Memorial Day: Honoring the courage of George S. Rentz, Class of 1903
As the nation recognizes a day dedicated to the memory of servicemen and women who died in the line of duty, the Gettysburg College community would also like to honor the decommission of the U.S.S. Rentz, named for an alumnus who sacrificed his life during World War II.
George S. Rentz, class of 1903, saw Gettysburg as more than just a home during his four years as a student – it was a family tradition. His father, himself, and his son all received their collegiate education here.
On February 28, 1942, in the midst of World War II, Rentz gave his life for his crewmembers. Japanese submarines attacked the U.S.S. Houston, along with an Australian Allied ship. Both ships were damaged, with the surviving crewmembers abandoning the sinking ships in favor of makeshift floats.
Noticing the overwhelming number of injured crewmembers struggling to stay afloat, many without lifejackets, Rentz, a Navy chaplain, reportedly said, “You men are young with your life ahead of you, I am old and have had my fun.” He uttered a few prayers for the men around him, took off his life jacket, and swam off before the crew could protest.
Seaman 1st Class Walter L. Beeson accepted the life jacket and vacant spot on the float. Of the men who witnessed Rentz’s heroic act, Beeson was the only one to survive the war.
For his selfless actions, Rentz was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross – the only Navy chaplain to receive such an honor during the Second World War.
To recognize his service and sacrifice, the College started a memorial fund in 1962 to aid students with demonstrated financial need. His name also graces a plaque in Christ Chapel, which is dedicated to Gettysburg College alums who sacrificed their lives during the course of their duty to the U.S. armed forces.
Forty years after his sacrifice, the U.S.S. Rentz was commissioned in his honor, with his surviving children participating in the christening. The ship, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class of guided-missile frigates, was stationed at various bases along the California coast. As tribute to the ship’s namesake, its crest bares symbols representing both the Navy Cross awarded to Rentz and his service to the Navy as a chaplain.
After almost 22 years of service, the U.S.S. Rentz was decommissioned this month.
“There is a requirement for every CO, XO, and CMC that comes into a ship to do the absolute best by the ship and by the crew that they can,” said Cmdr. Lance Lantier, U.S.S. Rentz’s final commanding officer, at the time of the decommission. “You owe that to them and to the legacy of those who’ve come before you, and we have an excellent legacy.”
More about George S. Rentz
George S. Rentz had followed in the footsteps of his father William, an 1876 grad of Gettysburg. He studied theology and had an active social life on campus. An Alpha Tau Omega brother, he was the business manager of The Gettysburgian and the assistant business manager of The Spectrum. Aside from these involvements, he was on the debate team and a member of a philosophical society.
After his years at Gettysburg, he pursued religious studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, was ordained in 1909, and married two years later. When the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, Rentz enlisted as a chaplain for the Navy and earned the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, three months later.
During the interwar years, Rentz continued his service off of the coast of Panama. His time there saw him promoted first to lieutenant commander and later, regular chaplain with the rank of commander. His service later took him to naval stations in Pensacola, Fl., San Diego, Calif., and the Philippines.
During World War II, the crew of the ship that Rentz served, the U.S.S. Houston, was frequently engaged in naval skirmishes with the Japanese, and it was widely reported that when the crew “saw this man of God walking fearlessly among them, they . . . felt no longer alone.”
This Memorial Day, we would like to remember George S. Rentz and his story, as well as the stories of countless other servicemen and women who face similar challenges everyday and continue to overcome them in order to serve our country.
These stories, like Rentz’s, can be found in physical reminders across campus. In addition to the plaque inside the Chapel, the Veterans Memorial outside of Musselman Stadium recognizes the service and sacrifice of all veterans.
Article by: Kasey Varner, communications and marketing intern
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803
Posted: Mon, 26 May 2014
Next on your reading list
Share this story: