Rest__Religion


 


Rest!



At Home Or in Germany

in garrison and in the field, the men
of the 304th Infantry have been people
as well as soldiers, and no story of
the regiment could be complete which
ignores this non-military part of their lives.
Encouraged by the leadership of the regiment
they have been able to lead a full life
religiously, socially and personally, creating
for themselves the essence of home wherever
they have gone. The following pages, in a
bird's-eye view, are a resume of the activities
which reflect this facet of the regiment's story.

 


Religion


In the march from McCoy to the Zwickauer Mulde the 304th soldier has worshipped on the decks of ships, on snow-covered fields, in haymows, schoolhouses, farm-yards and cowbarns, in beer halls and night clubs, in railroad stations and aid stations, in theatres and in factories.  All these, together with some of the oldest and most beautiful cathedrals in Europe, have been the churches, the sanctuaries for the regiment in combat.  The bare listing of them, such as above, is no adequate catalog of the "field expedients" into which the Chaplains were forced, not once but time and over again.  It is, however, the best possible illustration of what was, in battle, the very real urgency of worship for the fighting man!  The true record of that urgency exists only in the memories of the Chaplains who served this regiment and who will never forget the sights which they beheld, again and again, of men unshaven and unshorn for days at a time, dirty, bloody and battle-stained, stopping for long enough, wherever and whenever they could, to free their hearts from the ugly blot of war by a moment of communion with their Creator.
     The religious life of the regiment is not something which can be reduced on paper to catch phrase or cold fact.  It is embodied in the traditional faith which a man carries with him in the change from a civilian to a military existence.  In battle it is also--and far, far more so--the one great source of inspiration and moral fortitude; it is the foundation stone of that intangible which is known in the vernacular as "guts"; it is the recognition of individual human worth in an atmosphere which totally genies that worth.  The interpreters (or, rather the elicitors) of this life have been the regimental Chaplains.  Though they represented different faiths, Chaplain Kolenda as a Catholic priest and Chaplains Lynn and Wenger as Protestant ministers have worked together harmoniously towards a common goal.  The stories of their missions are therefore treated here as one.
     As the regiment came closer and closer to the front lines it was inevitable that there should be a growing awareness of the overweening need for spiritual guidance in moments such as those which lay ahead.  As evidence of this axiom, during the last weeks and the last days at Camp McCoy, during the processing at the P.O.E., and far more noticeably (perhaps because of the constricted quarters) on the troopship, more and more men attended all the services of all denominations.  The Chaplains, during this period, literally could be said to have had no idle moments--apart from those few hours which they were able to devote to sleep.  Men were coming to them in what seemed to be droves for the solution of all types of problems, both material and spiritual.  It could also truly be called remarkable how often these material problems seemed to serve only as a mask, as a pretext for the deeper, underlying troubles of the mind and of the soul.
     When finally the regiment went into battle, the Chaplains were with their men ready to aid them as friends, to comfort them as pastors.  The white-crossed jeeps could be seen daily, up where the 88s and the screaming meemies were falling.  They roved from one forward position to another.  They parked outside of the collecting stations and the battalion aid stations.




Chaplain Herman Kolenda and T/5 Fred Krause

Here it was their experience, day in and day out, to meet the wounded and the dying as they came to the operation litters for surgery.  So frequently that it was for all practical purposes a daily occurrence, they divided their efforts between being medical aid-men and ministers of God, administering plasma in almost equal quantities with spiritual comfort.  More than once the Chaplains and their assistants served as litter-bearers when the aid stations were short-handed.  Father Kolenda, who cared for all Catholics in the regiment, saw more than five hundred men within the space of three days during the time when casualties were the heaviest. 


Often, he was glimpsed by many, giving Holy Communion to a group of soldiers kneeling by a muddy roadside. Chaplains Lynn and Wenger made religious contacts with many small groups up front, when regular worship services were unfeasible.
     And the Chaplains to the last man were unanimous in acclaiming the nerve and the loyalty of their assistants, T/4 Frank Knapp, T/5 Leroy Taylor and T/5 Fred Krause, who accompanied them without exception on every one of these missions no matter how dangerous they might have been.  With the end of the war in Germany the Chaplains could again schedule regular Masses and services.  Displaced persons by the thousand were being encountered.  And, being ministers of God, their duty was to all nations and to all peoples.  To Father Kolenda, in particular, there now came a peculiarly happy opportunity to minister to large numbers of Catholic French, Belgian, Hungarian and Polish people whose language he himself talked.  AMG itself more frequently than not had recourse to the Chaplains in sifting many of these D. P. problems to the bottom.
     As the war ended all the Chaplains and all the men were able to agree with the words written by Chaplain Wenger
     "Our soldiers have made the same discovery which others have made in the past.  God is found not only in the cathedrals and temples, but is present wherever men seek Him.  They have found that of which the Psalmist David spoke when he said 'Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me and Thy right hand shall hold me."'




Chaplain Edmund Lynn; Chaplain Arthur Wenger;
T/4 Frank Knapp, Jr.; T/5 Leroy Taylor


 


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