"My Thoughts and Others"
Introductory Remarks and Text Explanation
following is a crude work I kept during our time in Vietnam. I entitled my diary, "My Thoughts and Others." I don't
know why, but the title stuck. It sounds a bit corny, but it is what it is. I will copy the text word-for-word in most
instances. Please forgive all typos and grammar that were of 1967-68 vintages. There will be editorializing on occasion. Where
you see comments in (parentheses), the words are my present 2010 interpretation. Three periods (...) will indicate an omission,
either because it was too graphic, a derogatory remark I now regret or a personal thought about my wife that could be considered
pornographic (or at least erotic). The writing is chronological in date and time. It covers the time of 30 September 1967
to 14 June 1968. So here goes: I hope the words not only help us remember but also cause us to give thanks for
returning home alive. Feel free to "piggy back" on my emotions. Every one of us came within a hair's breadth of
death on many occasions. It's a miracle that the original party survived without a KIA. In gratitude to that fact, and in
loving memory of our deceased "Comrades in Arms," I humbly present "My Thoughts and Others."
30 September 1967 1115
Well, the heartbreak
is over, or is it just beginning? I don't know. I'm sitting on an airplane heading for Kansas City, and I feel like you-know-what.
The parting was the roughest experience I had ever gone through. I knew tears would be present, but I never expected racking
sobs and the depth of grief we all suffered. I love them so much and pray to God in His power to sustain, preserve and return
us all home safely. The thoughts that race through my mind are really making me jumpy. The old feelings that I experience
every time I leave my family are back again. I hold to two truths: my consuming love for my God-given family, and my confident
love and trust in Almighty God. It is in gratitude that I think of them. It is with gratitude that I think of Him who will
sustain me and preserve me in complete love.
2230 It has been a very lonely
time. I suppose the troops feel the same way. I reported in to Colonel Scroggins. Most of the troops are gone. (It was a Saturday
night.) I'll make contact with them tomorrow. Not much company tonight.
There was a change in plans,
and we leave tomorrow night. The tension jacked up considerably with that news... I read tonight that when a man
is lonely and finds no sympathy, that is where Divine Love fills the void and meets every human need. Running through this
experience is the confidence that God will see us through. In times of deep emotional outbursts of grief, that confidence
seems distant; but later it returns in full luster and never dies. Thank you, God for Elaine and those beautiful children.
I love them so much.
1967 1830 PST
What a day! Or was it a couple of days?
I've had few times when so much was compressed into such a small time frame and covered so much ground. Sunday, 1 October
dawned bright and clear. Everything seemed to work out fine. I was able to clear Ft. Riley. I went to church at the Main Post
Chapel. A classmate, Roy Myers, was newly set up there. Shots were taken and that finished that, (including my arms).
I called Elaine for the last time. That was rough. Oh, God how I miss her. I also called Mom last night. I guess a guy never
gets too big to call his Mom. I have been amazed at the intensity of the feelings that course through my mind. An experience
such as this serves to make one grateful for all of those who ministered to my best interests. Mom is no exception...
I realize that I would never be here if she had not taken care of me when I was growing up (Rheumatic fever and all).
2200 found me at Custer Hills and ready to go. We ate chicken courtesy of the 5/32 Arty and listened to a
band concert. Chaplains Boggs and Easley (chaplain school classmates) came by to say goodbye. The "dough-nut dollies"
were there also as they have been in every war. The coffee wasn't that good, and the doughnuts were greasy, but these gals
made us feel like we were at a 7-course meal. Everywhere we have gone today, they have been there. In the most Godforsaken
places, at the most unholy hours and temperatures, they have been around to say, "Hi, sweetheart; have a cup of coffee."
I never thought I'd be happy to see overweight, middle-aged women at our airstrip at 0500 in the morning, but these volunteers
sure helped to ease our loneliness.
We departed Ft. Riley at 0130 CST amidst salutes fired by Arty and
the Army band. We arrived at Topeka (Forbes AFB) at 0300 and waited about an hour until our plane was loaded. With all that
stuff, it was a miracle that we got off the ground. Our plane was a Boeing 727, Pacific Airlines, complete with three very
pretty stewardesses. What a way to go to war. We departed about 0415 and arrived at Oakland (CA) about 0615 PST. We've already
lost two hours. Buses again took us to the ship, and as the sun came up, we found our new home for the next 20 days. The USNS
Weigel isn't the SS United States, but she does look worthy of doing the job. We will have over 2,600 troops and equipment
on her (later calculated to be about 3,500). We sail tomorrow at 1400 PST. I'm sure that will be rough too.
units have been coming on board all day. Airborne troops are all over the place. I got together with Otis Smith (fellow Presbyterian
chaplain) from one of the airborne units. He was surprised to see me; I guess he thought we would still be cruising
all over the U.S. with our ever-present camper in tow. He is a good guy and should be great company. Ira and I have been around
today also. We should be able to hit it off for our year together.
As I reread this, I see that it
doesn't even scratch the surface of my feelings. Words cannot express how I felt when I stood on the deck today and watched
unit after unit of healthy, alert young men stagger up the gangplank under heavy loads of equipment, to meet their destiny.
Well trained and highly motivated, they kept on coming. I wanted to beat my fists in frustration at a screwed up world that
sends so many gallant young men into this mess. Yet we know why we are here and what we must do. Very few of us would do it
any differently if we had the choice. The experienced types (Lew Bedoka in particular) have been very good at easing tensions.
I am very proud to be a part of this bunch of people who are "willing to get involved."
account is probably more factual than philosophical due to fact that I've only had 3½ hours of sleep in the last 40.
Well, I will go see the 1st Sgt. and then check on the troops. Goodnight, world.
3 October 1967 2200
Farewell to the good old U.S.A. Today was a day I will never forget for as long as I live. At exactly 1400
PST, the ship began to pull slowly away from the dock. The band played, and most of us stood sadly on deck watching our beloved
country slip from sight.
We were sent off in a rather touching way. The doughnut types were there again.
God bless them.
At the command, "All ashore that's going ashore," the ship took on an air
of grim determination. We suddenly realized that this was for real. Each man stood on deck comforted by the fact that he was
surrounded by his comrades and yet alone in his thoughts. At this point we were looking back, vainly trying to stretch our
visual acuity over 2,000 miles to all of our loved ones. Our thoughts were not on Vietnam as much as they were back home.
Most of us are not so worried about ourselves but fearful for our families.
The Golden Gate Bridge loomed
ahead, and suddenly it too was gone. As we passed under the bridge, men started throwing coins into the water. I guess this
tradition has been practiced for generations. I wonder if Bud (my brother, a WWII submariner) did the same thing when the
Jalleo sailed from this very port to war. Many coins went overboard, but I'm sure everyone had the same exact wish:
that was to return home safely, and in one piece, to our loved ones.
I admit I'm uneasy. No man wants
to feel that way 12,000 miles away from home. (I offered prayers for our troops and all of our families.)
the land slowly receded into the mist, we felt very lonely. An "angel thought" came to mind and comforted me. "Lo,
I am with you always, even unto the ends of the earth." At that point, I was truly alone. Earth was no more. That is
where I saw the true meaning of my Lord's words: I was not alone; even at the end of the earth, I was with Him. Thanks, God,
for your empowering love.
There are four chaplains on board (Jack Dowers,
USN; Otis Smith, USA; Bob Ritter and myself). I have my first service 5 October and have noted a growing dependence
on the chaplains since we departed. Many thanked me for the New Testaments we distributed as we left Ft. Riley. I took
a little flak from one of the NCOs when I was doing that; however, the men were very grateful for them, so that is enough
vindication for me. Men are now pondering a deeper meaning of life as they are confronted with some scary reality and threatening
situations. I pray to God I will be adequate and not let them down.
Time for a shower and a quick tape
home. We continue to draw farther away from home with every turn of the ship's propellers.
4 October 1967 2330
The USNS Weigel steadily plods toward Vietnam. Each hour brings us closer to our task and farther away from
home. This is a strange and lonely feeling that all of us share.
The chaplains got together today and
planned for Sunday Protestant services. Otis Smith and I will take the officers' services this Sunday in the main lounge.
(Otis is a great chaplain who has rapport with his troops.) ...
I spent a lot of time today thinking
about the chaplain section for which I will be responsible. It isn't easy to take folks into combat and be responsible for
them. I realize that four men are not like a battery or a battalion, but it is still a weird feeling to be the senior man.
We now have two more in the stateroom. Both are pilots. I don't stand a chance when the ribbing starts.
I attended a High Holy Day for our Jewish personnel tonight. It was their Rosh Hashanah. (The chaplain
is responsible to see that all religious needs are met. Even if he can't conduct the services, he must plan and provide to
the troops the opportunity for these events.)
Well, off to bed. I have early chapel services tomorrow.
I hope all goes well. (Chaplains constantly felt under the gun to be relevant. I hope we were.)
5 October 1967 2230
has been a very productive (and fun) day. I had daily chapel with a good crowd in attendance (and with very positive response).
I wrote a letter home and finished an article for the ship's newspaper. I visited our troops in their quarters and even had
some positive quiet time for myself.
Then I got involved in a Monopoly game this afternoon. It is very
amazing how highly trained soldiers can amuse themselves on a long, slow ocean voyage. This Monopoly game was in dead earnest.
(I guess in 2010 language this would be called "Monopoly with an Attitude.") Anyway, here's what I wrote about
Eyes flashing, Monopoly money tightly clenched in their fists, the players wheeled
and dealed as the dice decided the fate of each man. Deals were made. Money, property, utilities and railroads exchanged hands,
through purchase, swindle and sometimes outright theft. The tension mounted as players developed their properties. Hotels
and houses dotted the streets. A 1st Sgt, with a ruddy bulldog face and a cigar tightly clenched in his teeth,
sadly looked at his CO and said, "Sir, you already bought Park Place for a song and now you are foreclosing on my railroads!
What am I going to do?"
The tension of the game so infected other warriors that table
after table of Checker Kings, Domino Aces and Bridge and Hearts Professionals quit their activities and gathered around the
"Wall Street of the USNS Weigel" to see how the financial world was doing. It was like 1929 all over again as, one
by one, players sadly gazed upon their financial ruin, stood up, gravely shook hands around the table, and jumped off the
ship. The winner (it happened to be me) collected all of the money and property and sadly commented to a Scrabble Virtuoso
that it certainly was lonely to be rich and in control of the entire universe. Thanks, God, for lighthearted moments
that ease a day.
Another hour lost tonight. We are now four hours behind
Manchester, Iowa. (It was a sinking feeling to know that we kept getting farther and farther away from home.)
An emergency message came yesterday. I was visiting our troops and had to deliver the news to a young man
from another unit. His father had passed away. An attempt was made to transfer him to an eastbound ship, but the swells were
12 to 14 feet high. It didn't work out. We are going to divert to Midway Island to transfer the boy and some sick patients.
He will get home almost as fast. He can take a plane from Midway.
There was a storm last night. The
seas were running pretty high. It's been rough today. By now, most of the troops have their sea legs (except Harry N.) and
are laughing at each other getting wet.
I plan to spend a quiet night in the cabin. I'm not much company.
There will be days like this, I'm sure. (The tough part of it was that the chaplain could not show some of these feelings.
I suspect a lot of us have hidden our true feelings for fear of being branded a coward or a crybaby.)
7 October 1967 0915
are now five hours' different between Central Standard Time and the Weigel. One week ago I stood on the tarmac of a
Kansas airport. Now I'm almost to Midway Island. It is amazing how far we have gone in a week.
a little better today. Things don't seem quite as bleak. Chapel this morning was exceptionally meaningful. Otis preached.
I must get ready for tomorrow's service.
1600 A change in plans caused
me to get a new hold on my emotions this afternoon. We aren't going to Tuy Hoa; we now land at Da Nang. That can only
mean one of a few things. I'm sure it will probably mean more action in a hotter spot near the DMZ. I especially lift this
unit up in prayer tonight. I sense we are going to need it. I also lift my family up to our Father. Since we are making the
unscheduled stop at Midway, our mail will go off, too. Time to dash off a few lines.
A little bingo and a movie now sets the scene for me to work on tomorrow's sermon. A shower will feel good tonight,
8 October 1967
There is now six hours' difference from home. I wonder what they are doing right
now. (As I made rounds to the troops, I noted how the time was really dragging and the "time on hands" seemed to
exacerbate feelings of loneliness for all of us.)
Chapel today was held in the cabin-class lounge
for the officers and NCOs. Otis and I had that service, while Bob Ritter and Jack Dowers held services for the troops.
Next week, we switch. I preached today. The last time I held a service for cabin-class was on the S.S. United States. Then
I had a full orchestra behind me, and the people arrived in furs and finery (returning from Europe, May 1966).
Today's service was very different. In the place of the orchestra was a wheezing tape recorder, and in the
place of furs were jungle fatigues and jungle boots. The spirit was different, too. The men didn't come in a flippant mood
to show off their wealth. They came in grimly to put their personal lives in order. In many cases, they came to reconcile
a relationship with God that had been lacking in many areas.
The experience of worship services on board
is the first of a long line of many that I will hold in so many different places. It won't matter where we are (or around
what surroundings); the intent of the men and their chaplains will be the same: to see Christ as friend, comforter, healer
and preserver. The challenge of the chaplaincy is so rewarding. I really feel needed here and in my "God called"
place. I feel if we are led to certain places, God also protects us... Off to bed. Sleep is the only thing that fights the
creeping boredom and sameness at times.
October 1967 2130
Another day is over and another one starting
for Elaine. It is now six hours' difference, and by morning we will be seven hours behind. I'm having trouble keeping my days
straight. (This was a common complaint of the men as well.) Every day is so similar and becomes one great big blob...
