By Mike Case
The U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps is responsible for the spiritual well-being of service members of all faiths. Beyond the Chaplain Corps’ primary mission, its history is filled with examples of amazing selfless courage.
The Navy Chaplain Corps was organized in 1775, making it the Navy’s oldest staff corps. The Chaplain’s Corps’ 245th birthday is on November 28 and to help celebrate, here are 5 facts we have faith you’ll want to know.
1. The U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps not only provides chaplains to the Navy and Marine Corps, but to the Coast Guard as well.
The Navy Chaplains who are assigned to Coast Guard billets wear Coast Guard Uniforms.
2. The first (technically speaking) Navy Chaplain to be assigned to seagoing duty with the Coast Guard was Chaplain Robert R. Mitchell.
Mitchell reported for duty with his Coast Guard squadron based out of Subic Bay in the Philippines in July 1967 and became the first Navy chaplain to serve on sea duty with the U.S. Coast Guard.
“My billet as chaplain was unique … I was the first seagoing chaplain ever assigned to the Coast Guard. That came about as follows: While it is true that Coast Guard ships were active in World War II, they were always integrated into Navy commands. In the case of Squadron 3 in Vietnam, it was an independent unit under 7th fleet.” - Chaplain Robert R. Mitchell*
USS Schmitt (DE-676/APD 76), USS Kirkpatrick (DE 318), USS Rentz (FF-46), USS O’Callahan (FF 1051), USS Capodanno (FF 1093), and, USS Laboon (DDG 58).
4. During WWII, Navy Chaplains distinguished themselves countless times and received the military’s highest honors, including the Medal of Honor.
Joseph T. O’Callahan of the Navy Reserve not only performed his duties as chaplain, providing comfort to the injured and last rites to the dying, but he also - as his Medal of Honor Citation in part reads - “organized and led fire-fighting crews into the blazing inferno of the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts despite searing, suffocating smoke”.
5. Vincent R. Capodanno volunteered for service in the Navy Chaplain Corps during the Vietnam War.
The Marines Capodanno served with nicknamed him the “grunt padre” for his willingness to serve right alongside them, enduring whatever they did. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless actions during a battle in September of 1967.
Vincent Capodanno is also being considered for another high honor for his actions in Vietnam: canonization as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.
Additional Sources: A History of Navy Chaplains Serving with the U.S. Coast Guard
1983 and 1993 Editions by C. Douglas Kroll, CDR, CHC, USNR (retired)
2010 Edition by Heather Murphy.
-This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated for 2021.
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