A Chaplain’s wartime duties: My grandfather’s service to his men

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been in the States for patriotic holidays.  The 3 that most recently come to mind are  Memorial Day (May 25), Flag Day (June 14), and our upcoming Independence Day (July 4).  These days come and go in China without much fanfare as I am so involved in my teaching and finishing up the school year, which usually ends the second week in July.

This year is a bit different.  Being in the States, I am aware of these celebrations as they are right at my doorstep.  Then, too,  it’s been a different sort of remembrance of our veterans due to more personal touches.

Continuing with my grandparents’ WW 2 correspondence letters

Sunk deep in my grandmother’s armchair in the upstairs bedroom, I’ve had my present-day clock rewind to the 1940’s.  Here I sit and read, finding myself inundated in  World War 2  news between my grandmother, Connie Maris in Holland, Michigan, and her husband, Army Chaplain Marvin Maris who was serving in the Pacific (New Guinea and the Philippines).

In national archives across the country, I expect similar war letters between servicemen and their families are kept and preserved for posterity’s sake. But there is a noticeable difference in the letters I am reading, and that has to do with the Christian component involved.

Through my grandfather, I am discovering that a chaplain’s duties in wartime require a much wider range of skill sets than the average soldier or even high-ranking officer.  The amount of work involved for a chaplain is astounding.  His accounts of pastoral service to the men demand such emotional, physical, professional and spiritual strength that I can truly feel his connection to God in all that he undertakes.  It is truly inspiring.

Difficult Responsibilities 

Among the many heart-wrenching tasks must have been to officiate over a funeral, then compose the follow-up letter to the family. Those letters I have never been privy to.  My grandfather didn’t keep copies.  I sometimes wonder if they are within someone else’s pile of treasured correspondence, my grandfather’s words neatly penned in ink or clicked out on his portable typewriter.

I imagine him giving condolences and reassurances of a swift death,  even if it wasn’t, along with spiritual guidance and his well-placed words of a brave, honorable son, father or husband. This obligation was a sad,  yet necessary and sacred one.  He did his best to give solace to the receiver, which in turn gave solace to him knowing, as a man called to God and country, his life was given meaning.

I see this in so many of my grandparents’ letters, especially from  my grandmother.  She is often reassuring Marvin that the role he plays is vital to the men, even when he feels defeated that so  few attend Sunday chapel services, engage in his Bible studies or choir practices, rarely ask for a one-on-one ministry session or are straying from a Christian lifestyle by swearing, smoking, drinking or attending local brothels.  Although Marvin is a practical man, and doesn’t too harshly condemn soldiers for partaking in such behavior which was accepted in 1940’s wartime, he still questioned if he was doing any good.

Even we steadfast Christians have our doubts.

Chaplain Maris, first row on the far right, organized the men to build the first chapel in the jungles of New Guinea, where he watched over the men’s spiritual needs during the war. Sunday service attendance was sometimes quite low.

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One of his better attended services:  Marvin, seated at the portable pump organ, leads the men in hymns in the New Guinea jungle chapel.

A sister writes:  “Dear Sir”

Tossed among the many correspondence letters in the bins, I found a few written to Marvin from soldiers’ family members. I’m uncertain why he kept some and not others but the ones he did preserve are telling.

I share this one with you here.  It must have been a hard time for the family, especially as it was mailed on August 13, 1945, right after the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and a few days before the  surrender.  So many soldiers, such as the below-mentioned Emmet, almost made it home, but not quite.  I hope my grandfather felt he had helped the family with his condolence letter.  It seems to me, from what was said, he gave them all the best he had to give as a fellow soldier and a man of God.

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Dear Sir.

I am writing in answer to the letter my mother, Mrs. Nonie E Graves, received with the picture of my brother, PVT Emmett K. Graves.

We were very happy to get it and we also thank you a lot for sending it and also thank his buddies for giving it to you to send.  I am writing to you for my mother.  It just seems like she can’t get our Emmett’s death. We all miss him so much.  If you can get in touch with any of his buddies, will you please ask them to write to me.  I would love to hear from some of them.  I miss writing to Emmett so much.  I feel like Emmett would want me to write to some of his buddies.  Thank a lot for what you have done.

Sincerely yours,

Mrs. S.L. Rohme. RFD #3. Fredericksburg, VA

 

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
This entry was posted in A Visit Home to America, A Visit Home to Marshall, Illinois, Travel, Visit To The States, World War 2 Letters. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Chaplain’s wartime duties: My grandfather’s service to his men

  1. Jean Marsh says:

    There are many angles from which to view most everything. Thank you for sharing both your grandfather’s view and that of the lost soldier’s family. I’m glad your grandfather received encouragement for this very difficult task. May we all take the time to consider how others experience life and how we might be more understanding and kind. 🌺

  2. Sharon White says:

    Oh, Connie, Thanks for sharing the correspondence. What a hard job Chaplains have!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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