Father Meany and the Fighting 69th

Formed in 1851, the 69th New York served during the Civil War as part of the Irish Brigade.  The 69th earned its “fighting” sobriquet, according to legend, when General Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg, told that the 69th had made a gallant assault against the Confederate lines, and recalling the regiment from the Seven Days battles, stated “Ah yes.  That fighting 69th.”  Made up mostly of Irishmen during the Civil War,  the regimental battle cry was Faugh an Beallach,  Clear the Way.    The regimental motto was the traditional, and accurate, observation about the Irish:  “Gentle when stroked;  fierce when provoked”.


Back when the Jesuits were Jesuits during World War II, Father Thomas Meany served as one of their chaplains.  From an account written in 1961:

Father Stephen Meany landed with the 69th on Makin Island. Throughout the night on the Transport he heard the confessions of the men, and at 2 A.M. he celebrated Mass. Father Meany hit the beach at 0800 and six hours later he was struck by a snipers bullet while going to the aid of a wounded soldier. Father Meany was one of a Brooklyn family of ten. He worked his way through Fordham University before he joined the Society of Jesus. His inspiration for joining the Society was the life of Father William Doyle, the Jesuit Chaplain of an Irish Regiment in the British Army during the First War.

Gerard F. Giblin, S.J.

For the first nine months of the year 1940 Father Stephen J. Meany, two years out of tertianship, was business manager of America , which at that time had a circulation of 30,000. In addition to supervising the circulation, advertising and promotion of the magazine, Father Meany had the same work to do for the bi-monthly Catholic Mind, and the quarterly Thought. At the beginning of October a letter went around from the Maryland-New York Provincial asking priests to volunteer for the Chaplain Corps. Father Meany responded and the Provincial sent him to General Mundy of the New York National Guard who in turn directed him to the 102nd Quartermaster Regiment, Marcy Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Colonel Foster Hetzel, regimental commander looked the volunteer over. “I am not a Catholic; but I had a great Catholic chaplain in World War I, Father Thomas McKenna; so I want a Catholic chaplain now.” Colonel Hetzel approved the request for a commission. But on October 15, 1940, Father Meany found himself not only a member of the New York National Guard, but of the United States Army as well, for on that date the unit was federalized. Father William J. Walter, S.J., was commissioned on the same day. These two priests became the first two Jesuits from the Maryland-New York Province to report as chaplains in the prelude days of World War 11. With the 102nd Regiment Father Meany moved to Fort McClellan, Alabama, and from there to Hawaii in April 1942. From that time until July 1943 he spent his time first with the 165th Infantry Regiment and then with Headquarters, 40th Division. The soldiers of the 27th and 40th Divisions were scattered about the Hawaiian Islands, guarding the shores against possible Japanese invasion. In the early days of 1942 such a threat could easily have materialized, but then came the Battle of Midway in June and any hope that the Japanese might have had of wresting control of Hawaii from American hands vanished. Still the Army had to be on guard against sabotage units landed by submarine. Father Meany was kept busy with the routine duties of the priesthood. Due to the shortage of adequate facilities, Mass was frequently offered in the most unlikely surroundings. On one typical Sunday Father Meany routed a group of players from a pool table to offer Mass there; from the pool hall he moved on a to a mess tent where he offered Mass on a table while the rain thumped on the canvas overhead. On another occasion he celebrated in a gymnasium right under the basketball hoop which some aesthetic soul had filled with a bouquet of flowers. And when Mass for Catholics was over, Father Meany would assist Protestants without a chaplain in organizing their prayer services. He travelled light: two foot lockers, one Mass kit, one field desk, one typewriter and a bed roll, all tossed in the back seat of a jeep and Father Meany was ready to go wherever the army assigned him. With the 69th On July 1, 1943 Father Meany was attached permanently to the 165th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division. Its former chaplain, Father Joseph Egan had been reassigned as a secretary to the office of the Military Ordinariate in New York. The 165th Infantry was the official Army designation for a regiment better known under its New York Guard title: The Fighting 69th. Its exploits in World War I were legend. It had sustained 3,500 casualties (from its authorized war strength of 3,500), been in contact with the enemy for 180 days, and added nine new furls to its regimental flag staff, each one signifying a major combat encounter with the enemy. Its history stretched back through battles at Petersburg, Gettysburg, Antietam to the distant days of the Revolution. And if the 69th was a combat regiment, it was also an Irish regiment. Its regimental commander, its battalion and company commanders, were almost to a man of Irish extraction. They were Irish all the way down to their divisional shoulder patch which was itself a horrendous Irish pun: it bore the stars of the constellation Orion which proved, said the men of the 69th, that at least one Irishman had gotten to heaven. 1 Being Irish, the regiment was also Catholic, and bestowed especial reverence on its chaplains. In World War I the most famous of these was Father Francis P. Duffy, who won four combat decorations during the war, including the Distinguished Service Cross. When Father Meany was appointed as the 69th’s regimental chaplain, he was not the first Jesuit who served with this unit. Back in the days of the Civil War Father Thomas Ouellet, S.J., served with the 69th as chaplain from 1862-1864. In World War I Father Eugene Kenedy of the Maryland-New York Province served with the regiment for a short time while it was stationed at Baccarat, France. Lieutenant Colonel Gerard Kelley, the regiment’s executive officer, summed up the 69th’s attitude toward its chaplains:

