Father Joseph T. O’Callahan, SJ, was head of the mathematics department at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and a professor of mathematics, physics, and philosophy. But when war broke out in 1939, he signed up to be a Navy Chaplain — the first Jesuit to do so. In March of 1945 he was assigned to the USS Franklin, which steamed out of Pearl Harbor on March 3. Just 16 days later, while preparing to launch bombing runs on the Japanese mainland, the Franklin was struck by two armor-piercing bombs. The bombs penetrated to the hangar bay. The chain reactions of explosions and fires which ensued killed hundreds almost immediately, and hundreds more over the next eleven hours. But Father O’Callahan kept his wits about him, and organized the men into firefighting squads. He personally led some men into gun turrets and ammunition magazines to remove hot rounds and toss them overboard, and to hose down some with fire hoses to keep them cool. If any of these had exploded the ship would have been torn to bits, and all the men would have died. Thanks to his actions — and those of a few others — the Franklin was saved, and made it back to Brooklyn, New York for major repairs. Father O’Callahan initially refused the Navy Cross approved for him, but eventually President Truman convinced him to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor — the award his actions truly merited. Father O’Callahan went back to teaching at Holy Cross. He died in 1964.
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