Epilogue — Forgotten Hero: Chaplain David Quinn, USN

New information since the story first appeared, and more about Dot Quinn

By Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, Ret.
Posted 9/29/21

After the story "Forgotten Hero" appeared in Maryland and Texas newspapers, I gathered even more information about Chaplain David Long Quinn and his wife, Dorothy "Dot" Davis Quinn.

A search that …

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Epilogue — Forgotten Hero: Chaplain David Quinn, USN

New information since the story first appeared, and more about Dot Quinn

Posted

After the story "Forgotten Hero" appeared in Maryland and Texas newspapers, I gathered even more information about Chaplain David Long Quinn and his wife, Dorothy "Dot" Davis Quinn.

A search that began with a picture of Quinn’s headstone in Arlington National Cemetery ended with a story of a young man and woman as they journeyed through life. I came to know them as I would the couple next door. I learned of their hopes and dreams and of the tragedy that would shatter their lives, a tragedy repeated in families all across our nation during World War II.

My research reminded me of the tragic sacrifice of 16,000 Americans posted to the Philippines thousands of miles from home as World War II began. The Japanese attacked the Philippines only ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tens of thousands of Americans and their Filipino counterparts would be captured and suffer in Japanese captivity.

Forty percent of the 27,000 Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese died in captivity. In comparison, less than one percent of American prisoners died in German POW camps.

I came across another Crisfielder who was serving not far from David Quinn when the war began. Private Norman E. Lawson Jr., age 23, was assigned to the 2nd Observation Squadron, U.S. Army Air Forces, at Nichols Field just across the lower end of Manila Bay from Quinn’s base.

Lawson joined the Army two years before World War II and had been in the Philippines about one year before the Japanese attack. He died when Japanese aircraft bombed and strafed his airfield on December 10, 1941. Lawson was buried at the Manila American Cemetery, not far from where he was killed. He posthumously received the Purple Heart.

In 1950, Norman and Lydia Lawson donated an altar set to Asbury Methodist Church in Crisfield to honor their son.

Another discovery was a firsthand account of an Easter service performed by Chaplain Quinn in 1943 when the war was not going well for the United States. The prisoners were unsure of their fate. Colonel Ben Skardon, a Bataan death march survivor and POW for 3½ years, recounted in an Episcopal Archdiocese of South Carolina article his experience with Chaplain Quinn.

According to the 102-year old Skardon, Quinn spread the word that he would celebrate the Holy Eucharist on Easter Sunday in his hut. The Episcopal services were not authorized, and Quinn risked severe punishment if discovered by the Japanese. To avoid discovery, prisoners came to Quinn’s hut one at a time. The chaplain wore the remnants of a khaki uniform with a small green stole around his neck, a display of his religious authority, borrowed from a Lutheran chaplain. Wafers had been made from rice and wine from raisins from a Red Cross package. Colonel Skardon said Quinn’s Easter service after two years of "privation, humiliation, and cruelty" was the most meaningful of his life.

I initially focused on David Quinn’s story. Still, I became aware of two more narratives: the Quinns as a couple and Dot Quinn herself. Since I completed The Forgotten Hero, I have come to know Dorothy "Dot" Davis Quinn with assistance from two of her living relatives.

After many dead-ends in my attempts to find Dot’s surviving relatives, I received her death certificate in the mail from the Texas Department of State Health Services and Vital Statistics. The death certificate led me to the obituary of the informant and eventually to the Facebook pages of Dot’s relatives. They were close to their Aunt Dot and graciously shared their stories.

Now to the story of a second hero discovered during this journey, Dot Davis Quinn.

When she was less than six years old, her parents brought Dot, with her older brothers, to Alvin in Brazoria County, Texas. The Davis family had traveled to several states seeking good farmland before putting down roots in Alvin.

It was not long before the United States entered World War I. Dot watched her older brothers go off to war. Alexander served in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force, and Aubrey would become an officer in the fledgling U.S. Army Tank Corps.

Dot sang in the choir at Grace Episcopal Church in Alvin. In 1926, the church received a new minister, The Reverend David Long Quinn, from Crisfield. Alvin would be his second posting since graduating from the Virginia Theological Seminary.

A semi-autobiographical story written by Dot in the 1930s revealed that she was disappointed in The Reverend David Quinn upon his first appearance in his new church. She had sung her heart out, and her effort had gone unnoticed by the new minister. She described him as "tall and distinguished-looking with kindly blue eyes and golden-red hair."

Since childhood, Dot had vowed that she would never marry a clergyman. But six months later, in January 1927, Dot became the wife of The Reverend Quinn of Crisfield. Dorothy "Dot" Davis Quinn, an audacious and outgoing young woman, would soon be off to see the world. And what a world she would see, good and bad.

