A Story of Two Navy Chaplains

Posted on April 6, 2015


During World War II a Navy chaplain was featured in one of the most popular songs of that era: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” Today a much decorated Navy chaplain to Marines and SEALS is being drummed out of the Navy for being “unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment” of the Navy of the twenty-first century.

What’s happening here?

The first chaplain was standing by his men under fire on the cruiser USS New Orleans as Japanese dive bombers hurled fire and destruction of the American ships in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Chaplain Howell Forgy, Lieutenant (j.g.) ranged up and down the ammunition line of sailors, manhandling shells from the magazines to the turrets, encouraging them with “praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.”

In today’s overheated politically correct environment, Chaplain Forgy might have been fired for crossing the boundary between church and state, speaking of Godly things in a line of sweating, fearful sailors under fire in clouds of smoke and explosions trying to do their duty and stay alive. What if one of them exclaimed, “stop that, I am an atheist and you are speaking God over me!” Not likely. God was good to have on your side.

Someone picked up on the story in a country recovering from the shock of going to war, with all the uncertainty that implied, and wrote a song, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” that became an instant hit. Its lyrics were not exactly what happened, but it caught the spirit of the times.

Down went the gunner, a bullet was his fate
Down went the gunner, then the gunners mate
Up jumped the sky pilot [the chaplain], gave the boys a look
And manned the gun himself as he laid aside The Book, shouting…
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition and we’ll all stay free…!

On the other hand, today Lt. Commander Wes Modder, chaplain to Marines and SEALS for over fifteen years, with multiple commendations, styled the “best of the best” by one of commanding officers, has been accused of failing “to show tolerance and respect” in private counseling sessions on issues pertaining to faith, marriage and sexuality.

In fact, Chaplain Modder told those young sailors and officers pretty much exactly what is in Scripture. Some of them denounced him for not respecting and tolerating their opinions, contrary to what is in the Bible. Chaplain Modder now faces being kicked out of the Navy.

He told his accusers that he never hid or avoided questions about faith, family and morality. He told them frankly that “I am an ordained minister of Christianity, and I will speak the truth as it is expressed in the Bible.”

One argumentative atheist sailor asked him “would you believe in atheism?” That’s stupidity gone to seed. It reminded me of some things my sailors occasionally did years ago when I was Gun Boss on a Navy ship, like the guy who severed the line holding him over the well deck as he was painting to get a bit lower. “Mister Roberts” Navy had nothing on mine.

Now it looks like the Navy is the Pied Piper of political correctness, leading the other services in promoting a civil and secular environment with a high tolerance for behavior we used to consider sinful, from homosexuality to taking care of the pregnant sailors coming off the carriers after a long deployment.

Now, please, don’t misinterpret me. I don’t care what you do in private. This is still a free country. I am no goody two shoes.

But if you want to impose your morality, or lack of it, all across the board, then you are stepping beyond what our Constitution guarantees, which is freedom of worship and that no religion be imposed as a formal, state-sanctioned religion.

You are in fact arguing that a secular religion be imposed, and that much of what Christians find objectionable—sexual and moral misconduct as defined in Scripture—is made the rule, binding on all.

This stuff has been going on since man decided that he liked men as well as women, and even sheep, goats and others would do. In God’s word it was not only contrary to nature, but also contrary to God’s rule.

We have even smoothed out the rough edges and language. In the old Royal Navy (direct antecedents to the U. S. Navy), they called homosexuality for what it was, buggery. You could be lashed, dunked, or hanged, as sometimes happened until the early nineteenth century when more humane sentiments began to prevail.No one suggests that they navy should revert to those practices. But isn’t there a middle ground between the harsh intolerance of old ways and the complete abandonment of all moral standards? Isn’t there a place in the Navy for a chaplain who professes orthodox Christianity?

I would recommend that the U. S. Navy take a hard look at its alternate morality pandering to popular opinion. These are just the thoughts of a former lowly Lieutenant, but looking for God’s will rather than one dictated to by Annapolis or the Pentagon.

Published as Navy’s Alternate Morality Just Secular Religion in my Op Ed column, The Port Rail, in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday April 5, 2015