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Bibles That Went to War: How God's Word Has Sustained American Troops on the Front Lines


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Memorial Day is a day we as Americans stop and honor the brave men and women who have fought and died serving our country. At the Museum of the Bible in Washington, they're observing the somber day by displaying some well-worn Bibles that accompanied soldiers into war.  

Dr. Jeff Kloha, the museum's chief curatorial officer, took me and my photographer around to see some of them, beginning at a display on the Civil War. 

"We have several objects that relate to really both sides in the Civil War and how the Bible was a source of comfort and encouragement to the soldiers on a personal level," Kloha explained. 

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The display contains items belonging to George Rome, pronounced "room," who served on the 55th Massachusetts regiment, one of the first African American regiments. Rome's items include a tin photograph of himself, his satchel, and his sword case. 

"It's pretty cool that we have all from one individual like that," Kloha noted.  

In that same display is also a famous piece of Americana, the original copy of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. 

"It was written by Julia Ward Howe," said Kloha, adding that it came to her during a stay at Washington's famous Willard Hotel and was meant to bolster the troops. "And partly, she said, to replace the less than pious songs that they were singing." 

Behind the scenes, Kloha took us beneath the museum where they keep even more war-time Bibles. 

He showed us a letter written by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917, encouraging soldiers to read their Bibles. 

"This proclamation would be printed inside these little pocket Bibles which would be distributed to soldiers," Kloha explained. 

Another Bible dated back to the Civil War and was written in German.  

"You see that stain there?" Kloha asked us. "That's almost certainly blood that ended up on the Bible and left this stain from the Civil War. So again, it shows the price of war and the cost people paid to maintain our freedom."

Kloha brought out one Bible particularly special to him. 

"This is not actually in the Museum collection," he said. "It was owned by my grandfather." 

His grandfather served in World War II and was at the Battle of the Bulge. 

"This was given to him by his pastor," Kloha went on. "It's a leather cover and you can tell it's quite worn. He must have carried it all over in his battle gear."

Back upstairs, we stopped at another exhibit that includes Bibles of past presidents, including George H.W. Bush, Donald Trump, and most recently added, a Bible belonging to Jimmy Carter. 

"Inside the front cover is the name and phone number of the Sunday school teacher from First Baptist Church here in D.C. and we know from presidential archives that (Carter)  attended that church 60 times during his presidency," said Kloha. 

See some of these Bibles for yourself on the museum's website.

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