‘Traditionally the chaplains of this regiment are held in very high esteem by the officers and men. The chaplain’s influence can be such as to become a vital factor in the maintenance of a high esprit de corps.” Father Meany joined the 69th as regimental chaplain with the rank of Captain. Under his direction were two assistant regimental chaplains: Father Anthony G. McCabe, a young Dominican from St. Vincent Ferrer parish in Manhattan, and a Protestant chaplain. Toward the close of the year 1943, the American and Japanese forces in the mid-Pacific area were poised facing one another. The Battle of Midway had tipped to even the scales which had up to that time inclined heavily in favor of the Japanese. Now the Americans were on the move westward. The Navy chose the Central Pacific for its field of battle, withdrawing its strength from the tightly grouped Solomon Islands to the wide maneuvering spaces west of Hawaii where the fast carrier forces could have free scope. Admiral Nimitz in charge of naval policy unrolled his chart and pointed a finger at a group of Islands to the southwest of the Hawaiian Islands, the Gilberts, and in particular to two atolls: Makin and Tarawa. As the 165th trained vigorously for its forthcoming assignment, its chaplain trained with them. He marched with full pack, climbed down cargo nets from the side of parent transports into tiny landing craft bobbing in the waves, scrambled up the fine sand of pretended landing beaches and threw himself prone to avoid simulated machine gun fire. During the night of October 31, 1943 the regiment had its dress performance. It staged a practice assault on the island of Maui. The next landing would be the real thing. Advance to Makin On the afternoon of November 10th the Makin assault force left Pearl Harbor. In the convoy were four battleships, three escort carriers, and a screen of smaller ships. There were also six troop transports, including U.S.S. Calvert , with Father Meany aboard; U.S.C.G. Neville with Father McCabe and the 2nd Battalion; and U.S.S. Leonard Wood, a ship which Father Meany would come to know later.

