The sons of Saint Dominic have supplied many heroic military chaplains throughout their illustrious history, and one of these men was Father Paul Redmond. Born on March 27, 1899 in New Haven, Connecticut, he served as an enlisted man in the United States Navy during World War I. He was ordained a priest in the Dominican order in 1930.
By 1942, Father Redmond was 43 years old, about a decade older than the average chaplain. No one would have said anything if he had sat this World War out. Instead he joined the Navy and became a Marine chaplain, and not just any Marine chaplain. He took a demotion in rank from corps chaplain to battalion chaplain to serve with the 1st and 4th Raider battalions, elite combat formations. Among men who were brave simply by virtue of qualifying to join such outfits, Chaplain Redmond stood out. During the campaign on Guam, Father Redmond would go into the mouths of caves occupied by Japanese troops to attempt to convince them to surrender, and I find it difficult to think of anything more hazardous offhand.
In the midst of the attack on Orote Peninsula on Guam, the Chaplain was tending the dying and wounded while under fire. He called to his assistant Henry to give him a hand. His assistant was understandably reluctant to expose himself to enemy fire. Father Redmond yelled to him that as long as he had led a good, clean life nothing would happen to him. Henry yelled back that he had not led a good, clean life and therefore he was going to sit tight until the firing let up.
One Marine recalled Redmond’s almost preternatural courage:
“My face was bleeding. I could kind of see the blood squirting out of my gut…Then all that machine gun fire. There was a Catholic priest by the name of Father Paul Redmond. He crawled up to me and he said a prayer. Every day I think, “How did he ever survive getting up to me?” You should have seen the way the guys were dropping. And he came right to me and he was saying that prayer to me and he says, “You’re a brave Marine. God will take care of you. Your wounds will be healed.” And then he took off. And that’s when this one guy pulled me by the ankles and down that hill that Dunbar carried me back.”
Father Redmond first saw combat when the Raiders participated in the invasion of New Georgia. There he earned a Legion of Merit. The citation explains the standard operating procedure for the Chaplain when it came to combat:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Legion of Merit to Lieutenant (ChC) Paul J. Redmond, United States Naval Reserve, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States while serving as Chaplain with the Fourth Marine Raider Battalion, First Marine Raider Regiment, on New Georgia, Solomon Islands, on 1 and 20 July 1943. During the heavy fighting against enemy Japanese forces at both Viru Harbor and Bairoko Harbor, he repeatedly ignored intense machine gun, rifle and mortar fire so that he might comfort the wounded and administer last rites to the dying in the front lines. When the fighting had subsided, he helped in the hazardous work of recovering the dead and preparing a proper place for their burial. Throughout both actions, Captain Redmond’s calm demeanor and his willingness to proceed to any point, however dangerous, where his presence was needed were a constant inspiration to the men.
Raider veterans amassed a huge number of stories regarding their beloved Chaplain. They recall the time he had to break the news to a Marine that he had received Dear John letters from three different women, and how then the Marine complained about the unfaithfulness of women! They mention how he became concerned that the severity of sins he heard in confession was on the increase, until it was brought to his attention that his habit of giving a cold beer to Marines during lengthy spiritual counseling sessions might have caused some of the Marines to exaggerate their sinfulness.
Space does not allow the telling of the tale of how he helped Marines steal a piano for a good cause during the war.
A young Chaplain new to the Raiders once asked him how he attracted so many Marines to his masses, especially since most of the men were not Catholic. Redmond told him that as long as a Chaplain was willing to go to the front with the men he would always find a lot of converts.
Chaplain Redmond always referred to his Marines as his children, and during the War he had to bury 3,000 of his kids.
His last battle with the Marines was Okinawa, that terrible final grinding battle of attrition. When he dedicated the cemetery for the Sixth Marine Division he said: This is not a bivouac of the dead. It is a colony of heaven. And some part of us all is buried here.
After the War, Father Redmond had 46 years of life ahead of him as a priest, and he filled each one of them with good service. He died in 1991. The US Marine Raider Association keeps his memory green.