There are few images that elicit a feeling of awe and respect as that of the combat chaplain on the battlefield. These spiritual leaders, armed only with faith, accompanied their troops into the field and endured the privations of camp and battlefield with the determination of the most hardened soldier.
The heroic picture of the World War 1 chaplain brings to mind the famous Father Francis Duffy of New York’s “Fightin’ 69th” along with others, such as Chaplain Coleman O’Flaherty or Chap-lain Julius J. Babst, both of whom earned the Distinguished Service Cross during the war. Combat chaplains demonstrated heroism and sacrifice on the battlefield that earned recognition and set an example for the soldiers who served with them on the frontlines.
When the United States entered WWI, there were only 74 chaplains serving in the regular army and another 72 serving in state National Guard units. Through the course of the war, the numbers increased considerably. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) added another 2,217 chaplains before the Armistice in 1918.
According to the US Army Chaplains Center & School at Fort Jackson, S.C., there were 23 chaplains who died in service during the war (11 of which were combat deaths). There were 27 chaplains who earned the Purple Heart during the war and the same number who earned the Distinguished Service Cross. A total of 18 chaplains earned the Silver Star.
Since the AEF was segregated by race during WWI, there were 57 African-American chaplains who accompanied the AEF to France. Jewish chaplains were not initially recognized by the military, but through the intercession of the Jewish Welfare Board, nearly 130 rabbis applied for service and, by the end of the war, 25 Jewish chaplains were serving the spiritual needs of Jewish fighting men.
American military chaplains wore standard officer’s uniforms. Initially, they were only eligible to be commissioned up to the rank of major. This was later changed as a result of federal legislation allowing commission up to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. This new policy went into effect in the spring of 1918.
Arguing that the rank was immaterial, Episcopal Bishop Henry Charles Brent of the AEF Headquarters wrote in the May 10, 1918, Stars & Stripes, “The army chaplain is simply a minister of religion performing his duties under military conditions. Though he may be considered a commissioned officer, his military rank is conferred merely as a means of fitting him to best advantage into the army system.”
In addition to commissioned military chaplains, there were also American Red Cross, Knights of Columbus and National Catholic War Council chaplains who served at the Front. Chaplains were allocated to specific military commands under a plan that was developed to meet wartime needs in January 1918. The organizational plan developed by AEF Headquarters provided a ratio of one chaplain to be assigned for every 1,200 soldiers.
FATHER LEMAY’S TUNIC
Like all American officers, chaplains were required to purchase their own uniforms. Chaplain Arthur A. LeMay’s tunic is an example of the high grade privately purchased and tailored tunic worn by American military officers during WWI. LeMay’s tunic was tailored to the Model 1917 standards.
The inside breast pocket bears a manufacturer’s label that reads, “Adler/Rochester.” Adler & Brothers was one of the premier clothing manufacturers in Rochester, N.Y. The company began operations in 1883 in a building located on clothiers row in Rochester, but moved to a new location when expanding markets required more factory space. The company maintained retail stores in Boston, Philadelphia and New York and was well regarded for their fine quality, and high priced, clothing.
During WWI, Adler & Brothers received a government contract to produce army overcoats. The Adler & Brothers label features a spread eagle motif that remained in use until the company closed its doors in 1952. The label was a play on the corporate name “Adler”— “eagle” in the German language.
The uniform coat has a brown cotton or muslin lining with white, pink and blue striped cotton fabric lining the sleeves. The tunic has five high grade bronzed officer’s army buttons that bear maker’s marks of “H.V. Allien/London” on the reverse.
According to records, H.V. Allien & Company maintained offices in New York and London an operated from 1877 to 1948. The uniform coat also features a high quality felt on felt black on red Seventh Division “hourglass” patch on the left shoulder sleeve and a matching pair of gold plate first lieutenant’s insignia in what is known as the “coffin design.”
There is a single gold service chevron denoting six months overseas service on the lower left sleeve and an unmounted red discharge chevron was found in the left breast pocket along with LeMay’s U.S. Victory Medal. The medal displays engagement bars for St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne and the Defensive Sector.