As the voyage progressed the troops learned for the first time where they were headed. On tables were large mock-up maps of Butaritari Island, Makin Atoll. To the officers gathered around the table as the lecture proceeded, the island appeared like the Tof a T-bone steak. The cross bar was on the western section of the island and ran north-south; the stem of the T ran east-west. From aerial photographs and pictures taken through the periscope of the submarine Nautilus, the Army was able to piece together a good picture of the defences of Butaritari and these were indicated in full detail on the map. Near the center of the long stem of the island were two jagged scars about 1500 yards apart. Between these scars, which were actually tank traps five feet deep and fifteen feet wide, were concentrated most of the enemy’s defences. The Army plan of attack was simple. Two battalions, Ist and 3rd (the ones that Father Meany took care of) were to land on the cross bar of the T. This beachhead received the code name Red Beach. The idea was to lure the Japanese out of their defensive positions. Then a second landing, designated Yellow Beach, was to take place between the tank traps with the hope of catching the enemy in the rear as he was advancing to attack the Americans on Red Beach. Many of the American officers shook their heads, indicating that they thought the plan would not work out so simply as that. Lieutenant Seizo Ishikawa was to prove these skeptics correct. With less than 800 men at his disposal he refused to be lured out of his defensive positions. He denied the control of the island to the Americans for three days until the last of his positions fell to the 6000 man assault force. On the evening of November 19 the men aboard the Calvert made some pretense of sleeping. At two o’clock Father Meany turned out of his bunk, went topside and vested for Mass. At 2:30 he said Mass for the 400 Catholics aboard the transport and gave general absolution. Lieutenant Colonel Kelley exhorted the men of his Ist Battalion in a written message: “I have seen you attending Mass and Protestant services in ever increasing numbers. I feel optimistic that God in his kindness will look favorably upon us. lam very proud to command you.” The men, who in their young lives had known the tension only of examinations and close basketball games, now looked out at the low lying shadow that was Makin Atoll and fervently hoped that they would live up to their commander’s expectations. Just before dawn on November 20 the American transports arrived in their assigned areas off Butaritari, about five to seven thousand yards from the western end of the island. Scout planes were launched from the catapults of the battleships and cruisers. At six o’clock Leonard Wood began lowering her LCVP’s with the combat troops already in them. The sun rose at six-thirty and a few minutes later the guns of the battleships, cruisers and destroyers raked the island. The enemy made no response. Father Meany watched the initial stages of the bombardment in company with Harold Smith, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. The priest was dressed as the other soldiers, no insignia of rank or cross of chaplain showing. If these insignia were visible to identify him to his own men, they would also identify him to the enemy and draw fire. Unlike the other soldiers he had no weapon. Inside his shirt in a watch case hanging from a cord about his neck, Father Meany carried the sacred oil to be used in administering Extreme Unction. With his assistant, Corporal Thomas Ward, Father Meany stepped into the LCVP that was swinging in the davits on the side of the ship. The boat was lowered into the water. The LCVP circled beside her parent ship as the bombardment of the shore increased in tempo. A slight rain started; the cloud passed overhead and was gone. A gentle ground swell rocked the boat. Abruptly the bombardment ceased; the LCVP’s ended their continuous circling and lanes of foam feathered out behind them as they headed in straight lines for the beach. It was a deliberate, measured procession, for the landing boats with their blunt bows were not capable of motor boat speeds. Still there was no responding fire from the beaches. It was almost like the practice landing on Maui all over again, except that all were aware that behind the line of palm trees in the distance were desperate men intent on killing the invaders before they themselves died.

The Landing At 8:31 the first landing boat touched the shore and dropped its ramp. The rest of the LCVP’s followed; Ist Battalion to the north on Red Beach One; 3rd Battalion to the south on Red Beach Two. Quickly the Americans fanned out and enveloped the bar of the T. There was a sniper’s shot here and there, but it was evident that the plan to lure the Japanese from their entrenchments was not going to succeed. Nobody had really expected that it would, but it had been worth the try. As it was, the Americans gained a beachhead on the enemy-held island with practically no casualties. Down the center of the T-stem of the island there was a coral-topped road that ran the length of the island until it reached the village of Tanimaiaki on the eastern end. Along the axis of this road the American forces cautiously advanced. By 11:00 A.M. they had established a line one thousand yards from the beach. Father Meany’s LCVP headed in toward shore with the fifth wave. It grounded on a coral head for a minute. The coxwain gently backed the boat off, made a turn to avoid the obstacle and continued on his way. Down at Tarawa Atoll on this very morning the Marines too were running into reefs, but here the coral growth was more extensive and the unfortunate landing craft hung there while enemy rifle and machine gun fire cut to pieces the young marines huddled inside them. At 9:00 the LCVP carrying Father Meany grounded completely a few yards from the shore. The priest and his assistant jumped off and waded through the surf to the beach. As soon as he made the shore, Father Meany set out in search of casualties. He found none on Red Beach One. So he walked south to Red Beach Two where he found a young soldier dead under a palm tree. The dog tag indicated that the boy was a non-Catholic. The priest said a prayer over his body instead of anointing him. There were no other calls for Father Meany’s services. He saw to it that his mass kit was properly stowed, and with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hart, commander of the 3rd Battalion, he started down the coral road toward the American lines. The Colonel left him as he reached his own command post and the priest continued the journey alone.