I visited sickbay today as well as visiting our troops. They are really cramped in there like sardines. (I
thought eight to a stateroom designed for two was rough. At least we have a porthole.) I also got an article done for the
paper. They seem to be well received. (Anything can help to ease the tension on long, stuffy, voyages.)
will be at Midway Island about 0530 tomorrow. This should be a good experience for me. One of the things that the Army has
done for me is to allow me to see some of the spots about which I've read. Having a fertile imagination, loving to read, and
being interested in military history makes these moments very meaningful for me. Okinawa should be interesting too.
The weather is beautiful - warm, sunny, and with the slightest hint of breeze. My heart is filled with gratitude
for a great and magnificent God who gives these peaceful moments to comfort us.
One of our men asked
today if I ever stopped thinking about home. I told him, "No; it is always in the back of my mind." He agreed and
asked if that made him a baby. Wow! I don't think so, or I am the biggest one on board. (I suppose some of the single guys
looked upon this time as a great and thrilling adventure, but most of the married types, of all ranks, were incredibly homesick.)
Time to turn in. Up early in the morning to see Midway.
10 October 1967 2200
day, another dollar. Rather it will be two days for the price of one. We crossed the 180th meridian (the International
Date Line). There will be no 11 October 1967 for us. It is really weird. We will be at 12 October when we wake up tomorrow
I'm tired tonight. Many of us got up early to see Midway. It was like going through
a small town. We stopped at a little spot of land, a boat came out and picked up our passengers, and we left. Midway came
and went within a half hour.
The sea is exceptionally calm today. As soon as we left Midway,
the temperature began to climb. I understand it will get much hotter. In spite of an active mind, my body is pooped. May the
days go as fast as the 11th of October came and went and we can all return safely home.
12 October 1967 2300
did 11 October go? It is amazing how old you instantly get by crossing the 180th meridian.
A grim reminder appeared of days gone by when ships sailed the Pacific during WWII. A rusty object bobbed
in the water about 100 feet off of the starboard bow of the Weigel. Everyone thought it was a barrel until it clearly came
into view. It was an anti-ship mine with horns and all. It continued on its course, still prepared to perform its mission,
unmindful that the country that launched it was now at peace and an ally of the United States.
chapel tomorrow. I am ready for a shower and bed. The weather is hot and will get hotter. I swear everyone on board has colds
(including the captain), and mine is a dilly. Off to bed.
Preface to "My Thoughts and Others" Part IV
16 July 2010
As the pages unfold, I am beginning to
realize that it often wasn't WHAT was happening to us, but rather HOW we were relating to each other that seemed to be important.
Things that brought us together were often our experiences with people, positive and negative, that we vividly remember to
this day. The HHB 108th Artillery Group (1967-1968) reunion that was held in Branson, Missouri, in June 2010,
found us spending many hours in conversation, not only about combat experiences, but also about relationships with one another
13 October 1967 2200
night is beautiful: calm sea, fair weather, lovely moon and gentle breeze. Everything is perfect except for two things:
first, we go to war where good men kill and are killed and second, our loved ones are not here to share this moment of beauty.
So this night carries its own hopes, dreams and prayers for a safe return home...
I'm very tired tonight.
As most of us have colds, the closeness hasn't helped to stop us from reinfecting each other. I also had chapel today with
good attendance. I'm finding that I have less personal time. More and more of the troops are seeking me out to talk. I guess
everyone is thinking deeper than they had before this new experience. (I didn't resent this at all. It made me feel that I
was carrying my weight in the unit. Wow, if they had only known how scared I was.)
I felt very
good today. I was hungry enough to eat three big meals without any disruption. My fatigue is of the satisfying variety. I
have been all over this ship visiting troops today. Otis and I went to eat at the troop mess tonight. It wasn't the best food
at all. We complained to Major Fisher about it. I hope it does some good.
We will arrive at
Okinawa on the 18th. I'm still hopeful of getting our troops off the ship for a while.
"Big Four" met today and planned a joint communion service for Sunday. I hope all goes well. We also sorted
out some administrative stuff that has to be accomplished. The doctor informed me that Bob Ritter had not gotten all of his
shots yet. He was lacking three and had left his shot record back at Riley. I spent a good part of the day getting that done.
I hope he doesn't react to them while on board. Being at sea seems to exacerbate any kind of discomfort we have.
We are now 16 hours ahead of home. While our families are just getting up to start a new day, we are
preparing for bed. I think of my loved ones a lot. Time to turn in.
14 October 1967 2120
The air is oppressive.
As we left California, it was charged with fear and great expectations. These feelings have dissipated before something else:
the heat. It rained today for the first time. I walked on deck and felt warm humidity rise up my legs. It will get worse.
Due to typhoons, we are not going to Okinawa. Present plans call for docking at the Philippines. That should
be interesting. Oh well, typical Army: Change 79.
Chapel services today consisted of a panel discussion.
Basic questions were asked like, "Has my concept of God changed since I entered the military? Has my faith changed?"
I was very disappointed in the program. I had hoped for a balanced discussion. Unfortunately, the panel consisted of four
of the most closed-minded people I've ever met in my life. They never answered the first question at all. They just took off
with their own version of the gospel and never allowed any discussion or questions to their position. Men with differing opinions
were quickly put down and battered with scripture after scripture that "proved their point." They emphasized the
fact that noncompliance with their view would surely result in death, damnation, separation from God and eternity in Hell...
(Needless to say I was appalled. All I heard was judgment and not one mention of the word "love."
I was hoping for balance and the offering of hope to men who, for the first time, might be looking hard at their past and
present relationship with God. Unfortunately, many of the men were turned off and walked out. I was mad. I went
on for about three pages in the diary that I won't impose on anyone. I will include only a snippet of the text, and hope I
don't offend anyone.)
I am a conservative, but I also feel the Christian soldier must see his faith
engage basic life questions such as morality, corruption, civil rights, war, peace, human and political freedom etc. etc.
To stay in darkened rooms of emotionalism and deny that there is nothing else that is of importance outside is like sticking
one's head in the sand. The tragedy is that boys will go out, armed with a few prosaic words and verses of scripture, and
attempt to convert a world that they do not understand. In fact, they do not even understand themselves. They will piously
climb into their big automobiles, and with frowns on their faces, drive through slums and ghettos, past deprived "sinners"
and over wretched reprobates cumbered down with moral guilt. They will be blinded to anything else, including their own sin
to swiftly glide out of the world to meet their own destiny "somewhere out in the blue." I hope their intolerance
and blindness is replaced by spiritual understanding, before they dash their fragile boats of faith on the harsh rocks of
Whew! All that over a panel discussion. I wonder what I would do if I met a Communist.
We lose another hour tonight. Time for the sack.
15 October 1967 2210
mistake in calculation was made. (Every day is the same.) There are only 15 hours' difference between home and here.
It is 0730 in Iowa now.
A joint communion service was held in the lounge today. The same grim air permeated
the worship as it has since we left the states. Men are still earnestly seeking their active working relationship with God.
I was disappointed by the crowd. Many more should have been in chapel. (Sounds like a Chaplain, doesn't it?) We did
have all of the officers from the 108th there, however.
We had a talent show for the troops tonight.
They really enjoyed it. Some of the jokes were coarse, but all in all, it was a pretty fair show.
have been trying to come up with a way to tactfully address the profanity on board ship. (That also sounds like a Chaplain,
doesn't it?) I want folks to see how empty and meaningless rampant profanity can be. I wrote an article for the paper today.
It was entitled: "Sex!!" It wasn't about sex at all. Rather it was about the use of certain words in relation
to inanimate objects. I wrote that it was hard for me to visualize a deck of cards or a rifle having intercourse. Yet the
"F" word is used to describe everything from Rolls Royces to birth control pills. I should get some comments about
I've had good comments about some of my previous articles. The last one was:
"Look Out, Dirty Rat, Here Comes Mighty Mouse!" I was trying to show that true strength rests not in physical
power alone, but is the byproduct of the inner person.
I visited the radio shack tonight rather than
going to a movie. (Our ship was in constant communication with the world. Even before satellite communication, I was impressed
with our connection to the rest of civilization.)
Phew! It's time to turn in. I've climbed
many ladders today and am weary.
October 1967 2230
The night steals in on cats' paws. It is upon
us before we know it. With its merciful breeze and coolness, it brings the privacy of darkness. At last, on deck, a man can
stand alone, feel the wind on his face and think. I sat on the deck tonight, alone with my own thoughts. I saw troops come
out onto the deck to stand silently by themselves. The spell of this night was strong. There were no noisy groups of active
young men. The moment was reserved for men who wanted a moment of privacy. It was amazing to see young men standing so close
to one another - yet on a few square feet of deck, each would call their own. We were oblivious to anything except the night
and our own personal thoughts.
The article in the paper was very successful. I'm really surprised. The
first sergeant wanted a copy of it to reprint. I hope I can continue to direct my thoughts toward a relevant expression
of my faith and Christ's gospel.
My first malaria pill certainly did its job. My head is thick, and
I'm full of gas. The doctor says that will be a weekly occurrence. Oh, boy!
It is getting rough. We
are skirting the southern edge of Typhoon Carla. She has 150-knot winds and 60-foot waves. Fortunately, we are not in it.
Even 700 miles away, we are really bouncing around. That fact, plus my malaria pill, has me all over the place tonight.
I taped part of the talent show and made another tape for Elaine. I certainly miss her, Lisa, Annette and
Bruce. I suddenly realized tonight, "I have a son! I had so little time to be with him before we left (seven days). Great
though is the God of my salvation: "a very present help in trouble."
17 October 1967 2220
day closer to Vietnam and further away from home. Today has been a day of intense boredom. I'm almost at my wits' end
trying to find things to occupy my mind. I did get a chance to listen to Jack Dower's tapes (the Navy chaplain). At least
for an hour or so my head was filled with beautiful classical music in stereo. Each day is almost a frantic search for something
different to do. When I find something, even that soon bores me. Sleep is the only merciful factor. At least, for a while,
one is oblivious to his boredom and is able to pass a few hours.
There was an emergency message
tonight. I had to break the news to a young trooper that his father had died. The lad took the news quite well and said the
family had been expecting it. His father was 99 years old. The boy was 21 and had a 13-year-old sister. Dad was quite
a man. (The soldier got a plane out from the Philippines.)
We are quite close to the Philippine Islands
now. We should be in sight of land by tomorrow night. Time to prepare a sermon for tomorrow and off to bed.
18 October 1967 2330
are now out of the Pacific. The Philippine Sea is upon us. Soon we will enter the straits and thread our way through the maze
of Philippine Islands. We will land tomorrow at Subic Bay, ETA 1800. Hooray!
I keep thinking of Bud
(my brother's) sub that stalked these waters and sank the Japanese cruiser, Tama, after the Battle of the Coral Sea.
I have also followed in Pop's footsteps (WWI pilot stationed in France) and now in Bud's. It is awesome to think I have
walked or sailed where they were so many years ago. (They were my heroes.)
Thanks to the miracle of
man's inventions, we will be at Subic longer than expected. The USNS "Wagtail" has successfully torn up two of her
three fuel pumps, one of her two radios and numerous shafts and pieces of equipment in her engine room.
be able to get to a post office and mail those packages I have been carrying. I picked up a small locket for Boo Boo (daughter
Lisa's) birthday. It is a crazy, screwed up world when one has to leave his family in order to protect them. I had a rough
time writing the card. I keep recalling how pitiful Lisa looked the day I left... (six years old, she just stood there with
reddened eyes and could not talk. Many of us have this same experience, and were finally able to talk about it at Branson.
I will never forget her face that day.)
I wasn't even in the sun today and still sunburned my upper
chest. How can that be? I sense that this is just a prelude of things to come. Well, a shower and to bed. It was a boring
day, but I'm still grateful to God for the opportunities He gives, even on the most boring of days.
19 October 1967 2359
Dry land and Subic Bay at last. We arrived at 1900 hours, 19 Oct, and were able to spend a few hours on shore. We will be
able to get off tomorrow for the whole day.
Ira, Captain Horton and I went to the officers' club. It
is very small and modest in menu. We listened to a three-piece hillbilly band, ate hamburgers, french fries and pizza, drank
Coke and thought we had died and gone to heaven. It was great. Everyone seemed to have a good time. (A Navy officer
complimented us on our behavior. How about that?) Too bad some airborne second lieutenants came in and disrupted the peace.
They were loud, drunk and acted like a bunch of animals. So much for the compliments about behavior. (The Navy guy, we later
find out, was the commanding officer, an admiral type, of Subic Bay. There is a new saying, "Born in the United
States, grew up in Vietnam." I hope so.
(We returned to the ship. We had only about three
hours of liberty that night. We would have the whole day to ourselves the next day. We watched the troops as they returned.
While we were waiting, we talked about the fact that most of our combat forces were led by 19-year-old buck sergeants and
19-year-old second lieutenants. I thought of my new son and hoped that would never happen to him. Lou Bedoka's ears
must have been burning, as the three of us were so grateful for his seasoned leadership of our men.)
is only 660 miles away... We can no longer think of Vietnam as 12,000 miles away from home. Now, home is that distance. Vietnam
is soon to be a reality I cannot deny. The time for deep gut fear will soon be here.
