A Wounded Soldier and the 23rd Psalm

During WWII my dad, Herbert Miller, was assigned to the 333rd Infantry Regiment of the 84th Division. The 84th was known as the Railsplitters. You can see the Railsplitter pins on his lapels in the photo below.

Pfc Herbert M. Miller

My dad was proud to be a Railsplitter and over the years purchased many books about the Railsplitters and their role in World War II, in particular about their role in Battle of the Bulge. He subscribed to the Railsplitter magazine as well and that is where he read the letter I am posting below. The incident described in this letter really made an impression on my dad and he talked about it many times. He even cut the letter out of the magazine and tucked it away in one of his Railsplitter books. That is where I found it.

The incident below took place in Germany in December, 1944, probably just before my dad entered the war.

The letter was written by Army chaplain Harold R. Weaver. I am not sure when the letter was written but the writer may be referring to the Railsplitter reunion in Springfield, Illinois, in 2007.

Dear Railsplitters,

I attended the reunion in Springfield, first time I had seen many of the fellows for 40 years. It was terrific! I was a bit afraid that no one would know me—and that I might not know them—so I made a badge which I wore: a picture of me taken 40 years ago, with my name and “84th Div., Artillery Chaplain” under the picture. It helped every once in a while. I was sharing an experience with some of the fellows and they encouraged me to write it down on paper and send it to the RAILSPLITTER. I have done so and this is it! If you find it useful perhaps you might print it.

It was in Geilenkirchen in December, before we went down to the Battle of the Bulge. It might have been a bit earlier, I’m not sure of the exact date. But I do remember a black night when I was asleep in the basement of a house on the edge of town. This was part of the Siegfried Line so we felt somewhat safe in the thick-walled basement. Around 1:00 a.m. someone yelled into our basement, “Is there a Protestant Chaplain here?” I of course yelled back, “Yeh, I’m one,” to which he replied, “you are wanted by the medics.” We skirted past a long crooked trench the Germans had dug., feeling our way carefully in the dark and got into the man’s Jeep. I’ve wondered a 1000 times how the drivers ever survived, driving in pitch black darkness, a feeling most men in combat have experienced. We took only a few minutes to get to the village school house which was being used—in the basement—as a medic center at that time.

We pulled the tarp back so no light would get out and walked into the large room. Why was I called? A man was lying on a table with a plasma bottle hanging from a stand and with a needle attached to tubing. He was unconscious. He had been hit along with a number of others just a mile or so from Geikenkirchen and had been brought back to this aid station. The M.D. told me the man was in severe shock, that his blood vessels were flabby and that they could not get plasma into his veins. He was soon to die and therefore he (the M.D.) had asked for a chaplain. I admitted, at least to myself, that I hardly knew what could be done of any value in such a situation. I did suggest that we might read the 23rd Psalm and I would follow it with prayer. The doctor nodded approval and two or three of the medics gathered around the table as we surrounded the infantryman with our concern.

An amazing thing happened. I came to the part of the Psalm where the words are “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou are with me,” and I was interrupted by the physician: “Chaplain,” he said, “the man is speaking” and sure enough he was repeating the words of the Psalm along with me: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…” The medic said to me, “Ask him his name.” Then, “What is his dog tag number?” And not until then did I know that his dog tag was missing and that he was an “unknown soldier.” I wanted to engage in some kind of talk with him so I said, “Are you a Baptist?” It was a gamble. I thought I could rely on a Baptist knowing the 23rd Psalm! (I happen to be a United Methodist). I did not expect the quick and vigorous response, “No. I’m a Lutheran!” In a way it was the best thing that could have happened because it meant some adrenaline was shot into his system in a hurry. There was considerable vigor in his response, and most important his flabby blood vessels became resilient and made it possible for the medics to get the needle into his blood vessels and thus get the plasma into his body. It saved his life!

Later, the next day, I talked with the medics and found that he had been shipped on to the next medic station to the rear, but that it seemed likely that he lost an arm from the 88 shell fragment that hit him. But the thing that intrigued me was that here was an infantryman whose life was saved because he was touched deep down in his unconscious mind as he heard the familiar words of the 23rd Psalm and he returned to consciousness, thus releasing vital factors so that he could survive.

My thought about it all: somewhere there may still be a Lutheran infantryman with one arm whose life was saved by an Artillery Chaplain’s words from the Scriptures. The words had value to the man because somewhere his boyhood days—perhaps at Confirmation time—he had learned the 23rd Psalm. And I am impressed with the possibility that this man may not know that knowing that Psalm was important to his being alive today, if indeed his is still alive.

Is there a one-armed infantryman, a Lutheran, who got wounded at Geilenkirchen and was taken to the school house there for treatment? If so I’d like to hear from him. Maybe others would, too, so let us know—if such a man reads this article.

Chaplain Harold R. Weaver
(Div Arty)
5627 N. Moraine Hills Dr.
West Bend, WI  53095

I think one of the reasons my dad liked this letter so much is that fact that the soldier was Lutheran and my dad was a Lutheran as well. Of course a Lutheran would know the 23rd Psalm! My dad took his faith seriously and was an active member of Zion Chatt all of his life. He also attended church services throughout his basic training and while he was in Europe during the war. I have some of the church bulletins that he saved from those services during the war.

Below is the bulletin from the Protestant Worship service at Providence Church in Heidelberg on 6 and 7 April 1946:

Bulletin from 6 & 7 April 1946, Providence Church, Heidelberg, Germany.

Bulletin from 6 & 7 April 1946, Providence Church, Heidelberg, Germany.

More to come about my dad’s WWII experiences.

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