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Current Army Chaplain Provides Vietnam Field Service

The 3/4 scale replica of the Wall in D.C. is 375 feet in length and stands 7.5 feet high at its tallest point.(photo courtesy of Chaplain Daryl Densford)

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, founders of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. also sponsors a mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall that is 3/4 the size of the original and travels around the country to give veterans, their families, and citizens an opportunity to visit The Wall That Heals even if they can’t travel to our nation’s capital.

The mobile wall just had one stop in Missouri this year, in the small town of Ava, near Fort Leonard Wood. When requested by the Douglas County Veterans Memorial Association, Fort Leonard Wood Chaplain Resource Manager, Chaplain (MAJ) Daryl Densford, willingly volunteered to go to Ava to give visitors a feel for what Vietnam Soldiers may have experienced when they worshiped in the field, as chaplains traveled around Vietnam to provide religious support to those fighting there.

(Photo courtesy of Chaplain Daryl Densford)

Chaplain Densford, dressed in a Vietnam War-style uniform, used one of his Vietnam-era chaplain kits to provide a worship service with Communion for about 60 participants who were visiting the mobile wall on 22 September 2018. According to Densford, while he took time to describe chaplain ministry during the Vietnam War and how it compares to today, “it wasn’t just an exhibition but a worship service for many Vietnam veterans, their family members and other visitors to the Wall.”

Following the “Field Service” there was an Honors Ceremony to remember the Soldiers whose names are on the Wall. Chaplain Densford provided a prayer at this ceremony which also included addresses by Missouri Governor Mike Parsons, Missouri State Representative Lynn Morris, Ava Mayor David Norman and President of the College of the Ozarks, Jerry Davis. One of the features of this ceremony was the sharing of memories by family members of six residents from Ava who died in Vietnam.

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Tommy Goode)

Whether caring for Soldiers and Family members serving today, or for Veterans, their families and families of the fallen from other wars, chaplains are willing to serve. “It was a great honor to represent the Chaplain Corps and Fort Leonard Wood at this event, and to honor those who died during the Vietnam War,” said Densford, “It’s what we do as chaplains on a regular basis as we ‘nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the fallen’.”

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Here are some more pictures from the day:

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Tommy Goode)

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(Photo courtesy of Dr. Tommy Goode)

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(Photo courtesy of Dr. Tommy Goode)

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“Altar” set-up using two 5 gallon cans and two ammo boxes with the Vietnam-era chaplain kit (photo courtesy Chaplain Daryl Densford)

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This gentleman with Chaplain Densford was a machine gunner in the Navy but was a lay-volunteer for his chaplain when out to sea. He currently is a civilian minister and assisted Chaplain Densford with the worship service (photo courtesy Chaplain Daryl Densford)

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Chaplain Densford with Missouri governor Mike Parsons (photo courtesy of Chaplain Daryl Densford)

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Chaplain Densford with Missouri Representative Lynn Morris (photo courtesy of Chaplain Daryl Densford).

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Chaplain Densford with Dr. Jerry Davis, President of the College of the Ozarks (photo courtesy of Chaplain Daryl Densford).

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“Chaplain” John McCain

While not officially a chaplain, John McCain was elected one by the group of POWs who shared a cellblock with him late in the Vietnam War. McCain wasn’t chosen as chaplain “…because the senior ranking officer thought [he] was imbued with any particular extra brand of religion, but because [he] knew all of the words of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.”1

As chaplain, McCain would give talks and lead services to help keep his fellow POW’s spiritual resiliency alive. In a 2007 interview, McCain spoke of a Christmas Eve service that he led recalling “…looking at the faces of those guys – skinny, worn out – but most of them, a lot of them, had tears down their faces. And they weren’t sorrow, they were happiness that for the first time in so many years we were able to worship together.”2

McCain related more detail of that Christmas service while POWs in North Vietnam, in his book, Faith of My Fathers:

On Christmas night we held our simple, moving service. We began with the Lord’s Prayer, after which a choir sang carols, directed by the former conductor of the Air Force Academy Choir, Captain Quincy Collins. I thought they were quite good, excellent, in fact. Although I confess that the regularity with which they practiced in the weeks prior to Christmas occasionally grated on my nerves.

