Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Chaplains of the AEF

The U.S. Army Chaplaincy was to be an integral part of the great mobilization of the American Expeditionary Force. By the end of the war the original 74 Regular Army chaplains and 72 National Guard chaplains had been joined by 2,217 more chaplains. Twenty-three of these chaplains died in the service of their country during this conflict — 11 of them were battle deaths. Twenty-seven chaplains earned the Purple Heart, four with Oak Leaf Cluster. Twenty-seven chaplains earned the Distinguished Service Cross and 18 the Silver Star. France, Great Britain, and Belgium also decorated American chaplains.

A Chaplain of the 33rd Division Administering to a Dead Doughboy

Chaplain Julius J. Babst's DSC citation exemplifies not only his actions but those of other chaplains as well.

Chaplain Babst displayed exceptional, bravery and devotion to duty by repeatedly going out from the first aid station of his battalion to care for the wounded and voluntarily exposed himself to terrific artillery and machine gun fire to administer the last sacraments to the dying. At imminent risk to his own life he worked to improve the conditions at the aid station and fearlessly conducted  burial services under fire.

Another chaplain, Coleman E. O'Flaherty, awarded the DSC posthumously, was eulogized by his commander, who said that the initial letters of the award really meant, "Died in the Service of Christ." The most famous chaplain to serve in World War I was Francis P. Duffy, a Roman Catholic priest from New York. Chaplain Duffy, whose statue stands in Times Square, NYC, was the senior chaplain of the 42nd Division. Before his unit went into battle, Chaplain Duffy always conducted services. He observed special holy days, even on the battlefield.

Once the fighting started, the sermons stopped. Chaplains, like Duffy, "traveled with the unit first aid stations and provided physical and spiritual care to the wounded and dying. They worked closely with the other noncombatants: the surgeons, ambulance crews, and stretcher-bearers."

From the Web site of the U.S. Army Chaplain Service


  1. See also:
    Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the Great War
    Jonathan H. Ebel
    Princeton University Press, 2010

    1. I came across an AEF plaque for a chaplain William Stephenson For photo of plaque and to