On 100th Anniversary, U.S. Entry to World War I Remembered as Chaplaincy Catalyst

“The world has never witnessed such a situation as this,” Southern Baptists said of WWI in a report adopted at the 1918 SBC annual meeting. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry to World War I is also, says former U.S. Army chief of chaplains Douglas Carver, the 100th anniversary of when “the U.S. military chaplaincy came into its own … as a distinct branch of the Armed Services.”

Among Southern Baptists, April 2017 additionally marks the 100th anniversary of the North American Mission Board’s assignment to coordinate Southern Baptist Convention participation in U.S. military chaplaincy — initially under the auspices of NAMB’s precursor, the Home Mission Board.

The 146 chaplains in the Regular Army and National Guard on April 6, 1917 — when America declared war against Germany — expanded to a chaplaincy force of more than 2,300 by the war’s end in 1918. That expansion cemented the “‘ministry of presence’ chaplains provide in today’s Armed Services,” said Carver, NAMB’s executive director of chaplaincy.

“Chaplains serve as a constant reminder to our troops that God is present with them, especially in a combat environment,” Carver told Baptist Press in written comments. “Today’s chaplains continue to provide personal ministry, pastoral care and training resources for our troops who suffer the ‘spiritual damage’ of war” like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and “moral injury.”

In World War I, chaplain duties included providing pastoral and personal counseling, ministry to the wounded and dying, conducting memorial ceremonies and services and leading worship in stateside camps and for troops deployed in Europe, Carver said.

WWI chaplains almost universally had college and seminary degrees, and all were 41 years old or younger, North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder newsjournal reported Jan. 30, 1918.

Twenty-seven WWI chaplains were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, according to data provided by Carver, the second highest Army award for extraordinary heroism in battle. Among recipients of the honor, according to internet reports, were Colman O’Flaherty, who was killed while helping the wounded in 1918, and John DeValles, who earned the nickname “angel of the trenches” for searching for wounded soldiers in the area between opposing trenches known as “no man’s land.”

Another notable WWI chaplain was Paul Moody, son of evangelist Dwight Moody.

Paul Moody served under Gen. John Pershing in France, Carver said, and “was instrumental in helping to organize the U.S. military chaplaincy into a branch of its own. He and Gen. Pershing’s personal chaplain consulted the British Army Chaplain General for advice and adapted several of their features in the American plan for the military chaplaincy.”

Eleven American chaplains were killed in action while 12 died of disease.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
David Roach