Fallen Jewish chaplains may yet be memorialized at Arlington cemetery

Fallen Jewish chaplains may yet be memorialized at Arlington cemetery

WASHINGTON — A campaign to memorialize 13 fallen Jewish military chaplains with a monument in Arlington National Cemetery is back on track after hitting a demoralizing snag.

“I think that this will correct an injustice of history,” said William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president of public policy and head of its Washington office. “This is a fitting way to recognize these brave servicemen who gave their lives for our country and our people.”

The logjam broke in late January with the introduction of a congressional resolution endorsing the effort to honor the memory of the Jewish chaplains in the same way that fallen chaplains of other faiths have been honored at Arlington. The legislation –companion measures are pending in both houses of Congress — enjoys the firm backing of more than 30 Jewish groups that JFNA organized into a coalition.

Arlington’s overseers originally had told organizers that to erect the monument, they needed only to raise sufficient funds ($30,000) and secure approvals from each of the military’s chief of chaplains. Acting on that, the organizers mounted a vigorous fundraising effort early last year, and assumed that ground soon would be broken.

In November, however, they learned that they had been misinformed.

Patrick Hallinan, the cemetery superintendent at Arlington, told the organizers that his predecessor, John Metzler Jr., failed to mention a law passed in the late 1980s that required congressional approval for new memorials. A major scandal at Arlington had cost Metzler his job.

“It was quite frustrating,” said Rear Adm. Harold Robinson, a rabbi and director of the Association of Jewish Chaplains of the Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs, which has spearheaded the project.

Plans called for the monument to stand in a section of Arlington known as Chaplains Hill, which now houses three monuments honoring 242 chaplains of other faiths. The new monument would honor eight Jewish chaplains who perished while on active duty during World War II, two who died during the Cold War and three who lost their lives during the Vietnam War and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The congressional resolution that would clear the way for construction of the memorial has been actively supported by a broad swath of the Jewish community, including the American Jewish Committee, the Orthodox Union and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Members of Congress, Daroff said, “are overwhelmingly supportive” of the resolution — once they find out that Jewish chaplains who perished while on active duty have been excluded from Chaplains Hill.

“Unfortunately, most folks don’t know about Chaplains Hill and beyond that, the Jewish chaplains who died,” said Daroff, who is optimistic about the resolution’s chances.

The resolution is slowly gaining traction in both chambers — the resolutions have been referred to their appropriate committees for consideration.

The House version had 24 co-sponsors as of Feb. 15 (none of them from Maryland), while the Senate version had four, including Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who is Jewish.

Cardin, in a statement to the Washington Jewish Week, said it is critical “that Jewish chaplains who died while in active duty serving our nation be honored and remembered on Chaplains Hill along with the chaplains of other faiths.”