Seventy-six years after the battle of Iwo Jima, a retired American diplomat and the Marine Corps University Press have recovered and published the World War II memoir of Chaplain Roland B. Gittelsohn, Pacifist to Padre. Gittelsohn was the first rabbi assigned by the Navy to the Marine Corps, and he ministered to Marines and sailors during the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima. Donald Bishop edited the volume. It was Gittelsohn’s celebrated sermon over the graves of Marines and sailors, “The Purest Democracy,” that sparked his interest. Reading the sermon, he immediately recognized its powerful statement of enduring American values. Although the sermon was widely published and broadcast in 1945, Rabbi Gittelsohn’s full memoir, completed the next year, was never published. In it, Gittelsohn offered lessons that speak to our times — on racial prejudice, anti-Semitism and interfaith understanding. Other subjects include the Navy’s all-faiths chaplain training, counseling and morale, and the grim work of chaplains on the Pacific island battlefield. Gittelsohn’s shift from an ardent prewar pacifism gave the book its title. (Chaplains of all faiths in the U.S. armed forces were often called “Padre” by service members.) Part of Bishop’s career in the U.S. Foreign Service was explaining the United States and its ideals to foreign audiences. Always on the lookout for compact explanations and quotes — from the Framers, De Tocqueville, Washington, Lincoln, the Four Freedoms, and presidential speeches – he says “I never met an anthology of American documents and speeches I didn’t like.” Bishop brought several skills to editing the volume — writing diplomatic cables, reports and speeches, along with editing and proofreading. Before becoming an American diplomat, he studied and taught history and published articles in historical journals. Discovering that Pacifist to Padre had never been published, he wanted to assure that a global audience could read and benefit from the chaplain’s work. He edited the text, wrote the introduction, and arranged for a preface by Professor Ronit Stahl of the University of California at Berkeley. A Catholic, Bishop realized he did not know enough about Judaism and its social justice teachings, so he worked with Rear Admiral Harold Robinson, a retired Navy chaplain who had been a member of Rabbi Gittelsohn’s congregation in Boston, on the volume’s extensive notes, and Robinson added a foreword. The Marine Corps University Press makes available copies – a full PDF file or a print copy – at no cost. (https://www.usmcu.edu/MCUPress/MarineCorps-University-Press/)
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