“As the early morning mist lifted at H-hour, 6:30 AM, Germans manning the machine gun bunkers and fortifications on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, saw the first of a 6,939-ship invasion fleet,” Liberty Nation explained last year on D-Day. Storming the beaches of Normandy, Allied soldiers trusted that God was with them. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who relied on the steadfast bravery of those pressing the fight against the German defenders of those French beaches, invoked God’s blessing, saying:
“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”
D-Day Chaplains Made Roosevelt’s Words Real
While the US president offered heartfelt and meaningful words thousands of miles from the horrors of the D-Day invasion, men of God on the battlelines said words of immediate comfort to soldiers in the thick of the fighting. Likewise, the chaplains of D-Day ministered to the wounded and fallen on June 6, 1944. Denominations and traditions of faith seemed less important than the presence of men showing courage equal to those to whom they ministered. Chaplain/Rabbi Irving Tepper was one such servant who “Saw action with his battalion in Tunisia and Sicily and again was among the first to land in France on D-Day,” the Jewish Standard remembered in its account titled “Mission Accomplished.” “He was a slender man weighing a scant 120 lbs. at 5′ 6″, “a frail bundle of enthusiasm.” Tepper was “not only a great chaplain but a great soldier. The boys are all crazy about him,” one young private wrote in a letter.
Two months and seven days after coming ashore at Normandy, Rabbi Tepper was killed in action ministering to his men. But, as his colleagues said of the combat rabbi, he was “respected for his insistence on sharing the doughboy’s hardships.”
Chaplain Francis Sampson was known as the “Parachute Padre,” as CatholicCitizens.org tells of Father Sampson’s service on D-Day. Sampson, assigned to the 501st parachute regiment, joined the 15,500 paratroopers along with 13 other chaplains who landed under silk canopies behind enemy lines on that day of days. As those who were with Chaplain Sampson explained, “Right away Father Sampson began tending to the wounded and dying both spiritually and physically.” Unfortunately, during his unit’s fight, Sampson was captured by German SS soldiers. He was led away to be shot, but as he was placed against a wall in front of the firing squad, an officer noticed the chaplain’s insignia and stopped the execution just before the triggers were squeezed. While a prisoner, Father Sampson continued to provide aid to injured soldiers and, at one point, provided his own blood to save a wounded comrade in arms. Father Sampson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (the second-highest award) for his courageous service at Normandy.
Some D-Day Chaplains Were Among the First on the Beaches
A Thursday, June 6, 1944, Stars and Stripes article by Charles F. Kiley, titled “11 Silver Stars Awarded Men of 4th Infantry – Chaplain Among Honored Heroes; Bronze Stars Presented to 33,” tells of the experience of Protestant Episcopal Chaplain Julian S. Ellenberg from Greenwood, South Carolina. Ellenberg was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action. He crossed the beach at Normandy half an hour after the initial assault troops and immediately began caring for the physically and spiritually wounded and dying soldiers on the beach. “Chaplain Ellenberg assisted in establishing a first-aid station on the beaches under intense enemy fire, and despite slight wounds from shell fragments remained at the station until it was demolished,” Kiley recounted. Ellenberg’s Silver Star was among the first awarded to members of his division.
No one looked at ID tags to determine which chaplain to confide in, seek reassurance, or hear last words. As the Christian Standard described in “Chaplain Colonel Barber’s Memories of D-Day,” huddled in a foxhole on the beach with artillery shells exploding everywhere, “That night was spent in prayer and in giving words of encouragement.” Barber concludes his recollection of taking the beaches of Normandy: “Thus we landed. God was good, for not a man from our ship was killed. I believe it was in answer to prayer.” The “Chaplains of D-Day” are not well known these days, but they were a powerful presence on that day in France. An old adage says there are no atheists in foxholes. That was probably true on June 6, 1944. It’s not clear that is true in modern times – but we can say thank God there are Chaplains in foxholes, even today.
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