Chaplains reflect on 232 years of being there for troops at war
July 29, 2007
Pacific edition, Sunday, July 29, 2007
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — For God and country.
That’s the motto of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, which began ministering to soldiers even before there was a country to serve.
Sunday marks the 232nd anniversary of the Chaplain Corps, officially established on July 29, 1775, by the Continental Congress.
The history of chaplains themselves goes back much further — to ancient Egypt and Rome, when religious leaders would accompany armies on the battlefield to provide blessings and good fortune in battle.
“A lot of commanders still look to chaplains for aid in battle,” said Maj. David Causey, the chaplain resource manager at Camp Zama, citing General George S. Patton’s request to his chaplain to write a prayer asking for heavy rains to stop during the Battle of the Bulge.
Seventy-seven Army chaplains were killed during World War II. Thirteen died in the Korean War and another 13 in Vietnam.
The Chaplain Corps has come under fire many times throughout its history, though not always from enemy bullets. Concerns over whether chaplains are a sign of a state-sponsored religion have resulted in 14 court cases challenging the corps’ legitimacy, all of which failed, Causey said.
“We’re still hanging around after 232 years,” said Col. Sam Boone, the chaplain for United Nations Command, U.S. Forces Korea and 8th Army Command.
Boone and other chaplains in South Korea were to hold a service Sunday at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul to celebrate the anniversary of the corps and remember the chaplains who died during the Korean War.
Boone said chaplains provide religious freedoms to servicemembers who might otherwise not have access to religious services, depending on where they are stationed or deployed.
“In Iraq, the chaplain is the only guy or gal in town,” said Col. Allen Blake Boatright, the command chaplain for U.S. Army Japan.
Boone said today’s chaplains focus on three primary missions: nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the dead.
Caring for the wounded is one of the most challenging tasks that a chaplain can face, Boone said.
“Only the chaplains have the freedom and the time to provide ministry to the wounded,” Boatright said.
While medical personnel try to save lives and treat wounds, chaplains stay with patients, giving them comfort and care that extend beyond the surgical table, especially for the mortally wounded.
“Chaplains are there to pray with them, be beside them and hold their hand while they cross the bridge into the next world,” Boatright said.
Practicing “cooperation without compromise,” chaplains from different faiths and different services work together to make sure the religious needs of every servicemember, dependent and authorized civilian are met without compromising an individual chaplain’s beliefs, Boone said.
“The chaplaincy reflects the beliefs of our nation,” he said.