Excerpts from the e-Sylum: Medals Honor United States Chaplains

esylum11Each week, CoinWeek, in collaboration with the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, brings you a highlighted feature from the current volume of the E-Sylum eNewsletter.

This week, E-sylum reader Mel Wacks of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame discusses some new medals his organization has struck…

The Jewish-American Hall of Fame is the longest continuing series of art medals being produced in America. Launched in 1969, its 2014 medal, honoring United States Chaplains, features Rabbi Jacob Frankel, the First U.S. Jewish Chaplain, and Rabbi Alexander Goode, along with the other Immortal Four Chaplains. The medals were designed by Eugene Daub, who has designed 7 of the last 8 medals in this long-running series. Eugene is the second most frequent contributor to the Jewish-American Hall of Fame series, lagging only Gerta Ries Wiener, who created 11 medals between 1971 and 1994.

Rabbi Jacob Frankel, the First U.S. Jewish Chaplain
jewishmedal2At the outbreak of the Civil War, Jews could not serve as chaplains in the U.S. armed forces. When the war commenced in 1861, Jews enlisted in both the Union and Confederate armies. The Northern Congress adopted a bill in July of 1861 that permitted each regiment’s commander, on a vote of his field officers, to appoint a regimental chaplain so long as he was “a regularly ordained minister of some Christian denomination.” However, on July 17, 1862, Congress adopted President Lincoln’s proposed amendments to the chaplaincy law to allow “the appointment of brigade chaplains of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religions.” Almost as soon as the law changed, the Board of Ministers of the Hebrew Congregations of Philadelphia requested a Jewish hospital chaplain. Jacob Frankel’s fellow clergymen nominated the popular rabbi, nicknamed the “sweet singer of Israel,” and Lincoln signed the commission on Sep. 18, 1862. For three years, he acted as Army chaplain, singing, chanting, and praying with hospitalized and other soldiers.

The Four Chaplains 
There are many stories of bravery among the American Military during World War II, but few have captured the imagination and admiration of Americans more than the Four Chaplains. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Rabbi Alexander Goode applied to the Army, receiving his appointment as a chaplain on July 21, 1942. Chaplain Goode went on active duty on August 9, 1942. In October 1942, Goode was transferred to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts and reunited with Chaplains John Washington, a Catholic priest; Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; and George Fox, a Methodist minister—all of whom were Goode’s classmates at Harvard.

jewishmedal1The Dorchester left New York on January 23, 1943, en route to Greenland, carrying the four chaplains and approximately 900 others, as part of a convoy of three ships. During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the vessel was torpedoed by a German submarine off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester’s electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks. The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They also helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.

On December 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. In addition, the Four Chaplains’ Medal, was approved by a unanimous act of Congress on July 14, 1960, through Public law 86-656 of the 86th Congress. The medals were presented posthumously to the next of kin of each of the Four Chaplains by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Ft. Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961.

Issued in very small limited editions, these approximately 2-inch, 3 oz. art medals are available on a first come-first served basis in bronze (maximum of 150 pieces) for $45, pure silver (maximum of 85) for $200, and gold-plated pure silver (maximum of 35) for $250. Orders should be sent to the non-profit Jewish-American Hall of Fame, 5189 Jeffdale Ave., Woodland Hills, CA 91364, or call 818-225-1348.

Mel adds: Mention that you read about this in The E-Sylum and take a 20% discount.

Click here to read the rest of this week’s issue of the E-Sylum eNewsletter.

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