“For Thou hast girded
me with strength unto the battle…” Psalm
Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, my mother’s cousin,
was a member of the Jesuit Society of Jesus and the first Chaplain in the
history of the U.S.
to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.This was bestowed upon him at the White House, in WashingtonD.C.,
on January 23, 1946 by President Harry S. Truman, as pictured in this
photograph. Chaplain O’Callahan also won the
reminders of “Father Joe’s” heroics in combat, his Congressional Medal of
Honor and his family’s pride in his Ministry vocation sometimes made me
wonder if I was called to the Catholic Priesthood as well.Not too frequently, but wonder I did.
Although I was raised in
a Catholic family, it was through the faith of my Grandmother “Grammy”
Hamel that I was greatly influenced towards the type of Pentecostal Christian
Ministry I have served in for over 25 years now.But Father Joe’s obvious trust in Jesus
Christ, his unwavering confidence in the Holy Bible as he understood it,
his selfless sense of patriotic duty, love for humanity and sheer bravery
in the face of death have impacted and inspired me.Because of this I wanted Father Joe to
have a special place on the JHM website.After all, he is not only a member of my earthly family but of God’s
Family as well.Jesus Christ was his
Lord & Savior.
I have compiled the
following information to the Glory of the Most High God.It was He alone Who strengthened Father
Joe. He alone strengthens each one of us for the battle.
Joseph Timothy O'Callahan was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts,
on May 14, 1905.He attended BostonCollegeHigh School.He joined The Society of Jesus (The
Jesuits) in 1922 at the Novitiate of St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New
completed philosophical studies at WestonCollege
in 1929 and became a member of the Physics Department at BostonCollege.He also taught at WestonCollege.He was ordained in 1934, and became the
Director of the Mathematics Department at HolyCrossCollege, Worcester, Massachusetts
where he also founded the Mathematics Library.In August 1940 he shocked his colleagues
by joining the Naval Reserve Chaplain Corps.He was already well above service age
when World War Two began and someone even told him, “Let someone younger
help those boys.You can’t even open
Fr. O'Callahan was commissioned as a Lieutenant
(Junior Grade) in the Chaplain Corps and was assigned to Naval Air Station,
Pensacola, Florida, in 1940-42, to the aircraft carrier Ranger where he saw
combat.He was then assigned to the
Naval Air Stations at Alameda,
California, and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,
into early 1945.
2, 1945, he was assigned as Chaplain aboard CV-13, the USS
Franklin. On the morning of March 19 O’Callahan was in the wardroom eating
French toast when the sound of aircraft engines broke the silence of a
beautiful Pacific dawn. The United States Navy, in the form of Task Force
58, was launching strikes from deck of the aircraft carrier Franklin against the
Japanese coast under sunshine-filled skies.
A rainsquall was forming nearby and
suddenly out of that squall came a twin-engine Japanese kamikaze bomber,
carrying a bomb load destined for the officers and men of the USS Franklin.
At , the bomber
dropped two bombs on the Franklin’s
flight deck, and a series of explosions began that nearly blew the ship
apart. Of the ships crew of 3,000, approximately 1,000 were seriously
burned, horribly injured or killed instantly. Close to 1,000 more were in
the water. The USS Franklin was saved only through the actions of her
remaining shocked men, led in great part by the fearless
The resulting deeds of Lieutenant Commander Joseph
O’Callahan and his effect on the rescue effort earned him a Congressional
Medal of Honor.The first of only three
to ever be awarded to a U.S. Chaplain.
As soon as the bomb hit, O’Callahan thought of the
men of the ship. Stopping to pray, he asked the God of Love to forgive the
sins of the Franklin’s
crew. He then dashed to his quarters and picked up his helmet and lifebelt.
The belt was damaged and useless.However, the helmet with a Chaplain’s large white cross on it was
essential and would play a part in his later efforts to save the Franklin. It allowed
other crew members to readily recognize him from afar in the midst of the
overwhelming smoke and flames.