A first experience
tonight...we sat and watched as the troops came back after a short liberty. Whew! Most came back in very good shape. Sadly,
a lot came back blasted out of their minds. Most of them were airborne. (I had hoped to go airborne, but decided it wasn't
for me after this trip.) Some were carried, others helped, but thank God most were happy-type drunks. The language was rough
but, by and large, it was as well ordered as it can be when you turn 1,500 troops loose after 17 days at sea.
group was tremendous. Most of the kids were in good shape with only a couple of the guys tipsy...our men came on board with
crazy grins and a few souvenirs of Subic Bay, namely coconuts and sailor hats. I got a kick out of watching them. "Hey,
chaplain, look what Frenchy got (coconut). He climbed the *!#=* tree and pulled the *!#**= right down." Quite
a few sailors from neighboring ships lost their hats. What else could a sailor do when he found himself surrounded by five
or six Army types and the water at his back? Most traded hats, however. It was a funny sight to see a GI and a Swabbie, arm
in arm, trying to lead each other back to their respective ships. Our men behaved remarkably well. I'm proud of them.
Time for bed. I plan to do some shopping for the family tomorrow. Love them all so much.
20 October 1967 2315
has come to the Weigel as we depart from peace. Shore leave was up at 1500. The troops returned, with the exception of about
five or six who were AWOL, in the hospital or in the brig. (That was not bad for the number who were on liberty.)
was a real mess. The airborne guys were like a bunch of animals. The SPs (Shore Patrol) had riot guns, dogs and tear gas to
keep order. A captain and a sergeant got into a fistfight at the gangplank. I was ashamed to wear the same uniform.
Our troops were tremendous. They almost, ha ha, reminded me of a bunch of Sunday school kids
compared to the others. At least they behaved themselves. I am going to write a letter to the men tomorrow. I was very proud
to be a part of such a group.
One sergeant fell overboard or perhaps jumped. He almost drowned.
Three kids had to jump into Subic Bay to save him. Later on, five or six of his squad jumped in for kicks. They could have
drowned. It disrupted things to pull them out. The paper work will be tremendous. How ridiculous!
had a good time shopping today. I got the girls Filipino dolls; Bruce a funny tee-shirt; and Elaine a salad bowl set of hand-carved
Monkey Pod wood. I got the packages mailed, too. (I had a weird feeling as I was mailing them when told it would take five
or six weeks by boat-mail to get home. I kept hoping I didn't arrive home as a casualty before the presents got there.)
Ira and I sat on deck and watched land slowly slip from view. It's the last time we will see a peaceful land
for quite a while. It was not a good feeling at all. The men felt the moment as we settled in for the night. They are in good
shape and all accounted for. Off to the sack.
October 1967 2330
The last night of peace. We are less than 200
miles from Vietnam. This time tomorrow will find a very cautious chaplain gazing at something that, only a few months ago,
was just a topic of conversation for Walter Cronkite's News.
We dock at Qui Nhon in the morning. This
is only 15 miles from where Daryl was killed. (A very good friend, Major Daryl Rolfe, was killed in June 1967.) I had
his funeral in Lansing, Michigan...
Troops began to pack gear today. An airborne unit leaves, as well
as other units. This is our last night of total peace for a year...I wrote a letter to our men today telling them how proud
I was of them. The first sergeant was happy I did that. Well, world, goodnight. Here we come, ready or not.
22 October 1967 2330
is gone for a year. We arrived in Vietnam at 1430 this afternoon. At the first sight of land, the ship became completely quiet.
My first sight of the country was a series of high hills penetrating the clouds. Immediately my thought was full of the psalmist's
words, "I will lift mine eyes unto the hills..." Truly I am grateful that, "my help cometh from the Lord."
I doubt that Charlie knows that Donald L. Neely, OF105496, is here, but I know that God does.
boats began to swarm around the ship. They were full of Vietnamese. They were smiling and waving. I don't know if they
wanted to wave or throw something. Soon small patrol boats came and escorted us in. Everyone was tense and scared, and this
is a secure area, too.
When we docked, security was immediately set up. A small patrol boat began to
cruise back and forth between the open water and us.
I had my first sound of combat about an hour later.
Several loud explosions and charges were heard; the patrol was throwing concussion grenades into the water next to the ship.
This would surely mess up a frogman who might be in the water. This has been going on ever since.
stevedores got on and are off-loading the cargo. A heavy equipment maintenance (HEM) company and an airborne battalion get
I got my first sight of combat about an hour ago. Flares, tracers and gun ships
were quite active in the hills surrounding Qui Nhon. The ROKs are here and had a firefight going on. It was crazy. Here I
stood with a cup of coffee and a cigarette and watched a real battle, and killing only three or four miles away.
Charlie Schmidt is stationed here, a classmate from my basic chaplain course. I was surprised to see
that. I asked that a message be sent to him. He took the time to come out and look me up. We spent a delightful evening
together. He is still the same clown that he has always been. He also is an outstanding chaplain.
for bed. As usual, the big orange malaria pill is acting up. I could fill this book if I wrote all of the feelings that are
swirling around. Several men expressed fear. I informed them that no one was more scared than me. Yet no one has even spoken
a cross word to me, much less tried to shoot me. Thank God for the words. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
(An amusing thing happened at Qui Nhon.
Some of the troops and I were standing near the gangplank. An MP guarded the deck-side of the plank. We didn't know if he
was protecting us from intruders or making sure none of us ran away. We were all a bit tense, so I thought I would walk
down the gangplank and show everybody how brave I was. The guys had kept egging me on. "Let's send the chaplain down
and see what happens to him." So I went. The first thing the MP said was, "Welcome to Vietnam, sir. What's your
blood type?" I answered "O positive" and turned and went back up the plank. Everybody wanted to know what he
said. I told them, and they laughed. I also informed them that he did not smell very good at all. I later ventured back down
and had a nice conversation with him. He was also the young man who called my friend Charlie Schmidt for me.)
23 October 1967 2200
The word is
"wait." We slowly steam south down the coast of Vietnam toward Vung Tau. Perhaps the spelling isn't right, but at
least it's the gateway to Siagon for some troops. More get off tomorrow. Someone said today that we are like a bunch of men
on death row waiting our turn.
My experiences tonight seem to be a paradox. We sit peacefully on deck,
safe and secure. The countryside is beautiful. The night sounds are quiet and soothing. Occasional flashes on shore remind
us that something sinister is happening. We sit, watching movies and drinking coffee. We step outside to "watch
the war." It's almost like we are watching this on film. It's like I'm standing in the lobby of a show I do not want
to see, and yet I'm strangely compelled to take a look at it once in a while. Soon we will be in the middle of a dirty little
war, and yet I sit peacefully looking at a star-laden sky. Especially tough belly pain tonight. Thanks, malaria pill.
It is cool. A shower will feel good after the heat of the day. I hope it stays cool. Of course, we are here
in the "dead of winter."
October 1967 2330
I feel good. Pain's gone today. I feel great.
We arrived at Vung Tau about 0900. It is impossible to believe, but true. No troops debarked today. We will sit here until
1300 tomorrow. I don't understand these things. Oh, well; we still draw combat pay regardless.
into a discussion about money (Ira and I). If our pay raise goes through, with combat pay and increased tax benefits,
I should be able to get some of the educational debts paid. I would trade it all for a chance to be home right now. I really
miss them tonight.
About 400 will get off here. A few pilots got off today to ferry aircraft to Nha
Trang. John Moody (my roommate) pulled out unexpectedly. He is a very fine guy.
Well, I will
read for a while and try to get some sleep. The hatches are open and barges are along side. So much noise is in the air. I
hope to sleep.
October 1967 2330
We now head north. No stop in Nha Trang. They
will get off at Cam Ranh Bay. Next stop after that is Da Nang. I am scared now!
Major "Van" (roommates) left this a.m. We departed about 1300. Otis and his unit leave tomorrow. I am saddened by
all of this. By tomorrow night, there will only be about 200 troops on board.
bombed and strafed a hillside today as a destroyer added its own kind of music. We watched choppers take off from 9th
Division ships at Vung Tau for assaults. They landed, filled up with troops and took off again. Some of those boys are now
in danger. Oh, what a screwed up world.
Really in the pits. I realize I cannot think
of what it will be like to get home. I have to get through this day, look no further, and then see today as one fewer.
Then I can look to tomorrow. I can't look to October 1968; I would go bonkers.
Ira has moved in with
me today. I am so glad. He has been a good friend from our days in France, and now we are together again. He is quite a fine
guy. I am grateful for his friendship. Off to a shower and bed.
26 October 1967 2300
of the day is "sad." Otis and his battalion left today. I made a tape of the welcoming ceremony and also got Otis
on it. We weren't able to speak much since we both were pretty choked up. What a screwed up world.
got a bus and took our troops to post. They had a good time and enjoyed themselves.
stayed overnight since the trip to Da Nang will take 24 hours. We will get there on the 28th.
Ranh Bay (I finally learned how to spell it) is nothing but sand. I got some to send home to Elaine and the kids. (Some sand
is still in my scrapbook.)
I guess the troops really appreciated the bus. Ira said
the guys voiced their appreciation for getting off the ship. I stayed behind to wait for stragglers. (Even if the guys at
the reunion didn't remember the bus, my friend Ira later said the guys gave three cheers for Chaplain Neely...hmm...I wonder
what those who can't remember the bus had to smoke or drink that night...hmmm).
I'm tired, and tomorrow, our last night on ship, will be rough. I'm kind of blank tonight. I guess it's because of what's
happening to me.
Goodnight, Honey; I love you.
October 1967 2100
Fear has pervaded the Group. It is now
an established fact that by this time tomorrow, we will be at our base camp, wherever that is. We will arrive in Da Nang in
The men are very tight. So am I, even though I cannot show it. It is amazing
how a man can crumble with fear on the inside and yet appear together and peaceful on the outside. As a chaplain, I must be
God's source of strength. I know He preserves me. I guess I sweat the road march tomorrow more than anything.
I drew a .45 today. I hope and pray I never have to use it. I am a man of peace. It gave me a terrible
feeling to draw it. I will only use it to defend myself or others, not to be offensive.
to say, many thoughts race through my mind tonight. I miss my family. Will I see them again? Is this my last entry?
I intellectually know that most of these fears are groundless, and I will probably laugh at them at some later date (I didn't).
Fear is there. It starts as a lump in the stomach and slowly works up to the mouth. I have read enough
combat stories to know that men have described the "the taste of fear in their mouths." Right now I'm having not
a taste but a seven-course meal. I thank God my fear stops at my throat, and doesn't show on the outside (I hoped).
I shall read tonight and get a last letter home. God fill me with Your mind that I am oblivious to anything
but Your protecting care.
(No entries were made. We unloaded the ship, and I was sent to the airfield
that evening to fly out to Dong Ha the next morning. I was amazed at my first impression of Vietnam from a land perspective.
There was a certain smell that was all around us. I learned that the odor was from the oil the Vietnamese use to cook their
food. My first night in the BOQ at Da Nang was interesting, to say the least. Jets were taking off, with afterburners aglow,
for missions. One of the planes did not return that night. I do not know the fate of the pilot.)
October 1967 2130
What a day. Had an EKG at Da Nang because
of pain. It was okay, and I'm thankful. I flew to Dong Ha and 30 minutes later was under fire. We were shelled five times
with over 70 rounds hitting the camp. Petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) went up. Needless to say, we are all a bit fearful
right now. Bob Brunner got hit and won his Purple Heart. It was a slight elbow wound, but it is still scary. He was pretty
shook. No sleep tonight because of running to the hole.
30 October 1967 2300
White" (a relatively safe condition) all day. We haven't taken a single round today. It's peaceful tonight, and
yet we are wary. Yesterday's memories still linger on. I'll write more tomorrow. I'm pretty tired.
31 October 1967 1030
Finally, a good
opportunity to write, if you can call a "Blue Alert" (dangerous condition) a good time for this. We are under threat
of shelling again.
I arrived at Dong Ha at approximately 1000 Sunday via a C130. By
1130, I was in a bunker getting my tail shot at. Charlie welcomed the troops at the boat dock, too. I'm in a nicely
sandbagged tent with two other people. My first night was in a smaller one, and I didn't have much room.
The letters I received from Elaine were especially welcome. I really miss her today. I hope God will
protect me for her. I don't worry as much about myself as the impact of something happening to me would make on the family.
One gets quite tired of carrying his steel pot and flak jacket everywhere he goes,
but it is worth it. Everything is primitive and minimal. One becomes appreciative of even a rough ammo box to store stuff
and put washbasins on. One becomes very appreciative of the comforts of home and the security of family. (I remember
thinking that my single car garage back home was more luxurious than what I was staying in at that time.)
Ha is approximately eight miles from the DMZ. Con Thien was pointed out to me. At the time of shelling, we were able to see
a battery getting hit. I guess we will live in the constant fear of death for the next 11 months. I only hope time goes fast.
I place my life in His hands.
We have not been able to perform our mission yet. I'm sitting
on the steps of a bunker as I write, ready to dive in. A report just came in that the airport just received six rounds. It's
only 2,000 meters from here.
31 October (continued) 2015
After a hot day, a shower felt good. Our shower is a primitive affair, only a shack with a couple
of barrels on top. An immersion heater takes the chill off the water.
I got some pay
today and will get my monthly pay tomorrow. I drew about $400 in back quarters' allowance and also dislocation and travel
pay. It will come in handy to send home. (I typically drew about $40 a month. That took care of laundry and PX stuff
with a little left over to buy presents at our "Dong Ha Wal-Mart".)
chaplain came to visit today. His name is Chaplain Goldie. He informed me that I was the senior chaplain in this Northern
Area (with all of six years in the Army). I have one other chaplain now, Chaplain Lewis. He's with the 1st
Battalion, 44th Artillery, a duster battalion of quad 50s and twin 40s that escorts "Rough Rider" convoys.
I hope to meet him soon. The responsibility of my work is getting more pronounced. I will have to coordinate with him and
Bob Ritter as well as the Marine chaplains. My administrative responsibility is increasing. I'm not sure if I know what I'm
doing, and I'm scared that I might foul something up.