A Red Cross armband was pinned to the right sleeve of the tunic. Two “U.S.” bronzed insignia are pinned to the stand-up collar but the original chaplain’s cross insignia appear to have been removed. Vertical pin holes and the faint outline of the crosses are visible on the collar.
Chaplain LeMay’s overseas cap was French-made and lined in red silk. The interior bears the name: “Art LeMay.” While the usual black chaplain’s braid is not present, the cap features a embroidered silver cross that is sewn to the left front panel. There is evidence of a pinned insignia that predated the application of the embroidered cross. On the right side, a bronzed “U.S.” insignia that matches the design of the insignia on the tunic collar is pinned below a metal French numeral “7” that is engraved to appear embroidered. This numeral probably signified Father LeMay’s service with the headquarters of the Seventh Army Division.
SERVICE TO GOD AND COUNTRY
The Reverend Arthur A. LeMay served as an Assistant Pastor at St. Mary’s Parish from 1914 to 1917 and then again for a brief period in February 1921. During WWI, LeMay joined the United States Army and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant, Chaplain on February 6, 1918 ,and was assigned to the 148th Machine Gun Battalion. According to military records, he was recommended for the position by the Rev. Lewis J. O’Hern and Thomas F. Hickey, the Bishop of Rochester.
LeMay was born on December 7, 1887, in Watertown, New York, to Napoleon and Anna (McGoldrick) LeMay. His father was a native of Montreal, and his mother was born in Ireland. He was educated at St. Mary’s School in Rochester, Ovid High School in Ovid, New York, and St. Andrew’s College in Rochester (1902-1908).
He received his theological training at Rochester’s St. Bernard’s Seminary (1908-1914) and was ordained on June 6, 1914. Prior to his ordination, he played professional baseball in the Rochester area.
Just one week after he was commissioned in the Army, Rev. LeMay sailed for France. While enroute, he was injured and returned to the United States for hospitalization. After recovery, he was sent to France with the 64th Infantry Regiment of the Seventh Army Division. Chaplain LeMay took part in the battles of St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. In the latter battle, on November 7, 1918, LeMay was disabled by gas and hospitalized. He was awarded the Silver Star for “Gallantry in Action” and the Purple Heart, on account of his wounds.
LeMay is mentioned several times in the book, The Greater Love (1920) by Chaplain George T. McCarthy, who also served with the Seventh Division. It is apparent from the references that LeMay was well regarded as a combat chaplain by both Chaplain McCarthy and the soldiers of the Seventh Division.
LeMay was discharged on account of disability from the Army on April 19, 1919, while at the U.S. Military Hospital in Oswego, N.Y. He spent three years in Army hospitals because of the injuries he suffered in France. Finally, in 1922, he received the appointment of Catholic Chaplain, to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home at Bath, New York. That same year, LeMay was selected to serve as Chaplain to the New York Department of the American Legion and served in that capacity from 1923 to 1924. He was also Chaplain of the Disabled American Veterans for 17 years. He retired on June 30, 1953 after serving thirty-one years as Chaplain at the Bath Veterans Administration Center.
Rev. LeMay died on March 30, 1955. His obituary indicated that he was “a beloved priest of the Catholic Diocese of Rochester…and a spiritual advisor to countless thousands of veterans who had been patients at the Veterans Hospital or members of the Center, as well as a friend to many members of the Catholic faith and other religions.” He was buried in the family plot at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester.
Father LeMay was one of many dedicated men of the cloth who served in WWI. His courage on the battlefield set an example and provided comfort to the men under his charge. He was one of just eighteen chaplains who earned a Silver Star during the war. While identified chaplain’s uniforms are very rare today, Father LeMay’s tunic offers the opportunity to reflect on the career and legacy of this brave and decorated hero of World War 1.
*As an Amazon Associate, Military Trader / Military Vehicles earns from qualifying purchases.