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Father Brady -The Fifth Marine’s Fighting Chaplain

November 19, AD2017

defend the truth, knight, soldier, church militant, soldier for christBy all accounts, Father John J. Brady was a modest man.  The nation’s press had dubbed the Catholic priest “the fighting chaplain of the Fifth Marines.”[1]  When he returned to New York from France in 1919 he came home with a Distinguished Service Cross, a Navy Cross, and a Silver Star—all awarded him for his valiant service during World War I.[2]

France also awarded him the Croix de Guerre with palm and gold star.[3]  As the French steamer, Niagara, pulled into New York harbor in March of 1919 the nation first learned the details of Father Brady’s heroic acts in the trenches on the Western front.  Disembarking from the ship, the humble chaplain was not wearing his awards.  He was literally forced by reporters “to dig his Distinguished Service Cross out of an inner pocket.”[4]  When questioned, the shy priest refused to talk about his wartime experiences to the reporters but “some of [his fellow] marines on board the ship were not so backward,” reported one newspaper.[5]

Father Brady -A  Legendary Figure

Father Brady had become a legendary figure the previous June during the Battle of Belleau Wood.  According to one account that “battle has [since] become a key component of the lore of the United States Marine Corps.”[6]  It was the marine’s heroic stand amidst retreating French soldiers (who kept urging them to turn back) that stopped the German’s attempted crossing of the Marne River and advance toward Paris.  It was there that the Fifth Marine’s, Second Battalion Captain William Lloyd “uttered the now famous retort “Retreat?  Hell, we just got here.’”[7]  The epic battle lasted twenty-six days with the Marines (including Brady) advancing through waist-high wheat fields while being mowed down by German machine guns.  As they entered the woods they ran into more machine guns, barbed wire, sharpshooters, mustard gas, then bayonets and hand-to-hand combat.  Regardless the Marines won the skirmish that day (June 6th) but lost 31 officers and 1,056 men.  

Heroic Deeds

Father Brady would become famous for a number of heroic deeds and his own quotes during that sixth day of the battle—chief among which was his absolution of the German enemy just before the marines “went over the top” in their successful counterattack.  The New York Tribune reported “It was zero hour…the marines were tense…preparing to go over any minute [when] suddenly Brady leaped to the parapet [facing the enemy he made the Sign of the Cross]  and gave absolution to the Germans in the trench opposite [while] shells fell all about him.”[8]  Then he turned to “the marines and said ‘I’ve given them absolution.  Now, men, go get them,’” continued the Tribune.[9]

As the battle raged, Brady was in the thick of it.  General John “Blackjack” Pershing, in awarding the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Silver Star observed that Brady during the Battle of Belleau Wood

“made two complete tours of the front line under severe fire, carried on his duties as chaplain with untiring service and ministered to the men of the regiment under unusually trying circumstance…his heroism on the front line did much to keep the men in good spirits during this attack.”[10]

The Tribune fills in many details of Brady’s heroics not included in the official citation reports. [11]   During his two tours along the front he brought cigarettes and food to men hunkered down under fire and on at least one occasion crawled out into ‘no man’s land’ to hear the confession of a dying man when suddenly a German flare went up and “a murderous fire was opened on the two, but Father Brady escaped after completing his duties.”[12]

On yet another occasion when riding with three French officers “on St. Patrick’s Day [1918]” in an automobile the car was hit “by direct fire, killing the three officers but only stunning the doughty clergyman.”[13]  Under fire, in ‘no man’s land,’ he gave the last rites to about 30 German soldiers while searching for wounded Marines to give last rites and help carry them back to the trenches.[14]

Lucky

After the war, Father Brady commented on his luck, “the shells fell about me, but somehow or the other they never hit me.  Talk about your grit!”  It was one of the few times he talked about himself—mostly it was about his fellow Marines:  “It was the fearlessness of the brave American soldiers that played the major part in bringing the enemy countries to terms.”[15]

He cited one example of a fellow marine who walked to a well at 2 A.M. with a bunch of canteens-

“tied to a stick which he carried carelessly over his shoulder…[making] an awful racket [awakening the Germans who] opened fire…shells were flying all around him but he filled his canteens  and came back.”[16]  An incredulous Chaplain Brady asked him why he went and pointed out to the marine that “he might have been flattened out.”

