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The Chaplains Fight, Too

By T/5 Ed McNulty

"The war is over!  But in the remote Alaskan outposts and the Aleutian Islands the battle goes on -- the battle against foes that will never surrender -- weather, nostalgia, and confinement.

These words of Red Cross Director Sheldon C. Williamson, spoken at the recent conference of chaplains at Ft. Richardson, Alaska, show that the chaplain's job in this theater has not ceased with the armistice.  Williamson went on to point out that soldier cases since the war's end have multiplied to the extent that the Red Cross is now handling 3,500 new cases each month.  He explained that the bored, restless, homesick soldier had kept his problems to himself heretofore because he was able to rationalize them during time of war.  Williamson added that now the soldier finds it hard to see the reason for his being retained any longer in Alaska.  For this reason, the chaplain's task lying ahead will be harder than the great work he has already put behind him.

Realizing this fact beforehand left Lt. Col. William E. Austill, Alaskan Department Staff Chaplain, to plan the chaplain's conference which took place September 10 and 11 at the Ft. Richardson Post Chapel.

Before introducing Brig. Gen. Richard E. Mittelstaedt, Ft. Richardson commander, expressed his desire that the chaplains would find "inspiration and profit by these sessions."

The general told of the exceptional opportunities available at this post for men in the Aleutians.  He explained that the furnished apartments with individual rooms had been prepared and were being operated in first-class hotel style to accommodate men, from the Aleutians who wished to spend a week furlough here.  He named the advantages offered men from the Aleutians during their stay, stating that organization dances, sports facilities, and non-com and air corps clubs were open to them.  He mentioned that Gen. Emmons, Department Commander, was at present trying to arrange to have men sent here on temporary duty, so that this stay would in no way be counted against their leave privileges.

He told of the soldier's reaction to this furlough plan by quoting one man who said, "Sure I had a good time here, and this is the first time in my Army career when anyone asked me what time I wanted to be waked in the morning."

After explaining the details of the program to the chaplains, Gen. Mittelstaedt requested them to visited all the post facilities in order that they could go back to their island posts and inform the men of what was being done for them.

The next speaker to be introduced was Capt. George A. Bieri of the Alaskan Department Provost Marshal Office, who spoke on the great problem presented his office by the many pilferings of water-borne cargo enroute to Alaska and the shortages caused considerable distress Aleutians from Seattle.  Many of the men noted at the destination, but as a rule, Capt. Bieri noted, the main shortages are beer, fruit juices, candy and the like.  He explained that the probable cause of these lay in the fact that the men didn't realize that they were actually stealing.

He pointed out that a soldier who spends 10 hours a day loading these supplies onto a vessel is naturally going to become hungry and thirsty.  The soldier then reasons that the articles he is loading belong to the government and are scheduled for shipment to the troops.  He tells himself that he is a part of the troops and is therefore justified in helping himself to a light snack.  This eventually leads to reasoning in which he figures he will be hungry the following week and so he takes a box of candy bars to meet this problem.

Captain Bieri suggested that the chaplains could be of valuable assistance by pointing out to the men the critical shortages created at the point of delivery by such pilfering which results in many soldiers being deprived of their rightful allotment of rations.  He further asked the chaplains to impress upon the minds of these men that their petty pilfering is actually stealing.

Chaplain Austill expressed his gratitude to the Anchorage Council of Churches for making possible the presence of Dr. E. Stanley Jones at the chaplain's conference.  Dr. Jones attended both days of the conference and selected a very appropriate topic for discussion.  His first message was devoted to "Inner Morale," in which he explained to the chaplains the necessity of keeping themselves mentally and spiritually fit for their tasks.

"If a man's inner morale sags," said Dr. Jones, "his entire group is going to sag with him."

His closing message to the chaplains was about "bringing men and God together."  Dr. Jones climaxed his talk by telling the chaplains what a great thing they will have accomplished if they can send men back into civilian life with something to live for.  "It's your great opportunity," he concluded.

Maj. Don A. McNeal, Assistance Director of Personnel for the Alaskan Department spoke on the all-important problems brought about by the readjustment and demobilization procedures.  He pointed out that General Emmons was doing everything in his power to facilitate the release of men from this theater.

"It was through the general's efforts," said Major McNeal, "that this department has been allowed to keep recuperation furloughs open to all eligible personnel."

The major went on to explain that movements from the theater hadn't been as effective recently as they had previously, because a detailed plan was provided in advance of V-E Day and that V-J Day had followed so closely, that enough time hadn't been allowed for the formulation of new plans.  The major explained the phases of the point system and quoted recorded statistics of the progress toward demobilization that has already been made by this department.  He stated that men with over two years of service in the department would be given every break that the personnel section could given them, adding that General Emmons was deeply concerned about hastening the return of these men to the United States.

