April 26th, 2011
August 1945, page 39
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy Photo, National Archives
Early on the morning of March 19, 1945, some 50 miles off the coast of Japan, the U.S. aircraft carrier Franklin had just launched planes for an attack on Kobe and was preparing to launch more when a Japanese plane got through the carrier’s defensive cover and dropped its bombs. The bombs pierced the deck and exploded. By the time the attacks ended in the evening, the Franklin was a crippled, burning torch drifting on the ocean, and 832 of its sailors were dead, with another 270 wounded.
The Catholic chaplain on the Franklin was Lieutenant Commander Joseph Timothy O’Callahan, SJ, and this article, “Chaplain Courageous,” tells his story. Not only did O’Callahan seem to be everywhere that day, giving last rites and hearing confessions, but his actions in helping to save the burning ship — and the lives of many of its crew — earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After the battle O’Callahan downplayed his bravery. “There was only one time in all that day’s catastrophic happenings when I think I was brave,” he said in an article printed as a follow-up to “Chaplain’s Courageous.” “It was when I went into a blazing gun turret, and the bravery came from this: I have long suffered from claustrophobia, I hate to be shut up in small rooms. And I did not mind so much the thought of being blown up as the thought of being hemmed in, in that small place. I was overcoming a natural and rather silly phobia; no one would ever have adverted to it unless I had told it here.”
In that later article O’Callahan wasn’t shy about speaking about the bravery of the Franklin’s crew, either: “There was a youngster who saw the white chaplain’s cross on my helmet and rushed to me. He went down on one knee and, in a not-so-steady voice, asked for absolution. He said his act of contrition, I gave him absolution, and then, because there was work to be done, I told him to go off and man one of the fire-fighting hoses where the danger seemed greatest. His response came with utter spontaneity, ‘Sure, Father, I’ll go anywhere now.’”
So here, from our August 1945 issue, is the story of that terrible day on the U.S.S. Franklin, and its “Chaplain Courageous.”
(By the way on the last page of this classic article, don’t miss the brief story of another chaplain meeting with Theresa Neumann. Neumann [1898-1962] was a famous mystic and stigmatic who, it is said, lived for 36 years on no nourishment except the Holy Eucharist. She’s a controversial figure, but a beatification process for her has begun.)