U.S. Army Chaplain (Captain) Edwin J. Kozak played an important role in America's fight for freedom during World War II. Referred to as "Baltimore's Parachute Chaplain," he was the first Catholic chaplain to descend with the troops as a member of the legendary 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, and was the first Catholic chaplain to make a combat jump.
Father Kozak jumped in both the Sicilian and Italian Invasions and received the Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster (1943) for meritorious service from Fifth Army Headquarters in Italy. According to his obituary, his citation was for holding masses daily on the front lines and voluntarily assisting medical staffs in evacuating and treating the wounded at complete disregard for his own safety.
Three snapshots of Chaplain Kozak's ministry show how he epitomized the Unit Ministry Team's mission to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.
Nurture the living -- William Breuer's "Drop Zone Sicily" tells the story about a peasant who was captured for stealing telephone wire. After he was taken as a "saboteur," the orders came down to shoot the man as an enemy combatant. A local priest spoke to Chaplain Kozak, who then stepped in and saved the peasant's life. One person described Kozak as, "A forceful man, (who had) always spoken up to the generals when he felt they were not acting in the best interests of the men in matters not related to combat operations." He had the moral courage to stand up for what was right.
Care for the wounded -- Risking his own life, Kozak assisted medical staffs in evacuating and treating the wounded on the front lines.
Honor the Fallen -- Kozak's deep respect for Soldiers is evident in a beautiful letter he sent to the parents of a fallen Soldier in 1944. He writes, "For his exemplary leadership and courage, Howard received the award of the Silver Star. Mr. Kemble, you lost a brave son -- we, a good leader and a pal, yet it was heaven's gain. He died fully prepared spiritually. His death and that of his comrades was not in vain, for it was this battle that stopped the German counter-offensive and marked the beginning of our offensive in the Belgian Bulge. While there is no earthly compensation for the loss of your son, I hope that you shall find consolation in Howard's complete devotion to duty. I further trust that our mutual faith in God shall sustain you in his hour of bereavement..."
Chaplain E.J. Kozak was one of the nearly 9,000 chaplains who served during WWII -- all brave Soldiers who endured great peril in order to be present with their comrades in the combat zone. The Chaplain Corps suffered 478 casualties during World War II - the third highest branch loss in the Army during WWII.
Chaplain Kozak died at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on February 4, 1980 as a Colonel (Retired) Chaplain, U.S. Army. His faith and dedication continues to inspire Soldiers today -- For God and Country.