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O Callaghan Family Heroes of World War II

Joseph Timothy O'Callaghan

Among the many highlights of Clan Callaghan: The O Callaghan Family of County Cork, by Professor Emeritus Joseph F. O Callaghan are accounts of three of the author’s relatives who served with distinction in World War II. Two of these heroes earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Their stories follow here.

Joseph T. O Callahan, S.J., Naval Hero

In an entirely different manner Joseph Timothy O Callahan, S.J. (1905-1964), professor of mathematics at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts, gained distinction as a chaplain in the United States Navy in World War Il. After serving as chief morale officer on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger during the invasion of North Africa, he was transferred to the carrier USS Franklin in the Pacific Ocean, with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. During the horrendous bombardment of the Franklin on 19 March 1945 by Japanese airplanes off Kobe, Japan, he helped to save the ship while ministering to the wounded and the dying. President Harry S. Truman honored his heroic behavior on 23 January 1946 by conferring on him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award given by the United States. The citation read in part: “He organized and led fire-fighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing ship, continuing his efforts despite searing, suffocating smoke.” The captain said that Fr. O Callahan ”was the bravest man I ever saw.” He responded: “any priest in like circumstances should do and would do what I did.” Returning home after the war with the rank of captain he resumed his teaching career at Holy Cross until ill health forced his retirement. Meantime he wrote an account of his experiences entitled, I was Chaplain on the Franklin. He died on 16 March 1964. On 20 October 1965 at Bay City, Michigan, his sister Alice, a Maryknoll missioner known in religion as Sister Rose Marie, christened a new destroyer escort, the USS O Callahan, named in his honor. The first nun ever to christen an American warship, she had been interned in the Philippines by the Japanese; after liberation she taught at Maryknoll college in Quezon. The O Callahan Science Library at Holy Cross is named in her brother’s honor.

Admirals Daniel and William Callaghan

In addition to Fr. Joseph O Callahan, two other members of the family, the Admirals Daniel and William Callaghan, played exceptional roles in the American armed forces during the Second World War. They were the great-grandsons of Daniel Callaghan, who arrived in Boston from Cork in 1845 and joined his brother Jeremiah in Califomia in 1852. By providing supplies to miners attracted by the Gold Rush, they achieved wealth and prominence in the affairs of San Francisco.

Both Daniel and William were graduates of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and served during the First World War. Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan (1892-1942), a naval aide to President Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1938 to 1941, represented the president at the funeral of Cardinal George Mundelein of Chicago in 1939. Three years later he was placed in command of a force sent to intercept the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. In the naval battle of Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942, his flagship , the cruiser San Francisco, moved into the enemy with her guns blazing, causing one enemy ship to sink, and disabling a battleship. Admiral Callaghan, whom the President described as “my close personal friend,” was killed on the bridge of his flagship. The Congressional Medal of Honor “for extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity” was awarded to him posthumously. The citation commended his “ingenious tactical skill and superb coordination of the units under his command . . . his courageous initiative, inspiring leadership, and judicious foresight in a crisis of grave responsibility . . . . He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.” The destroyer USS Callaghan, launched in his honor in August 1943 was sunk by a Japanese kamikaze attack on 28 July 1945. In August 1981 a new USS Callaghan was commissioned.

Daniel’s brother, William (1898-1991), who served on a destroyer guarding convoys in the North Atlantic during World War I, helped to organize the petroleum to Britain during World War II. When the new battleship Missouri, or 45,000 tons, was put into service in 1944, he was given command and participated in naval actions off Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Tokyo. When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the ceremony presided over by General MacArthur took place on the battleship Missouri with Captain Callaghan still in command. After the war he organized the Military Sea Transportation Services and also commanded American naval forces in the Far East. Retiring with the rank of Vice-Admiral in 1957, he became Vice-President of American Export Lines, and acted as chairman of the Maritime Transportation Research Board under the National Academy of Sciences. A recipient of the Legion of Merit as well as several other honors, he was also a Knight of Malta. His son Rear Admiral William Callaghan, Jr. (1925-2013) continued the family tradition of naval service.

Editor’s Note:  To read another fascinating illustrated excerpt from Clan Callaghan: The O Callaghan Family of County Cork, check out the latest issue (Spring 2021) of the online magazine, Irish Lives Remembered, edited by Patrick Roycroft. This excerpt follows the sept’s fortunes during the Irish Famine era.
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