"Padre of the Pacific"Is Located at Sampson
PICTURE (to be added later)
Lieut. Comdr. Frederick P. Gehring, USNR, right, famed "Guadalcanal Padre,"is new senior Catholic chaplain at the U. S. Naval Training Center at Sampson. He is shown with Lieut. Comdr. John K. Wheaton, USNR, formerly assigned tothe senior Catholic chaplain's post, who is now serving with the Eighth Fleet.
Sampson, July 31 - As every man who has been at the front knows well, tough muscles and guns are only part of the fight. Still more important are spirit and character and the discipline which weld the group into a fighting team.
It is because he understands this, and has done more than his share toward the building of morale among our fighting men in the south and southwest Pacific, that Lieut. Comdr. Frederick P. Gehring, USNR, has been decorated three times. His medals are the Legion of Merit, Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and Presidential Unit Citation.
Chaplain Gehring is just one of many veterans of combat here at Sampson, under the command of Captain Harry A. Badt, USN, Center Commander, to prepare men of the Navy to take their places on fighting ships. He is only one, but there are few even among the veterans who have seen more action or displayed more unselfish heroism and devotion to duty.
A modest but dynamic priest, he is now serving as Senior Catholic Chaplain here. His superior is Captain William W. Edel, USN, a Methodist who has been in the Navy since early in the last war. The Senior Catholic Chaplain came to this inland Naval Training Center after twenty-two months of duty in the Pacific.
Chaplain Gehring came to Sampson to replace still another veteran of naval action in the Pacific, Lieut. Comdr. John K. Wheaton, USNR, who served as Senior Catholic Chaplain from last October until late last month. A survivor of the sinking of the cruiser Helena, he was detached to return to sea.
A Vincentian missionary, who spent seven years in China before the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor, Chaplain Gehring knew plenty about the ferocity of our Pacific enemy before he went to the East Indies in a Navy uniform. His mission in central China was bombed as early as 1938. And it was another Vincentian mission which aided General Doolittle after his forced landing in China, following the "Shangri La" raid on Tokyo. That mission has since been completely razed by the vengeful Sons of Heaven.
Known as the "Padre of the Pacific," and "Guadalcanal Padre," Chaplain Gehring was among the early Navy men to arrive at Guadalcanal after the initial landings of the Marines in August, 1942. Within sniping range of the enemy, he conducted the first Christmas midnight mass in a tent there, welterweight boxing champion, Barney Ross, as his organist. Jap bombs fell within a few hundred yards of the tent during the service. This is but one of the colorful and dramatic incidents of the most strenuous kind of combat duty.
Chaplain Gehring was on Guadalcanal for six months, from September 1942, to February 1943. A victim of malaria and dengue fever, he was flown from Guadalcanal to New Caledonia for several months of hospitalization, The plane in which he made the trip also carried two other men well-known to the American public, who had been Chaplain Gehring's companions. They were the moving picture actor, Lieut. Comdr. Robert Montgomery, USNR, and the screen writer, Captain Gene Markey, USNR.
A quiet and unassuming man, Chaplain Gehring's face lights up when he tells of the heroism of the other men on Guadalcanal. Something of the character and faith of the man were revealed in a comment he made while he was telling of the almost continuous bombing and shelling they underwent.
"As many as could get there would come to my foxhole," he said. "They thought there was something miraculous about it, that I was a lucky guy. There were hits all around my dugout - five feet away, ten feet away, and once a shell hit right in the mouth of it. But the shell was a dud."
Whether it was luck or something else, Chaplain Gehring survived a lot more than bombs and shells. He was decorated with the Legion of Honor on his return to this country for the rescue of thirty-two missionaries from behind Jap lines.
No better testimony as to the kind of man he is could be asked that that of Admiral William F. Halsey, USN, then Navy Commander in Chief of the Southwest Pacific. In awarding Chaplain Gehring the Navy and Marine Corps Medal he said:
"In the execution of his office at the advanced Naval Base, Guadalcanal, he gave the maximum in energy and zeal and, by his cool and encouraging and courageous example under enemy bombings, strafings and shelling, was a rallying point for all hands."
Chaplain Gehring served for many months at an advanced naval base on New Caledonia, following his six months on Guadalcanal. Then in July, 1943, he took part in the invasion of Woodlark Island, which lies between New guinea and the Solomon Islands. From December,1943, until March, 1944, he was in Finschafen, on the New Guinea coast. He was evacuated from there to Australia and then flew to this country.
This devout, self-effacing but forceful man takes particular pride in having built four Navy chapels in the course of his service. And he remembers with satisfaction the steaming hot days and nights in New Guinea when he was to be found at Gehring Hall, the largest service recreation hall in the southwest Pacific.
Chaplain Gehring was born in Brooklyn 41 years ago. He attended St. John's Preparatory School, St. Joseph's College, Princeton, N.J. and St. Vincent's Seminary, in Germantown, Pa. For several years after his ordination in 1930, he lectured across the country in behalf of Chinese missions. This and other work brought him into upper New York State on a number of occasions, where he had many friends before he reported to Sampson for his present duty.