Piepkorn in WWII

Updated Jan 2021

Chaplain (Major) Piepkorn was Assistant Staff Chaplain of the XXIII Corps HQS from January 20 until June 30, 1944. On July 1 he became acting Senior Chaplain. His commander wanted to keep him on and managed to do so until he was promoted to LTC in September and could be made Senior Chaplain.

The XXIII Corps HQS went to Europe in December with the mission of preventing the Wehrmacht from holing up in the Bavarian Mountains. A Corps HQS is normally commanded by a three star general and serves as the HQS unit for two or three divisions–each commanded by two-star generals–and a very large separate Support Brigade, probably commanded by a one-star general. Given the mission, the divisions were probably some combination of armored, mechanized infantry and infantry divisions. In the normal course of operations various divisions could move in and out of the HQS’s control. In a letter that Piepkorn wrote to his parents on June 7, 1945, he stated: “we have almost sixty chaplains scattered over 5,000 square miles of territory on both sides of the Rhine.”

It must have been while he was assigned to the XXIII Corps that he heard about a Company that was having unusual success in the interrogation of POWS. I heard him say that he made a surprise visit to the tent of the Company Commander and found a German POW being forced to kneel on a Lieutenant’s baton. He put an immediate stop to it and no doubt reported it to his Commander.

In the June 7 letter to his parents he also states, “I was sorry to have to write to Miriam today that the basis upon which my projected return to the States this month was predicated had suddenly changed. It does not mean that I shall not return as scheduled, but it does leave matters in suspense, and that isn’t pleasant all the way around.”

As it happened his “scheduled” return was delayed by many months. On June 26 (I am doing this from memory but will supplement it soon with new information I obtained in July 2005), he was assigned to the Personal Staff of LTG Omar Bradley, CDR of the Allied Occupational Forces, headquartered in Frankfurt.

This may have been only a temporary assignment during a transitional period following V-E Day (John Hannah’s suggestion), because two weeks later he was assigned to the Personal Staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. That made him the Senior Theater Chaplain. The Special Orders for the latter assignment were signed by Chief Staff LTG Walter “Bedel” Smith by order of General Eisenhower.

Again I must check the actual dates, but about a month later another organizational change took place and he was assigned to a high level “General Board” that was under the command of LTG George Patton, Commander of the 15th Army. Chaplain Hannah told that this means that Piepkorn would have been on the Personal Staff of LTG Patton. This Board was tasked with a high level review and policy recommendations regarding the War. A copy of the repot that Chaplain Piepkorn and his staff is in the Concordia Historical Institute of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. It consists of an approximately four inch high stack of roughly five inches wide by 14 inches long pages making up the report. I only had time to look at it briefly but Chaplain Hannah has looked at it in detail.

Piepkorn returned to the US in the fall of 1945 because two of his daughters, Faith and Felicity, had contracted polio. He returned to Europe in December. Sometime after January he returned to the U.S. where he became acting Commandant and then Commandant of the Army Chaplain School (which, of course, included the Army Air Force at the time). Except for that Commandant and the Chief of Chaplains, all military chaplain in U.S. military forces have administrative rank only. All chaplains have general command authority. That means that they have general command authority only, but can never command a military unit. That means, for example, that if thirty privates and a chaplain in the administrative rank of colonel crash landed on a deserted island, the senior private would assume command.

He then became President of the US Army Chaplain Board. He was in that position when he was called to teach at Concordia Seminary in the fall of 1951 after 11 years of active duty service. He remained in the Reserves retiring in the rank of full colonel. He said he was “astonished to be called to teach at the seminary” and the Piepkorn Anecdotes page will eventually contain three interesing anecdotes about that call. Needless to say, he almost was rejected for the position, though not for want of ability.

According to Piepkorn’s sister Dorothy after the War Piepkorn accompanied President Eisenhower on a flight to Switzerland and served as a translator for him but I have not been able to document that.

Piepkorn’s sister says she saw one or more large photo of Piepkorn and IKE and others (?) in the McCarthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA. The Director there says he has not been able to confirm this. But the Memorial possesses some 60,000 photos so it is possible that Piepkorn’s sister’s story is true.

When Eisenhower was nominated to be President, Piepkorn sent him a personal note of congratulations recalling their time together during the short time before the reorganization took place. A short time later Eisenhower signed a typed response to Piepkorn from the hotel he was staying in during the Republican Convention.