Skip to main content

Felhoelter's Faith

Felhoelter's Faith

The depth of courage of the American soldier is difficult to grasp.  Our history old and new is filled with stories of courage that defy our instincts of self preservation and leave us in awe of our countrymen's bravery.  Today we share the story of Father Herman Felhoelter, a U.S. Army Chaplain.

Father Herman Gilbert Felhoelter was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1913. He joined the Franciscans and was ordained 1939.  He served as an Army chaplain in World War II and received a Bronze Star for service under fire. After that war, Felhoelter became an assistant pastor in Cincinnati, but was recommissioned in 1948 and appointed chaplain to the US 19th Infantry and posted to Korea.

On July 16th, 1950.  Chaplain Felhoelter and elements of 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division were on the retreat from overwhelming Korean forces in the mountains above the village of Tuman.  At 2100 hours, about 100 men moved into the hills to the east of the town.  They carried with them about 30 wounded from previous combat throughout the day, including several stretcher-bound patients too seriously wounded to walk. Some of the group of 100 were ordered to carry these men, but many of them separated from the group in the mountains.  By the time they reached the top of the mountain, officers decided some of the seriously wounded could not be carried any further, as their carriers were exhausted.

The regimental medical officer, Captain Linton J. Buttrey, and Chaplain Felhoelter remained behind with the wounded, intending to move them when another group of troops came through who could carry them.  Buttrey wore a red cross brassard identifying him as a medic, while Felhoelter wore a large white latin cross brassard, identifying him as a chaplain. 

Buttrey and Felhoelter were both unarmed, and wore the insignias of their vocations, indicating their non-combatant status. Soon, Buttrey and Felhoelter heard a Korean patrol approaching, a group of men from the KPA 3rd Division which had infiltrated the US lines.  Felhoelter told Buttrey to escape, and although Buttrey was shot and severely wounded in the ankle by KPA fire while running, he was able to get away.  Felhoelter began administering last rites and prayed over the wounded as they lay on their stretchers. Observers from the 19th Infantry's regimental headquarters watched through binoculars from a distance as KPA troops approached the site of the wounded.  As Felhoelter was kneeling in prayer over the wounded US soldiers, the KPA troops shot him in the head and back.  They then proceeded to shoot and kill all of the thirty critically wounded soldiers with their automatic weapons before withdrawing into the wilderness.

Father Felhoelter, unwilling to leave the side of his wounded soldiers and knowing the consequences, made the ultimate sacrifice that day.  We're proud to share his story of courage and sacrifice and hope you'll help us remember him and be inspired to serve your family, your community and your country in some way in honor of his sacrifice.