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Chaplain's Corner

Posted 7/17/2013   Updated 8/8/2013 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kenneth Reyes
JBER Chaplain


The "Chaplain's Corner" offers perspectives to enhance spiritual/religious resiliency in support of Air Force and Army Comprehensive Fitness programs.

Comments regarding specific beliefs, practices, or behaviors are strictly those of the author and do not convey  endorsement by the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the Army, the Air Force, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the 673d Air Base Wing.

'No atheists in foxholes': Chaplains gave all in World War II.

Many have heard the familiar phrase, "There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole."
Where did this come from?

Research I verified in an interview with former World War II prisoner of war Roy Bodine (my friend) indicates the phrase has been credited to Father William Cummings.

As the story goes, Father Cummings was a civilian missionary Catholic priest in the Philippines.

The phrase was coined during the Japanese attack at Corregidor.

During the siege, Cummings had noticed non-Catholics were attending his services. Some he knew were not Catholic, some were not religious and some were even known atheists.

Life-and-death experiences prompt a reality check.

Even the strongest of beliefs can change, and, I may add, can go both ways - people can be drawn to or away from "faith."

With the pending surrender of allied forces to the Japanese, Cummings uttered the famous phrase "There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole."

In one of my many discussions with Roy, he distinctly remembered a period on the "Hell Ships" - these were ships the Japanese used to bring POWs from the Philippines back to Japan.

They were unmarked and thus 'fair game' for attacks from the allies from the air and sea. Of the 3,000-plus POWs listed on the ships, only 180 survived the journey.

"When our own planes were attacking us," Roy said, "I remember Father Cummings calming us down by reciting the Lord's Prayer and offering up prayers on our behalf. For a brief moment I did not hear the yells and screams of dying men as our boat was attacked by our own men."

He went on to say, "There was a peaceful quiet during the attack that I cannot explain nor have experienced since."

Later on during the trip to Japan, Cummings, after giving his food to others who needed it more, succumbed to his own need and died of starvation. Everyone expresses some form of faith every day, whether it is religious or secular. Some express faith by believing when they get up in the morning they will arrive at work in one piece, thankful they have been given another opportunity to enjoy the majesty of the day; or express relief the doctor's results were negative.

The real question is, "Is it important to have faith in 'faith' itself or is it more important to ask, 'What is the object of my faith?'"

Roy never affirmed or expressed whether his faith was rooted in religion or not, but for a moment in time on the "Hell Ships," he believed in Cummings' faith.

What is the root or object of your faith?

Is it something you can count on in times of plenty or loss; peace or chaos; joy or sorrow; success or failure?

What is 'faith' to you?