It has been pretty quiet later
in the day. By quiet, I mean that the only sounds were our rounds going out. It is amazing how quickly your ears tune to the
various sounds of combat: "pop," it's a flare; "crack-swish," it's a round going out; "swish-crump,"
it's one coming in - hit the hole! The chatter of small arms, the deep rythmatic bark of the twin 40s, the chatter of the
quad 50s are all the sounds of Dong Ha at night - somewhat comforting and somewhat terrifying at the same time...
I'm going to get some study time in and write a letter home. It's about 0850 at home, and Lisa and
Annette will be out Halloweening tonight. I recall last year's fun with them at that time.
listening to Radio Peking tonight. It is Communist propaganda in its best form. At times it is difficult to understand man's
inhumanity to man. May God grant that one day we will learn to live together as brothers.
for a while. Goodnight, Sweethearts. I'm going to take a turn around the compound tonight and check on the troops as well
as make a visit to the Fire Direction Center (FDC) in the command bunker.
1 November 1967
Into another month. I hope it goes fast. My thoughts are still with
my loved ones back home.
We took about 25-30 mortar rounds about 2330 last night. I wonder
if Charlie has anything in store for us tonight. It is a scary feeling waiting for the other shoe to drop. I read last night
that God protects "my going out and my coming in" (Psalms). These thoughts are with me as we dive from hole to hole
... I think we will be all right if it doesn't get any closer than this.
We still do not have
our vehicles. I have to bum rides wherever I go. I finally got to our area today and had a look where we will be for
the year. It is still hard to move around.
I haven't gotten a hold of Chaplain Lewis
yet. He is still in Da Nang. We will have a lot of coordination to do when we can finally get together.
went to our "shopping center" today. It is really a collection of shacks manned by very poor people. They do have
a few things I'll get and send home. They aren't worth much financially, but the love they represent is priceless...
The road trips will soon be starting. I know I will have to expose myself sometime. I hope it works
out okay. All ground outside our perimeter pretty much belongs to the NVA and VC.
has been extremely quiet tonight. Our own guns aren't even firing too much. They have only begun in the last few moments to
do anything. I'm getting used to the sounds. The 175s were firing charge three (very loud), and I never heard one all night.
I slept through all of the noise.
Well, I will close for tonight. I want to get some
sermon preparation done. It is a beautiful evening. Wish you were here.
(I just discovered that I did not make an entry for three days. We were
pretty busy getting to meet our Marine counterparts and arranging area coverage for J. J. Carroll, the "Rockpile,"
Con Thien, Khe Sanh and surrounding units. It didn't help having to jump into bunkers a good share of the time.
The 108th assumed command over five battalions. I can't remember the numbers - perhaps others can come up
with the unit designations of the battalions.
[Editor' note: As near as I can
tell, the five battalions were: 1st Battalion of the 40th Artillery; the 1st of the
44th; the 2nd of the 94th; the 6th of the 33rd; and the 8th
of the 4th.]
The 1st of the 44th and a 105mm towed
howitzer battery, stationed at Quang Tri, had their own chaplains. We all worked together to provide area coverage.
Interestingly, the Marines had no Protestant chaplains at Dong Ha; however, there were many priests in the area. That
is not usually the case. Bob Ritter and I provided the Protestant coverage, and Father Fogerty from the 3rd
Marine Division provided our Catholic coverage.
4 November 1967
Almost a week has gone by. The "Boy Chaplain" has been very busy.
I have been coordinating with the Navy chaplains and commanders for religious services. This has taken a lot of time. Tomorrow
is a first: my first services in combat situations. I have two services at Dong Ha, and then we go to Camp J. J. Carroll for
another one in the afternoon. This will be my first road trip. Jack and I are a bit tense. (Jack Young was my assistant and
The way it looks, the chaplains will get a lot of time on the roads. Some staff will
be able to stay in base camp most of the time. We will be doing our thing all over the place. (I put about 10,000 miles on
my Jeep before I left the Group. Bob Ritter and I were out on convoys more than some realized. Some of the troops often volunteered
to ride "shotgun" for us just to get off the compound.) I pray for God's protection as I do His work.
rains have started today. It has rained hard most of the day. We were informed that we were in for five months of this
(monsoon season). Oh, boy! No mail. It was kind of a sad and lonely day. Miss them a lot.
continue to work for the respect of the staff. That can be hard at times. Chaplains have a tendency to be misunderstood since
we are not in the nuts and bolts of field artillery. We can easily be perceived as a bunch of "doofus" types who
have no real jobs. To some, all we do is wander around with nothing to do. Actually we are trained to make "chaplain
visits" to troop areas and mingle with the men wherever they are. The chaplaincy is actually a "ministry of presence."
It doesn't really matter what you say. It's that you are there in the midst of the unit and make your presence and concern
known. (This was especially true when I would crawl around the perimeter at night with the sergeant of the guard and visit
our men at listening posts.) This unknown dynamic is often misunderstood as "goofing off." I sense that, in time,
a growing sense of "cabin fever" will intensify these feelings and folks might vent their frustrations on convenient
"scapegoats." Oh well, I can't do anything else about it. I love this unit and desire its respect. I suppose six
days without mail is not helping my "feel sorry for myself" attitude tonight.
5 November 1967 2130
ye shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."
These words from Isaiah
were very comforting last night as I was preparing services for Dong Ha and J. J. Carroll. The trip to Carroll was the first
into less secure territory. Some of the troops went with me. Ira also went. It was good to have him around.
The road is not all that secure. The trip contained many swirling emotions: excitement, fear, alertness,
pride, anticipation and relief were all mingled into one ball that often seemed to settle in the pits of our stomachs.
We also saw the "Rockpile." What a name. It really is a big pile of rocks. The last four - five miles are especially
hairy since the road, hills, and underbrush all merge together. We could not see very well and were very prone to ambush.
I had hoped the hills and trees didn't clap and make noise in a different way. They didn't. We made the trip without incident.
Thank you, Lord.
I am consumed tonight by what I saw on the road. I have never witnessed
such abject poverty, filth and hardship. Kids by the hundreds lined the roads waving and shouting. Small children Lisa's and
Annette's ages, clothed in filthy rags, waved and hoped something would be tossed to them - (candy, C-Rations, whatever).
They were cute and pathetic; I wanted so much to stop and pick them up and love them. These are the ones who suffer in every
war. They came at us with thumbs up (you're number 1 GI) and smiles on their faces. Some were able to say "hello";
others only knew English swear words. They thought they were being friendly by sticking their thumbs up and saying, "Bullshit"
(and often much worse). It's pathetic how some careless people will teach kids profanity and laugh at it. Some gave
us thumbs down. (You're number 10 GI. That was a bad number - the worst.) Some people were stoical and noncommittal.
It was such an experience to see such a confrontation of differences all around us. The Americans
were convoying down a road with steel pots and flak vests, well armed and moving fast. The convoy went right past groups of
people, slowly plodding down the road who looked like they had not gotten the word that there was a war on in their neighborhood.
Villages, (some were resettlement types), looked peaceful.
My thoughts tonight are
consumed by the sight of those kids. I can't get them out of my mind. I couldn't believe what I saw. I thought my first experience
at holding worship services in combat would have the most profound impact on me. This is not the case. My own clean and well-nourished
children in a secure environment were so much in my thinking as I rode along. I wish there was something more I could do for
them. (There was, at a later date. You will hear more about Pastor Phi and the orphanage in later segments.)
Three services were held by me and two by Bob (Ritter). He is working out quite well. I am glad. Attendance
was good. The troops at Carroll really appreciated the service.
More sandbags went
up around the tents today. More material was scrounged to increase the comfort of my tent, which will double as my office
for a while. We are constantly trying to improve our position both in security and safety. The Army teaches that principle
very well. No mail. I'm worried. The last word from them was 24 October. I know Elaine is writing but something is fouled
up. I hope she is okay. Some guys are getting 3-day service. (My mail was fouled up. It took some time to get the change
of address into the system. It was a bit rough for a few days. I really realized at that time what they meant when they said,
"Don't mess with a GI's chow or mail".) Well, it's time to prepare for the sack. What a day. It's one I will never
forget as long as I live. Two more rounds just landed. Thanks be to God that our lives are in His hands. God protect
our troops and my loved ones.
6 November 1967 2100
No mail again. I'm really down in the dumps. Eight days now is almost too much. I know the system
has failed, but it is not easy to hear nothing from home. All this, and trying to put up a front for those around me, is a
bit much at times. We sit in dirt. We eat dirt, wipe it from our eyes and raise clouds of dirt as we dodge incoming. The only
respite is mail call. I know Elaine is writing. I will get a bundle sometime. Today is just rough. It will get better.
My malaria pill took its normal course today. (We got the big orange one every Sunday night, courtesy
of Bob Branson and Company.)
Exactly six years ago to this hour, I was standing in
front of a nursery window at Fort Sill gazing in wonderment at my first-born child. Lisa is now a beautiful little lady. It's
hard to realize how fast time has gone. She has grown into a very sophisticated kindergartener. I can just see her as she
goes to school. I do take some comfort that time does, in fact, go fast, and we will all get home sooner than today makes
I bought the kids some pj's and Elaine some pj's and a robe. They are of silk and
probably cheaply made. It's all that I can get for now. I'm not good at sizing this stuff. They are very pretty and colorful.
I hope they fit. I looked pretty silly putting the robe on, but it was the only way I could see if it was Elaine's approximate
size. (No, guys! I AM NOT a cross dresser, so knock it off.) The Vietnamese are very small (sometimes 5 feet and 90 lbs or
so). I have never considered myself a big man by any sense of the word, yet I feel like a giant around them. There were
some very cute little children about our kids' ages at the store. I still find it difficult to deal with all the poverty.
I saw that we could buy U. S. government pens there. So much of our stuff is stolen it isn't funny.
Yesterday I saw two Vietnamese on their bicycles hightailing it away from J. J. Carroll with cases of C-Rations. I can't judge;
I've never known the hunger these people face every day.
I didn't sleep a wink last night.
It wasn't fear; I just couldn't sleep. Maybe I'll be able to cut some zzz's tonight. Some troops scrounged for me, and I'm
more comfortable in my tent now. I returned from "D" Med to find a desk (homemade) a wardrobe (ammo boxes) and a
floor for the tent. ("Don't ask us, chaplain; we don't want to incriminate ourselves.") God bless these guys.
7 November 1967
No mail. I'm really down in the dumps. Our system leaves much to be desired.
I am a bit worried about welfare at home, but I trust the Red Cross if something drastic was going on.
am pleasantly fatigued tonight. I spent all day driving nails on a troop hooch. I took a lot of ribbing about it, and
everyone was sure it would fall down. Lo and behold, one of the rafters broke and tumbled troops all over the place. Of course
the rafter would break when you put 10 men on a 2x4 stringer. They were working and didn't realize how close they had gotten
together. I really got the catcalls after that, even though it wasn't my fault. (I had nailed it in place.)
I feel good physically and low emotionally. I'm sure I will perk up when I get a letter. I have read
and re-read the ones I have so much that they are about to fall apart.
I made the rounds tonight
with the OG [officer of the guard] and visited the guard posts. It is one way for me to stay acquainted with the men. We walked
and crawled for about two hours. This has been an exhausting day, but it has passed very fast. I'm going to help in the area
tomorrow so we can get the men under decent cover as soon as possible. I will make visits on the Navy chaplains the next day.
My family is always in my thoughts as I prepare for bed. I made a "short timer's calendar" today.
Most of the people have some sort of way to keep track of the remaining days. It looked pretty pathetic to see that we are
just beginning this tour. I'm really glad for the moment and the fact that God is still this unit's protector. As the Psalmist
says, "Our times are in His hand." With that thought I say,
8 November 1967 2115
No mail. I hit
a new low. I was consumed with self-pity and really began to worry that something was up at home. I was going to speak to
my situation by mail, but then realized that I had to trust that all was okay. I made a tape tonight and kept things
on a normal course of events. When I forget my ego, and myself, I find renewed confidence and trust that I will soon receive
mail. (One of the things that sustained me was that I wasn't receiving mail from ANYONE. I intellectually knew it had to be
the system, not the family.)
I am tired and sunburned tonight ... I've pounded nails
all day. It's been good for me. I have been able to siphon off some of the feelings I'm carrying around. I surrender myself
to Him tonight. I am ready to go to bed. Time to prepare sermons and hit the sack.
9 November 1967 2230
mail! When will this siege end? I did share that I was not receiving any mail on tonight's tape. My belly was acting up again.
Thanks, pill ... this has been an unprofitable day for me.
Lew Bedoka made major tonight.
I'm very proud and happy for him. He has carried a lot of stuff around here ... I am glad he has done well in spite of his
load. He is one neat man ...
Well, off to read. I'm writing this in bed, and I can
hardly read my own writing. As usual, my thoughts are with my loved ones. God protect them from all harm.
10 November 1967 2200
mail! I continue to dutifully write, knowing that I will have mail, maybe tomorrow. I continue to hold my faith and trust
in the family that has sustained me so much. Their purity and trust of me inspires me to stay the course for this year. I
love them so.
I got the packages wrapped and mailed today. I was glad to have them on the way.
I know they will have something for Christmas now. I hope to get something else for them before that time. I also made a tape
to my brother and sisters and families tonight. That saves a lot of letter writing on an individual basis. It will also serve
to get them together once in a while. More nail pounding today. I felt good today.
were alerted to possible attack tonight. Our perimeter was probed last night by NVA. Today is the Marine Corps' 192nd
birthday. It would be a logical time for Charlie to pull something. Intelligence reports showed a possible ground attack today.
