditions, suffering from malnutrition and a seriously inflamed blood clot. He was given no medical treatment, and after several weeks of suffering, Kaplaun died of pneumonia on May 23, 1951. Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and other military decorations.

Decades later, the story of Kapaun's service became more widely recognized. The Catholic Church declared Kapaun a Servant of God in 1993, which is a step that signals a person is being investigated for possible sainthood. In 2000, a campaign began to award Kapaun the Medal of Honor. The case for Kapaun's sainthood was sent to the Vatican for consideration in the summer of 2011.

9. Charles J. Watters

Father Charles Watters was ordained in 1953, became a chaplain in the the New Jersey Air National Guard in 1962, and entered the Army in 1964. After his first year-long tour of Vietnam, during which he was awarded the Air Medal and a Bronze Star, he re-upped for another tour. On November 19, 1967, Watters was in the middle of the battle for Hill 875 at Dak To. He spent hours retrieving the wounded and giving last rites to the dead while exposing himself to heavy fire. Watters saved many wounded men, but was a victim of a bomb and died that day. Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

10. Vincent R. Capodanno

Father Vincent R. Capodanno, nicknamed "the Grunt Padre," was a missionary to Taiwan and Hong Kong from 1958 until 1965, when he was commissioned as a chaplain in the Navy. He was assigned to Vietnam in 1966, where Capodanno served with the First Marine Division. On September 4, 1967, around 500 U.S. Marines were battling 2,500 North Vietnamese in the Que Son Valley. Capodanno ventured into the battlefield to retrieve the wounded and give Last Rites. He was shot in the right hand, but refused evacuation. Instead, a corpsman wrapped up his shattered hand. On another foray, his left arm was shredded by a mortar blast. Yet he still refused to leave the battlefield. Capodanno ventured ahead to give Last Rites and saw a Marine shot in the leg who couldn't move. The chaplain used his own body to shield the wounded man and was fatally shot. Capodanno was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor among a list of other medals. In 2006, Father Capodanno was declared a Servant of God and an inquiry was opened for the cause of canonization.

11. Charles Liteky

Father Angelo J. Liteky was a Catholic priest who joined the Army and was sent to Vietnam. In heavy fighting in Bien Hoa province on December 6, 1967, he personally carried twenty wounded men from the battlefront, despite being wounded himself. Liteky encountered one wounded man too heavy to carry, so he laid down, pulled the man onto his chest, and crawled back to safety. For his bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

After the war, Liteky remained in the news. He left the priesthood in 1975 and married a former nun in 1983. He also changed his name to Charles Liteky and became an antiwar protestor. In 1986, Liteky renounced his Medal of Honor, leaving it at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In 2000, he was sent to prison for a year for protesting the activities of the School of the Americas. Liteky continued a life of civil disobedience with his opposition to the Iraq War in 2003.

12. Henry Timothy Vakoc

Father Tim Vakoc became an Army chaplain in 1996 and served in Germany and Bosnia before being sent to Iraq in 2003. He traveled widely in Iraq, as he was committed to celebrating mass for all military personnel wherever they were. On May 29, 2004, as he was returning to Mosul from a mass in the field, he was severely injured by a roadside bomb. The date was also the 12th anniversary of his ordination. Vakoc was evacuated to Baghdad, then to Germany, then to Walter Reed Hospital in the U.S. He was paralyzed and sustained brain damage. A Purple Heart was expedited and awarded to Vakoc. The priest was in a coma for six months and was transferred to an assisted living care facility, where he began to show signs of improvement in 2005. Vakoc was given a computer which he used for limited communication, and even began to speak in 2007. Father Vakoc died on June 20th, 2009. In addition to the Purple Heart, Vakoc was awarded the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Badge.

See also: 8 Heroic U.S. Military Chaplains

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
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It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
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Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
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With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


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Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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Miss Cellania
10 Famous Birthdays in May
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in May. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the notable people we'll be celebrating.

1. SIGMUND FREUD: MAY 6, 1856


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Sigmund Freud is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. The Vienna psychiatrist developed a theory of the unconscious mind, where the id, ego, and superego struggle to balance each other out in the human psyche. Freud attributed his patients' neuroses to childhood trauma, often cloaked in a sexual conflict. His work was at first deemed perverted, but his ideas started to spread after a series of lectures in the U.S. in 1909. After Freud's death in 1939, Freudian theory was hailed as genius in mainstream culture. But beginning in the 1960s, Freud's theories started to fall out of favor in academia and are largely discredited today. However, his attempts to map the psyche gave us the language we still use to discuss personality and mental health.

2. FRED ASTAIRE: MAY 10, 1899


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Fred Astaire began dancing when he was just four years old. Soon he and his sister Adele were in a performing arts school and started dancing professionally. First came vaudeville, then Broadway, and when Adele married, Fred headed to Hollywood. Producers were at first reluctant to cast Astaire as a leading man because of his looks, but his dancing soon won them over. Astaire appeared in dozens of films between 1933 and 1981, 10 of them with with dance partner Ginger Rogers. Although his later films did not revolve around dance numbers, Astaire was seen dancing in an episode of Battlestar Galactica as late as 1979, when he was 80 years old.

