Pentagon Display Honors Military Chaplains

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2006 - A new display commemorating the service of military chaplains was dedicated June 23 in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

"This ceremony commemorates the unselfish ministry of a group of unsung heroes in the Department of Defense - our military chaplains and assistant chaplains," David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said during the exhibit dedication ceremony in a refurbished portion of the building's fifth floor A ring.

The display - the first in the Pentagon to specifically honor chaplains - consists of four backlit panels that highlight the accomplishments and service of military chaplains since the American Revolution.

More than 7,500 chaplains, chaplains' assistants and religious program specialists are currently serving around the world. These chaplains represent more than 200 religious organizations, officials said.

Defense Department officials said the chaplaincy ministry exists to provide the constitutionally guaranteed right to exercise religion.

The ceremony included scripture readings from Christian, Jewish and Muslim chaplains.

"Ministers, rabbis, imams and spiritual leaders of these organizations are endorsed to serve as military chaplains," Chu said. "We are thankful to the extraordinary partnership that exists between the churches of our land and Department of Defense to make the chaplaincy work."

Chu said the history of the United States has deep spiritual and religious roots. "Since our country's inception, freedom of religious expression has been one of the chief cornerstones," he said.

One of the exhibit's display panels includes an excerpt from a letter written by George Washington that includes observations about the importance of chaplains. "For wont of a chaplain, does I humbly conceive, reflect dishonor upon the regiment," the letter states.

"So we can say that George Washington recognized the value of chaplains in the military," Chu said.

Eight chaplains and one chaplains' assistant have received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor. Four of these recipients were chaplains who died aboard the U.S. Army transport ship Dorchester during World War II. A German torpedo struck the ship in waters south of Greenland in 1943. As the ship sank the four chaplains - two protestant ministers, a Jewish rabbi, and a Roman Catholic priest - gave up their life jackets to save others.

"Two things in that moving story give insight into our military chaplains. One is their cooperation across faith lines," Chu said. "The other is their sacrificial spirit."

Chu said present-day chaplains are just as selfless as those of past generations.

"Religious chaplains of today are making history on 21st century battlefields, at remote outposts, on ships at sea, in dangerous operations overseas and here at home," he said. "In a world in which religious differences and tensions often leads to bloodshed, the chaplains of our armed forces demonstrate remarkable cooperation and willingness to serve in the pluralistic setting of our military."


David S.C. Chu []

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