By Ms. Jessica Marie Ryan (IMCOM Europe)August 2, 2019
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- U.S. Army Garrison Benelux chaplains and religious affairs specialists braved the record-breaking heat to remember and honor those who served before them by visiting World War II sites in Belgium on July 25.
The visit was a time for Religious Support Office, or RSO, Soldiers to learn about the chaplains and chaplain assistants' roles in the war and visit the graves of three chaplains buried in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial near Welkenraedt, Belgium.
"My intent was to make this historical event seem real and personal and encourage our religious support personnel to think through the struggles our military and civilians on the battlefield would have experienced in 1944," said Army Lt. Col. Kelly Porter, garrison chaplain. "I wanted them to think about what decisions and priorities they would have made if they were in those situations."
Porter conducted the unit training by connecting the host nation's war history to relatable lessons for his Soldiers. Prior to the training, the Soldiers researched the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps by reading articles, stories and diary entries from World War II.
A CHAMELEON OF SORTS
According to historians, the U.S. Army Chaplains Corps became active on July 29, 1775 during the American Revolutionary War. Chaplains were engaged in major U.S. wars and often went to the frontline to help their Soldiers. In 1909, General Order No. 253 established the position of an enlisted Soldier to assist the chaplain with performing their official duties.
In the "Military Chaplains' Review," published in 1988, the author states that the ideal chaplain assistant was a "clerk-typist, preferably with musical training." However, the chaplain assistant was considered "a chameleon of sorts" as their jobs changed according to the needs of the chaplains and the men they served.
As the Benelux RSO Soldiers stood at the cemetery, Porter facilitated a discussion by asking his Soldiers to put themselves in the boots of those who served in World War II. He encouraged Soldiers to think about the duties then in comparison to their current duties.
"Even though people were unaware of the duties of a chaplain assistant, the work of the chaplain assistant was needed and valued in those times just as it is today," said Army Staff Sgt. Teshae McCullough, religious affairs NCO at AFNorth Battalion.
The Soldiers spoke about the various duties such as chaplain assistants writing letters expressing condolences to Soldiers' families to assisting medics on the frontline during World War II. The Benelux RSO Soldiers also thought about the challenges that Soldiers faced in the war. They reflected on how Soldiers saw their fellow men die in battle and sometimes had the arduous duty of burying them.
Over the years, the military occupational specialty evolved from chaplain assistant to religious affairs specialist. Despite the name change, the role of providing moral support remains the same.
"They found themselves trying to comfort Soldiers as they prepare for their next mission and face the unknown. Today, we continue using the same skills and grew stronger as a corps," said Army Sgt. Samcess Fofanah, religious affairs NCO in Schinnen, The Netherlands.
A SENSE OF DUTY
Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial is one of the three cemeteries in Belgium administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. It covers 57 acres and rest 7,987 burials, most of whom lost their lives during the advance of U.S. Armed Forces into Germany, according to the cemetery's official website.
Among the burials are three Army chaplains: Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Thomas Hampton Reagan, Chaplain (Capt.) Clyde Kimball and Chaplain (1st Lt.) Clarence Vincent.
As the temperature reached a record high in the country, the RSO Soldiers were not deterred by the heat. They walked to each grave and paid their respects to the chaplains who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and freedom.
"I wanted our group to know that Soldiers and families we serve have very high expectations of them because of the amazing work done by chaplains and chaplains assistants in previous conflicts," said Porter.
In addition to visiting the cemetery, the RSO Soldiers and their families visited the Remember Museum 39-45 in Thimister-Clermont, Belgium. At the museum, Marcel and Mathilde Schmetz, the museum owners, provided them a tour of the renovated barn on the Schmetz family's farm that the First Infantry Division Soldiers occupied for "R&R" during World War II.
"Knowing our history reinforces our commitment and our sense of duty," Porter concluded.