Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn (1910-1995), assigned to the Fifth Marine
Division, was the first Jewish chaplain the Marine Corps ever appointed. The American
invading force at Iwo Jima included approximately 1,500 Jewish Marines. Rabbi
Gittelsohn was in the thick of the fray, ministering to Marines of all faiths
in the combat zone. He shared the fear, horror and despair of the fighting
men, each of whom knew that each day might be his last. Roland Gittelsohn's
tireless efforts to comfort the wounded and encourage the fearful won him three
When the fighting was over, Division Chaplain Warren Cuthriell, a Protestant
minister, asked Rabbi Gittelsohn to deliver the memorial sermon at a combined
religious service dedicating the Marine Cemetery. Cuthriell wanted all the
fallen Marines - black and white, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish - honored in a
single, nondenominational ceremony. Unfortunately, racial and religious
prejudice was strong in the Marine Corps, as it was then throughout America.
According to Rabbi Gittelsohn, the majority of Christian chaplains objected to having
a rabbi preach over predominantly Christian graves. The Catholic chaplains,
in keeping with church doctrine, opposed any form of joint religious service.
To his credit, Cuthriell refused to alter his plans. Gittelsohn, on the other
hand, wanted to save his friend Cuthriell further embarrassment and so
decided it was best not to deliver his sermon. Instead, three separate religious
services were held. At the Jewish service, to a congregation of 70 or so who
attended, Rabbi Gittelsohn delivered the powerful eulogy he originally wrote for
the combined service:
Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago
helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because
they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed
shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor . . .
together. Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews together. Here no man prefers
another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there
are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among
these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the
highest and purest democracy …
Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks
himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this
ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To
this, then, as our solemn duty, sacred duty do we the living now dedicate
ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of white men and Negroes
alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price …
We here solemnly swear that this shall not be in vain. Out of this and
from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this will come, we promise, the
birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.
Among Gittelsohn's listeners were three Protestant chaplains so incensed by
the prejudice voiced by their colleagues that they boycotted their own service
to attend Gittelsohn's. One of them borrowed the manuscript and, unknown to
Gittelsohn, circulated several thousand copies to his regiment. Some Marines
enclosed the copies in letters to their families. An avalanche of coverage
resulted. Time magazine published excerpts, which wire services spread even further.
The entire sermon was inserted into the Congressional Record, the Army
released the eulogy for short-wave broadcast to American troops throughout the world
and radio commentator Robert St. John read it on his program and on many
succeeding Memorial Days.
In 1995, in his last major public appearance before his death, Gittelsohn
re-read a portion of the eulogy at the fiftieth commemoration ceremony at the Iwo
Jima statue in Washington, D.C. In his autobiography, Gittelsohn reflected,
"I have often wondered whether anyone would ever have heard of my Iwo Jima
sermon had it not been for the bigoted attempt to ban it."
The above was written by Michael Feldberg, the director of the American
Jewish Historical Society and appeared on www.jewishworldreview.com in February
Walter Greenspan, SP/4
Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army Reserve
Saturday, November 12, 2005
It Came from the EMail BOX
I made 11-11 a celebration for the death of terrorists... but this belated Veterans day email made me feel it needed to be posted.