Lyle W. Dorsett's many books tell the stories of heroes of the Christian faith—men like D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and A. W. Tozer. In his latest book, Serving God and Country: U.S. Military Chaplains in World War II (Berkley), the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School tells the stories of men who, if less famous, were no less heroic. Author and military wife Lisa Velthouse spoke with Dorsett about the Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, and Jewish rabbis who braved the battlefield to care for souls.
What sparked your interest in World War II chaplains?
I'm a historian by training, and I've always had an interest in World War II—it absolutely fascinates me. In my early adulthood I was an agnostic living in a secular academic world, and then in midlife I became a convert to the Christian faith. Gradually my interest in the faith began to coincide with my interest in World War II, and I started wanting to know more about chaplains. We don't know much about them.
Over the years, I began to interview chaplains. I also interviewed a lot of soldiers, sailors, and Marines who had served in World War II. Much of my material comes from them.
Why is it important to look back on this period in history?
World War II chaplains made sacrifices in great numbers—next to the Army Air Corps, more chaplains were killed in World War II per capita than any other military group. That blew my mind when I found it. That shocked me.
Shortly after the war, General [Alexander] Vandegrift, who had become Commandant of the Marine Corps, praised the chaplains' work. He was a brilliant commander, a no-nonsense fighting man, and he did not romanticize or overly generalize ...