Many heroes emerged from World War II. Some of these men received awards such as the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star, and Distinguished Flying Cross. Most combat veterans wore their awards humbly, insisting that many of their fellow warriors did as much or more as they did but were not noticed during the thunderous roar of fire and smoke of battle. And nearly all combatants argued that the real heroes were the chaps who died and never heard the good news of the enemy's surrender.
Among the unsung heroes of World War II was U.S. Army Chaplain Henry Gerecke (pronounced Cherokee). Born in southeastern Missouri in 1893 to German-American parents, Henry grew up in a rural community populated by first- and second-generation Germans who farmed the land and worshipped God in the Missouri Synod Lutheran tradition. In his teens young Gerecke heard God's call to preach. He left the farm and worked his way through St. John's Academy and College in Kansas, and then moved to St. Louis, where he attended Concordia Lutheran Seminary. During his St. Louis years he met Alma, who became his wife and mothered their three boys. Between 1940 and 1942 the two oldest boys joined the Army. And then in 1943 Henry Gerecke followed his sons into the Army by volunteering for the Chaplain Corps.
The fascinating story of Chaplain Henry Gerecke is engagingly told by Tim Townsend, the senior writer and editor for the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project in Washington, D.C. In Mission At Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis, Townsend illumines a hidden gem of World War II history and brings to light the life and career of a truly heroic Christian man.
A Good Candidate
The Army did not accept chaplains over 50 years of age, and Gerecke slipped in just a few months short of 50th birthday. Despite his age, the Army recognized the Missouri Lutheran as a good candidate because of his experience as a local church pastor who always devoted time to city mission and prison ministry. In short, everyone who knew Pastor Gerecke celebrated him for caring for people in all walks of life. People acquainted with him saw him as a devout man who went to the highways and byways to reach lost souls and lead them to the saving and healing presence of Jesus Christ.
From August 1943 to the surrender of Germany in May 1945, Chaplain Gerecke distinguished himself by untiringly and bravely serving American soldiers first in England and then on the continent after the Normandy invasion. The Protestant chaplain, like his Catholic and Jewish counterparts, ministered to soldiers in a variety of combat situations, praying with men on the front lines and helping tend to the wounded and dying. But Chaplain Gerecke possessed an asset the Army needed as much as his pastoral work: He was fluent in German. Consequently he found himself assisting the Army in tending to German prisoners and German civilians in areas the Allied armies occupied.