William S. Boice graduated from Cincinnati Bible Seminary, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and Harvard Chaplain’s School, landed at Utah Beach with the troops on D-Day, and was “the first chaplain on German soil with our troops” during World War II, according to newspaper clippings.
The Army chaplain, who subsequently started First Christian Church, Phoenix, Ariz., in 1952, wrote about “Another Part of a Chaplain’s Life” for this Christian Standard article from 75 years ago.
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Somewhere in Germany
Another Part of a Chaplain’s Life
By Chaplain (Capt.) William Boice
Jan. 6, 1945; p. 8
Gone are the pleasant days of summer, and tonight the first snow of winter is falling. For days the surrounding fields have looked naked and ugly, as heavy trucks have made ceaseless trips in and out, always dragging mud and tearing sod, laying bare the soil. The snow is settling quietly, covering the ugliness of turgid winter, the scars of war. Almost it seems to caress, but it is the kiss of frozen death.
There are only the memories of days when men fought their weary battles in comparative comfort. Now they dig in like animals, emerging only to fight and push on, always pushing on, digging in again in the mud, finding what comfort they can in beds of grass or straw, freshly cut logs from the woods their covering, with sod their roof. Feet forever wet, forever cold; clothes stiff with mud or sodden with slush; the blessing of long underwear and heavy coats; the curse of them when they bind men as they try to stoop. Food served hot grows cold in mess kits before it can be eaten; small log fires scorch men from the front while they freeze behind; the ceaseless wind tears at their ankles and turns noses and ears bright red.
V-r-r-r-w-r-a-c-k! Huge artillery breaks close by, but the men will not dive for fox holes until it comes closer. The trained ear has gauged the whistle of the shell, judged its distance, and the mind already signaled the body that while it is close, it is no cause for alarmed action.
A second lieutenant calls his platoon sergeant. The word is passed down that the men are going on patrol through enemy lines. There is a curse or two, but no complaining; it is something which is endured because it must be done and because there is nothing else to do. The men gather informally around the lieutenant, who shows them a map. Each of these men is a professional with a map. It is his key to the enemy; his ability to read it may get him back to his company safely, so he listens carefully as the lieutenant explains the objective and purpose of the patrol. There are no questions. Weapons are slung loosely or carried ready, and the patrol moves out. Word is sent to the company commander that it has started.
The men move rapidly, but cautiously, through the woods as they pass their own outposts. Careful eyes watch for enemy outposts, a machine gun hidden or camouflaged, or trip wires which might set off flares or booby traps. The route has been well chosen and the men move along for a thousand yards when there is a ping of a bullet as it breaks overhead. The men hit the mud and listen. There is no further shot, but they know what to do. A squad leader takes his men and moves left, another group swings to the right. The lieutenant has his rifle aimed and they wait quietly until their comrades have had time to reach the flanks. Suddenly there is more firing, but the pitch tells the men it is American fire. The squad on the left has opened up. One German, bending almost double, runs from his machine-gun emplacement toward the rear. Bullets kick up the dirt just in back of him; then suddenly he is hit and he falls.
“Got him,” says the lieutenant briefly. The men move up warily from two sides. The second German stands up with his arms up. Two of the men bring him to the lieutenant while two others destroy the machine gun. The men start back carefully by another route with their prisoner. Their patrol has been a success, for they had come to get information, and this prisoner is the answer to that information.
They have gone about seventy yards on their return trip, forward scouts leading, when there is a sudden and violent explosion. A sergeant has stepped on a mine. The men approach the wounded soldier cautiously, for there may be other mines. One foot is blown away, the other leg lacerated and broken in a dozen places. The force of the explosion has caved in his chest and he breathes with labored difficulty. He doesn’t know his foot is gone; he feels no pain, for his nerves are still numb. The soldiers stand about watchfully as an aid man works swiftly to apply a tourniquet to the bleeding leg. The men improvise a litter with two rifles and an overcoat. A private starts ahead to get a litter squad. The wounded sergeant calls a wounded buddy by name. The soldier comes alongside and the sergeant takes a gold watch from his wrist and slips a wedding ring from his finger.
“You know where they go,” he says.
“Aw, Sergeant, you’ll make it,” says the buddy, but he takes the watch and ring and slips them on his own wrist and finger.
