Book Review: Sky Pilots: The Yankee Division Chaplains in World War I


by Michael E. Shay

Columbia, Mo.:University of Missouri, 2014. Pp. xxiv, 216. Illus., append., notes., biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 0826220312

Chaplains at War

Shay, a seasoned independent historian who is the author of two works on the 26th Division in the Great War, The Yankee Division in the First World War and Revered Commander, Maligned General, gives us a look at the rather neglected chaplaincy during the Great War. 

Shay opens with a chapter that ably summarizes the early history of the American military chaplaincy through the outbreak of the war, and the enormous expansion that took place as the U.S. entered the war.  He then takes up the story of the nearly 40 men who served as chaplains with the New England’s 26th Division,  Shaygives us short biographies of each man, as he follows them into the service. We see them training with their troops and crossing the seas in rather deplorable transports to encountered a new and different culture in France. He then takes them into the trenches, where their training often proved inadequate.

Whenever possible Shay uses the words of these chaplains to help illustrate their service and the services they delivered to their troops.  Chaplains of course administered to the religious needs of the men, regardless of faith, and often lenta hand with the wounded.  On several  rare occasions chaplains plunged into the fighting alongside their troops. 

In many cases Shay is able to give us a quite full picture of the man involved, while in others the sparsity of sources only permit him to fill in some details. But he tries to carry the story of each man into the postwar years, and many went on to some prominence in religious life and society. Shay’s account not only gives us some unique glimpses of work of these chaplains but also reminds us of the remarkably ecumenical spirit to prevailed in the chaplaincy at the time, one which endured through the rest of the century, but seems now under attack from some chaplains who seem to put proselytization above service. 

A volume in the University of Missouri Press series “American Military Experience,” Sky Pilots is an excellent read for anyone interested in the chaplaincy or in the Great War.  


Note: Sky-Pilots is also available as an e-Book, $50.00, ISBN 978-0-8262-7324-6

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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