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Chaplain's Conflict

Good and Evil in a War Hospital, 1943-1945

Tennant McWilliams

Publication Year: 2012

As chaplain for the US Army's 102nd Evacuation Hospital in the European Theater, Renwick C. Kennedy--"Ren" to those who knew him--witnessed great courage, extreme talent, and many lives snatched from the precipice of death, all under the most trying conditions. He also observed drug and alcohol abuse, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and chronic depression. What he saw, he chronicled in his journal, and what he wrote, he processed with an intellectual and ethical rigor born of his remarkably sophisticated worldview and his deeply held Christian faith. With Kennedy's war diaries and postwar articles published in Christian Century and Time magazines in front of him, historian Tennant McWilliams spent a year retracing every step, every turn, every location of the 102nd in wartime France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany, compiling rich detail on this episode in Kennedy's life. McWilliams's interviews with citizens of France and Luxembourg who recall the 102nd further revealed local people's reactions to the army hospital that illuminated both Kennedy's severe criticism and his enduring praise for evac life. The result is a candid view of what went on in the World War II evac hospitals. With a nuanced and gritty style, The Chaplain's Conflict shatters the self-interested and sometimes sentimental images of evacs held by some among the medical community. This complex and compelling observation of doctors practicing war-zone medicine in World War II will hold great appeal for readers of military and medical history, as well as those interested in the socio-cultural, ethical, and religious implications of war and military service.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

For their friendship and long- time support of this book, I am grateful to Mary Conway Kennedy Dickinson, of Atmore, Alabama, and Margaret Kennedy Ausley, of Nokesville, Virginia. That they are so devoted to their...

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Overture: Goodbye, Farewell, Amen

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pp. 1-10

Between 1972 and 1983 the heralded television series M*A*S*H brought America’s public face to face with one of the most engaging elements of citizen soldiery: life inside an evacuation hospital. Even today reruns depicting...

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Part One: Finding the War

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pp. 11-35

Even though Susan and I knew we were on the same latitude as Nova Scotia, the rain, the sleet, and the wind of the early fall in Pennedepie caught us off guard. Marc supplied us with a good stock of firewood...

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1. San Luis Obispo: April –November 1943

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pp. 13-20

On April 9, 1943 ,Chaplain (First Lieutenant) Kennedy arrived at San Luis Obispo—what military people called “SLO.” Originally a California National Guard camp between San Francisco and Los Angeles, in 1943 what Ren...

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2. Goffs: December 1943–February 1944

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pp. 21-27

In October 1943 the 102nd Evacuation Hospital found itself refocused. Instead of the Pacific, it would head for the European theater. To at least partially prepare it for duty in a rough European winter—significant foresight...

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3. New York to Southport: March –July 1944

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pp. 28-35

After four days on the rails the eleven cars of the 102nd unloaded at Penn Station, then trucked across the Hudson River twenty miles to New Jersey’s Camp Kilmer, recently constructed by the army as a major transition point...

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Part Two: France

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pp. 37-68

As I said before, throughout much of the fall of 2007 we stayed pretty close to home in Pennedepie and Honfleur. Granted, there was a Friday night in Paris to see Marc and Béatrice’s son, Sebastian, in a musical...

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4. Utah Beach: July 18–19, 1944

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pp. 39-40

At 4:30 pm on Monday, July 17, 1944, personnel of the 102nd Evacuation Hospital boarded the sixteen- hundred- ton Laird’s Isle, formerly a private English excursion steamer that had been transporting Allied troops across...

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5. Barneville-le-Carteret and Picauville: July 1944

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pp. 41-44

At 8:15 pm on July 19, the 102nd departed Saint- Germaine- de- Varreville in trucks moving southeast across the Cotentin—“blasted towns” everywhere. At 11:15 pm they set up in another pasture two miles north of...

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6. Saint-Pair-sur-Mer: August 1944

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pp. 45-56

Before I can tell you what happened to Ren and his friends in and around Saint- Pair- sur- Mer, I need to tell you what happened to Susan and me there. Here, in the poignant confluence of two stories—the 102nd’s and that...

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7. Ploudaniel: August –September 1944

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pp. 57-68

At Ploudaniel the 102nd set up its tents in broad pasture lands two hundred yards north of the sixteenth- century Château de Trébodennic. However, once again, before I can tell you what happened here, I need to tell you...

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Part Three: Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany

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pp. 69

In the spring of 2008 Adam Pinson came to visit us. At the time an advanced graduate student in history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Adam has a long- term photographic memory. While this permitted...

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8. Bastogne and Roumont: October 1944–November 1944

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pp. 71-79

Bastogne caught us off guard. Ren left precise accounts of the 102nd’s move there in the month before the fateful battle, plus numerous details on the town after the fighting was over. He actually went back to see it after...

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9. Ettelbruck: November– December 1944

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pp. 80-84

Susan and I were accustomed to working in small villages and the countryside. Quickly we found that Ettelbruck was different—a small city in Luxembourg with complicated traffic. Our goal was the Ettelbruck Agricultural...

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10. Huy and the Bulge: December 1944–January 1945

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pp. 85-95

What happened to the 102nd after Ettelbruck meant that Susan, Adam, and I next headed for Huy, a small Belgian town on the Meuse River, far easier for a visitor to navigate than Ettelbruck. Local tourist offices...

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11. Brand and Bad Neuenahr: February –March 1945

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pp. 96-100

Susan and I had two days left with Adam, our traveling companion with the photographic memory. After that he intended to go solo and explore German beer parlors and war museums and then spend several days...

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12. Final Days in Europe: April –October 1945

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pp. 101-110

With complicated thoughts left to be finally sorted out, Ren’s war resumed. The 102nd followed a rapidly moving First Army in the final days of fighting in Germany. On April 7 the hospital set up in tents some two hundred...

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Coda: “Home, Again”

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pp. 111-117

Susan and I came home to Birmingham in the late summer of 2008. Two weeks later we drove down to Oak Hill. For some twenty years now my generation of the family has owned the house. It’s a special place with over...

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Commentary on Sources

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pp. 119-124

The Renwick C. Kennedy Papers, covering the years from 1927 to 1980, currently remain in my possession. Of the 5,000 letters in this collection, 436 pertain to the 102nd Evacuation Hospital. Some of the long letters he mailed...


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pp. 125-136

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781603446891
E-ISBN-10: 1603446893
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603444705
Print-ISBN-10: 160344470X

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 24 b&w photos. Map. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Kennedy, Renwick C., 1900?-1985.
  • United States. Army. Evacuation Hospital, 102nd.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Chaplains -- United States.
  • United States. Army -- Chaplains.
  • Military chaplains -- United States.
  • Military chaplains -- Presbyterian Church.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Western Front.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Regimental histories -- United States.
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