He got a typical Marine response “Oh, shucks!  Father, ‘What’s the use of being scared of those fellows; they can’t hit anything.’”[17]  Brady went on to opine “That’s the spirit of the average American lad who went across the water to take part in the Great War for righteousness.”[18]

One enemy soldier wrote of his encounter with the Marines:

“We have Americans opposite us who are terribly reckless fellows.”[19]  An official German report related that the Marines were “vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen” while Blackjack Pershing, commander of the AEF, lauded the corps claiming the “deadliest enemy in the world is a marine with his rifle.”[20]

Father Brady had been a Navy Chaplain for three years before the war.  His first wartime service was during the Mexican-American border dispute serving at Vera Cruz, Mexico when U. S. forces conquered that city.[21]    He was the first American chaplain to go overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces.[22]  Previously he had been assistant rector at New York’s St. Veronica’s Catholic Church.   A surviving letter to New York’s Cardinal Farley helps us understand Brady’s motive in volunteering to serve with the Marines, “My work is to bring back [to the Catholic church] by a personal meeting of the men, to bring back a great many indifferent Catholics.”  According to Elizabeth Alleva in her 2015 article Military Chaplains of World War I, “Brady like many military chaplains, tried to accommodate as many men as possible with the hope that they would strengthen their faith and their will to continue fighting.”[23]  His obituary reports that he was known for his “deep, booming voice” and was a stern disciplinarian who during his naval career “helped prepare over 100 enlisted men pass exams for Annapolis.”[24]

Early after his arrival in France, before American troops became fully engaged, Brady was appointed by Regimental Commander, Col. Charles A. Doyen, regimental athletic and recreational director.  He formed baseball, football, boxing, and wrestling teams.  He also organized a Marine’s Club in a local village schoolhouse where the men could write letters, play chess or checkers, read newspapers and magazines and set up “impromptu concerts with mandolins and guitars” and sometimes a dance.[25]

His Beginnings

Father Brady was born and raised in Brooklyn (one of three brothers) and was educated in local Catholic schools and universities.  He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1908.  Until his navy enlistment he served as a curate at a local church and was also a professor of mathematics at Cathedral College.[26] He retired from the Navy in 1934 with the rank of captain.   “Two years later he was made a rear admiral” becoming the first chaplain to attain flag rank in U. S. Navy history.[27]  After retiring from the Navy he became pastor of Manhattan’s St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic Church.

With the beginning of World War II he was called upon by New York’s Cardinal Spellman to serve as “Vicar Delegate to the Army and Navy [and in that position] traveled to England, Newfoundland, Iceland and the Caribbean on inspection tours for the Catholic Military Ordinariate.”[28]

Copyright © 2017 by Daniel J. Demers

All Rights Reserved

Sources

Books

Marines in French Billets,  Recruiters Bulletin (New York: United States Marine Corps, September 1917) page 14  https://books.google.com/books?id=KjtHAQAAIAAJ&pg=RA6-PA14&lpg=RA6-PA14&dq=father+john+brady,+marine+corps+chaplain&source=bl&ots=-dFfSQRyFr&sig=Cd9FM47KmWdsRA5niAWWwBx6peM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjIm8TmvIzNAhVFymMKHY9KC1wQ6AEIIjAC#v=onepage&q=father%20john%20brady%2C%20marine%20corps%20chaplain&f=false

Soldiers Honored By Pershing for Heroism, Official U. S. Bulletin (Washington: Committee for Public Information, March 20, 1919)  page 19  https://books.google.com/books?id=rkbmAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA19&lpg=PA19&dq=father+john+brady,+marine+corps+chaplain&source=bl&ots=Zk2-WpAcSG&sig=Zu85KYh_OuaJr7u_uvmh-mArY7s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjIm8TmvIzNAhVFymMKHY9KC1wQ6AEINDAI#v=onepage&q=father%20john%20brady%2C%20marine%20corps%20chaplain&f=false

Articles

Just a Preliminary, Daily Capital Journal [Salem, OR], August 28, 1918, page 3  http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99063957/1918-08-28/ed-1/seq-3/#date1=1917&index=0&rows=20&words=Brady+Father+John&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=Father+John+Brady&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

Absolves Foe, Chaplain Cries ‘Go Get Them’, New York Tribune, March 3, 1919, page 7 http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1919-03-03/ed-1/seq-7/#date1=1917&index=11&rows=20&words=Brady+Father+John&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=Father+John+Brady&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

First Chaplain, Kentucky Irish American, March 15, 1919, page 13  http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069180/1919-03-15/ed-1/seq-13/#date1=1917&index=1&rows=20&words=Brady+Father+John&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=Father+John+Brady&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

