Paratrooper Padre

On August 27, 1942, General George C. Marshall wrote the following in a letter to John Hildring, upon Hildring's appointment as the head of the Army Civil Affairs branch:

“We have a great asset and that is that our people, our countrymen, do not distrust us and do not fear us. Our countrymen, our fellow citizens, are not afraid of us. They don't harbor any ideas that we intend to alter the government of the country or the nature of this government in any way. This is a sacred trust that I turn over to you today. We are completely devoted, we are a member of a priesthood really, the sole purpose of which is to defend the republic.”(emphasis mine)

I wonder if Marshall had his image of the priesthood from Father Francis L. Sampson. Father Sampson was ordained a priest at age 29 in 1941. He immediately enlisted in the Army as a chaplain and volunteered to be a paratrooper for the 101st Airborne Division. What would occur is an incredibly fascinating story. "The Paratrooper Padre" landed behind enemy lines on D-Day, and for his service in Normandy received the nation's second highest military honor, the Distinguished Service Cross. But Sampson's work was just beginning. He landed once again behind enemy lines with his comrades in September 1944 in Operation Market Garden, capturing the bridge at Veghel. Several months later his unit stopped in the small town of Bastogne, where they were encircled by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. Captured, Samson as a POW chose to remain with the enlisted men, where he celebrated Mass, tended to the dying, and kept up the spirits of men with his humor. The priest-POW was not released until April 28, 1945.

Father Samson remained a chaplain following WWII and served in Korea, parachuting once again north of Pyongyang on October 20, 1950. After serving as well in Vietnam, the Major-General-Father retired from military service in 1971, a true American hero.

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