U.S. ARMY CHAPLAIN CORPS OFFICER'S CEREMONIAL BELT

The ceremonial belt for officers, also referred to as a sabre belt, features a braid manufactured in the appropriate branch color with gold piping. On the belt buckle is the obverse of the Great Seal of the United States, also known as the coat of arms of the United States. As implied by its name, the ceremonial belt is authorized for wear with the Army Service Uniform during special events and ceremonies as prescribed the local commander.
 
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The duties of officers in the Army Chaplain Corps revolve first and foremost around meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of enlisted personnel and officers. This includes providing ministerial and religious services, offering counseling and advice on religious and moral issues, and managing programs associated with religious ministries, including educational workshops and group studies to special events.  Besides meeting with Army personnel on a one-to-one basis, they also advise provide advice commanders on matters that affect unit morale and performance.

Following World War II, however, the Army Chaplain Corps was asked to meet the needs not of soldiers or even American citizens, but of men who just a few months earlier had been this nation’s mortal enemies: Nazis who had held some of the highest-ranking positions in the German military and government.

The situation arose while Admiral Erich Raeder, head of the Kriegsmarine from the start of World War II until early 1943, awaited trial in Nuremberg along with more than twenty other Nazi leaders. Aware that Article 16 of the Geneva Conventions signed in 1929 gave prisoners of war “complete freedom in the performance of their religious duties, including attendance at the services of their faith,” Raeder asked his captors for leaders to provide spiritual guidance. The Geneva Conventions did not mandate that detaining powers provide chaplains or any type of religious leaders; they merely stated that “Ministers of religion, who are prisoners of war…shall be allowed freely to minister to their co-religionists.”

It’s unclear whether there were any ordained ministers among the lesser defendants held at Nuremberg along with the 20-plus major Nazi figures, but in any event the Army Chaplain Corps eventually asked two of its members—Henry Gerecke and Sixtus O’Connor—to provide ministerial services to the roundly hated and despised German prisoners. Gerecke was chosen because he spoke German, had previous experience in prison ministry, and was a Lutheran Protestant; fifteen of the twenty-one Nazis self-identified as Protestant.

Both Gerecke and O’Connor, a Catholic priest who also spoke fluent German, were given the option to turn down the assignment, but turned down the opportunity and instead followed the overarching commands of their faith: to love God and to love their neighbor as they would themselves.

The two Army Chaplains believed in their heart of hearts that their message of forgiveness was fully accepted by several of the Nazi war criminals, ten of whom were hung on October 16, 1946. Not in doubt is just how much Gerecke’s ministry meant to the prisoners: when the Nazis heard that he might be sent home before the trial concluded, they wrote his wife a letter on June 14, 1946 imploring her to ask him to remain with them. She replied not to them, but to her husband, with an airmail containing three simple words: “They need you.”
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