But that night, the hymns were rendered with more feeling and were more inspirational than the offerings of the world’s most celebrated choirs. We all joined in the singing, nervous and furtive at first, fearing the guards would disrupt the service if we sang too loudly. With each hymn, however, we grew bolder, and our voices rose with emotion.

Between each hymn, I read a portion of the story of Christ’s birth from the pages I had copied.

‘And the Angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.’…

The lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling illuminated our gaunt, unshaven, dirty, and generally wretched congregation. But for a moment we all had the absolutely exquisite feeling that our burdens had been lifted. Some of us had attended Christmas services in prison before. But they had been Vietnamese productions, spiritless, ludicrous stage shows. This was our service, the only one we had ever been allowed to hold. It was more sacred to me than any service I had attended in the past, or any service I have attended since.

We gave prayers of thanks for the Christ child, for our families and homes, for our country. We half expected the guards to barge in and force us to conclude the service. Every now and then we glanced up at the windows to see if they were watching us as they had during the Church Riot. But when I looked up at the bars that evening, I wished they had been looking in. I wanted them to see us–faithful, joyful, and triumphant.

The last hymn sung was ‘Silent Night.’ Many of us wept.3

While not an official chaplain, “Chaplain” John McCain recognized the need of his congregation and provided for them a sense of the holy in the midst of a hell, a task chaplains are charged with today regardless of the uniform they wear or the insignia they display.

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https://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1018/p01s06-uspo.html, accessed 25 Aug 18.

2Ibid.

3John McCain, Faith of My Fathers. New York: Random House, 1999, 331-332.

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Testament of His Profession

I’ve heard the expression “wearing your heart on your sleeve” but never “wearing your New Testament on your helmet”!

Vietnam Chaplain Carter Tucker

The caption on this press photo reads: “(NY3-March 5) TESTAMENT OF HIS PROFESSION–Chaplain Capt. Carter Tucker of Monticello, Ark., carried the New Testament in this fashion to prevent it from getting sweaty or wet as he accompanied U.S. infantrymen in War Zone C. The chaplain was with the U.S. 25th Infantry Division on Operation Junction City in South Vietnam near the Cambodian border last week. (AP Wirephoto) (pr10938str) 1967” (author’s collection).

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Chaplain Charles Watters, MOH Winner

On 19 November 1967 Chaplain Charles Watters was killed in action, selflessly serving Soldiers in Vietnam. He later posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Chaplain Charles Watters-Worship

Chaplain (MAJ) Charles Watters conducting worship in Vietnam. Waters later died in the battle for Hill 875 at Dak To on November 19, 1967 (photo from U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Facebook page)

Chaplain Charles Watters

Chaplain Watters name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall (photo by author)

“Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on 17 January 1927, Watters was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1953 and served in parishes in Jersey City, Rutherford, Cranford, and Paramus. In 1962, he became a chaplain in the New Jersey Air National Guard. In 1964, Watters entered the Army as a chaplain at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

“In July 1966, Chaplain Watters was assigned to the Republic of Vietnam and served with Company A, 173d Support Battalion, 173d Airborne Brigade. Although he was officially assigned to the 173d Support Battalion, Watters often accompanied the brigade’s line units into the field. In July 1967, after completing his twelve-month tour, he voluntarily extended his tour by another six months.