On either side of the road there were tall, curving palm trees with their pinwheel of fronds at the top. Early in the landing the Americans found that the Japanese were utilizing the tree tops for snipers’ nests. Thereafter, whenever a tree looked suspicious, it came in for a large share of rifle fire. A few Japanese and several thousand coconuts were killed off in the process. The road ran past small lakes, code-named for identification purposes Rita and Jill. Beyond these lakes Father Meany met a young soldier who cautioned him against booby traps. To illustrate his point he showed a Luger pistol that lay innocently on a coconut palm. But a telltale string running from beneath the palm leaf indicated that the weapon was connected with an explosive charge. A short way beyond this point Father Meany met the captain of Company C, the unit which formed the left wing of the advancing American forces. He and the captain went over to the beach where they could see the American landing craft which were supporting Yellow Beach. As they watched the Yellow Beach operation, a Japanese machine gun down the beach opened fire. The priest and the captain fell to the ground as the machine gun bullets kicked up the sand near them. Neither was hie. Destroyers MacDonough and Phelps closed in to engage the enemy position and the Japanese fire was distracted from the tv/o Americans on the beach. Now that Yellow Beach had been established the American plan called for the Red Beach force to assault the Japanese tank trap from the front while the Yellow Beach force hit it from the rear. Accordingly the Red Beach units, Company C with them, began to move up into position for the attack. As Father Meany moved up toward the front lines he came upon Lieutenant Colonel Kelley. The officer was calmly eating lunch with his jeep driver. Father Meany joined him and they in turn were joined by Colonel Gardiner Conroy, the commanding officer of the 165th. They gathered around a radio that was reporting the Yellow Beach landing. The Americans on Yellow Beach seemed to be taking their objectives without excessive opposition. At 2:10 Company C began its attack on the western tank barrier. Opposition was relatively light at first. A few yards in front of Father Meany, Lieutenant Daniel Nunnery killed a Japanese soldier hiding in a foxhole. Father Meany moved up and saw his first dead Japanese, a soldier shot three times through the head. A few minutes later Lieutenant Nunnery was dead himself, killed by an enemy sniper. The enemy fire began to get heavy. “Better get down, bud,” an officer called to the chaplain. Father Meany dropped to the ground beside an officer in Marine Corps uniform. The officer was Lieutenant Colonel James Roosevelt who had accompanied an early raiding party on Makin. He was along now as an advisor. Thus Father Meany got an informal introduction to the President’s son. A short way up the coral road in front of the place where Father Meany was taking cover was a sharp bend. This curve was skillfully covered by an enemy Lewis machine gun which was concealed in a natural dip in the ground. Scattered in and about the weapon as support were fifteen Japanese riflemen. In front of the machine gun position there was a clearing. The Japanese waited. An American infantryman, Private William C. Hiscock, appeared through the undergrowth. The enemy fired and Private Hiscock fell to the ground. The Japanese waited again. Someone called out that an American soldier had been hit. Father Meany went forward from his position of concealment. Perhaps he should have been more cautious. But a priest’s instincts are not those of an infantryman. He raced across the road and dropped beside the wounded boy. As he knelt there, cutting the shirt from the wound, Father Meany was hit by three trip hammer blows, one in the arm, one in the shoulder, one in the chest. The priest fell backward and lay still. The young private, however, though wounded through the arm, still had enough strength to crawl back to the American lines for help. As he made his way to the edge of the clearing, Father Meany, conscious, despite his wounds, rolled into a taro pit and waited. As he lay there he noticed a piece of bent metal on the ground beside him. It was the remains of a cruciform medal which had four images: the Sacred Heart at the top, the Immaculate Conception at the bottom, St. Christopher on the right arm of the cross, St. Joseph on the left. It had evidently absorbed the impact of a machine gun bullet. One of the dog tags about Father Meany’s neck was missing, perhaps driven by the force of a bullet into his chest. About 2:30 in the afternoon, not long after he was wounded, Father Meany saw four Sherman tanks trundle down the road past his position on their way toward the tank trap. He felt that rescue was close at hand. However, a few minutes later the tanks returned without firing a shot. Father Meany did not realize that in those few minutes Colonel Conroy had been killed and that the position of Company C had