A psychiatrist, Capt. James Q. Haralambie of the 183rd Station Hospital, revealed many interesting facts and data regarding "mental breakdown" and the extent that mental breakdowns have occurred in this department.  He asserted that the war has made people more conscious of the presence of many mental illnesses and has brought doctors and psychiatrists closer together to work as cooperative teams in the curing of these patients.  The reason for Captain Haralambie's talk was to acquaint the chaplains with the problems of the neuro-psychiatric patient so that they may better understand him when he is approached in the course of their hospital tours.

The captain stated that mental breakdowns in this theater have been far less than those in any other theater.  He brought out the important fact that "so many people have it erroneously fixed in their minds that breakdowns will have to be treated as children."  He stated "patience will do better than misdirected sentimentality in dealing with these men when they return home."

Chaplain Charles W. Nelson of the 17th Naval District spoke for the Aleutian Navy chaplains at the conference.  He brought with him Admiral Fletcher's greetings ad thanks to the Army chaplains for helping the Navy many times in the past.  Chaplain Nelson explained the Navy's peacetime tentative operations plans in the North Pacific waters and pointed out how complementary chaplain coverage could be achieved by Army and Navy chaplains in the future, as it has been in the past.

He explained many naval technical procedures to the Army chaplains so that they would know what was expected of them in boarding a ship or entering a naval station.  He cited many cases in the history of the Aleutians where Navy chaplains have served Army posts and Army chaplains have served Navy stations.

Because the chaplains are directly concerned with troop morale, Lt. Col. R. Paul Sharood, Morale Inspector for the Alaskan Department, was invited to talk on the subject of the function of the department morale.  He told how the office of morale inspector was created in this department.  It resulted from a letter written to General Emmons by General Marshall, requesting that an office be established to assure proper treatment of the troops at all times.  Initial investigations made by the office disclosed that troops returned from this theater to the United States felt badly because of the small amount of decorations they were eligible to wear.  From this investigation developed the "Certificate of Commendable Service," which is a certificate signed by General Emmons that is now given to every qualified soldier departing from this theater.

Colonel Sharood explained that men were constantly being interviewed to determine whether they know of any factors that are adversely affecting morale in this department.  When such factors are disclosed, investigations are made, and the situation corrected.  In some cases investigations have been, and are being made to determine why units with excessive service are being retained in this theater.  In some cases the retention of these units was discovered to be contrary to the best interests of the military and the servicemen and the commanding general had them declared as excess and returned to the United States.  The morale inspector was questioned by one of the chaplains to determine if he had received any complaints about the chaplains.  Colonel Sharood replied: "In all my time as morale inspector for this department, I can truthfully say that I haven't heard a single complaint about you chaplains.

Lt. Col. Leonard R. Rovins, Special Service Officer for the Alaskan Department, threw a blazing torch into the conference when he stated that after a short trip to the Aleutians, he felt that a morale problem was beginning to kindle among the men stationed there who wanted to know when they were going to get home.

"It is your job and my job to cope with the problem of moral in the Aleutians," asserted Colonel Rovins.  He went onto explain thoroughly the Army athletic and recreation program as it applies to this department, stating that the department is somewhat handicapped because most of the men here are engaged in service jobs that had to be temporarily continued while the program was originally planned to relieve the monotony faced by idle combat troops.  Colonel Rovins closed his talk by giving the Red Cross a "pat on the back" for supplementing and assisting the Special Service Office in the accomplishment of their activities throughout Alaska.

Capt. Harold N. Edinburg, Information and Education Officer for the Alaskan Department, explained the origin and purpose of the I & E Office and its function within the Alaskan Department.  He explained the advantages of the GI Bill of Rights and answered many of the chaplain's questions regarding interpretations of the bill as it pertained to schooling.  He also gave all the chaplains information to carry back to the men regarding a new general education development test that has been instituted by the government.  This test has already been taken by thousands of students throughout the country.  It makes possible the determining of an individual's ability to evaluate general information.  Many schools are granting diplomas to those who are able to make a satisfactory score and colleges are likewise offering credits on this basis which will perhaps enable many who wish to return to school to skip one or more grades.

In a symposium of chaplain activities, Chaplain Thomas D. Bryne spoke on the advantage of radio broadcasts and how to plan them.  "It is very important to remember," he said, that if chaplains of various denominations are not present at your post, to keep the programs of general interest in order to reach all listeners."

