Reverend Rufus W. Oakey Leads Service on Peleliu

United States Navy Chaplain Lieutenant Rufus W. Oakey (August 29, 1905 - July 26, 1990) officiates at a service on Peleliu within mortar range of Japanese positions. White and Black Marines are praying together in an integrated service; several men show signs of combat stress. LIFE Maganzine Artist Tom Lea depicted Oakey as he buried the dead, in a painting often identified as Roman Catholic Priest Lieutenant John J. Malone (February 29, 1908 - November 9, 1990). Lea, wrote, "The padre stood by with two canteens and a Bible, helping. He was deeply moved by the patient suffering and death. He looked very lonely, very close to God, as he bent over the shattered men so far from home. Corpsmen put a poncho, a shirt, a rag, anything handy, over the grey faces of the dead and carried them to a line on the beach, under a tarpaulin, to await the digging of graves." Lea's editors, out of touch with Lea overseas, confused several sources to misidentify Oakey in Lea's article. Malone and Lea later wrote Oakey to apologize for the misidentification. Oakey, a Presbyterian minister, was Pastor of First Presbyterian in Milledgeville, Georgia starting in 1936. He received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree from Oglethorpe University. He joined the Navy and was commissioned from Class 6-43 (Y) as a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) on February 25, 1943. After serving at Quantico's Marine Barracks, he was assigned to 1st Marine Division on May 16, 1944 and promoted to Lieutenant that month. Oakey served with 1st Marine Division on Peleliu and was reassigned stateside on December 18. 1944. After visiting hospitals until the end of the war, he retired from the Navy on March 1, 1946 and became Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Upland, California, where he served until his retirement in 1951. After his retirement he continued to officiate at many weddings and funerals. The cross in the photo, made for him by Quantico Marines, was buried with him. Date Estimated.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
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Archival Identifier: 
Date Photographed: 
Monday, September 18, 1944