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Sky Pilots

The Yankee Division Chaplains in World War I

Michael E. Shay

Publication Year: 2014

In August 1917, the U.S. 26th “Yankee” Division was formally activated for service in World War I. When the soldiers arrived in France, they were accompanied by more than three dozen volunteer chaplains. These clergymen experienced all the horrors of war, shared all the privations of the common soldier, and earned the love and affection of their “boys.” Two died, several were gassed or wounded, and many were decorated by France and the United States for their heroism, yet their stories have been lost to history. Through extensive research in published and archival sources, as well as firsthand materials obtained from the families of several chaplains, Michael E. Shay brings to life the story of these valiant men—a story of courage in the face of the horrors of war and of extreme devotion to the men they served.

Just as important, Sky Pilots follows the chaplains home and on to their subsequent careers. For many, their war experiences shaped their ministries, particularly in the area of ecumenism and the Social Gospel. Others left the ministry altogether. To fill in the chaplains’ stories, Shay also examines the evolution of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, the education of the newly appointed chaplains, and the birth of the Yankee Division.

This exploration of the noncombatants who earned the love and respect of the doughboys should appeal to armchair historians and scholars alike. Enhanced with photographs and an appendix summarizing the biographical information for each man, Sky Pilots is the first comprehensive look at the role of the Army chaplaincy at the divisional level.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication, Frontispiece, Epigraph

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List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

Living in the Boston suburb of Framingham, Massachusetts, my family was no stranger to priests. They were guests at our dinner table. We saw them in formal and informal settings, and they engendered our respect. Rev. Michael J. O’Connor (“Father Mike”) was my parents’ pastor at St. Bridget’s...

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pp. xvii-xx

For some time now, as I researched my other books on the Yankee Division, I frequently came across references to the exploits of certain regimental chaplains. Since then, I have wanted to write about these brave men. Each time, however, I have had to put it off for one reason or another...


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pp. xxi-xxiv

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1. “Sky Pilots”

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pp. 1-30

Ever since 1775, when General Artemas Ward took command of the aggregation of militias surrounding Boston, chaplains have been a part of what would become the United States Army. In fact, the Provincial Congress “was practically flooded with offers from patriotic preachers who wanted...

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2. Early Days

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pp. 31-50

Upon its arrival in France, the Yankee Division was divided into two parts. The bulk of the division was taken by train to the Fourth Training Area, centered on Neufchâteau in Lorraine, in the northeastern part of France. The men soon had to contend with a harsh winter, many without proper...

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3. Toul Sector

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pp. 51-66

For six months, the Yankee Division had been under the tutelage of the French, from whom the doughboys learned the elements of trench warfare, with an emphasis on raids and patrols. It was, by and large, defensive warfare— that is, static—except for an occasional large-scale attack that generally...

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4. Aisne-Marne

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pp. 67-86

While the initial German spring offensive showed promise, each separate thrust ground to a halt as French or British resistance stiffened. However, that all changed on May 27, 1918, in the Champagne-Marne region, when a massive German push rolled back French and British defenders on a wide...

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5. St. Mihiel and Troyon

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pp. 87-96

The Battle of St. Mihiel, which began on September 12, 1918, was the debut of the newly formed American First Army. The focus of the American attack was a roughly triangular pocket, approximately two hundred square miles in area, with its apex at the town of the same name. It was well fortified by the...

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6. Verdun

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pp. 97-110

It was early October, and the Yankee Division, now relieved by elements of the 79th Division and the 2nd Dismounted Cavalry (French) Division, gathered itself together and made its way slowly, wearily to a new sector. The experience of the 102nd Machine Gun Battalion was typical. On October 4, after...

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7. Going Home

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pp. 111-128

From the moment that the Armistice was signed, there was talk that the Yankee Division would be part of the Army of Occupation. That notion was soon put to rest. The division was pretty well used up during its long and arduous tour of duty. Within days, the division began to collect itself...

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8. “Recalled to Life”

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pp. 129-166

As a young man, the mythical Irish hero Cuchulain chose fame and a short life over immortality. Many chaplains chose service and duty, and in the process achieved a measure of fame during and after their shortened lives, at least as long as the memories of those with whom they...

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pp. 167-170

It could be truly said that the modern U.S. Army Chaplain Corps emerged from the American experience of the First World War—trained by Major Pruden and led by Bishop Brent and the GHQ Staff Chaplains Office. In fact, General Pershing’s appointment of Bishop Brent to be the senior...


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pp. 171-178


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pp. 179-202


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pp. 203-212


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pp. 213-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273246
E-ISBN-10: 0826273246
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220318
Print-ISBN-10: 0826220312

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 36 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014