After Alvin, David received a prestigious appointment to Washington, D.C., as an assistant minister at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. This period in Dot’s life as the wife of a clergyman was the topic of a short story she wrote a few years later. Dot’s family had found the original account in her things and had shared it with me.

We will never know how much of the story is fiction, but she wrote of sexual harassment by her husband’s boss. The story was bold for the period, with vivid descriptions of sexual assault. Had Dot herself experienced this, and was this her "Me Too" moment? She titled the piece, "I Married a Clergyman! Was I to Blame for His Leaving the Church?"

Dot wrote in the story, "I knew from the first I’d be a poor sort of minister’s wife. I am too independent — independent of other people — their thoughts and wishes. I am critical and brutally frank — and unwilling to be subservient to people. Yet I must have some good qualities since my husband still loves me despite all that has happened."

I can only believe that this was Dot speaking and not some character in her story. She continued to hone her writing skills which led to future assignments with newspapers while also serving as a Navy wife. As mentioned in the previous article, David Long Quinn joined the Navy in early 1931 as a chaplain. Over the next decade, Dot experienced new adventures as a Navy wife and worked for local newspapers occasionally. According to those who knew her, Dot was outgoing, witty, and engaging, not to mention a great singer, all qualities essential for the wife of a Navy chaplain.

A few years into the Quinns’ time in the Navy, someone gave Dot a bible with a prayer inscribed inside the front cover. It read, "Watch over thy child, O Lord, as her days increase; bless and guide her wherever she may be. Keep her from the world, strengthen her when she stands; comfort her when discouraged or sorrowful; raise her up if she fall; and in her heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." We only know that the note was written by someone who signed it, Mother Petie. The prayer would be most appropriate for the challenges that awaited Dot.

For a decade, 1931 to 1941, David and Dot endured Navy life with periods of separation while he was on cruises with his ships. She undoubtedly thrived as they shared the excitement of new duty stations and the new friendships and challenges that such changes brought.

By 1941 they had enjoyed several years stationed at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. David had been going about his duties at the submarine base. They were both active in Navy social life and the local church in Honolulu. Late in 1941, David received orders to proceed to the Philippines, where he would serve as chaplain for the U.S. 16th Naval District headquartered at Cavite.

We do not know if the plan was for Dot to follow him to the new assignment, but on the morning of December 7, 1941, Dot woke to the sounds of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She ran, without dressing, into the street to observe the attack firsthand. One can only imagine what went through her mind knowing that David was 5,000 miles away and in harm’s way.

We do not know what Dot did during the war years. Still, we can imagine her doing her part to support the war effort while providing comfort and support to other Navy families. She would do this while not knowing the horrible fate David was enduring in Japanese captivity or whether or not he was even alive.

Word finally came in the summer of 1945 that Chaplain David Long Quinn had died while en route to Formosa packed in the hold of a "hell ship" with hundreds of other prisoners. At nearly 48, he was older than most American prisoners and had suffered immensely for three years.

At 41, Dot became a widow. She chose not to go home to a comfortable life, albeit one without David, but she sought out the story of his plight in captivity. Dot received a job with U.S. forces in Japan and was off for a three-year assignment there. She displayed extraordinary courage to venture alone to a defeated Japan to find the truth about David.

In Japan, she experienced a nation devastated by war as she carried out her duties and found time to attend the trials of Japanese war criminals. While there, she learned that American investigators had discovered David’s body in Formosa. Only then did she come home.

Stopping off in Hawaii, she told friends that she would take a year off to travel the county. Whether she did or not at that time, we do not know. We do know she would make such a trip later in life with her young grandnephew, Rocky.

Eventually, David’s body was returned to the United States and buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His name appears on the plain headstone that marks his grave on Chaplains Hill and on a nearby monument that honors chaplains who died in service to their nation. David Long Quinn’s name also appears on the Maryland World War II monument near Annapolis overlooking the Severn River and the United States Naval Academy, where he and Dot once had been assigned.

All indications are that Dorothy "Dot" Davis Quinn was a hero. Her name does not appear on any headstones or monuments. A search for her final resting place revealed that she elected not to be buried in Arlington with David. Dot chose to continue to serve in death by donating her body to science at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. In her will, she left a large donation to the Grace Episcopal Church in Alvin, Texas, where she sang as a young woman and where on a Sunday long, long ago, she met a young minister from Crisfield who would change the course of her life.

Dot, a hero in her own right, inspired many in her lifetime. Her obituary said, "Dot was one of a kind and a very special lady."

— The first story "Forgotten Hero: The Story of Chaplain David Quinn, USN" appeared in the Crisfield-Somerset County Times on Aug. 11, 2021 which was 76 years after notice of Lt. Quinn’s death was published. It can be read online at BaytoBayNews.com, search for "Chaplain David Quinn, USN."