Saving Big Ben

The USS Franklin and Father Joseph T. O'Callahan
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Published:April 15, 2011
By John R. Satterfield (Author)

Father Joseph T. O'Callahan was the first military chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor. An unlikely war hero, the bespectacled math professor who became the U.S. Navy's first Jesuit chaplain, served in combat in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.  He was on board the USS Franklin, an aircraft carrier known as "Big Ben," in the Okinawa campaign in early 1945 when a kamikaze attack nearly destroyed the ship and killed hundreds of sailors.

Father Joe O’Callahan, S.J. was the unlikeliest war hero. A bespectacled math professor from Holy Cross, he became the U.S. Navy’s first Jesuit chaplain in World War II and served in combat operations in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Father O’Callahan was on the aircraft carrier Franklin, known as “Big Ben”, in the Okinawa campaign in early 1945 when massive explosions and fire from a kamikaze bomb attack nearly destroyed his ship. Hundreds of sailors died within moments of the attack, and the Franklin, lay dead in the water, drifting toward Japan just 60 miles distant. As flames consumed the carrier, the chaplain organized and led fire-fighting crews and prevented a potentially fatal explosion while ministering to injured, dying and terrified sailors.

Father O’Callahan’s deeds were instrumental in saving the Franklin, and he stayed with the ship on its voyage under power to New York Harbor. The carrier’s captain called him “the bravest man I ever saw,” and Father Joe became the first American military chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration for valor. But the price of glory was high for Father O’Callahan. He suffered a stroke after returning to Holy Cross and spent the rest of his life enduring incapacitating pain. Through it all, the priest displayed the same leadership and strength derived from unwavering faith that enabled him to help save his ship and comrades.

The book incorporates primary sources, interviews with Franklin survivors and O’Callahan family members and other materials never before published, including documentation of the Navy’s review of Father O’Callahan’s recommendation of the Medal of Honor and the process leading to the priest’s receipt of the decoration.

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Product Details
  • Hardback : 288 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (April 15, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1591148081
  • ISBN-13: 9781591148081
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 0 lb

John R. Satterfield writes about military history and weapon systems. A retired naval reserve officer, he worked in defense industry public relations and lectures on topics including British and U.S naval history and World War II. He is the author of We Band of Brothers: The Sullivans and World War II. He and his wife live in Newark, DE near the state’s only Revolutionary War battle site.

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