So far it is all quiet. I rest and trust in the protecting care of Divine Love. I placed my life in His hands a long time
ago and am able to pray, "not my will but Thy will, O Lord."
is now living with me. The new BC [battalion commander] (Don Wettington) had to move into the CP [command post]. Lew is a
very fine gentleman. I can learn a lot from his patience. Well, goodnight my Sweethearts. I love you very much. God Bless
(The 175s could shoot a round that
was faster than the speed of sound. Depending on the position of the gun, and the charge fired, we could often hear a "crack"
as the gun was fired, and a second "crack" as the round broke the sound barrier. It was a bit eerie to hear two
"cracks" from the same weapon with one firing. The men began to call some of the incoming rounds the Dong Ha Daisies.
The rocket casings would often peel and look a bit like a flower after they exploded.)
November 1967 2200
Word was received yesterday that two
battalion commanders were wounded at Con Thien. Some of our men were also wounded as well. (A counter mortar/counter battery
target acquisition unit was assigned to the 108th. The war continues to take its toll on us as well as Charlie.
Hal Phillips was also hit today. He was struck in the leg by mine fragments on the road to Gio Linh. He is
a fine chaplain (Navy). He was med-evacuated to "A" Med at Phu Bai. I'm taking two more of his services tomorrow
- one at Con Thien. I pray for God's protection and for our troops on this tour.
No mail! I
have become very concerned. I made contact with a MARS [Military Auxiliary Radio System] station with the Seabees and made
contact with Manchester [Indiana]. Elaine's phone did not answer, so I called Kag (Elaine's sister). She said everything was
okay and that Elaine and the kids were at Greene for the weekend. (Greene, Iowa, is Elaine's home town and still home to her
mother.) I was very relieved to hear that she received the money orders and the allotment papers and had been writing a stack
of letters. I suppose now I will get a bunch tomorrow. I am very happy and secure tonight even if I didn't get to talk to
Elaine. I made a good contact with the Seabees. They live like kings and also treat you like one. I can come over anytime
and call. The chief [chief petty officer] is also taking a course in electronics, so I should be able to get help in my training
to get my ham radio license.
There was a fierce firefight around the area where we were tonight.
The NVA probed and tried to land some rounds on the airfield. Tracers, 40 mm, 50-caliber and WP [white phosphorous ~ GIs used
to call it "Willy Peter"] were thrown back at them for their trouble. We continue to live. I thank God for His protection.
Well, a little study and off to bed. Goodnight, my sweethearts. I love you all so very much.
(The trip to the Seabees became the basis for a wonderful friendship between them and myself. They had no
chaplain, and I became the one who was willing to pay attention to them. They were grateful and were very good to me. This
relationship also resulted in many good deeds our unit received from them. More about that later. Several of our unit members
befriended the Seabees and were grateful for their support. Contrast MARS calls to the instant communication our troops now
enjoy. I'm grateful they don't have to say, "Hi, honey; I love you. Over".)
November 1967 2300
The name of the day is "Ecstasy."
Four tapes and thirteen letters plus four dead head [Grateful Dead] tapes arrived. A cheer went up from the men as I collected
my loot ... it was pure joy. All I have done since 1700 is read and listen. I had three services today and am very tired (one
for Hal Philips at Con Thien). I spent a sleepless night last night, and when I finally did get to sleep, it rained sideways,
and I was drowned. The hooch has no door. Lew put his poncho up today. I am ready to hit the sack. It's quiet with no incoming.
I hope it stays that way. I place my life in His hands.
13 November 1967 2030
wet and muddy. We eat mud, sleep in it, wipe it from us, walk in it, slip in it, fall in it and live in it. The world is one
big mud puddle as far as we can see. Hell is an even deeper mud hole with more rain and cold, while heaven is a clean and
fragrant field, sparkling in the sunshine. In hell, we eat mud three times a day. In heaven, we feel the soft kiss of the
sun on our clean and relaxed bodies. There is no mud in heaven. All of the mud is in hell. Oh, well; the monsoons are here
for a while.
I made a tape for home last night. It was such a grand feeling to get
mail yesterday. More is due in tonight. Hope I get something. Wow! I just got a package of pictures. Elaine did a great job
with them. Some were of me coming back from Riley and getting off the plane at Fort Leonard Wood. The one I prize is me hugging
the girls and my hat falling off, unnoticed, to the ground. Hopefully that will be the same picture in a little over ten months
I just got a phone call. I stopped at the mess hall on the way back. It is
a nasty night with wind-driven rains lashing the compound. The morale of these kids is terrific. They came in from guard posts,
soaking wet, to get a cup of coffee before going out again. Yet, they still smiled and joked. We are blessed with this group
of young men.
It is amazing how far a man will let his ideals take him. He will even take this
stuff to keep peace with his mind and conscience. By having a set of beliefs he is uncomfortable unless he is consistent
with them. So the discomfort of mud, blood fear, and death - liberally laced with separation and loneliness - is not even
worthy to be compared to the discomfort of not acting on one's ideals and beliefs.
We had a terrific
"arc light" tonight. [Arc Light is the code name for the overwhelming aerial raids of B-52 Stratofortresses
against enemy positions.] It was close. I am glad we were not the ones getting hit. The enemy is amazing in some respects,
as we have to give a grudging nod to their tenacity.
14 November 1967 2345
Of all things!
- I mixed up the date of Lisa's birthday (my oldest child). I guess that shows how screwed up I am on time. I knew she
was six, but somehow was thinking 6 November rather than 8 November. I'll get it straight next year.
rounds landed about 100 meters away last night. No warning was given, and I slept right through it. I am grateful no one was
Cabin fever is setting in now as I was warned it would. Some days are better
than others. I am grateful that the troops and myself continue to be on good terms. I am grateful for Ira and Lew Bedoka.
They command respect and are very supportive of my work as a chaplain.
This has been
a "phooey" day. Time to sign off.
15 November 1967 2345
has been a hot time in the old town tonight. "A" Battery was hit last night, and a firefight broke out on
our perimeter. No one was hurt as most of it was near the airstrip. Our boys were down in their holes and secure. I wasn't.
I was at the MARS station on an emergency call home for Harry Nakatani. We were down in holes there too. We got mortar and
small arms fire where we were.
More pictures of the kids arrived today. Mail is our
lifeline. I don't know what I would do without it. I feel sorry for some of the guys who don't seem to get much mail.
Things were better today. Our moods fluctuate all over the place. The rain and close quarters do not
help much either. You get tired of seeing the same people over and over again. I worked side by side with the NCOs on the
TOC [Tactical Operations Center] bunker today. I just want to be seen as a viable part of the unit and of some help to those
with whom I live. I feel good physically and emotionally tonight.
This was a day of great fatigue. I have driven nails
all day. (I forget how many nails Frenchy said we used while we were visiting at the reunion.) I'm pleasantly tired. Things
went well today, and no one seemed to be at each other's throats. I have a deep respect for the men in this unit who are trying
to make the most out of a very rough set of circumstances.
Some of the NCOs offered to help
with the chapel when the bunker is done. I'm grateful for that. It is not always easy to gain their trust. They have a tremendous
amount of responsibility. This is a rough place to survive for all of us.
More mortar rounds
tonight. No one was hurt. Those things are scary in that they are not so accurate and can go anywhere. I continue to
pray for God's protection for our unit.
November 1967 2215
We had an uneventful but fast-moving
day. I have decided to quit smoking. I hope to be successful. (Wasn't until we returned to the States.) I received two letters
tonight. I'm grateful to get them.
I made some rough drawings of the chapel tonight.
I know what I want, but it will take an awful lot of material for it. I might just have to settle for something less pretentious
and yet functional.
I had a picture of me taken in steel pot and flak jacket. I hope
it turns out all right. I want to send it home as a Christmas present. It wasn't too bad of a deal - 500 P ["P"
being shorthand for piasters - one P equals about one cent] for an 8 x 10. I am constantly reminded at how minimal things
are around here. The "studio" was down at our "shopping center." The photographer had an old reflex
camera on a tripod. I sat on a stool with a dusty curtain behind me. The floor was dirt, and the only light in the shack came
from a hole in the wall. Yet the pictures he showed were excellent.
are an ingenious people. I saw mirrors and cigarette lighters made out of beer cans. They say they even make car and bus parts
out of flattened cans. Amazing!
Mortars at the airport remind us of the continuing
danger we face every moment. I continue to thank God for His protecting care to all of us.
18 November 1967 1950
has been quite a day. I thank God for His protecting care. We have been shelled twice today. No one was hit, but all are scared.
Nakatani received a message today that his mother had died on 17 November. I don't like to deliver
these kinds of messages to the men. It was a shock to him as we had called home the night before last, and she was okay.
I understand it was a sudden passing.
Harry and I had an eerie experience today. He
doesn't know about it yet. I will tell him about it when he returns from emergency leave. I took him to the airport to get
him on the way. We stood there talking for about 15 minutes while he waited to board the plane. About a half-hour later, two
mortar rounds landed exactly where we had been standing. I was safe in a hole at our base camp by then, but went back after
the shelling because of some wounded at "D" Med. My blood ran cold as I saw the spot where we had been standing.
If they would have landed earlier, we might both be telling a different story right now. I'm grateful to be here writing about
it rather than being in the morgue.
No mail makes this a lonely Saturday night. Time
does move on, however, and we do get one day after another closer to our return home.
have a memorial service tomorrow after chapel for a Marine who was killed at Con Thien today (Corporal Jimmy Youngblood, USMC,
12th Marine Regiment). I also saw many wounded being evacuated from "D" Med today. "D"
Med was also shelled while we were there. It's a sad commentary when a hospital gets hit. I don't think these people have
any regard for human life. I have seen some of the NVA being cared for as well. We treat them better than their own people.
They almost seem grateful to be in our hands.
Well, a letter and some preparation for tomorrow
and then off to bed. This has been quite a day I would like to forget. I wonder if I will ever be able to forget this
19 November 1967
Another Sunday is gone. We had a good attendance at the 108th
and the 12th Marine services.
It always seems that tragedy and adversity
rear their ugly heads in my life around the Thanksgiving season. Today it was the memorial service for Corporal Jimmy Youngblood,
KIA, Con Thein. Yet I thank God for His love, truth and life.
I visited a couple of
batteries and a twin-40 crew. It's comforting to have the "dusters" (twin 40's) on our perimeter. They can do a
lot of damage and afford a high degree of protection. The 175 battery was happy that they scored a direct hit on a 152-mm
gun. That's one fewer tube to hurt us. We lose men each time they hit us (Dong Ha, not the 108th so far).
I'm tired after a long day's work. I made two tapes for the folks back home. I miss them a lot.
20 November 1967 2130
It was a very tough day today. It seems that "cabin fever" set in with a vengeance. It was
inevitable that it would happen with the closeness in which we live and the tension we all have. Some days will be like that
when everybody seems to be at each other's throats. All of this quickly vanished when the airport took incoming. It's amazing
how one round can bring everybody back to reality. We really do depend on each other for survival. The basic beliefs still
sustain me that good will triumph over evil and ignorance, and that each of us is responsible and accountable to attain that
I sent two tapes home tonight and now move to an early bed. I guess I feel like
most, that this is a day to kick over the fence.
21 November 1967
Today finds things going a bit better. I know that God teaches that these
things all have a way of working out. In the meantime, I try to repay any rebuff with love, cheerfulness and compassion.
I made a little progress on the chapel today. The colonel granted approval for us to begin work. I am
very glad I have developed a relationship with the Navy Seabees outfit here at Dong Ha. They had no chaplain, and I adopted
them. They will level the site and pour the slab. They are also drawing up the final plans for the building.
need to study tonight and get ready for the Thanksgiving and regular chapel services. This busyness does make the time go
This was a day of preparation for Thanksgiving.
It was also a day of preparation for chapel services. I am slated to go to C-1 on Sunday. (C-1 was a firebase for a
battery of 155's, up the road about a mile or so south from Gia Linh - right on the river between North and South Vietnam.)
As usual, I pray for God's protecting care on all of us as we travel on that day.
is also my mom and dad's 49th wedding anniversary. Pop never lived to see this day. I miss him a great deal. We
would have so much to talk about since I have followed his footsteps and joined the Army.
Sparks, a dentist, joined the unit today. He seems like a nice guy.
No rounds today, thus far. I continue to lift all of us up to God's protecting care. Off to bed. Goodnight,
23 November 1967 2145
us give thanks unto the Lord." This was a day of thanks. It was my first away from the comfort and security of home.
It was a day for all of us, of gratitude to Almighty God, mingled with intense feelings of loneliness and separation.
The men silently filed into the mess hall where valiant attempts had been made to decorate and mask
the starkness of our existence. Heads were bowed, prayers were spoken, and trays were filled with a delicious meal.
The guns were silent for a few brief moments. Then, the meal over, the batteries again
resumed the music of the tragic melody of war.
We gave thanks that our families were
safe and secure. We are trying to keep it that way. We were grateful for the encouragement and inspiration we draw from them.
We were grateful for life and know that God is life and nothing can tear us away from His power and love. I received a tape
today and was grateful.
The day did not begin on such a peaceful note: our perimeter
was breached in several places last night. The enemy broke through with the awesome strength and speed of a herd of water
buffalos. Unmindful of trip flares and Claymore mines, they kept thundering on. We all spent this morning counterattacking
and driving them back through the holes in our wire and securing our perimeter. It was a tough battle, but our boys won it.
We used Jeeps, horns and waving shirts to persuade the "enemy" to vacate its conquered territory. What else could
a herd of water buffalo do before an inspired and enraged group of GI's who had had the pants scared off them the night before.
Oh, well; we will notch up one more battle of Dong Ha and have one more war story to tell our children when we get back home.
Bob Ritter is beginning to bloom. He is doing a fine job and is getting amongst the men. He takes
his share of road trips without complaint. I am grateful for him.
