Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TFH 2/28: Commander (Chaplain) George A. Rentz, USN

Yesterday, I chronicled the account of the USS Houston (CA-30) and the Medal of Honor exploits of her final commanding officer, Captain Albert H. Rooks. There was another man decorated for heroism during the final moments and sinking of the Houston, another quite inspiring story.

George Snavely Rentz was born in Lebanon, PA on July 25, 1882. He was not a Sailor by trade, but a man of God. After graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church. He began ministering to America's warriors during World War I, serving as a Navy Chaplain with United States Marine Corps forces in France. He found this to be his calling, and stayed on as a chaplain in the Navy. He was promoted to Commander in 1924, and served on a succession of ships and shore stations. Rentz was known as a crew favorite, and joined the Houston in August of 1940.

When the Houston sank, he found himself among the survivors struggling for life in the water. Rentz, then age 59, looked at the younger men, many injured - his parishoners - and made a momentous decision.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Commander (Chaplain) George Snavely Rentz (NSN: 0-17993), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as a Navy Chaplain, serving on board the Heavy Cruiser U.S.S. HOUSTON (CA-30), following the sinking of his ship in the Asiatic Area on 28 February 1942. While clinging to an airplane pontoon with other survivors of the HOUSTON, Chaplain Rentz, noting that some of the injured men were without life jackets, and seeing that all life rafts and floating debris were overcrowded with survivors, stated that since he was an older man who had lived the major part of his life, he was willing to go in order to give his place on the pontoon and his life jacket to one of the wounded men. He made several attempts to leave the pontoon but each time was restrained by those with him. During the night, however, he succeeded in carrying out his intention. He disappeared into the sea, sacrificing his life so that another might have better chances of survival. His life jacket was found on one of the wounded men. His exceptional courage, his noble sacrifice, and his outstanding devotion to duty while serving aboard the HOUSTON and at the time of her sinking, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Commander Rentz was the sole Navy Chaplain to receive the Navy Cross, our Nation's second highest award for valor, during World War II. The man ultimately saved by Rentz's life jacket, Seaman First Class Walter L. Beeson, survived to be captured by the Japanese and spent the rest of the war as a POW. According to a crew roster found on-line, he lived until August 21, 1998 when he passed away of natural causes.

A long life, saved by the courage of George Snavely Rentz. To Rentz and all the other men of God who have given, are giving, and will give pastoral care for the men and women who defend us in the face of all enemies, we are eternally grateful.

On June 30, 1984 the United States Navy commissioned the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Rentz (FFG-46) in honor of the courageous chaplain. She still sails the high seas in defense of liberty from her home port of Naval Base San Diego.

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