Chaplain Leslie F. Toburen recounted many of his experiences with outpost visitations in the islands.  He told of the hardships of carrying the bulky equipment including portable altars, organs, candelabra, etc. to remote outposts.

He told of the time he had shoved a dozen copies of hymns into his pocket, and through rain and snow, hiked over mountains for some eight miles to reach one of his outposts.  Arriving there soaking wet, he was immediately supplied with towels and a clean suit of fatigue clothes by grateful soldiers who thanked him wholeheartedly for making the journey.  He held a service that evening with the dozen hymn copies as his only props and stated that "it was one of the most successful services I have ever conducted."  He stated that many hardships would be encountered in the constant visitation of outposts, but added, "This is the opportunity Alaska offers us -- to live up to the reputation of the Army chaplain."

"Publicity is a necessary function of the Army chaplain," stated Chaplain John J. Reedy.  He explained the necessity of making men aware of services both pending and past.  As a means to this end, the chaplain outlined plans for utilizing the facilities of camp newspapers, radio stations and bulleting boards.  He told of the success of the services held in his chapel every half hour on V-J Day, and attributed that success to radio publicity.  The chaplain also expressed the opinion that photographs showing men attending services are a wonderful morale factor, "because of the consolation they offer to the folks at home."

Chaplain Isaac I. McDonald spoke on the subject of conducting Sunday services.  "A service is something that is done to benefit others," he defined.  "The church is a sanatorium for the curing of sin-sick souls," he cited.  Then he proceeded to describe what little difference actually existed between the civilian and military church functions, stating: "The aims and purposes are primarily the same, the human begin is the same, and his needs are the same."  He defined the needs of the soldier churchgoer and suggested methods of preaching to him.

The duties of the hospital chaplain were discussed by Chaplain Arnell M. Landerdahl, who spoke of cooperating with the doctors and nurses and finding a place on the "healing team."  He pointed out that the hospital chaplain must be more than just a wailing wall and that he must make every effort to correct the problems of his patients, and yet, not forget the men who are stationed at the hospital for duty.  Chaplain Landerdahl told of the difficulty often encountered in approaching sick patients and said, "a good deal of common sense must be utilized to break through the barriers of the distraught soldier."

He narrated an anecdote of an experience that he had with a difficult patient, telling how he had won the man over to his side.  "A sergeant was about to undergo a major operation and I was called in to see the man.  I approached him as he lay on a wheeled cot, prepared to be taken to the operating room.  As soon as the sergeant saw me, he shouted: I'm not going to die!"  'Who said you were?' was my answer.  'I have nothing to confess!' the sergeant added. 'Who said you had?' I queried.  'What do you want then?' asked the sergeant. 'Oh! I replied, 'I just wanted to see what a man who has nothing to confess looks like on the inside.'

Jewish high holidays were reviewed by Chaplain Morris J. Besdin for the benefit of many of the chaplains who conducted Jewish ceremonies, from time to time, because of the shortage of Jewish chaplains in this theater.  He prepared and distributed a pamphlet outlining that Jewish holidays and explained the origin and purpose of each one.  The chaplain expressed his gratitude to the many Catholic and Protestant chaplains who had provided services for the Jewish men in the Aleutians.  He stated that he was thankful to the Army for "Bringing about a more thorough understanding of the different faiths and a camaraderie among the chaplains."  He recalled an instance where he had been called upon to hold Buddhist services for Japanese-American and Hawaiian soldiers at Fort Livingston, La.

The mission of the chaplain was reviewed by Chaplains Thadieth E. Son, Joseph E. Stockhammer, and William E. Austill, as a summing up of the conference.

It was stated that the chaplain's mission was similar to that given a pilot before departing on a bombing mission.  He must be briefed on the weather conditions, the amount of flak anticipated, the location of the enemy, and he must know how to use his instruments.  The mission of the chaplain is to save God's men, show them the way through life, and administer to their spiritual wants.

The chaplain must offer council and encouragement to the men ad help them to lead good lives and love God with all their heart and soul.  In the performance of his mission, the chaplain, like a pilot, will come across many targets of opportunity.  He must take advantage of these targets which will appear in the form of: personal problems, marriages, lectures, forums, and fellowship calls, etc.  He must always remain in sight of the military as well as the spiritual aim to encourage ad comfort the men and keep before them the ideal of justice for which they fight.  When he has done all these things the "sky pilot" can relax in the joy that comes from having a mission completed.


Source: McNulty, T/5 Ed, "The Chaplains Fight, Too."  Alaska Life: The Territorial Magazine.  Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Life Publishing Co., December, 1945.




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