Well another day is over
and we are closer by one day to our return home. Truly this has been a day of thanks.
24 November 1967 2115
to bed tonight. We've had a very busy and tiring day. We also had a bit of "cabin fever." The rain and weather did
not help. It is interesting how all of the fever vanishes when the first incoming round lands. All is forgotten as we get
our priorities right. We depend on each other for our very lives.
I spent time in study
and sermon preparation. I realized that we have so little control over what happens to us. There are things that I just cannot
change in any manner. I did realize that I DO have control of my attitude at all times. Oft times it is not what happens
to me that is important; rather, it is my attitude that is paramount in my life. I am governed by my attitude. My attitude
drives all of the rest of me and profoundly affects my relationships with all around me. When I tried changing my attitude
today, I saw myself becoming more genuine with people. In turn, I noted positive changes in folks around me.
Two letters and a tape helped me finish one more twenty-four hour period away from those I love. Every
day is a blessing when we finish it alive and see it as one step closer to home. Thanks be to God that I go no place where
God is not. Goodnight.
25 November 1967 2200
Some progress was seen today. I submitted my rough drafts of the chapel to my Seabee friends. They
will prepare the plans, level the site and pour the slab. Materials were also requisitioned. All paperwork was finished. Frenchy
and his crew are on board to start building soon.
We hit the road tomorrow. I travel to C-1.
These trips can be a bit hairy. We lost a truck on that road today. (I always had to travel with my armed assistant, a "shotgun"
guard and another vehicle with a radio, driver and guard. The men usually didn't mind going with me as it gave them a little
time away from the confines of our little enclave.) It did get scary for all at times, however. I will sweat out each road
trip for the next 10 months. These nights do make for some interesting moments of introspection and pondering of my bellybutton.
I got a letter from Bill Reynolds (infantry officer friend from Ft. Leonard Wood). He is around Da
Nang. I hope to see him soon.
"Behold, I give unto you power ... over
all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." (Luke 10: 19).
again love sustained our party. In spite of a road prone to mines and the loss of a truck yesterday, we were able to make
the trip safely and without incident. I am grateful. Thank you, Lord.
Two strong and
opposing impressions were prevalent today: the beauty and fertility of this country and the sight of those kids along the
road. Each time I go out, I am haunted by what I see in the children. The two dynamics don't make sense. It's indescribable
to see someone this cute, living in such poverty and danger, with a lifespan of only 35 years or so.
Thein and Gia Linh were visible to us today. Airstrikes were being conducted around Con Thein. The bombing continued during
the chapel service. It's amazing that we went on and worshipped without interruption. People were dying, and we were praising
God. We have really screwed up this world we were given.
Letters and fond memories
sustain us tonight.
November 1967 2230
The name of the day is "Paperwork."
I was confined to my desk and hated every minute. I am finding more of this responsibility thrust upon my unwilling shoulders.
I can't believe I would say this, but I would rather be out on the road each day than sitting here "safe" and bored
with a pile of paper. The USARV chaplain has a lot of reports for me to complete.
pizza suddenly showed up at our hooch tonight. It didn't stand a chance. The cooks do a great job under the circumstances
of this place. We sat around, ate pizza, talked, joked and drank Cokes. What a crazy war.
were in the holes twice last night. One was a red alert. It was later found out that "Marvin the Arvin" (South Vietnamese
forces) was shooting H & I's on our perimeter (harassment and interdiction). They miscalculated and got a bit too close
(about 100 meters away). The same US forces that called for the H & I's saw how close they were and thought we were under
attack and called a red alert. Thankfully, no one was hurt by friendly fire.
creepy to see a flash and then hear a round whistling into the area. I was halfway to the bunker with clothes under my arm
before I really knew what I was doing. We live by reflex and instinct. One ear is cocked and on guard for a hostile sound,
and one eye is always looking for a convenient hole or ditch. It will be quite a relief to go back to our family camping times
and enjoy the beauty of the nature around us. I hope I won't go home and look for Charlie sitting behind every rock or tree.
The bugs are fierce tonight. I just caught one and taped it to this journal for posterity. It is time
to crawl in behind a net and get some sleep. The big orange malaria pill is also doing its job tonight, exacerbating
some pain I had from the previous one.
November 1967 2145
We are hearing strange sounds tonight.
It is difficult to separate incoming from outgoing when the wind, humidity and new placement of some batteries are just right.
Another red alert turned out to be our own H & I's again, thank God.
the slowest time of the day. I'm thinking of ordering a correspondence course to make our "hole-up" time more productive.
Another day closer to getting out of this mud
hole. Eighteen new men processed into the unit today. It was a bit sad to see the looks on their faces. We know how we looked
and felt when we arrived at this Godforsaken place. It was dark, and they hadn't had a good meal in two days. I'm glad I came
over with a unit rather than mucking it over here by myself.
We had H & I's on the perimeter,
but all else is quiet. We did get an alert this afternoon of a possible rocket attack. I hate those things worse than I hate
incoming artillery. They are very erratic, and it is hard to determine a pattern from them. They have been dubbed the "Dong
Ha Daisies" in that their casings split and curl much like a flower petal when the warhead explodes. Our area was very
pock- marked by them when we arrived. We will have to fill two craters where the chapel will stand.
made my usual trip around the perimeter tonight with the sergeant of the guard. Each time I do that, I'm greatly impressed
with the young EMs in our unit. They are the front line for our safety and defense night after night. They would be the first
to die in the event of a ground attack. I continually pray for their safe return to their loved ones.
think of the promise that Colonel Jones made to the unit's wives back at Ft. Riley. He said, "My goal is to bring every
one of my men safely back home." (He Did!)
A letter and a tape revealed that Bruce (my son) is
rapidly turning into a little man. He is sitting in a car seat, watches the grandfather clock and laughs at his sisters. He
was only about a week old when I left.
I guess I will do a little reading and then off to bed.
30 November 1967
November has been kicked in the butt, and I'm cold. I don't know what the
temperature is, but coupled with the humidity, wind, and sideways rain, we're all very miserable. I broke out another blanket
tonight and will don the thermal underwear tomorrow. The rains were the worst yet. We are really in the monsoon season. It
seems so strange to be in the tropics and be able to see your breath vapors in front of you. My visits today found everybody
talking about how cold they were rather than the perils of Charlie. We shall prevail, however.
the Master Thinker has ceased to function. He is all frozen up. Off to a warm bed.
1 December 1967 2145
64 degrees, and I am freezing my butt off. How relative temperature can be. I am going to read, write and study in a warm
bed. The Boy Chaplain is cold. I wonder what it would be like if it really got cold.
TOC (tactical operations center) bunker is now operational. We also had some incoming tonight at the 1/40th area.
Some damage but no one hurt, thank God.
A frosty goodnight to all.
December 1967 2020
Our TOC is operational. We now have something
to do as a unit. This will keep some of our troops busy doing what they have been trained to do.
is a cold and rainy Saturday night. It is about 60, but the wind chill factor makes it much colder. Our kids on guard duty
have to be miserable.
No chapel is in sight yet, but the chaplains' workload is increasing.
Bob and I do not have much idle time until we hunker down for the night.
are cheering tonight, as the first movie is in progress in the mess hall. I didn't go down there, as I need to get ready for
C-1 tomorrow afternoon. We have services around the Dong Ha area for our troops, and our batteries as well, and some Marine
units on Sunday mornings and then head for C-1 or Con Thein in the afternoon. We usually catch our people at the "Rockpile"
or J. J. Carroll during the week. It seems that every day is Sunday when the chaplain rolls in.
usual, we all get a bit edgy when we get ready to go back out on the road. We place our lives in God's hands each time we
leave the main gate.
Lieutenant Doyle just came in and said a Marine patrol had radio
difficulty and came back to their perimeter. They were never challenged, and nine men walked right into camp and were not
even looked at. Boy, I can really get a good night's sleep with those guys guarding our left flank. I assume that someone
will get a good #!*&% chewing by their CO.
The cabin fever seems to have calmed
down a bit; I think Captain Watlington is trying to get a handle on it. He and I have talked quite a bit concerning this matter.
Well, time to try to sleep. We have a long and, hopefully, not too scary day tomorrow.
3 December 1967 2230
It is a very grateful chaplain who sits here tonight. I am grateful for God's love and protection
for all of today. Things went well in the morning around Dong Ha. It got a bit hairy in the afternoon when we headed
for C-1.We plowed through mud eight to 10 inches deep all the way to the firebase. We got stuck once and then developed transmission
trouble. This was no place to break down, I can tell you.
The return trip was even
more stressful. It was almost dark when we left C-1, and the night belongs to Charlie.
babied the Jeep on the way back and held our breath; then four shots were fired from the side of the road. Man, oh man, did
we move out smartly. We did not wait to see who fired at whom. We just shagged out for home as fast as we safely could move.
It was dark when we got back. We were all a little shook, but grateful to make it safe and sound. Today
was another proof of God's protecting care.
We arrived just in time to receive our
big orange pill from the medics. I really think they enjoy giving us that stuff. The only consolation I have is that they
have to take their own medicine, too.
It is raining tonight, as usual. A letter and
a tape did help ease the strain of the day.
These road trips are not fun. I cannot
let folks see how scary things can be. I assume all are as tense as me. We do what we have to do.
need to shower and try to warm up and dry off a bit. Then to bed.
4 December 1967 2115
Day! The sun has come out and dried all our tears away. We shed our long underwear and look with hope to a warm day tomorrow.
This is a typical Monday with all hanging close to the latrines because of the big orange pill.
We did go over and help dedicate the 1/44th chapel. Ours is still on paper but is progressing.
of us are still a little shaky about yesterday's trip to C-1. We are all grateful for God's protection. One of the guys
said we should be grateful Charlie missed. AMEN! Ten months look like a very long duration indeed. I hope this place does
not become a Con Thein. On the other hand, it has been thrilling to experience God's comforting presence in the midst
of tough times.
I see the "doves" are still at it in the States. It bugs
the hell out of me that we get our butts shot at over here while some hollow politician shoots off his big mouth for the sake
of political expediency. I wonder if America is not being led down the primrose path of complacency ... liberally-laced, incompetent
megalomaniacs who have no clue as to what damage they do over here with their comments and chants.
brave men have died over here fighting to protect what freedom we have left. I have little or no respect for these strident
voices; they make the serviceman feel so alone.
A pilot was killed today and his AO (aerial
observer) brought the plane back. He didn't know how to fly, but he made it back to Dong Ha. He was pretty shook up. Another
AO was killed up here last week. This makes for trying times that truly test our faith. I pray that I will continue to see
God's power over this mess as absolute.
God bless all the little malaria pills in all of Southeast
Asia wherever they may be. UGH!
December 1967 2115
We are done with the 65th
day of our tour. We have 300 left before rotation. Wow! That's a long stretch. While we are here, we have a job to do and
really have to focus on that aspect of our time in Vietnam.
I am learning more each day to
relax and rely on God to lead and protect. Everything is in His hands anyway. There has to be a balance between action and
surrender in the Christian's life. We can only go so far in control.
I wish I had my magnificent
library here. I miss the intellectual stimulation I need to grow. Thank God it is only temporary. I sense that as I read these
pages in later years, I will note a pretty shallow fellow with little or no regard for spelling, grammar or clarity of thought.
The day has been quiet and of little note, except to say we all have done our jobs as best we can,
and have to leave things to that.
It seems we are all growing up and settling in.
6 December 1967
Ground was broken for our chapel today. Thank God for the Seabees and
all they have done for us. That was a very productive "adoption" to provide them with chaplain coverage. God continues
to open doors for our section, and I am grateful.
Reports came in about new activity
tomorrow. I can't list them here as the information is classified.
All is quiet at
the moment. I like it that way. An uneventful day has passed. I am glad the days do move. I spent some time making the rounds
to the troop areas tonight. The kids never cease to amaze me. Many are drafted, some married; none of them makes very much
money, but they work so hard at getting by and making things work. If anyone is the inspiration in this unit, it is these
young men who have been uprooted from family and familiar activities to live in this godforsaken place for a year. (I'm glad
it was not Godforsaken, and we were in His protecting care.)
7 December 1967 1800
(299 days to go)
Rain! My nice flat and level chapel site is a sea of mud. At
least we have started. I think the men need to see the tangible sight of a chapel and the emotional stability it provides.
So we keep pressing on, often by ourselves, as other areas of our mission are also very important. Right now it seems that
Bob (Ritter) and I are doing the scrounging and providing the energy for this project. Frenchy continues to stand with us
and is quite supportive of the project. I suppose others will come by later and take their bows when the time is right. (It
was Frenchy and the Seabees who provided most of the brains and personnel for this project. Men came and worked under Frenchy
after they finished their shifts at TOC or their duty stations. We would not have had a chapel without this neat man from
Louisiana and his quiet leadership.)
Dreamy music pervades the air. Christmas carols
are now on the scene again, bringing a twinge of homesickness to us all. We are now under 300 days, and they are moving. Thank
A few old-timers remember 7 December. It is depressing to win a war and now have
to fight here 26 years later. There is evidence that men will continue to go to war and are willing to sacrifice for freedom.
Whether it is Nazi thugs or Communism, I'm grateful that men will stand up and meet evil headlong and fight for freedom.
Many of our gallant kids have never heard of Pearl Harbor, yet they are here - now fighting and dying in the DMZ.
Morale stays high because of the ingenuity of the American GI, to hang in there and make things work
in the worst of situations. Even in the midst of cabin fever, the unit rises to the occasion when that first round impacts
in the area. All is forgotten, and people pull together. It is this determined spirit that overcomes loneliness, despair,
fear and boredom, to become a unit and hang in there with each other. We really see how dependent we are on each other when
we get down to brass tacks.
