One of the many chaplains who helped officiate at this ceremony was Rabbi Lieutenant Roland B. Gittelsohn, United States Navy. This chaplain was the first rabbi to be assigned to the Marines – specifically, the 5th Marine Division. Of the nearly seventy thousand Marines who fought at Iwo Jima, 1,500 were Jewish. Rabbi Gittelsohn moved in amongst these Marines, offering prayers and words of encouragement to all Marines during the entire invasion irrespective of faith or ethnicity. When the fighting was over, the 5th Division Command Chaplain, Warren Cuthriell, a Baptist, was so impressed with the ministry of Rabbi Gittelsohn during the invasion that he asked him to give the sermon at the dedication of the Marine cemetery. It was Chaplain Cuthriell’s intension to have all Marines honored, regardless of race, religion or creed, in the same non-denominational ceremony. Other chaplains raised a ruckus over this, but Cuthriell wouldn’t budge. Rabbi Gittelsohn did not want to cause any difficulties for his boss and friend, so he offered to oversee a separate ceremony for the Jewish Marines being buried. Ironically, the sermon offered by Rabbi Gittelsohn was copied by one of the Protestant chaplains and distributed to thousands of Marines, who in turn mailed it home to their families. It was picked up by news services and radio programs across the United States, giving it a life that no one could have ever imagined.
As I read again the words of his sermon that he offered these many decades ago, I could not help but think of how applicable they are to today. The following are portions of what he said.