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George Snavely Rentz (1882-1942)

"The most wonderful thing I remember," Seaman First Class John Bartz said, "was that the chaplain came around all the time to the guns. He'd even offer you a little nip, which he was not supposed to do, but he would do that."

- from The Last Battle Station pp. 70-71

George Snavely Rentz was a United States Navy chaplain from World War I through World War II. He was the only chaplain to receive the Navy Cross during the war. His gallantry and humanity was exemplified by his death where he relinquished his life jacket to a wounded comrade following the sinking of his vessel, the cruiser USS Houston (CA-30). The HMAS Perth (light cruiser) was sunk at the same time in the Battle of Sunda Strait.

Rentz was a native of Lebanon, Pennsylvania where he entered the Navy as a Presbyterian chaplain in 1917. His career was one of the few that spanned both World Wars. In his 25 years of active duty, his duty stations included:
  • Marine Barracks, Port Royal, South Carolina
  • USS Florida (BB-30) (battleship)
  • USS West Virginia (BB-48) (battleship)
  • USS Augusta (CA-31) (cruiser)
  • Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida
  • Naval Air Station, San Diego, California
  • USS Houston (CA-30) (cruiser)
When he died, Rentz had less than one year to serve before retiring from the United States Navy. Sunda Strait separates the islands of Sumatra and Java in the Indian Ocean, approximately 5 degrees south of the Equator. In early 1942 it was obvious to the Allies that the Japanese fleet was in control of this area of the world's oceans. The Houston and the Perth had been ordered to escape to Ceylon, then commence attacking Japanese transports. It was on the transit to Ceylon that the battle weary vessels were surprised by the early arriving Japanese invasion force. Confronted by dozens of Japanese destroyers and cruisers, the American and Australian ships were handily destroyed. Chaplain Rentz was one of the 693 who perished out of the Houston's original crew of 1,061.

During the battle, Rentz strode the decks of his ship, dispensing cold water from a thermos and handing out candy, attempting to bolster morale. When needed, he administered last rites to his dying comrades. The Houston finally went down around midnight on March 1, 1942 following a final brutal salvo of torpedos by the Japanese warships. Rentz found himself clinging to the float of a destroyed airplane with members of the surviving Houston crew. Witnesses recount how Rentz attempted several times to relinquish his life jacket to a wounded crewman. He eventually succeeded.

"He was gasping for breath from exhaustion. He looked around at those closest to him and said, 'You men are young, with your lives ahead of you. I am an old man and I am willing to go.' Before anyone could stop him, he uttered a brief prayer for the others, slipped out of his life jacket, and disappeared."

- from The Last Battle Station p. 204

To honor chaplain Rentz, the 46th vessel in the Oliver Hazard Perry Guided Missile Frigate class was named after him. The USS Rentz (FFG-46) was launched from the Todd Naval Shipyards at Long Beach Naval Station, Long Beach, California on July 16, 1983. In attendance at the launching ceremony was the surviving daughter of chaplain Rentz, Mrs. Neil F. Lansing, as well as 7 surviving crewmembers of the USS Houston. The author, as an original crewmember of the Rentz, was able to talk with several of the survivors.

"Dread Nought"

- Official Motto of USS Rentz (FFG-46)


Sources:

Schultz, Duane P. The Last Battle Station : the Story of the U.S.S. Houston. New York : St. Martin's Press, c1985

O'Hara, Vincent. "Battle of Sunda Strait, 28 Feb. - 1 Mar. 1942" (http://www.microworks.net/pacific/battles/sunda_strait.htm ; 6 May 2002). See main web site The United States Navy in the Pacific War 1941 - 1945 (http://www.microworks.net/pacific/)

"Navy Chaplain George Snavely Rentz" (http://www.bangor.navy.mil/subase/chapel/Text/rentz.htm ; 6 May 2002)

Main web site USS Houston (http://www.usshouston.org ; 6 May 2002)

Main web site USS Rentz (http://www.rentz.navy.mil ; 6 May 2002)

Personal Knowledge.


For more about WWII (the big one) see: Everything Quest - WWII History
For more about all things nautical see: Everything Quests - The High Seas

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