An important part of this important day, via The Tallahassee Democrat:
Dec. 7, 1941, the day 2,300 other American troops died, is the day that set the U.S. on the path to a more religiously tolerant nation, according to Florida State University Associate Professor of History Kurt Piehler.
Piehler’s “Religious History of the American GI in World War II” identifies Pearl Harbor as the trigger needed to engage the U.S. in a worldwide war about religious freedom.
“One of the linchpins of FDR’s core beliefs was that religion was for the public good,” said Piehler, the director of the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience. “But he also believed in religious pluralism and really allowing individuals to adhere to their own conscience.”
Imposing such a policy on the military, according to Piehler, helped break down divisions within the Judeo-Christian faith and unite a country after its population had doubled in fewer than 50 years, mostly through immigration.
Earl Baum, the first combat fatality to be buried at the Tallahassee National Cemetery, was among the 429 USS Oklahoma crew members who drowned when their ship was torpedoed and sunk by Japanese airplanes on Dec. 7, 1941. Among the Pearl Harbor stories Piehler recounts is that of Chaplain Aloyusis Schmitt, who served on the Oklahoma with Baum.
Schmitt rushed below deck to help trapped sailors, after it was broadsided by torpedoes. Like Baum, Schmitt went down with the ship.
U.S. chaplains are trained to support troops of all faiths, regardless of their own religious affiliation. Schmitt, a Catholic priest, like all chaplains was exempt from the draft and volunteered for combat duty.
His presence, like those of thousands of other clergy circulating among the troops in the heat of battle, helped forge a new American identity, according to Piehler.
“Catholic, Jews and Protestants being in the same unit often really broke down White ethnic and religious lines,” explained Piehler.