deteriorated. Death of Colonel Conroy The Americans up to this point in the battle had experienced a walk over against the enemy. Only slowly did Company C realize that it had struck a Japanese strong point. On the right flank Companies A and B surged forward and joined with the men from Yellow Beach, eliminating between their pincer movement all Japanese resistance. But, in front of the position where Father Meany lay, Company C found itself stymied. The four Sherman tanks that had appeared seemed at first a godsend. But there were complications. The tank commander refused to engage the enemy until he got orders from his superior officer, who was back on the beachhead. Colonel Conroy rose from his position of concealment to argue with the tank commander. A fellow soldier cautioned the Colonel down, but it was already too late. Colonel Conroy fell dead from a sniper’s bullet, the first regimental commander of the 69th to give his life in action. Command of the regiment devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Kelley. Colonel Kelley abandoned any idea of trying to persuade the tanks to join action. The ground was too cut up by the ship bombardment for them to maneuver. For the tanks to fire from the positions where they were would be to jeopardize the lives of friendly troops. So rescue for Father Meany had to wait. It was almost an hour after Father Meany was wounded that an attempt was made to help him. Private Berthiaume, of Troy, Vermont, was crawling cautiously through the under- \brush toward the Japanese gun position. Father Meany spotted him and called softly to him to get his attention. The young man was startled for a second, then recognized the priest, and crawled down into the taro pit. Private Berthiaume reached under the priest to get at the medical kit hooked to Father Meany’s belt. As the soldier tried to dress the wound in the priest’s chest, Father Meany himself with his wounded right arm injected a shot of morphine into the vein of his left forearm. The soldier worked over the priest for about twenty minutes. In that time he seemed to have forgotten the presence of the enemy. Automatically he straightened up after tending the priest’s wound. He groaned as a bullet hit him in the back. The soldier fell over, beginning an act of contrition in French. Another bullet hit the soldier’s back; a third pierced his head. Father Meany hurriedly said the words of absolution over the slumped form and administered Extreme Unction. He could see the large hole above the soldier’s eye where the final bullet had emerged. There was no doubt that Private Berthiaume was dead. Feeling that it might be just a matter of time before the Japanese would move up and get him, Father Meany took the cotton impregnated with consecrated oil from its watch case container and tossed it under nearby bushes to keep it from possible desecration. Within the American lines Lieutenant Warren T. Lindquist, leader of the reconaissance platoon, reported to Colonel Kelley and asked permission to attempt a rescue of Father Meany. Colonel Kelley had a difficult decision to make. Casualties in the immediate area had been heavy: Colonel Conroy, Lieutenant Nunnery, Private Berthiaume had been killed; others had been wounded. To attempt a rescue now would put more lives in jeopardy. “Either Father Meany is dead,” said the Colonel, “or will know how to take of himself for a while.” He instructed Lieutenant Lindquist to await the reduction of the pocket by Company C or the arrival of sunset, whichever came first. The sun would not set until 6:10 that evening, and Father Meany, under the arc of fire of the enemy’s automatic weapon, was effectively isolated from medical aid. All that he could do was to wait and pray. Overhead navy planes buzzed like lazy drones. In one of them was Jim Landry, later assistant coach at Fordham. In the distance the sound of enemy fire became fainter and fainter as position after position fell to the superior numbers of the American attacking forces. Over the horizon and out to sea U.S.S. Mississippi lowered her flag to half mast as the chaplain read burial services over fortythree flag draped litters. A single turret explosion had claimed almost as many lives at sea as the Japanese would exact at Makin. As soon as he judged that it was dark enough to move, Lieutenant Lindquist and four soldiers pushed off from the American lines towards Father Meany’s position. When they reached the priest they began to raise him, but, remembering the fate of Private Berthiaume, Father Meany cautioned them down. The soldiers took him under the arms and dragged him for about forty feet until Lieutenant Lindquist judged it was safe to stand. Father Meany with the help of two soldiers raised himself to his feet. The priest felt weak and dizzy. He coughed up blood from his pierced lung. Even with the enemy behind them, Father Meany and his rescuers were still in danger. The Americans had orders to shoot at anything that moved after dark. General Smith, the Marine Corps commander in the