Here are five military chaplains who have gone down in history:
1. Fr William Doyle
William Joseph Gabriel Doyle was born in Dublin, in Ireland on March 3 1873.
The youngest of seven children, Fr Doyle was 18 years old when he entered the Jesuit novitiate. He was ordained in 1907.
From a young age, Fr Doyle was renowned as a great preacher, successfully persuading the most resistant people to go to Confession.
During World War I, Fr Doyle served in the Army Chaplains’ Department of the British Army, appointed as a chaplain to 48 Brigade of the 16th Irish Division.
Fr Doyle tried to ensure that dead soldiers received a Christian burial, sometimes conducting the funeral Mass over the little remains that could be found of the soldiers.
In a letter home to his family, Fr Doyle wrote: “This is a sad, sad war, of which you at home have but the faintest idea.May the good God end it soon.”
At the Battle of Loos on the Western Front, Fr Doyle ran around the battlefield all day, helping the dying. He was killed in no-man’s land by a German shell.
His body is buried in an unmarked grave in Flanders fields.
2. Fr Emil Kapaun
Born to Czech immigrants in 1916, Emil Joseph Kapaun grew up on a Kansas farm.
He was ordained in 1940 before entering the US Army Chaplaincy School in 1944.
Fr Kapaun was assigned duty as Chaplain of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment in the Korean War.
During the Battle of Unsan on November 2 1950, he chose to look after with a number of wounded soldiers rather than escape and was taken as a prisoner of war.
The group were forced to walk 60 miles to the prison camp. Fr Kapaun carried the wounded and encouraged the other prisoners to help each other with the journey.
Survivors from the prison camp in North Korea said that Fr Kapaun ignored his own injuries, and nursed the sick until a blood clot in his leg and pneumonia caused his health to deteriorate.
He was denied medical assistance and died May 23 1951.
Fr Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart by the US Army. He is a Servant of God, which means the Vatican has given the green light for a canonisation Cause to be started.
3. Fr Charles Watters
Charles Joseph Watters was born in 1927 in New Jersey, USA.
Fr Watters was ordained in 1953 and worked as a private pilot.
He entered the US army in 1966, serving as a chaplain to troops in Vietnam.
In November 1967, Fr Watters’ regiment were involved in intense fighting at the Battle of Dak To.
The brave priest moved among paratroopers during the fighting, giving encouragement and first aid to the wounded.
Eye-witnesses reported that Fr Watters was kneeling beside a dying soldier, giving his last rights when an Americans bomber mistakenly dropped a bomb onto the group. He was killed instantly.
Fr Watters was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honour in 1969 for “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty”.
4. Fr Joseph O’Callahan
Born in 1905, Joseph O’Callahan served as a chaplain in the US Navy Reserve during World War Two.
In 1945, Fr O’Callahan was aboard the USS Franklin near Japan when a Japanese pilot bombed the vessel, killing and injuring over a thousand men.
Fr O’Callahan rescued a number of trapped men and helped control the fires on board the ship.
He stayed on the ship three days in order to help the wounded evacuate.
He received a Medal of Honor for his heroism in 1946: the official citation describes him as “calmly braving the perilous barriers of flame and twisted metal to aid his men and his ship, Lt Comdr O’Callahan groped his way through smoke-filled corridors to the open flight deck and into the midst of violently exploding bombs, shells, rockets, and other armament.”
5. Fr Francis Gleeson
Francis Gleeson was born in 1884 in Templemore, Ireland.
He was ordained as a priest in 1910 and worked at a home for the blind for the early part of his career.
Fr Gleeson volunteered to serve in World War I in 1914, one of only 17 priests to do so.
On Christmas Day 1914, he was in part of the front line unaffected by the Christmas Truce and chose to conduct a Mass in one of the front line trenches that was repeatedly under fire.
Eventually, the daily horrors of war took their toll on him. In November 1915, Fr Gleeson left the front. “I am sorry to be leaving the dear old Munster lads,” he wrote in a letter, “but I really can’t stand it any longer. I do not like the life, though I love the poor men so much. Will you please send me the papers regarding my discharge?”
After the outbreak of the Civil War in Ireland, he became a chaplain with the Irish Free State army in February 1923.
His passing in May 1956 was recorded in the Annual Report of the Old Comrades Association of the Royal Munster Fusiliers: “A canon when he died. A saint when next we all meet.”
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