Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chaplain Joseph Timothy O'Callahan (1905 – 1964)

Joseph Timothy O'Callahan was the Jesuit priest who would later be described as "the bravest man I ever saw" by his Commanding Officer on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin. O'Callahan was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during World War II.
Joseph Timothy O'Callahan was born on May 14, 1905 in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston College High School in 1922, and entered The Society of Jesus shortly thereafter. Beginning the 13 years of training required of a Jesuit at St. Andrew's College, Poughkeepsie, New York, he received the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1925 and his Master of Arts degree in 1929. Specializing in mathematics and physics in addition to religious philosophy, he was ordained in the Jesuit Order in 1934. He was a Professor of Mathematics, Philosophy, and Physics at Boston College from 1927 to 1937. He then spent a year (1937–1938) as a Professor of Philosophy at Weston Jesuit School of Theology (Weston College). He served as the Director of the Mathematics Department at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts from 1938 to 1940.
While in active service, Father O'Callahan reported aboard the USS Franklin on March 2, 1945, just 17 days before she was severely damaged by two bombs from a lone Japanese aircraft that attacked the Franklin at dawn on March 19, 1945. The hangar deck immediately became an inferno of exploding gas tanks and ammunition. Although wounded by one of the explosions after the attack, Chaplain O'Callahan moved about the exposed and slanting flight deck administering the last rites to the dying, comforting the wounded, and leading officers and crewmen into the flames to carry hot bombs and shells to the edge of the deck for jettisoning. He personally recruited a damage control party and led it into one of the main ammunition magazines to wet it down and prevent its exploding. Going down into the ship several times he personally led over 700 crewmen out to safety. For this action he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Fr. O'Callahan returned to Holy Cross in the fall of 1948 as a philosophy professor. He died on March 16, 1964, and is buried in the Jesuit cemetery on campus. His Medal of Honor "resides in the Archives", at Holy Cross College.
Fr. O'Callahan's service is recounted in the story "Father Joe" by his nephew, storyteller Jay O'Callahan.
While teaching at Holy Cross, one of his students was future Medal of Honor recipient, John V. Power. During the final weeks of his life, Fr. O'Callahan, while at St. Vincent Hospital, "was tended to, by, among other nurses, Patricia Rose; a sister of John Power's"
In 1956 O'Callahan wrote an account of the attack, titled I was Chaplain on the Franklin.
A destroyer escort of the United States Navy, later re-classified as a frigate, the USS O'Callahan (DE-1051) (DE-1051/FF-1051), built at Defoe Shipbuilding Company in Bay City, Michigan, was named in his honor.

Medal of Honor citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Chaplain on board the U.S.S. Franklin when that vessel was fiercely attacked by enemy Japanese aircraft during offensive operations near Kobe, Japan, on 19 March 1945. A valiant and forceful leader, calmly braving the perilous barriers of flame and twisted metal to aid his men and his ship, Lieutenant Commander O'Callahan groped his way through smoke-filled corridors to the open flight deck and into the midst of violently exploding bombs, shells, rockets and other armament. With the ship rocked by incessant explosions, with debris and fragments raining down and fires raging in ever increasing fury, he ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths; he organized and led fire-fighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts despite searing, suffocating smoke which forced men to fall back gasping and imperiled others who replaced them. Serving with courage, fortitude and deep spiritual strength, Lieutenant Commander O'Callahan inspired the gallant officers and men of the Franklin to fight heroically and with profound faith in the face of almost certain death and to return their stricken ship to port.

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