3. MARTHA GRAHAM: MAY 11, 1894


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Martha Graham wanted to dance from an early age, but her parents disapproved, so she didn't study dance until college. Her wildly emotional dancing led her to performances in New York, and in 1926 she established the Martha Graham Dance Company. Through the company, Graham promoted modern dance as a spiritual and emotional outlet. Over time, she came to be seen as a genius of the genre. Graham danced until she was in her '70s, and continued to choreograph dances until her death at age 91.

4. KATHARINE HEPBURN: MAY 12, 1907


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Katharine Hepburn caught the acting bug in college and headed to the stages of New York upon graduation. She was spotted in a Broadway production and was offered the lead in RKO's 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. That kicked off a movie career of more than 60 years, in which she was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Hepburn was a certified box office draw, but off screen she refused to behave like a Hollywood star. She spoke her mind, wore pants, and even appeared in public without makeup occasionally. Hepburn was also known for her devotion to the love of her life, actor Spencer Tracy, who was separated from his wife but refused to divorce her. The last of nine films they made together was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, just before Tracy died. Hepburn continued making movies through 1994, when she was 87 years old.

5. PIERRE CURIE: MAY 15, 1859


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French physicist Pierre Curie is often overlooked in favor of Marie Curie, his brilliant student and later wife. Together they discovered radium and polonium, and did extensive research into radioactivity. Pierre, Marie, and Henri Becquerel jointly won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research. Curie might have gone onto many further discoveries, but he was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn cart ran over him in Paris. If he had lived longer, Curie might have also succumbed to illness caused by radiation, as did his wife, daughter, and son-in-law—all Nobel Prize winners.

6. MARY CASSATT: MAY 22, 1844


Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Renowned American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to become an artist, but her parents objected and her Philadelphia art school didn't take women students seriously. So she went to Paris and studied privately under teachers from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as the school did not admit women. Gradually, Cassatt's works sold and her reputation grew. She drew the attention of Impressionist Edgar Degas, and worked with him for years. By 1886, she left the Impressionist movement behind, and afterward refused to be defined by any art genre. Cassatt's body of work often featured women and children in their everyday lives. Her most memorable painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, broke with tradition by portraying a child in a naturalistic, casual pose instead of a formal portrait.

7. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: MAY 22, 1859


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Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his many short stories and novels featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle worked full time as a medical doctor until an illness convinced him he had to choose between writing and medicine. Years later, Conan Doyle volunteered with the British army to fight in the Second Boer War, but because of his age (40), he was only allowed to serve as a medical doctor. Upon his return from South Africa, he entered politics in Scotland, but he lost his only race. In 1907, Conan Doyle became involved in a real criminal case in which he helped George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian heritage, beat an animal cruelty conviction by employing the observational technique that Sherlock Holmes used. The fallout from that case led to the establishment of the appeals system in Britain. Conan Doyle also wrote a science fiction novel The Lost World, published in 1912. It was so successful that he wrote four sequels.

8. MARGARET FULLER: MAY 23, 1810


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Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret Fuller was a precocious child who learned several languages but was not welcome at college because of her sex. She became friends with both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who admired her philosophical thinking. Fuller became a literary critic for the New-York Tribune and a well-known intellectual.

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as an essay in Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," in which Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African Americans.

Fuller went on to become a foreign correspondent and the first American female war correspondent, covering the Italian revolution. She also fell in love with an Italian man and had a child with him. On their return trip to the U.S. in 1850 aboard a merchant ship, a hurricane struck the ship near Fire Island, killing all three. Only Fuller's 20-month-old son was found.

9. SALLY RIDE: MAY 26, 1951

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In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player when she was a teenager. Billie Jean King urged her to turn pro, but Ride went to Stanford University instead. She earned both a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in physics in 1973, and a PhD in physics in 1978. Ride then immediately applied for NASA's astronaut program. She flew two shuttle missions, in 1983 and '84, and was scheduled for a third, but that mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted her life to encouraging students to study science—especially girls. She founded the organization Sally Ride Science for just that purpose, and wrote five children's books encouraging interest in science. Ride died of cancer at age 61 in 2012.

10. "WILD BILL" HICKOK: MAY 27, 1837


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James Butler Hickok was a farmer, soldier, stagecoach driver, spy, lawman, scout, sharpshooter, gambler, and Wild West showman. Many of those occupations came after "Wild Bill" Hickok gained publicity for killing three men in an 1861 shootout. The newspapers followed his exploits from that time on, often embellishing the details until Hickok was more of a legend than the adventurer he was. His various occupations took him to different parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him in 1876. The hand Hickok was holding at the time—a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights—became known as the "dead man's hand."

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