area, who visited Makin by night claimed that it was bullets fired by American infantrymen that came closer to ending his life than any gun fire of the enemy. Cautiously the rescue party made its way to the aid station. Two doctors in the Ist Battalion aid station operated on Father Meany for an hour, cutting out the bullets, disinfecting the wounds, giving plasma to replace all the blood Father Meany had lost. After the operation was completed, the priest was placed on a stretcher and slept the night between Dr. Peter Bonanno, of Teaneck, N. J., and Lieutenant Lindquist. During the night two Japanese, determined to take a few American lives before they were killed, infiltrated the American area. Father Meany woke to hear the shot that killed one and caused the capture of the other. The priest’s rest was further disturbed by delirium. He became convinced that the Japanese were making a suicide charge of the type that they had made recently on Attn in the Aleutians. He shouted warnings to his friends. The doctor and Lieutenant Lindquist gently quieted the wounded man. At dawn Father Meany was given a further transfusion. Then in a special medical jeep, with racks to accommodate a stretcher, he was transported toward the beachhead. With him were his aide, Corporal Ward, and the Japanese prisoner captured during the night. As the jeep travelled down the coral road bullets came whizzing over them from positions inland. Perhaps the Japanese had infiltrated during the night, or perhaps it was some skittish American. However the jeep reached the beach without being hit. While at the aid station on the beach, Father Meany was visited by Father John Byrne, another chaplain of the 27th Division, and for the first time in two weeks had a chance to go to confession. Then the wounded chaplain was placed in an LCVP which ferried him out to the transport Leonard Wood. A short time afterwards Father Meany was again on the operating table in order that the doctors might make a full assessment of his wounds. The report read: “Suffered wounds of the right shoulder, right anterior chest, and right elbow causing compound fracture of the tip of the epicondyle of the right humerus and partial paralysis of the right ulnar nerve.” “Makin Taken” During the three days that Father Meany was aboard Leonard Wood the battle for Makin was fought and won by the American forces. By 10:30 on the night of November 23 the troops had reached the eastern tip of Butaritari and General Smith, commanding the 27th Division, was able to send the jingling signal to the task force commander: “Makin taken.” The cost, measured by the yardstick of Tarawa and subsequent island assaults, was not excessive: 66 killed and 152 wounded in action. To Father McCabe fell the task of reading requiem over many of the dead. With a purple stole about his neck the priest stood over the bodies wrapped in white woolen blankets captured from the Japanese. It was a tableau reminiscent of earlier days in the 69th’s battle history, one seen by Sergeant Joyce Kilmer in a wood he called the Rouge Bouquet: There lie many fighting men, Dead in their youthful prime, Never to laugh nor love again Nor taste the summertime. Out to sea the Japanese got in one Parthian shot that did fearful damage. Submarine 1-175 closed in undetected on escort carrier Liscombe Bay. A single torpedo turned the ship, loaded as it was with aviation gasoline, into a flaming torch. 642 Americans died almost instantly. The Japanese had wrested almost mathematically a life for a life in exchange for the strip of coral and sand that was Butaritari. As Leonard Wood began to reembark combat troops, garrison troops went in to take over the island. The transport’s progress back to Pearl Harbor would be too slow for many of the wounded. A Catalina flying boat landed by Leonard Wood, took off Father Meany and some others. Father Meany was flown south, to Funafuti in the Ellice Islands. There he rested for twenty-four hours. Again he was put on a hospital plane which headed for Honolulu. Enroute the plane landed at Canton Island. Father Meany’s stretcher was brought out under the wing of the plane and the local general pinned on him the Purple Heart, a decoration for wounds. The general had difficulty finding a spot to pin the medal. Father Meany was dressed informally in shorts, bandages and the one dog tag that remained to him. One of Father Meany’s first thoughts on reaching Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, was to write to his mother. His letter arrived December 2 to dispell the fears which were born November 30 when his mother received a telegram from the War Department regretting to inform her that her son “Chaplain Captain Stephen J. Meany was on 20 November wounded in action.” While at North Sector General Hospital, Father Meany was awarded the Silver Star medal by General Odgen Ross. The award was made at the instigation of Colonel Kelley who testified to the chaplain’s courage and disregard for his own safety in attempting to rescue Private Hiscock.

