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By the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The history of the Chaplain Corps of the U.S. Navy parallels the history of the Navy itself. During the past century-and-a-half, chaplains of the Navy have shared the hardships and rewards that come to other naval personnel and have ministered to these in many ways. The chronicle of the activities of these padres of the sea—representing many religions and denominations—began with the Continental Navy and continues to the present day.

Navy chaplains represent more than 100 faith groups and serve with the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines, inspiring hope, and strengthening spiritual well-being. 

Celebrating the History and Heritage of Navy Chaplains

October 30, 1799: First chaplain to serve in the U.S. Navy, Chaplain William Balch, congregational Minister.

August 4, 1912: First Navy chaplain to serve exclusively with the Marine Corps, Chaplain J.F. Flemming.

October 30, 1917: First Jewish chaplain to be commissioned, Rabbi David Goldberg.

November 5, 1917: First Chief of Navy Chaplains, Chaplain John Frazier.

March 1943: First chaplain to serve with an operational Coast Guard unit, Chaplain Harlon Miller. 

July 28, 1944: First African-American chaplain to be commissioned in the Navy, Chaplain James Brown.

July 2, 1973: First female chaplain to be commissioned in the DoD, Chaplain Dianna Pohlman.

August 20, 1998: First Muslim chaplain to be commissioned in the Navy, Chaplain Monje Malak Abd al-Muta’ Ali Noel Jr.

Easter morning on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. Their ardor undamped by a drizzling rain, Marines and Navy Seabees attend open-air divine services atop Mount Suribachi on blood-stained Iwo Jima. Covered by a poncho, a small organ provides musical accompaniment while a small choir sings hymns. Even as Chaplain Alvo Martin conducted these Easter services, on April 1, fellow Marines and Army troops were swarming ashore on Okinawa, hundreds of miles away.
Chaplain W. S. Brown, USN, conducts services aboard a U.S. Navy Submarine on a war patrol, during World War II. Chaplain Brown was a passenger aboard the submarine, en route to his new station somewhere in the Pacific. Photo undated. It was released on March 28, 1944.
Pharmacist’s Mate Edward Bykowski, USN, Receives a visit from Lieutenant Joshua L. Goldberg, USNR, Jewish Chaplain for the Third Naval District, on February 10, 1943. Bykowski is telling Lt. Goldberg of his rescue after he had been blown overboard from USS Vincennes (CA-44) when she was sunk on August 9, 1942, during the Battle of Savo Island. Both of his legs were broken. Looking on is Lieutenant Commander Ferold D. Lovejoy, USNR (Medical Corps). U.S. Marine Corps Photograph.
YI-I-I ! IT’S A BOY! Bearing glad tidings of the birth of a son, Chaplain Rickel delivers a field message to Cpl. Edward J. Combs … The young Marine is recovering from injuries suffered on the eastern front. Photograph taken by Sgt. Martin Bolhower. Original print bears no date, but it was filed with illustrations for the August 1952 issue of All Hands magazine, and was presumably taken a few months prior. Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, from the All Hands collection at the Naval History and Heritage Command.