By HEBER TAYLOR
Easter fell on April 9 in 1944. Soldiers of the 349th Infantry Regiment of the 88th Infantry Division fighting in Italy would remember that Sunday as long as they lived. It was the day that they and the Germans they were facing put down their guns to listen to the peaceful message of Easter.
Conrad Hays of Searcy, Arkansas, was a chaplain in the 349th Infantry. It was his and anotherís chaplainís idea to conduct a worship service that briefly halted the war in the 349th area.
With the regimental commanderís approval, on the Saturday night before the service, the chaplains and helpers moved equipment, including a loudspeaker and an altar, by mule to the top of Hill 411. Their plan was to hold the service among the 349th Ďs foxholes. In front of the infantry, across No Manís Land, were the Germans.
Shortly before dawn on Easter Sunday, everything was ready. One of the chaplains spoke in German over the public address system to let the Germans know what was about to take place. He then invited them to take part in the service from their side of the front.
At this point, according to Chaplain Hays from White County, artillery and mortar fire stopped. With the guns quiet and no movement in the German lines, American GIís came out of their foxholes to gather near the small alter. A nurse sang a hymn and one of the chaplains preached an Easter sermon in German. Conrad Hays then preached in English. "I preached on the certainty of the resurrection of Christ," he recalled years later. The service closed with a Mass for the Catholic soldiers.
In less than an hour it was over. The hillside on which the altar rested became military objective 411 again. The troops went back to their foxholes. A few minutes later the guns roared. The war was on again.
And thus ended one of the most unusual worship services ever held Ė 56 years ago, a brief time when the death and destruction of war was replaced by the eternal and peaceful message of Easter.