On July 23, 1944, three brave chaplains of the 90th infantry demonstrated true courage and respect for life. In the process, everyone learned that glimpses of decency could still be found in all men even in war time. Father Joseph J. Esser, Chaplain Edgar H. Stohler and Pastor James M. Hamilton took on a “suicide mission” to save lives and succeeded.
The 90th Infantry had been ordered to take the “Island of Seves”. The area was not truly an island but a swamp land surrounded by rivers. The Germans fought fiercely and American casualties were great. It seemed there was no way to recover the wounded and departed under such heavy artillery. Chaplain Edgar H Stohler, Pastor James M Hamilton and Father Joseph J Esser decided to take it upon themselves to begin a rescue mission.
The three men ventured into “No man’s land” under heavy machine gun and artillery fire to rescue American wounded. They were armed only with a Red Cross flag. The area was difficult to traverse not only because of the heavy fire but also the ground conditions. At times they were up to their knees in mud. As they came upon a wounded man, the military Chaplains would call for a litter and the wounded man would be carried to safety.
The Germans appeared to respect the three men’s courage; Fighting around them would cease. It was reported that at one point a German paratrooper manning a machine gun post, pointed out to Pastor Hamilton a wounded man he had overlooked. It was likely the paratrooper was the one who wounded the American.
During the rescue efforts, a German officer approached the three men. The Chaplains asked if a cease fire could be arranged to aid in their rescue efforts. The officer reported back to German Major von der Heydte. Von der Heydte known for his compassion allowed a three hour cease fire for the recovery of wounded soldiers. Fighting stopped on both sides with one exception; an American bombing attack that could not be recalled forced rescuers on both sides into bunkers for a short time.
According to an interview after the incident, Stohler believed they were able to rescue 76 wounded soldiers. Chaplain Edgar H Stohler received the Silver Star for his efforts.