Father Meany was flown next to Letterman General Hospital, San Francisco, and arrived on December 21; then to O’Reilly General Hospital, Springfield, Missouri, where he arrived January 7, 1944. At O’Reilly the cast which had been put on Father Meany’s arm in Hawaii was removed and the doctors noted with satisfaction that the wounds were healing properly. On January 25 he was transferred to Tilton General Hospital, Fort Dix, N.J., where on March 2 he underwent an operation for the restoration of power to the ulnar nerve. Father Meany returned to New York City a decorated hero. He was asked to be grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It poured rain that day, but it takes more than rain to dampen the spirits of Irishmen on St. Patrick’s Day. At the steps of the cathedral Father Meany knelt to kiss the ring of Bishop Mclntyre; then led the parade to 110th Street where he reviewed each unit before it was dismissed. In the Pacific the 165th missed its former chaplain. Gerard Kelley, now promoted to Colonel and confirmed in his succession to the command of the regiment, wrote to the office of Chief of Chaplains; “The history of this regiment is replete with references to Father Francis P. Duffy, the chaplain of World War I. His influence is legend. To fulfill adequately the standard established by him is difficult. Father Meany, by his spiritual guidance and heroic conduct, has approached closely the requirements of this standard. The men of this organization consider Father Meany a vital part of this regiment.” The request was seconded by the divisional commander who endorsed the request with the words, “I concur entirely.” The final answer however was not up to the office of Chief of Chaplains. Father Meany appeared before a medical board which decided that though his wounds had healed sufficiently to be discharged from the hospital, he was not yet fit for general duty. One of Father Meany’s first visits when he was free to leave the hospital was to Troy, Vermont, to visit Mrs. Azarias Berthiaume and say Mass in the parish church for her son who gave his life trying to save that of a priest. In May Father Meany was assigned to Harvard Chaplain School. Since Father Meany had joined the Army before the course had been set up, the Army decided it was now time to round out the chaplain’s education. So, while the 165th was preparing for its bloody assault on Saipan, Father Meany spent four weeks “learning how to be a chaplain.” At the completion of the Harvard course Father Meany was assigned to duty at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He was there until August 23 when he was transferred to the Army post at Ashville, North Carolina, which was under the direction of the Fourth Service Command. Father Meany spent the rest of World War II there in the less glamorous but essential occupation of ministering to army personnel returned from overseas duty. On February 21, 1946 Father Meany was relieved of duty and given a terminal leave promotion to major. For injuries resulting from his wounds he received a 50% disability pension. Father Meany remained in the army reserve and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on April 29, 1958. Reaching the maximum age in grade he was placed automatically in the retired reserve on July 15, 1959. Thus ended his nineteen year connection with the Army which had begun in those distant pre-war days of 1940. But attachments with the men of the 69th were not severed. Each year its alumni have a reunion about the anniversary of the Makin invasion. Gerard Kelley, who led the regiment on Saipan and later on Okinawa, is now a retired Brigadier General. Warren T. Lindquist, a Protestant, was not converted by his association with the chaplain. But he married Muriel McMahon, has ten children, and says he is “living up to his wife’s Catholic religion.” Father Meany is at present director of the Downtown Division of Fordham University. The old soldiers reminisce of days at McClellan, marches on Oahu, sea exercises off Maui. And not infrequently they recall that bright November morning when the young coxwains revved up the idling engines and turned the prows of the LCVP’s towards Butaritari as the men of the 165th went ashore to win the sixtieth battle furl for their proud regimental flag.

Author’s note: In addition to Father Meany himself who cooperated fully in the preparation of this article, I would like to thank Msgr. William J. Moran (Brigadier General, Deputy Chief of Chaplains, USA) for allowing me the use of pertinent records on Father Meany’s military career, and Mr. Burton Proctor, S.J., who drew the map of Makin. Additional sources for the work: Father Meany and the Fighting 69th, Burris Jenkins (Frederick Fell, 1944), originally a series of five newspaper articles for the New York Journal American; Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, Philip A. Growl and Edmund G. Love, (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955) which gives, in addition to an excellent background of the Makin invasion, an account of Father Meany’s exploit (pp. 96-97); and U.S. Naval Operations in World War II (Vol. VII), by Samuel E. Morison (Little, Brown, 1951).

1 The actual aim of the insignia was to honor Major General John O’Ryan who commanded the 27th Division in World War I.






Go here for a comic book rendition of the exploits of Father Meany.  He passed away on September 6, 1976.  Father Giblin who wrote the above died on December 31, 1995.


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