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  Editor's Note

Jack O'Connell Fiorello La Guardia once said, "When I make a mistake it's a beaut!"

I can relate. As blunders go, it was one of our worst. On Page 5 of our last issue, in the caption of the photo depicting the "Fr. O'Callahan Room Dedication," we wrote:  

"O'Callahan, a Jesuit priest, Holy Cross professor, and U.S. Navy chaplain, earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for service on the USS Franklin during the Vietnam War."

The phone calls began as soon as the magazine hit the mail boxes. The letters followed and the e-mail has yet to abate. Most of the calls were understanding, informative, and, on occasion, humorous, though I admit I was taken back by the anonymous alum who shouted, "you should be marched to the Jesuit cemetery and shot dead!" That was the morning I switched to decaf.

Rev. Joseph T. O'Callahan, S.J., was certainly all of the things we listed in our photo caption, but he served on the USS Franklin during World War II. I am particularly indebted to Frank J. Dwyer '55, who sent me photocopies of the front page of the New York Daily Mirror. The headline details the tragedy of the 832 men who died in an aerial attack 53 miles off the coast of Kobe, Japan on March 19, 1945. And the paper features the now-famous photo of Fr. O'Callahan praying over the body of one of his fallen shipmates.

William J. Duffy '50, one of Fr. O'Callahan's students, informed us that his former professor "performed many heroic tasks, including administering to the wounded and the dying, organizing rescue and fire-fighting parties, leading trapped shipmates to safety . The Captain of the Franklin (Leslie E. Gehres) later described Fr. O'Callahan as "the bravest man I ever saw."

A visit to the Dinand Archives yielded a wonderful six-page essay on the life of Fr. O'Callahan, written in 1964 by Rev. Richard J. Dowling, S.J. This tribute provides a fine introduction to the man now commemorated with a room in Carlin residence hall.

Joseph Timothy O'Callahan was born in Roxbury, Mass., on May 14, 1905. After attending Boston College High School, he entered the Society of Jesus at the novitiate of St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He completed his philosophical studies at Weston College in 1929 and became a member of the physics department at Boston College. He was ordained a priest on June 20, 1934.

After serving as a tertian for a year at St. Robert's Hall in Connecticut, Fr. O'Callahan studied at Georgetown, taught Cosmology at Weston, and, in 1938, arrived at Holy Cross to teach mathematics and physics. In 1940, he became head of the mathematics department and founded a mathematics library. Soon thereafter, he surprised everyone on the Hill by applying for a commission as a Navy chaplain. On Aug. 7, 1940, he was commissioned a lieutenant, junior grade, in the Navy Chaplain Corps.

After serving at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola Fla., he reported to the USS Ranger, where, according to Fr. Dowling, he "ranged the Atlantic from the arctic to the equator," and played a big part in the invasion of North Africa. But O'Callahan's great hope was to be assigned to the Philippines. His youngest sister, Alice, a Maryknoll nun, had been imprisoned in a Japanese detention camp there. For three years, the O'Callahan family hadn't heard a word about her fate. Her brother hoped to discover his sister's circumstance first-hand.

On March 2, 1945, O'Callahan received orders to report for duty to the USS Franklin, a 27,000 ton Essex-class aircraft carrier, part of an armada called Task Force 58. Shortly after dawn the next day, the Franklin steamed out of Pearl Harbor.

On March 19, at 7:07 a.m., O'Callahan was having breakfast in the wardroom when out of a cloud bank came a plane, flying 360 miles an hour at a height of 75 feet. The plane dropped a 500-pound bomb on the center of the flight deck, swung around and dropped a second bomb on the aft. The ship exploded into flame. And, according to all reports, in the midst of the chaos and carnage was Fr. O'Callahan. Wounded by shrapnel (which earned him a Purple Heart), O'Callahan stayed at his post for three days and nights, ministering to the dying, putting out fires, tending the wounded, hosing down armed bombs, jettisoning live ammunition. As the ship was rocked time and again by explosions, O'Callahan moved through smoke-filled corridors, saving life after life and performing extreme unction over the dying.

The Franklin arrived back at Pearl Harbor, under her own steam, on April 3, 1945. When asked about his chaplains, Captain Gehres replied, "Each of those two chaplains were worth to me any six officers under my command."

On Jan. 23, 1946, in Washington, D.C., President Harry Truman presented Fr. O'Callahan with the Congressional Medal of Honor. That night, Chaplain O'Callahan reported to his new post aboard the carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.

On Nov. 12, 1946, O'Callahan was released from the Navy with the rank of Captain, U.S.N.C.C. He returned to Holy Cross to teach philosophy, but a future of much-deserved peace and study was not to be. In December of 1949, he suffered the first in a series of strokes.

In 1956, the film Battle Stations, depicting O'Callahan's heroics aboard the Franklin, was released. Also that year, he published his best-selling memoir, I Was Chaplain on the Franklin.

O'Callahan died on March 18, 1964, the eve of the 19th anniversary of the Franklin's ordeal.

On July 21, 1965, the USS O'Callahan, a destroyer-escort vessel, was christened in Bay City, Mich. Present at the ceremony was Sister Rose Marie, O.P., also known as Alice O'Callahan, Joseph's younger sister, who had survived her own ordeal in the Philippines.

Holy Cross Magazine regrets our captioning error and we invite all our alums to visit the O'Callahan Room in Carlin. 

Jack O'Connell  



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