Father O’Callahan and Chaplain Gatlin, the
Protestant Chaplain aboard the Franklin,
immediately began to tend to the spiritual needs and morale of the
seriously wounded men that were brought forward to the Officers’ Quarters.
Then O’Callahan went topside to the flight deck
which was engulfed in flames.Here
many more officers and men were seriously injured, either by fire or
debris. He prayed with each one, assuring them of God’s love and mercy and
made sure they were as comfortable as possible.He arranged for blankets to prevent
shock. He organized fire hose teams.
The Captain, high above the action and trapped on
the Bridge, could recognize O’Callahan on the flight deck due to the white
cross on his helmet. From his observation point and using the bridge
bullhorn, he directed the “Padre” to take care of essential jobs down on
the flame engulfed, body strewn deck.
O’Callahan seemed to be everywhere throughout the
next three days. He checked over the wounded men before they were
transferred to another ship; he organized the engineers so they would be
available when the boilers came back online; he found men for hose crews
and rescue teams; he stood by providing moral support and sharing the
danger while bombs were defused and rolled over the side by the youthful,
frightened crew members.
At one point a five hundred pound live bomb rolled
across the hot, flame-covered deck.Physically picking it up, the frightened crew members carried it
away from the fire, standing it carefully on its nose to be defused.As they stood there literally trembling
in their boots for fear of it exploding, the Chaplain walked up to the
bomb, stood beside it confidently with his arms crossed calmly looking at
the trembling young men.Something
about his overwhelming confidence in the face of possible death seemed to
calm them.They were then able to
successfully defuse the bomb, rolling it overboard.
achievement of Father Joe’sefforts was the evacuation of main
gun ammunition from an endangered magazine.He personally led several men in clearing out the heavy, hot, and
dangerous 5-inch shells, preventing a magazine explosion forward of the
island. A similar magazine had blown up earlier in the day aft, and it was
doubtful that the Franklin
could have survived another magazine explosion.
bravery was not unique aboard the Franklin,
but he was one of the men that contributed the most to saving the ship and multitudes
Also, the “Padre” was able to lead by moral,
spiritual and personal example, raising the men required to accomplish the
innumerable tasks involved in salvaging and repairing a heavily-damaged
ship of such immense size.Ranging
from explosives and debris removal and manning hoses to leading rescue
crews and burying the dead at sea, he seemed to be literally empowered with
strength from Heaven as he led the rescue efforts over those danger filled
For his efforts, Lieutenant Commander O’Callahan was
awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for "conspicuous gallantry
and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of
duty." His citation singled out his courage in leading the disposal of
live ammunition, the cooling of hot bombs on the flight deck, and the care
he gave the wounded and dying men of the USS Franklin.
Nearly twice the age of the other crew members,
Lieutenant Commander Joseph O’Callahan was what I refer to as a true “Jesus
man.”He was a man of faith and a
man of action. He volunteered for hazardous duty aboard aircraft carriers
when he could have sat out the war at home. O’Callahan put his own fear
aside and attended to his shipmates when that Japanese bomber attacked his
ship. He carried out his spiritual and humanitarian duties, and then looked
for more to do to save the ship.He
led the men from the front in the dangerous tasks of disposing ammunition,
fighting fires and even diffusing bombs.
After the battle, O’Callahan’s tremendous example
did not end. He, along with the other Officers aboard, gave their bunks to
the enlisted men and slept on the hard deck. He personally led the
corpse-retrieval parties, a gruesome task, and then conducted non-stop
burials at sea.
Throughout the dreadful drama of life and death
aboard the USS Franklin, Father O’Callahan acted with supernatural calm,
vigor and a sense of duty and loyalty to his countrymen, his country and
his ship. He was able to help tremendously and drew others to follow his
amazing Godly example.That
Lieutenant Commander Joseph O’Callahan was instrumental in saving the USS
Franklin on March 19,
1945 is an understatement.
