1st Lieutenant Chaplain Cecil D. Smith Collection


When thinking about jobs in the military, combat operations may be the first to come to mind. But, American servicemen and women have other roles. From cooks to engineers to musicians, they have many jobs that support their fellow service members’ work on the front lines.

Religious figures also play a key part in the military. Beginning in the Revolutionary War, military chaplains, or ministers, provided comfort, inspiration and support to others in their units. Since then, over 25,000 chaplains have served in the U.S. Army. [1]

Infantry Division, known as the “Ohio Division” because most of its draftees came from Ohio. [2] The objects and archival materials from the donation give a unique look at one of the 200,000 Ohioans who participated in the First World War.

Cecil Smith was born on August 8, 1893, in Findlay, Ohio. His father, Reverend Kelley Lorenzo Smith, was a Methodist minister and, by 1910, had moved the family south to Mt. Victory, Ohio. Soon, Cecil enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1915. Interested in becoming a minister like his father, Cecil soon pursued a second bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology at Boston University.

His studies, however, would be put on hold. On May 29, 1917, Cecil signed his World War I draft registration card at the Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Registrar’s Office. By year’s end, he returned to Ohio to prepare for military service. [3]

In January 1918, Cecil began training at the newly established Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio. Several months after arriving, he started keeping a journal, included in the recent donation. On May 27, 1918, Cecil wrote, “At Community Church, married Cpl. Robert Henry Kunkle, Co. B. 322 MG. Bn. and Olie Blanche Basher, both of Cleveland. Groom’s mother present as witness.” That week, he officiated several other unit members’ weddings, demonstrating the chaplain’s role in connecting soldiers with their families and, ultimately, fostering unit morale. [4]

With a specialized skillset gained through religious study, military chaplains were automatically commissioned officers. Their uniforms reflected their dual roles as military and religious leaders. Cecil’s uniform includes braids near the cuffs, a Sam Browne belt, cut-out collar insignia and other accessories denoting his status as an officer. Along with rank, his religious affiliation can be seen in pieces from the donation. His garrison cap, uniform jacket and chaplain’s flag, flown at the site of religious services conducted in the field, all include the Christian cross. [5]

In July 1918, Cecil arrived in France, just after the military created a “U.S. Army Chaplain School,” in Chaumont, France (later relocated to Le Mans, France). [6] At this school, Army chaplains gained more training, preparing them to be mess officers, unit postal officers and unit historians, among other roles. Of course, they also had to be ready to face the realities of war, such as administering last rites and tending to casualties. During his time overseas, Cecil was stationed at the Savenay Base Hospital Center, in Savenay, France, where he counseled wounded soldiers and tended graves on-site.

Cecil remained in France until mid-1919, when he received an honorable discharge from the military. In 1920, he completed his studies at Boston University and, later, became a Methodist minister in Columbus, Ohio.

After their service, Cecil and other military chaplains active in World War I left a lasting legacy, summarized by AEF General John J. Pershing:

The activities of the Army chaplains in France extended from the base port to the firing line. They had the opportunity of affecting in the most intimate way the morale of the organizations to which they were attached, and of this opportunity they took full advantage. Their work as a whole was characterized by untiring zeal, marked disregard of danger, and deep devotion to duty. By their influence, teachings, and example they did much to maintain the high moral standard of the American soldier [7]

For many, religious officials are important community members who provide guidance and support. During their time in the military, service men and women leave behind the comforts of home. But, thanks to military chaplains, spiritual guidance is still available. The archival materials and three-dimensional objects that once belonged to 1st Lieutenant Chaplain Cecil Smith provide a rich perspective into one Ohioan’s experience in World War I and the many jobs in the U.S. military.

For more information on donating military items to the Ohio History Connection, please contact us at [email protected] or by telephone at 614.297.2535.

[1] “History of the Army Chaplaincy,” U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, http://chapnet.chaplaincorps.net/wp-content/uploads/History-of-the-Army-Chaplaincy1.pdf.
[2] “83rd Infantry Division,” U.S. Army Center of Military History, http://www.history.army.mil/documents/eto-ob/83id-eto.
[3] “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 for Cecil Damiel [sic] Smith,” 1917.
[4] “Cecil D. Smith, Chaplain – 322nd M.G.Bn. / 329th Infantry – AMEX 1918.” Personal journal, 1918.
[5] U.S. Army Center of Military History, Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War, American Expeditionary Forces: Volume 1 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988), 24-25. World War I marked the first conflict since the Civil War that Jewish chaplains served in the Army.
[6] Richard Budd, Serving Two Masters: The Development of American Military Chaplaincy, 1860-1920 (Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 148.
[7] John J. Pershing, personal letter to Reverend Gaylord S. White, August 16, 1919. Appears in Army Reorganization: Hearings Before the Committee on Military Affairs (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1920), 2008.

Posted August 14, 2015

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