3/21/2014 5:45:09 PM ET
During the siege Cummings had noticed non-Catholics were attending his services...I wonder why the title of the essay wasn't There are no non-Catholics in Foxholes
8/21/2013 3:30:49 PM ET
I am pleasantly pleased. I loved it when I first read it and shared it with many when it was published again. I think this was a blessing in disguise maybe. This article would not have been seen by so many if it had not drawn so much attention. So what may have felt like a burden has become a blessing. You have my support Chaplain Reyes. I am blessed to work with Chaplains who stand for what they believe in.
Cheryl, JBER Alaska
8/20/2013 9:01:03 AM ET
I'm an atheist and after reading this post I'm not sure what all the ruckus that saw this post taken down was about. I will go to the wire with someone who insists on imposing their religious ideology on public policy or laws that affect how others can live their lives but I will defend anyone's right to exercise their freedom to speak whether we disagree on the issue or not. If you don't love freedom of speech for everyone you don't love freedom of speech.
Chris, Valdosta GA
8/19/2013 11:46:30 PM ET
Thank you brother for your service to all our soldiers up here in Anchorage you are a blessed man of God. Chaplain Martin
Rev. Bob Martin, Anchorage AK United States
8/19/2013 3:48:58 PM ET
Thank you so very much for reposting this excellent inspiring article. If there are those in the military that do not approve of this post they do not have to read it. They do not even have to go to hear the chaplain preach. That is their right however chaplains have the right to post religious writings. To restrict this is absolutely contrary to religious rights and the right for free speech. Thanks again
Kevin Olivier, Pineville LA
8/19/2013 3:07:04 PM ET
What a great blog Keep it coming as God will prevail Blessings to you.
Kathy, DC
8/19/2013 2:17:13 AM ET
The freedom of speech and religion have been restored even if temporary. God is great
C. Pankratz, Soldotna
8/18/2013 2:59:46 PM ET
Thanks so much for re-posting this article. Enough of Political Correctness it has almost been the ruin of the nation but it will not Americans are waking up to the Truth that we still have a constitution and it will remain intact regardless of what those who are P.C. think
Marlena Gaspar, Connecticut
8/18/2013 11:15:03 AM ET
Doug EDGE, United States
8/17/2013 9:58:49 PM ET
Thanks for continuing the fight especially in the military. I am a Vietnam Vet. I am having major problems with them but have received some assistance from a senator. I have been told that va wants us to be politically correct. They frown on simple comments such as GOD bless you. My response to them is there is at least one person who will not be politically correct and due to the very small inconvenient thing called the first amendment protects my absolute right and GOD gave me the right not va or Obama or Holder. GOD rules forever
M Byrd, Tx
8/17/2013 9:58:43 PM ET
Praise GOD... He vindicates His Own and allows the Truth to be shown for what it is. Thanks for the article Chaplain Reyes To ACLJ for their determination to bring justice to people of Faith and for your honest comment Nick Montreal.
Ron Scarpa, Las Vegas NV
8/17/2013 8:49:58 PM ET
Chaplain Reyes My son is a Marine in Korea tonight and I thank God He has people who are salt and light right where they need to be--asking all the right questions.
E.Listro, Manchester CT
8/17/2013 4:30:59 PM ET
What is the first thing people do when confronted with a problem bad healthfinancial woes etc. call on God. But ignore Him on other times Thank God for the Chaplains our military needs them.
Catherine Phelps, Valliant Oklahoma
8/17/2013 3:29:03 PM ET
Praise Our Lord The Chaplains Corner is back in full swing.. and Thank God He Reigns
Arleen Tello, Upland CA
8/17/2013 10:44:41 AM ET
Chaplain ReyesMy father fought in WWII in the Pacific Theater. He had a life-affirming faith and he and my mother taught me this. Above all it's the love of God the Father through the presence of the Holy Spirit that calms us. Neither the love of the Father nor the presence of the Spirit would be available to us without the sacrifice of the Son. Like William Cummings He is the peace that passes understanding. This is true in the daily stresses of life as well as in the horror of war but too often we choose to comfort ourselves with inadequate pleasures that leave us wanting. Thanks so much for your blog and I'm happy to see it back.
Joe Biondo, Naperville IL
8/17/2013 9:38:27 AM ET
Truth will prevail
Paula, MO
8/16/2013 11:27:23 AM ET
Its the Chaplain's Corner for goodness sake What do non-believers expect chaplains to write about if not faith Non-believers who read obvious faith based articles and then complain about being offended are just plain old looking for something to complain and whine about. If you don't want to be offended don't read it. No one has any common sense anymore. We won't trample on your rights - don't trample on ours The Air Force got it right by republishing the article. More please
P Scott, Washington PA
8/15/2013 9:34:55 AM ET
I'm an atheist - not that this should matter on issues of free speech but alas - I'm very happy to see this perfectly reasonable historical account of a quote restored. If atheists take issue with your points they should write their own articles not try to censor yours. Simple.
Nick, Montreal
8/15/2013 8:40:02 AM ET
Glad to see this back up
ladybirdgrimes, US
8/15/2013 6:50:42 AM ET
Thank you for not succumbing to the pressure the few anonymous few who felt this article violates the separation of church and state rules. The 1st Amendment still applies to military personnel even within the military structure. Keep up the good fight.
H Moshier USAF MSgtRet, Cincinnati OH
8/14/2013 10:37:19 PM ET
I am very happy to see this content restored.
Brian Lettenmaier, Portland OR
8/13/2013 8:30:33 PM ET
Thanks to everyone who fought to bring back this article and to fight for our religious rights as Americans
S Latta, NC
8/9/2013 11:47:34 PM ET
Chaplain Reyes - Thank you for having the courage to share this perspective. I believe that determining the foundation of faith is the key to spiritual preparedness. Air Force - shame on you for espousing the need for spiritual preparedness while simultaneously cowering to excessive political correctness.
Lief Peterson, OCONUS
8/9/2013 8:05:37 PM ET
Faith to me is believing what God has promised. For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. 2nd Timothy 112
Cliff Ashbridge, Gainesville GA
8/8/2013 7:47:10 PM ET
Glad to see Chaplain's Corner is back as well as this message.
R. Jason Bartholow, JBER
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