A dear friend of ours, Mr. Walter Sisson of Norman, Oklahoma,
now deceased, was a World War II Navy veteran.He,
along with his brother, Chuck, was stationed in the South Pacific on the island of Ulithi at
the time the Franklin
was towed there immediately after its bombing.Walt recalls observing the behemoth
vessel coming in “…listing 15 degrees, the superstructure blackened and
charred by the fires.”
The USS Franklin was later towed to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and patched up, enabling her to
return to Brooklyn, New York, amazingly under her own power.
As a Christian, O’Callahan’s faith in Jesus Christ
is truly inspiring. While he was fighting the fires, he was constantly
praying for the souls of the men with him, unafraid of his own death. His
sense of calm was transmitted to those he attended over that three day
period and many wounded and tortured souls found peace in Christ with his
help in their last moments.
The ship's Commanding Officer later told Mrs.
O’Callahan “…your son is the bravest man I ever saw."
Other eyewitnesses referred to the Chaplain as, “…a
soul-stirring sight. He seemed to be everywhere…urging the men on…handling
hoses, jettisoning ammunition…doing everything he could to help save our
ship…he was so conspicuous, not only because of the cross daubed with white
paint across his helmet, but because of his seemingly detached air as he
went from place to place with head slightly bowed as if in meditation or
Promoted to the rank of Commander in July 1945,
O'Callahan served at the Navy Department and at the Naval Training Station,
Newport, Rhode Island, until October 1945.At that time he reported for duty as
Chaplain on board the new aircraft carrier the USS Franklin D.
Roosevelt.This was on the very day
President Truman placed the Congressional Medal of Honor around his neck.
Released from active duty in November 1946,
Commander O'Callahan returned to HolyCrossCollege
as Professor of Philosophy.
Upon his retirement from the Naval Reserve in
November 1953, he was advanced to the rank of Captain on the basis of his
Fr. Joseph T. O'Callahan, upon his retirement from
Planet Earth, traveled on to the Planet Heaven
from Worcester, Massachusetts, on March 18, 1964.This was the evening of the nineteenth
anniversary of the USS Franklin’s terrible ordeal.
21, 1965, the USS O’Callahan, a Destroyer Escort vessel was
christened in Bay City,
Michigan.Present at the ceremony was Sister Rose Marie O’Callahan, M.M.,
also known as Alice O’Callahan, Father Joe’s younger sister.Sister Rose Marie, a Maryknoll
nun and Missionary to the Philippines,
had been imprisoned in a Japanese detention camp there for three years
during the war.During that time the
O’Callahan family had not heard a word about her fate.While in the Pacific Father Joe had hoped
to discover his sister’s circumstance first-hand. He was unable to do so.
Escort ship USS O'Callahan (FF 1051) was named in honor of Fr. Joseph
Timothy O’Callahan.This vessel was
in service in defense of the United States until 1988.At that time it was given over to Pakistan
before being returned to the US in 1994.
There were two movies
made depicting Father Joe’s heroics aboard the USS Franklin.“The Ship That Would Not Die” is a
documentary released in 1945, narrated by Gene Kelly.The other, a full feature-length movie
narrated by James Cagney and released in 1956, is
called “Battle Stations.”
Father Joe also published
his best-selling memoir in 1956 called “I Was Chaplain on the Franklin.”
Although I am
proud that Father Joe is a member of my family, it’s important to remember
the following.All veterans of the
military should be held in high esteem, not just Congressional Medal of
Honor recipients.All veterans are
national treasures.Putting their
lives in harm’s way, they do the hard things, fighting defensive warfare, so others can stay at home and do the
easy things in peace.
I trust that Father Joe’s
faith in Jesus Christ in the day of battle will inspire you in the day of
your battle as it has inspired me in mine. JHM