‘Legendary’ LCMS armed forces ministry leader dies

Chaplain Rev. Dr. Milton S. Ernstmeyer of Williamsburg,Va., known for his legacy as one of the Synod’s armed forces ministry leaders — including as a past executive secretary of the Synod’s Ministry to the Armed Forces — died Feb. 5 at the age of 99.

Ernstmeyer (courtesy of Concordia Historical Institute)

Ernstmeyer (courtesy of Concordia Historical Institute)

Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Eastern time, Feb. 13, at King of Glory Lutheran Church, 4897 Longhill Rd., in Williamsburg. Committal will be at Arlington National Cemetery, on a date to be determined.

“Chaplain Ernie,”a Nebraska native, graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and was ordained at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, St. Louis, before being commissioned as a U.S. Navy chaplain for active duty in 1943. With graduate degrees from Nebraska and Harvard Universities, he later received the Doctor of Divinity from Concordia Seminary.

During World War II, he was assigned to the attack transport USS Grimes in the Western Pacific, where the ship participated in the Iwo Jima Campaign and the occupation of Japan. While assigned to several Marine Corps units and bases, he also served as division chaplain for the 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa. Other shipboard assignments included the USS Philippine Sea, USS Princeton, USS Des Moines and the USS Springfield. Stateside assignments included serving as staff chaplain for the Chief of Naval Air Training and as district chaplain for the 5th Naval District, the 13th Naval District and the Naval District, Washington, D.C. Throughout his military career and after, he was supported by his wife, Muriel, who joined in his ministry to the military members and their families.

In 1972, he requested military retirement at the rank of U.S. Navy captain to accept the call as executive secretary of the Synod’s Armed Forces Commission and the next year also became the LCMS staff member of the Division of Services to Military Personnel for the Lutheran Council in the United States of America (LCUSA). In 1978, he was elected president of the Military Chaplains Association of the USA. In 1983, he retired as the Synod’s executive secretary of the Ministry to the Armed Forces, Board of Missions, and at the following Synod Convention was awarded the Silver St. Martin of Tours Medal.

He also was known for preparing devotional material for Portals of Prayer, and he published written works such as the book They Shall Not March Alone (Concordia Publishing House), a compilation of experiences and vignettes of LCMS military chaplains from the Civil War until the 1980s.

“Chaplain Ernstmeyer is a legend in the Navy Chaplain Corps and in the LCMS. He dedicated his life in service to God, our Synod and our nation, and he did it with humility and faithfulness,” said Chaplain Craig Muehler, director of the Synod’s Ministry to the Armed Forces. “His passion was to ensure that the men and women of our armed forces receive the spiritual care they need and deserve by sending good chaplains to be their pastors while also ensuring that all service members and their families would have access to Word and Sacrament ministry. We all have many wonderful memories of our shipmate, our friend, our mentor and most importantly our brother in Christ.”

Ernstmeyer is survived by three married daughters, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His wife, Muriel, died in late 2014.

Online condolences to the family may be made at nelsencares.com.

Posted Feb. 9, 2016 / Updated Feb. 15, 2016

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