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Chaplain Watters chaplain kit, destroyed during an attack in Vietnam. It is now on display at the U.S. Army Chaplain Museum (photo by author)

“In November 1967, Chaplain Watters was with 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry, as the battalion took part in the bloody fighting for Hill 875 around Dak To. For Watters, the culmination of the battle came on 19 November. During that day, an intense fire fight broke out with the enemy forces. Without thinking of his own safety, Watters began to rush out on the battle field to help collect the dying and wounded and bring them to safety. Completely exposed, Chaplain Watters administered the Sacrament of Last Rites to his dying men. Every time his unit began to charge the front line, Watters was ahead picking up the wounded and administering the sacraments to those who had fallen. He also helped carry others to safety, including a paratrooper who was in shock and unable to move from his exposed position.

Chaplain Charles Watters Arlington

Chaplain Watters grave in Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)

“After hours of intense fighting and with the perimeter of the battlefield in a state of constant confusion, Chaplain Watters continued to maintain his composure in a time of severe crisis. For hours after the initial fighting, he kept venturing out between friendly and enemy lines picking up the wounded, providing the exhausted soldiers with food and water, administering the sacraments, and helping the medics give aid to the wounded. There were even efforts to try to restrain Chaplain Watters from his heroic and courageous deeds because of his vulnerability to enemy and friendly fire. Sadly, Watters himself became a victim of the battle raging on Hill 875 and did not survive the day.”1

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Here is the citation from his Medal of Honor award:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Chaplain Watters distinguished himself during an assault in the vicinity of Dak To. Chaplain Watters was moving with one of the companies when it engaged a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged and the casualties mounted, Chaplain Watters, with complete disregard for his safety, rushed forward to the line of contact. Unarmed and completely exposed, he moved among, as well as in front of the advancing troops, giving aid to the wounded, assisting in their evacuation, giving words of encouragement, and administering the last rites to the dying. When a wounded paratrooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Chaplain Watters ran forward, picked the man up on his shoulders and carried him to safety. As the troopers battled to the first enemy entrenchment, Chaplain Watters ran through the intense enemy fire to the front of the entrenchment to aid a fallen comrade. A short time later, the paratroopers pulled back in preparation for a second assault. Chaplain Watters exposed himself to both friendly and enemy fire between the 2 forces in order to recover 2 wounded soldiers. Later, when the battalion was forced to pull back into a perimeter, Chaplain Watters noticed that several wounded soldiers were lying outside the newly formed perimeter. Without hesitation and ignoring attempts to restrain him, Chaplain Watters left the perimeter three times in the face of small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire to carry and to assist the injured troopers to safety. Satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he began aiding the medics–applying field bandages to open wounds, obtaining and serving food and water, giving spiritual and mental strength and comfort. During his ministering, he moved out to the perimeter from position to position redistributing food and water, and tending to the needs of his men. Chaplain Watters was giving aid to the wounded when he himself was mortally wounded. Chaplain Watters’ unyielding perseverance and selfless devotion to his comrades was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.2

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National Museum of the United States Army website.

Home of Heroes website.

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Army Chaplain, His Daughter, A Letter

Chaplain (LTC) Robert C. Young

An interesting essay written in 1967 by the 16-year-old daughter of an Army Chaplain deployed to Vietnam. It gives insight into the possible roles available to women in that era. From the 1967 News Release: 

QUI NHON, RVN—U. S. Army Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Robert C. Young (wife, Betty L., … Stockton, Calif.), serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 58th Field Depot, received a letter from his 16 year-old daughter, Lynn, a Stagg High School junior in Stockton, Calif., who included a civics class paper that revealed her thoughts on the Vietnam crisis.

Titled “The American Woman’s Role in the Vietnam War,” the article gave Chaplain Young pause for thought.

“I was very surprised that any teenage American student, even my daughter, would be so moved by present world troubles to think at length about them,” reflects the 38 year-old chaplain.

“I am very proud to know some of America’s youth are thinking about their relationship to the world, and wish to put their thoughts into meaningful action,” continues the World War II veteran.

To express her thoughts and bare her emotions, Lynn wrote the following article:

Follow this link to read the article . . .

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