I think we have also seen the savagery of the enemy.
One only has to see what a village looks like after a VC raid to become angry beyond reason. "D" Med has also been
hit. Defenseless villages and hospitals seem to be fair game for these guys.
a letter from Elaine. She got the picture for her Christmas present. She also had some appropriate comments to pass along
to Ira (Hornbeck). She liked it, in spite of what he said about it. (Ira said it would only look good hanging in a latrine,
except he didn't use the word latrine.) She said the glass was broken and the frame destroyed but the picture was intact.
Dean (my brother-in-law) fixed it for her. So much for the word "Fragile." I'll bet they wait for packages
marked like that to have a stomping good time.
Well, off to bed. Another dreary day
comes to a close.
What a precious time in our day. Packages are now arriving for the Christmas season.
mother wrote that my brother was in the hospital for surgery. She wrote nine pages and didn't tell me why or what. I guess
I will make a MARS run tomorrow. Thank God for the Seabees.
The Care Packages show
a lot of love. I'm grateful. More rain and cold. We are under cover and comfortable. I'm glad for the skilled hands that provide
me this care.
1967 2315 (297)
This was a day of progress, and it went well. Work was almost completed on the field-grade hooch.
A list of materials for the chapel was compiled and sent forward. (Ironically we received that same list back marked "Disapproved"
on the day we dedicated the chapel. Go figure how we got it built.)
It will be nice
to move into our new quarters soon.
The airport is really showing the effects of the
Christmas season as mail is beginning to pile up. "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas."
I am fatigued and satisfied tonight. Physical labor is good for the soul.
have two services tomorrow. I'm glad for the opportunity to share God's love with my fellow man. As usual, we will take
our show on the road to some of our outlying units. I pray for God's protection on all who travel with me.
10 December 1967 2110
Today was rainy, cold and a little frustrating. I had five services to do at the
last moment and only one materialized. Our units had a lot of fire missions and were very active. The two Marine services
were complete washouts as no one showed up. I sense there was a breakdown in communication. At any rate, we were on the road
and in the rain all day. Oh, well; some units got a visit from the chaplain anyway. Not all was lost. That is the way of a
military chaplain. One has to be flexible.
I am really looking forward to the field-grade hooch.
I have also ordered a correspondence course in electronics that might help us pass time when we button up for the night.
Chaplain Dan Fogerty has made a profound impression on me today. (Dan was a Catholic Priest with the
3rd Marine Division.) He is a very neat man and very cooperative with our program. He is a tremendous chaplain
and is always there for his men. I value his friendship and admire these guys who sacrifice family for their vocations. I
could not do that. Dan was going to share with me in Protestant services today with his Marines. I would have been honored
if he had been able to do that. That's the kind of guy he is, showing his presence and love wherever he goes. I lost my majors'
leaves today, as we were jumping all over the place and into some holes. Dan gave me a pair of Navy leaves. At least I can
be seen as a major in some places. We take them off when we are on the road. (I have those leaves to this day. I wore
them on my field jacket the rest of my tour. No one even noticed. They remind me of a dedicated chaplain that I tried to emulate
and a moment of friendship in a terrible place where friends were often few and far.)
11 December 1967 1950
About the only good thing I can say about this day is that it is over,
and it is one fewer day we have to spend away from home.
We took about six incoming
rounds this afternoon. They did no damage and only tore up some rice paddies outside our perimeter. I am grateful they got
no closer. Our perimeter guys were a bit shaken, however.
Today is cold and miserable.
We also have some cabin fever, as everyone seems to be a bit testy. I am also trying the no-smoke thing. I burned about a
half carton of cigarettes and wrote Elaine to keep me accountable. I hope it works (it didn't). Cabin fever makes me
look at myself and see if I'm contributing to it. (I'm sure I was, as all of us were guilty.)
oh. We have a bit of a spirited discussion now going on between Ira and Lieutenant Stringer. It started when Mr. Hornbeck
began to discuss the merits of the "Brown Shoe Army" (the Army before our black shoes). Ira thinks they were real
men in those days. The conversation has now shifted to who has the smartest cat, his or the lieutenant's. I am glad
I'm in my bunk and off the floor. The BS is really piling up. It is a nice way to end the day, however.
12 December 1967 2150
More rain, and incoming as well. We were in the holes twice tonight. Once it
was Charlie, and the other time it was good old Marvin. He was engaged with Charlie across the river (Cua Viet) and pounding
him with 155s. All rounds were close, and it wasn't certain if the fire was friendly or not. A "Blue Alert" (dangerous
condition) was called until clarification was made. We did take about six enemy rounds between "C" Battery 8/4 and
"A" Battery 8/4. Fortunately, Charlie's aim was not good tonight.
had a discussion with Colonel Jones about the cabin fever today. I have never seen it this bad. Usually it goes away
with the first enemy incoming. Today, it did not, and some of the troops dropped by to talk about things. I felt compelled
to speak with the colonel about what was going on.
I do know that morale hit an all-time
low today, and cabin fever will seem worse at this time of the year. Psychologists have written papers about holiday depression
for years. If there was ever a place RIPE for depression, it has to be here. Yet, the resiliency of this unit and its personnel
still amaze me. I really respect most of the people with whom I am serving.
on mail today. Elaine has done a great job of supporting me and caring for two kids and a newborn. I do not know how
she does it. I would not have her job. They sit at home and wonder. We always know when we are safe or in harm's way.
They worry all the time.
The Seabees tried to roll our plot down today but only succeeded
in getting the bulldozer stuck. It is really a mess around here. Perhaps the Viets are right in using water buffalos.
We really can't get around easily in this rain.
I'm going to hang it up for today. A little study and off to bed. G'nite.
December 1967 2210 (293)
Yesterday's incoming hit the school at Dong Ha City. Six civilians were killed as well as three children.
Once again Charlie has gloriously distinguished himself by purposely shelling innocent school children. It makes me sick to
think of those pitiful kids who have so little to begin with. They don't have a snowball's chance in hell in this dirty little
war. As usual, the kids haunt me. They should be off limits. To me, they are scum who murder in the name of liberation.
No mail today. The wind was too great. All planes were grounded. (I was always amazed at the weather
the men flew in and saw this day as an oddity.)
The weather continues to be cold, wet
and miserable. The field-grade hooch should soon be done. It will be a bit more weather-tight I hope.
is up chattering like a bunch of magpies tonight. Lew has joined Ira as "Brown Shoe Army Types" and everybody is
all over them. Hopefully tonight's spirited conversation will dissipate some of the bad vibes that are circulating.
14 December 1967
tired of writing. I have been writing letters and cards since 1700. I'm satisfied that I have covered the waterfront and none
of my family was left out for this season.
Most of the field grades are in their hooch
tonight. Some of us aren't. There was some confusion about rooms. It seemed that some thought they would have a private
room and then realized that we would have to share a room. Some had already confiscated enough stuff for their rooms. I am
lying low until it is sorted out tomorrow. I have been told that there was not enough plywood for the floor of my room,
so I would have to do without. Oh, well. I continue to pray for our safety and also our safe return home. All of this is small
stuff. It would be so easy to become childish and territorial in this environment.
I do have
a major issue to confront tomorrow. It seems that a person took it on himself to cancel the Catholic Mass I had set up for
our unit. I am boiling. Father Fogerty and I are providing area coverage for each other to see that the religious needs of
our troops are met. They cannot be deprived of their right to worship. That is why chaplains accompany military units into
combat. Somehow this person convinced the right people to call Chaplain Fogerty and tell him the Mass was canceled.
I was not contacted. That will definitely be fodder for tomorrow. Colonel Jones can make those kinds of decisions. I don't
think he was even informed. I will see him tomorrow.
Thank goodness we did not have any incoming
today. The water buffalo were at it again, but our warriors are getting much better at "herding" them back to their
own turf. I lift tomorrow's problems up to my God.
15 December 1967 2130
There is a God. I won a victory for our troops. We will have a Mass for
the men as Father Fogerty can conduct them. The colonel did back me on that one. I am glad. As usual, the ebb and flow of
feelings is driven by the stress and tension that all of us experience. I have to learn to pull in my horns once in a while
I was assigned a room. I will room with Bob Bruner for the time being. The situation
is so fluid that we all might be playing musical rooms for a while.
Then another miracle
occurred. I had to go to Task Force Pike to deliver a death message. The captain asked how we were doing, and I told him we
had just moved into our FOQ. He asked if I needed anything for my room, and I told him I was going to look for something to
cover the floor at a later date. I finished my task and returned to my Jeep and found six sheets of 4 x 8¼-inch plywood
in the vehicle. I returned to the hooch and placed the sheets on our floor. Bob Bruner was very happy and called me the scroungiest
chaplain he had ever met. We had a laugh over it, and I noticed he did not mind the new floor at all.
the first time since leaving home, I am out of the tent and into a room. I spent some happy hours getting settled. My space
looks huge, but I'm sure it will shrink as time goes on. It still is not as substantial as my garage (which I would never
think of living in), but it is my home and my castle. Letters and a tape home to follow.
16 December 1967 2200
A day of added comfort, as effort was put into making our hooch livable.
It was almost as if a signal had been given; all eight officers drifted back into their rooms and broke out their Christmas
decorations. The hooch was completely silent as gifts from loved ones appeared. All of us had small trees sent from home by
thoughtful loved ones. Most were initially bare. Soon you could see majors quietly sitting on their bunks putting small colored
balls on tiny trees. Our room now had a gay appearance. At that moment, each of us was alone with his own thoughts as past
Christmas experiences raised up to haunt us.
The trees, gaily wrapped presents, tinsel,
lights and gay red balls seemed to be a valiant but futile effort to drive away the loneliness that crept through each of
our hearts. Needless to say, we had no time for cabin fever. We were all too homesick at that moment.
the spell was broken as we broke for chow. The moment of private thoughts was over. We relaxed and shot the breeze tonight.
I returned to my room and listened to a tape and wrote a letter. We have been able to write every day. I am grateful. In these
moments I can spend the night with Elaine.
The radio softly played "Silent Night"
accompanied by our 175s. Peace and tragedy mingled together. The birth of Christ symbolizes life to all over the face of the
earth - yes, even to our enemies. The message of Christ's birth is still clearly heard over the blasts of death and destruction
meted out by the enemy's guns and ours.
I shall try to read and prepare sermons tonight and
fill my mind with the reality of a God that is much bigger than all of this small stuff. I am reminded of God's protection
and love for all of us tonight.
Bob Bruner is a wonderful guy. I respect him very much. He was
the first of our unit to be wounded.
17 December 1967 2200
What a wonderful day. It was warm and sunny with a gentle breeze. One
moment of rain attempted to make a rude intrusion but was quickly driven away by a friendly sun that was desperately trying
to give us all a break. Three services were held with great attendances. (Any chaplain is glad to see that.)
The first sergeant [Rodgers] and I had a nice long conversation today. I enjoyed it very much. I sense
we would all do a bit better if we didn't have people shooting at us and getting us all upset. He agreed that the incoming
did have a tendency to garner everyone's attention. I know I must do my part to get along.
met with success on the battlefield yesterday. An AO spotted a battery of 130- mm guns on the DMZ. Combined air, artillery
and naval gunfire destroyed the entire position. There are now fewer tubes to screw with our day.
is pathetic inconsistency that can cause a minister to feel pride in the success of battle where men die. The bile of disgust
of killing quickly quenches the flush of victory. What a screwed up world. What is the answer for peace? I know the only answer
to be Christ, but when will we ever learn?
I had a neat long talk with Bob Bruner tonight.
It lasted until 2330 or so. This has been a day of nice long conversations, and I am grateful.
days of Christmas festivities have served to deepen our general loneliness. All of us, whether we admit it or not, feel the
same way. I will count the days until I am with my loved ones again. I'm sure all of us feel that way tonight.
18 December 1967 2345
Another eventful day to mark off the calendar. Another day to celebrate
God's protection and overwhelming love for us all. The chapel site is rolled and ready for forms. Progress is being made.
The night is noisy with the sounds of battle. Fortunately, all of it is
ours going out. Our 175s and small arms are pounding the DMZ tonight. When there are no pressing fire missions, our guns are
firing H & I's. I wonder how I'll respond when I can lie in bed and hear only the rustle of trees in a wind devoid of
cordite [smokeless propellant that replaced gunpowder] and be lulled to sleep by the cheerful sounds of the night outside
my bedroom window and Elaine's steady breathing beside me. Wow. Better stop right there.
Sweethearts. God bless you all.
19 December 1967 2330
We experienced another warm day. We did have a surprise about 0200 this
morning. A short round landed in our area. Some of our roofs were splattered but no holes were made. We were lucky.
As usual I visited "D" Med today. It was a sobering experience today as some of 1/44 men
were brought in after an ambush west of the Rockpile. It was a pitiful sight to see. I felt both sad and encouraged when I
saw the excellent treatment the men received. The courage and spirit of the wounded was also an inspiration to me. In less
than twenty minutes from the time of ambush, the wounded were in "D" Med in triage. In another twenty minutes they
were in various parts of the hospital receiving further treatment or being tagged and readied for evacuation to "A"
Med in Da Nang.
The prayers at the morgue at "D" Med are also a daily part
of our routine. I continue to shout to the wind, "What a screwed up world!" and still find God's hand in all of
this. Perhaps it will all make sense some day.
It's been an intense day. I don't know
how the docs do it.
The day was finished with a tour of our young warriors pulling guard duty.
What a bunch of heroes they are each night.
20 December 1967 2230
A loud "whoosh" was heard passing over our hooch tonight. We then heard
an eerie whine and a strange-sounding explosion. We have experienced a visit from the "Dong Ha Daisies." Two
were fired at us. It was the first time I heard their voice. They sound terrible. Yet it is now 20 December and not 29 October.