The patrol is back, and the wounded man, now on a litter, is carried to the aid station. A medical sergeant, without being told by the doctor, prepares plasma for injection.
Now the first searing shock is over and the pain sets in. The sergeant tries to joke, but the dark one is too near and he bites his lips until the blood comes. Three aid men, singularly gentle in their movements, lift the crushed leg to get a bandage under it. They shake their heads, for they know it is no use.
“Please, Doc, I know you’re doing the best you can, but can’t you give me something for the pain?” The doctor goes on with his wrapping, knowing that not even morphine can still the cry of pain this soldier must bear.
“Please, Doc, do something for me, will you? I can’t stand it. I tell you, I just can’t stand it!” Aid men turn away and the doctor goes on with his work unhurriedly. The bottle of plasma hanging from a tree drains slowly into veins almost collapsed. The ground is littered with bloody bandages and torn clothes. The doctor knows there is nothing to be done, still he tries. The company commander has come quietly to the litter. The soldier looks up and attempts a smile.
“Well, Sergeant, did they get you?”
“Guess so, sir.”
“You’ll be all right. These docs will fix you up in no time.”
“I hope so, Captain.” He writhes in sudden pain. “Oh, please give me something to put me to sleep. I can’t stand it, I tell you. I can’t stand it! My God, why doesn’t somebody do something for me? Captain, why don’t you shoot me? I can’t stand it! Oh, I can’t stand it! Give me a gun and let me kill myself. Oh, please do something!”
The captain puts his hand on the soldier’s forehead. The tears fall unnoticed to the ground. The soldier reaches out a hand without opening his eyes.
“Where is the chaplain?”
“Chaplain, I’ve always tried to live right and do what’s right. Why can’t somebody do something for me now?”
“We’re doing all we can, Soldier.”
“Sir, will you say a prayer for me?”
“Sure, Sergeant.” The chaplain drops to his knees and takes the cold hand in his. “Heavenly Father, we have never asked that the way be easy, and Thou has never told us that it would be. Just now it is hard and the way is so dim, but we remember the old, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [the soldier’s grip on the hand of the chaplain tightens suddenly, then goes limp] I will fear no evil, for thou art with me’.” The chaplain stops suddenly, and very quietly he says, “Amen.” No one says anything. There is nothing to say. The soldier has finished his patrol.
“The sergeant gave me this watch and ring. He made me promise if anything happened to him I’d get them to his wife. Sir, would you send them for me?”
“Thank you, sir.”
The soldier handed the chaplain the watch and ring. The watch was gold, in the shape of a heart. Inscribed inside the ring was:
“Till death do us part.”
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On Nov. 18, 1944, several weeks before the above essay appeared, Christian Standard shared a news item headlined “Chaplain Boice Decorated for Bravery.” Here is that article in its entirety.
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Chaplain William S. Boice, formerly minister of Delhi Church of Christ, Delhi, O., and instructor in the music department at Cincinnati Bible Seminary, has received the Silver Star in recognition of his assistance in rescuing the wounded under fire. He serves with the First Army now in Germany.
In a recent letter Chaplain Boice states:
“I suppose a man carries his basic load when he knows that nothing else stands between him and God. But these men include faith in Christ as a part of their equipment, and church services are well attended under any condition, many times in a pill box or under artillery fire. I have had fifteen confessions and I baptized thirteen in a quiet French pool during July. These men have gone back to their comrades changed men, literally. Never a day goes by but some of the G. I. Christians gather in a foxhole for Scripture and prayer. This is done whether or not the chaplain can be with them. Their faith works.
“Yesterday a sergeant whom I had baptized in France came to me after church with the other sergeant whom he had converted. He wanted me to baptize him, which I shall do.
“These men do not care for creeds, and even those brought up in the most strictly denominational homes and churches have caught the appeal of the union of God’s people on a New Testament basis, and our simple communion services draw large groups of men without fail. If the churches of Christ are alert following the war, they have the answer to the Service man’s faith. If we fail, we shall do the church of God immeasurable harm.
“My division has fought since D Day with only eleven days’ rest. We are at present lying in foxholes with water from two to four inches deep, in weather which becomes increasingly cold in a country where the people definitely do not regard us as liberators. We appreciate the steadfast faith of you at home, and never a service goes by that we do not pray for our homes and our churches.”
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William S. Boice died Dec. 23, 2003, in Phoenix at age 88.
—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard