Summary

For his heroism, Rentz was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, making him the only Navy chaplain to receive that honor during WWII.

Conflict Period:
World War II 1
Branch:
Navy 1
Rank:
Commander 1
Birth:
25 Jul 1882 1
Lebanon, Pennsylvania 2
Pennsylvania 1
Death:
01 Mar 1942 3
Pacific Ocean, Indonesia 3
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
George Snavely Rentz 1
Birth:
25 Jul 1882 1
Lebanon, Pennsylvania 2
Pennsylvania 1
Male 1
Death:
01 Mar 1942 2
Pacific Ocean, Indonesia 2
Cause: Drowning 3
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Marriage:
Rebecca K. Rentz 4
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World War II 1

Branch:
Navy 1
Rank:
Commander 1
Service Start Date:
1917 1
Service End Date:
1942 1
Casualty Cause:
Hostile, Died of Wounds 1
Casualty Date:
01 Mar 1942 1
Casualty Place:
Indonesia 1
Casualty Reason:
Drowned, Suffocated 1
Final assignment:
USS Houston 2

World War I 2

Branch:
Navy 2
Rank:
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) 2
Assignment:
11th Marine Regiment 2
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Education:
Institution: Princeton Theological Seminary 2
Place: Princeton, NJ 2
Education:
Institution: Gettysburg College (Pennsylvania College) 2
Place: Gettysburg, PA 2
To: 1903 2

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Stories

Born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, George Rentz graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1909 and for the next eight years served as a Presbyterian minister for the Presbytery of Northumberland, as well as pastoring churches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Upon the entry of the United States in World War I, he was appointed acting chaplain with the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade and assigned to the US 11th Marine Regiment in France where he served until 1919. Rentz attained the rank of Commander in 1924. As chaplain, he served aboard the USS Florida (BB-30), USS Wright (AV-1), USS West Virginia (BB-48), USS Augusta (CA-31), and his final duty station, the USS Houston (CA-30). During his military career, Rentz also served at the Marine Barracks in Port Royal, South Carolina, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, and Naval Air Station San Diego, California.

Commander Rentz transferred from the Augusta to the Houston in 1940 when it relieved Augusta as the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. Rentz was a crew favorite, even going so far as to ignore regulations and dispense nips of alcohol as needed to the exhausted sailors.

During an Allied attack on Houston on February 4, 1942, Commander Rentz spurned cover and circulated among the crew of the anti-aircraft battery, keeping up their spirits. It was noted that crew members at the guns ?? saw this man of God, walking fearlessly among them, they no longer felt alone.? In the Flores Sea, during this attack, Houston took a direct hit that disabled turret III and killed 48 men.

Less than a month later, Houston and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth (D29) were directed to proceed to Ceylon where they were supposed to attack Japanese naval supply lines. En route, the two ships unexpectedly encountered a Japanese invasion force resulting in the encounter now known as the Battle of Sunda Strait. Though outnumbered by the Japanese convoy, both ships persisted. In an ensuing melee of fire, one of the Japanese destroyers fired a spread of torpedoes that passed by the allied cruisers and sunk four of their own troopships. In the end, the Japanese forces proved too much for the wounded Perth and Houston. The final attack on these two cruisers sank first Perth and then Houston shortly before midnight on March 1, 1942.

It was during this abandonment of Houston that Commander Rentz entered the water and attained partial safety along with other crewmembers on a destroyed airplane's float. Aware of the extreme overcrowding, he attempted to relinquish his space and lifejacket to wounded survivors nearby, declaring ?You men are young, I have lived the major part of my life and I am willing to go.? (Last Battle Station p. 204) No one would oblige the generous, fearless chaplain. After several attempts of leaving and being brought back by his shipmates, he uplifted them with prayers and songs until, ultimately, he succeeded in tying his lifejacket on a wounded sailor. Chaplain Rentz had less than one year to serve before retiring. He was one of 693 men who perished out of the original crew of 1,061 aboard Houston.

The Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate USS Rentz (FFG-46) is named in his honor.

Navy Cross citation

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Commander (Chaplain) George Snavely Rentz (NSN: 0-17993), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as a Navy Chaplain, serving on board the Heavy Cruiser U.S.S. HOUSTON (CA-30), following the sinking of his ship in the Asiatic Area on 28 February 1942. While clinging to an airplane pontoon with other survivors of the HOUSTON, Chaplain Rentz, noting that some of the injured men were without life jackets, and seeing that all life rafts and floating debris were overcrowded with survivors, stated that since he was an older man who had lived the major part of his life, he was willing to go in order to give his place on the pontoon and his life jacket to one of the wounded men. He made several attempts to leave the pontoon but each time was restrained by those with him. During the night, however, he succeeded in carrying out his intention. He disappeared into the sea, sacrificing his life so that another might have better chances of survival. His life jacket was found on one of the wounded men. His exceptional courage, his noble sacrifice, and his outstanding devotion to duty while serving aboard the HOUSTON and at the time of her sinking, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Action Date: 28-Feb-42

Service: Navy

Rank: Commander

Division: U.S.S. Houston (CA-30)

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