Advice Not Quite Orthodox, St. Charles Herald [La], March 29, 1919, page 4 http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85034322/1919-03-29/ed-1/seq-4/#date1=1836&index=0&rows=20&words=chaplain+Chaplain+marine+Marine&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=Marine+chaplain&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

Rear Admiral Chaplain Lauds Faith of Seamen, The Guardian, February 5, 1943, page 8  http://arc.stparchive.com/Archive/ARC/ARC02051943p08.php

Famous Chaplain to Speak Sunday to Catholic Club, Scarsdale Inquirer, April 9, 1943, page 3 http://news.hrvh.org/veridian/cgi-bin/senylrc?a=d&d=scarsdaleinquire19430409.2.45#

U. S. Navy Chaplain Corps Roster of World War II Heroes Includes Many Catholics, The Observer, October 31, 1943, page 4  http://obs.stparchive.com/Archive/OBS/OBS10311943p04.php

Chapels Dedicated, Sampson News, December 31, 1943  http://www.rpadden.com/samp_jake/31dec43.htm

New York Msgr. Brady Who Held Rank of Admiral as Chaplain, Dead,

Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryan Dickinson, The Navy Chaplain Corps: 230 Years of Service to God, October 27, 2005, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing  http://www.2ndmaw.marines.mil/News/ArticleView/tabid/357/Article/522775/the-navy-chaplain-corps-230-years-of-service-to-god-and-country.aspx

Elizabeth Alleva, Military Chaplains in World War I, Archives of the Archdiocese of New York, November 10, 2015  http://archnyarchives.org/2015/11/10/military-chaplains-in-world-war-i/

John J. Brady, Hall of Valor, Military Times, undated http://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=10301

Websites

Battle of Belleau Wood, Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Belleau_Wood

Battle of Château-Thierry, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Ch%C3%A2teau-Thierry_(1918)

Dan Daly, Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Daly

Email correspondence:

Kate Feighery, Archivist, Archives of the Archdiocese of New York, June 10, 2016

Endnotes


[1] First Chaplain, Kentucky Irish American, March 15, 1919, page 13

[2] John J. Brady, Hall of Valor, Military Times, undated

[3] New York Msgr. Brady Who Held Rank of Admiral as Chaplain, Dead

[4] Absolves Foe, Chaplain Cries ‘Go Get Them’, New York Tribune, March 3, 1919, page 7

[5] First Chaplain, Kentucky Irish American, March 15, 1919, page 13

[6] Battle of Belleau Wood, Wikipedia

[7] Ibid; see also Battle of Château-Thierry, Wikipedia

[8] Absolves Foe, Chaplain Cries ‘Go Get Them’, New York Tribune, March 3, 1919, page 7;See also: Just a Preliminary, Daily Capital Journal [Salem, OR], August 28, 1918, page 3

[9] ibid

[10] Soldiers Honored By Pershing for Heroism, Official U. S. Bulletin (Washington: Committee for Public Information, March 20, 1919)  page 19; John J. Brady, Hall of Valor, Military Times, undated

[11] Absolves Foe, Chaplain Cries ‘Go Get Them’, New York Tribune, March 3, 1919, page 7; see also  First Chaplain, Kentucky Irish American, March 15, 1919, page 13

[12] Absolves Foe, Chaplain Cries ‘Go Get Them’, New York Tribune, March 3, 1919, page 7

[13] Ibid; see also First Chaplain, Kentucky Irish American, March 15, 1919, page 13

[14] Absolves Foe, Chaplain Cries ‘Go Get Them’, New York Tribune, March 3, 1919, page 7

[15] First Chaplain, Kentucky Irish American, March 15, 1919, page 13

[16] ibid

[17] ibid

[18] ibid

[19] Battle of Belleau Wood, Wikipedia

[20] ibid

[21] New York Msgr. Brady Who Held Rank of Admiral as Chaplain, Dead

[22] First Chaplain, Kentucky Irish American, March 15, 1919, page 13

[23] Elizabeth Alleva, Military Chaplains in World War I, Archives of the Archdiocese of New York, November 10, 2015

[24] New York Msgr. Brady Who Held Rank of Admiral as Chaplain, Dead

[25]Marines in French Billets,  Recruiters Bulletin (New York: United States Marine Corps, September 1917) page 14

[26] New York Msgr. Brady Who Held Rank of Admiral as Chaplain, Dead

[27] ibid

[28] ibid

Photography: See our Photographers page.

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