Near Bamburg, Germany, Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945 This story about my father was written many years ago by Bob King, a World War II veteran. The Rev. Rowland A. Koskamp volunteered to be a chaplain in 1943 so that when the men in his...
Near Bamburg, Germany, Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945
This story about my father was written many years ago by Bob King, a World War II veteran. The Rev. Rowland A. Koskamp volunteered to be a chaplain in 1943 so that when the men in his congregation came home from war, he would understand what they had gone through. He was captured in France in December, 1943 when he stayed behind to assist some injured soldiers as his unit retreated. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp in Hammelburg, Germany. In April of 1945 the camp was liberated. Because there were not enough trucks, most of the men began walking the 90 miles to Nurnberg accompanied by German troops. Here is Bob’s story.
Rowland Koskamp was “every man’s preacher.” He was the sort of person who gave courage and confidence to his friends and all others who came into contact with him during our time as POW’s. He calmed the griper, supported the downer, let it be known that our present circumstance was only a temporary setback, and that there is a caring God who is concerned and offers eternity to those who call upon him.
Easter morning! We were on our trek for about a week with early mornings on the road. Usually we were placed in barns where we would spend the night. Rowland had requested that Easter morning be spent at the same farm in which we had spent the night before so that those who wished to could attend an early morning worship service.
Those of us who wanted to attend a service were taken by the guards to a nearby corral. I was one of the last into the corral, and I was standing at the rear of the group. Just before Rowland’s first words, the German Colonel in charge of the group of 300 prisoners entered the corral, closed the gate and stood next to me. He did not establish eye contact, and I thought that, perhaps, he had come for security purposes.
Rowland’s message was first about the meaning of Easter, the historical event and its meaning to Christians. Then he delivered a powerful sermon on man’s inhumanity to man and the need for people to overcome petty human concerns and to serve God and one another. The Colonel, standing beside me, was in nearly constant movement as he almost imperceptibly twitched and dug his toes into the mud of the corral.
Always a very innovative and thoughtful man, Rowland had saved his bread ration for a few days and had somehow obtained a bottle of wine in the war-torn countryside. So after the sermon he led us in a communion service. First after the words of institution, he passed part of a loaf of dark bread. Each broke off a piece and passed the bread along. The Colonel accepted the bread from me, broke off a piece, and passed it along. When all had been served, we took partook of the bread together. Then the bottle of wine was passed and each of us, including the Colonel, took a sip and passed the bottle along. To me it was an extremely meaningful time, especially as I shared the loaf and the wine with a man who was our enemy.
This deeply moving experience occurred on the last Sunday on earth for Rowland and the Colonel. They were both killed the following Thursday by American B-17 fighter planes who, unaware of the movements of the liberated POW’s bombed a near-by railroad station. The bodies of the chaplain and the colonel were found not far from each other.
Another soldier reported seeing the German colonel standing at attention during the bombing. An American chaplain was sent to secure the dog tags from the bodies of the dead and came to one that read Rowland A. Koskamp. He says he quickly dropped the tag, reached for the soldier’s shirt collar, saw his chaplain’s cross, and said a prayer for his wife and little daughter. My father was 29 when he died in service to his God and his country. I was 3.
Although Rowland Koskamp is buried in France, his chaplain’s cross was sent to my mother. She had it made into a ring which she wore it for dozens of years and then gave to me. I also wore it for dozens of years. It now lives in the box that contains his bronze star and purple heart, a tarnished relic (in the religious sense of the word) of a life that was lived in the unshakable Kingdom of God here and coming, and the influence that sacrificed life had on hundreds of soldiers – and on the daughter he only knew as an infant.*
A Response to this story from James Bryan Smith
I really loved reading this moving story submitted by our dear fellow apprentice, Karen Bables. I was deeply touched by the part about “enemies” taking communion together. It reminded me anew how the Cross and Resurrection unites a community that cannot be divided. As I wrote about in The Good and Beautiful Community, we are peculiar people because we are people in whom Christ dwells and delight, and that unity in Christ is the tie that binds us all in Christian love. So often we struggle to stay together in our communities because of minor disagreements; we so easily divide over trivial differences of opinion. This story reminded me that “in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, barbarian or Scythian, German or American, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan. Recently retired, she now spends her time writing. She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.Share on Facebook Tweet This Pin This