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Joseph Timothy O’Callahan

O’Callahan, a Jesuit priest, was born on May 14, 1905, in Boston’s Roxbury neightborhood. He studied at St. Andrew’s College, Poughkeepsie, NY, where received both a B.A. and M.A. in mathematics and physics, in addition to religious philosophy. He was ordained as a priest in 1934. He served as professor of mathematics, philosophy, and physics at Boston College from 1927 to 1937, and spent one year as a professor at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. He then served as head of the Mathematics Department at the College of the Holy Cross from 1938-40.

Another medal recipient, John V. Power, was his student at Holy Cross. In another twist of fate, Power’s sister, Partricia Power Rose, a nurse, tended O’Callahan when he was a patient at Saint Vincent Hospital.

O’Callahan became a lieutenant, J.G. in the Chaplain Corps of the U.S. Navy Reserve on August 7, 1940, and attained the rank of commander in July 1945. 

O’Callahan was chaplain aboard the USS Franklin on March 2, 1945, when the ship was severely damaged by bombs from a Japanese aircraft. Although wounded in the attack, OCallahan moved through the smoke and exploding gas tanks and ammunition on the flight deck to administer last rites to the dying and comfort the wounded. Seeing the danger of ammunition in the ship’s magazines exploding, he organized a damage control group and led shipmates through the flames to jettison explosives, even leading the party into one of the main magazines to wet it down. 

O’Callahan died March 16, 1964; he is buried in the Jesuit cemetery on the Holy Cross campus, and his Medal of Honor is part of the college archives. O’Callahan wrote a book about his experiences, I Was Chaplain on the FranklinThe USS O’Callahan (DE-1051) was named in his honor.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as chaplain on board the U.S.S. Franklin when that vessel was fiercely attacked by enemy Japanese aircraft during offensive operations near Kobe, Japan, on 19 March 1945. A valiant and forceful leader, calmly braving the perilous barriers of flame and twisted metal to aid his men and his ship, Lt. Comdr. O’Callahan groped his way through smoke-filled corridors to the open flight deck and into the midst of violently exploding bombs, shells, rockets, and other armament. With the ship rocked by incessant explosions, with debris and fragments raining down and fires raging in ever-increasing fury, he ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths; he organized and led firefighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts, despite searing, suffocating smoke which forced men to fall back gasping and imperiled others who replaced them. Serving with courage, fortitude, and deep spiritual strength, Lt. Comdr. O’Callahan inspired the gallant officers and men of the Franklin to fight heroically and with profound faith in the face of almost certain death and to return their stricken ship to port.