If I had heard rockets that day, I'm sure I would have wet my jeans. Now I acknowledge that they are scary sounding,
but God is still in charge of our lives and ultimately cannot allow anything to eternally destroy us. All is well where God
is found. We were in the holes for a while. Our guns are presently tearing up ground, preparing more rice paddies for spring
planting. One rocket hit about 300 meters in front of our perimeter-guard bunker. They were probably after the 175s and were
a bit long. That's still pretty close, though, for a mounting bracket made out of a rough board and eyeballed into position.
Today was warm and pleasant. I took off my shirt and let the sun soak in and relax me while I was
working. I added a new desk lamp, courtesy of our Seabee friends. I really appreciate these guys, and they are very good to
me. They had no chaplain that paid them any care, and they really appreciate our time with them. I sent MARS-grams to the
family. They should get them by Christmas. Cards and letters sent out tonight too. Time to get our jangled nerves to bed.
Another day awaits us all.
December 1967 2300 (285)
Another day is gone. This morning really dragged. Time moved so slowly for some reason. We were
waiting for the roads to be swept so we could make chaplain visits and hold services. We did get some wood for forms for the
chapel. The men from CBMU [Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit] 301 came by and staked out the plot. Progress is being
It was a very dusty trip to C-2 and C-3. Chapel services were appreciated. We
had three Jeeps today as an M60 was added for security. The trip went uneventfully, but I was a mess when we returned. I was
coated from head to toe with dust. All of us looked like something from outer space. If we hadn't been so miserable, it would
have been comical. We made the trip in safety. I'm grateful.
An article someone sent
from a newspaper frustrates me. The gist of it is that the military chaplain is an instrument of imperialistic and oppressive
government. It was obviously written by a dove who feels that a chaplain who exhibits any sense of patriotism is a fink and
is therefore un-Christian. The article was full of many misconceptions of how the chaplain was "legislated" and
"hogtied" and therefore denied free speech by the military establishment. The chaplain was not able to honestly
fulfill his duty to God and country. I hope to answer in person when I get home.
I have never
been "controlled" or "inhibited" by any military commander or structure. If anything, I have gained a
broader perspective of the relevancy of Christ because of the experience I have gained in the Army. I guess I am as much at
war with the blind pseudo-intellectuals as I am with the narrow, uneducated fundamentalists who twist the gospel "just
their way." I enrolled in a correspondence course. It is in basic electronics. I want to get my ham license some
day, especially after I see what amateur radio does for the troops with MARS. I'm glad we can get our kids some contact with
home because of the Seabees and their MARS station and all the amateurs across our country who work with MARS (Military Amateur
(I DID get my license when I returned to the states. My call letters
are KB9ERP. So there!)
The blessing of a tape sustained me through another day. I am
grateful to God for my family. I know most of our guys are as homesick as I am. I just can't show too much.
The BUGS ARE BACK! I am ready to spray and beat a hasty retreat to bed before the monster bugs pick me up
and carry me over the DMZ.
December 1967 1545 (284)
I am very thoughtful today. I just finished talking to a young trooper who feels like he is the most
worthless person on the face of the earth. That is scary when we are in a place like this where things could happen so easily
and start a series of events that lead to personal or unit disaster.
I spent a lot
of time emphasizing how important he was to his family, his buddies, himself and us. But, as he left feeling better, I found
myself haunted by some of his questions.
I suppose all of us go through periods of
self-doubt about our worth; I certainly know I do. Many a day I wonder if I have done one positive and blessed thing for anyone.
I suppose that a little self-doubt can be good in that it spurs us to work a little harder, study more, try again or even
pray a bit more honestly.
I look at the vast, intelligent, complex and well-educated
machine called Neely. I sense the potential for "stirrings and rumblings" to come from this God-given equipment.
Yet, what comes out of the "divine dynamo" is but a mere trickle, indicating a big short circuit. Wow! The young
man really got me to thinking.
(I went on for about four pages with which I
will not bore the readers. I really had time to wring out some thoughts about myself. Most of us have done that at some time
or another. Today, I am grateful to that young man who forced me to look at myself on that lonely day so far from home. I
am better now for the experience.)
Thank God evening has come and we are safe.
Letters and tapes helped us to get through the day.
We are always listening. Every
sound is identified before it is dismissed from our thoughts. If it's friendly, you are grateful; if it's not, you are scared.
Men gather around one of the chapel organs in our hooch. Colonel Scoggins is playing and singing dirty songs. The guys laugh
and don't catch the incongruity of this. Yet they are basically a good lot. All of us have the rough edges that hide some
of the better parts of our nature.
The cycle of emotions grabs us all, and all we can
do is ride them out and hang on for dear life.
December 1967 2330 (283)
Today dawned warm and beautiful. Thanks, God. Today has also been an interesting day of events and
I fired an M79 launcher today. Here is a noncombatant chaplain familiarizing
himself with a weapon of destruction. What a screwed up world.
Then the Seabees came,
and we dug the footings for the chapel.
So there I was: digging, firing and basically
having a good time when I looked up and saw General Harold K. Johnson standing nearby and watching us work. He smiled, waved
and then walked to the mess hall. It's the first time I have ever been this close to a Chief of Staff, much less on the DMZ.
I retreated to the room tonight to get some much-needed time in on study and sermon preparation. I
don't want to be aloof, but some days can't be spent just playing poker, telling jokes and hanging out. Other nights will
find me in the middle of the conversations, but I am behind tonight and have to prepare for all of the stuff for Christmas.
Perhaps I'm still hung over from the trip the young trooper took me on yesterday. He is in much better spirits today and interacting
well with his buddies.
The separation seems to draw out hidden strengths in people.
Time after time I hear folks talk of things their wives are now doing that they never thought they could ever do. I am very
proud of Elaine as she handles three kids and post partum issues with dignity and grace. A couple of other guys have young
ones, too, and know the feeling.
This is the last entry in volume I. I have not one page
left. Tomorrow will begin another book.
December 1967 2330 (282)
Christmas Eve. A new volume has been started. The truth of this day also speaks of new beginnings
and quickens new hope for a better life.
Once again, the Child of Bethlehem has taken
His bow before a waiting world. Once again, He brings hope. This hope is especially precious and meaningful to those of us
serving along the DMZ.
I had no inkling of all that would have happened when I began
volume I. I have experienced so much. My writing has not even scratched the surface of our emotions or the events that have
come into our lives.
At 1800 our guns ceased firing. The silence is unrelenting and
also a bit unnerving. None of us is used to the quiet. I am restless tonight. Our ears are still keenly tuned to our surroundings,
in spite of the truce.
J. J. Carroll was on red alert, and Khe Sanh received incoming.
Nice going, Charlie. I knew he would not play fair.
Dong Ha is quiet and peaceful
now. I say NOW. Midway through our Christmas Eve service, flares started to go up. We dove for cover. All along the Marine
perimeter, flares were fired and the "grunts" started hollering their heads off. The upshot of the affair was that
the Marines succeeded in blowing up the POL [Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants] dump with their own flares. There was a lot of
smoke. But I assume there will be more smoke tomorrow and some heads will roll. As scared as we were, we went back to the
chapel. The Christmas Eve service was held in the mess hall. The service was impressive and well attended. I am grateful.
Captain Foster (1/40th) and SP4 Bines (8/4th) assisted Bob Ritter and me. I preached. Colonel
Jones was happy, but I was even happier to see so much support. Ninety-one men turned out for chapel. This was a rarity and
a new high.
Today, being Sunday, earlier found us on the road before services at Dong
Ha. We got to the Rockpile and C-1. All services were well attended. We were glad to be home before dark and ready to celebrate
Tonight finds our families at home preparing for the Christmas
holidays. We are fourteen hours ahead of them. Some homes are gay and brightly lighted and charged with gleeful anticipation.
Others are a slight bit lonely as families who have men here are trying to work around the empty spots. Some are dark and
cheerless. The empty spots are permanent. The son, father or husband who will never return. The price we pay for freedom is
expensive, and at moments like this it seems almost too outlandish.
Yet our troops
sit here tonight with high morale, basking in the glow and comfort of Christmas. The ability of the American GI to adapt and
adjust is something to behold. I marvel at it. We can usually even find something to laugh about even if it is ourselves.
Red Cross ditty bags arrived and were appreciated. Christmas day has arrived, so I stayed up, as did
most of the other officers and opened presents. Elaine gave me a cordless razor; Sis and Wimp a flashlight; Mother Barnhart
a billfold; Mother Neely a box of "goodies" (mostly eaten); and Sharon and Bill some sheets. More stuff is on the
way. I value the presents and sorely miss the givers tonight. The greatest gift they, especially Elaine, have given is the
gift of themselves.
Boy am I tired. I thought I would be wide-awake but now am just
too tired. It has been a long, long day.
25 December 1967 2130
"Glory to God in the Highest. Good will to men."
1967 is almost gone. The guns were silent for twenty-four hours. At 1810 they roared to life and jets were heard overhead.
A brisk firefight occurred around the ammo dump, and we are now under threat of a rocket attack. I guess things are back to
My razor doesn't work. This is very typical of Neely's fabulous
luck to buy or receive items that are bad right out of the box. Oh well, it's back to the trusty blade. I hope Elaine is not
disappointed when I return it to her. It is a beauty. Most of my "hooch mates" and I spent a melancholy Christmas
day. Colonel Jones proposed a toast to our loved ones. I had grace for the meal. Most of us went back to the hooch and lay
in our bunks, each understanding why we were distant from each other. Thoughts of home were paramount this afternoon. I sense
we were almost glad to get back to normal to shake off the depression of loneliness.
we have done this one in. I lift up this unit to God's protecting care. What a roller coaster of feelings we are all
1967 2355 (280)
Electrons, protons, ions and electron pumps - my course has arrived at last, and I have completed
the first lesson. I hope the exam is correct. Needless to say, I'm thrilled to think I can have something to occupy my mind
when we are buttoned up and not moving around. I did have to set the course down and prepare a sermon for tomorrow.
We go to Carroll again for chapel. Most of the road is clear except for the last four to five miles.
I sense all of my team gets a bit nervous when we hit the roads. I pray God's protection on these young men who have to provide
protection and communication every time we go out.
The forms were completed today,
and the Seabees hope to pour the slab in the morning. Slow and steady progress is the word. I'm grateful.
tried to call home today, but the radio bands were not peaking well for communication. As usual, I miss them all a lot. Since
I can't sleep, I am going to make the rounds with the sergeant of the guard and visit the troops. Then I can wind down for
27 December 1967
Crack! Crack! The twin 40s have just opened up around the perimeter. We go to sleep without even hearing the noise. It is
friendly. We can sleep.
I am a grateful chaplain tonight. God continues to demonstrate
His love to all of us in so many ways. The trip to Carroll was uneventful. We later stopped at the Rockpile. That trip
was beautiful and terrifying. The road to the Rockpile is overgrown, rough and treacherous. A convoy was ambushed on that
road last week. We were all a bit on edge, but we did what we came to do. Troops were grateful for the chaplain visits as
well as services.
I will get to meet our Chief of Chaplains. He will visit us tomorrow.
Colonel Jones is learning to take all of this in stride. This will be about the sixth or seventh general who has visited us
in the past week. I admire the brass for coming up here.
I am tired. We only put 45
miles on the roads. That would not be much of a trip anywhere else. Combat changes perspectives. Distances seem farther, and
it seems to take more time to get from point A to point B. We are always surprised when we look at the odometer and see how
little ground we covered. Miles under tension do tire one out. I only did four or five pages of my course tonight. I
did spend some time on making certain my uniform and our section was up to snuff. Chaplain Sampson is one of my heroes. He
is an Iowan. He jumped at Normandy with his troops. He jumped again in Belgium. He has written several books including "Paratrooper
Padre" and "Look Out Below."
It is time for this tired "Boy Wonder"
to hit the sack.
December 1967 2300 (278)
Bob Ritter returned from Da Nang today. He told me Don Humphreys (chaplain school classmate) was badly
hurt when his Jeep hit a mine. His driver and shotgun guard were killed. Don was thrown 200 feet and landed in a rice paddy.
He was still in his seat and upright. He would have drowned in any other position. He has several broken ribs and a severe
concussion. His medical team thought he was going to be paralyzed, but thankfully he is not. That is one more chaplain wounded.
(Chaplain Black, a Navy chaplain, was later killed at Khe Sahn. He served the Rockpile and Khe Sanh.)
Air Force compound was hit today, and the 8/4th was probed a little this evening. It is otherwise quiet. We have
now acquired a siren to warn for incoming. It is not up and running yet but should give a little more warning and, hopefully,
Chaplain Sampson is everything I thought he would be. He is a chaplain's
chaplain. He is first and foremost a very committed priest who has never forgotten his pastoral roots he so well nurtured
as a Cherokee, Iowa, parish priest. The day went well; we looked good; the Chief was pleased; and Colonel Jones did a great
job of briefing him. I took him over to the 1/44th chapel and introduced him to some of the folks there. We got
him off safely and without incident. What a great man.
(I was later to meet Chaplain
Sampson again. He retired from the Army and went to Notre Dame as the ROTC Chaplain. It was my privilege to serve those cadets
with a man I truly call "My Hero." Chaplain Sampson later retired from Notre Dame and returned to the rolling
hills of western Iowa and spent his remaining days back where he began his ministry. Father Frank Sampson died and is buried
in his beloved parish cemetery in Cherokee, Iowa.)
I received a very welcome letter
today. Each day brings us all closer to home, yet it still seems so long. Most of us have learned not to look at our DEROS
(when we return). That's too long. We would all go nuts looking at November 1968. Today is sufficient to meet our needs.
I really worked on lesson two today. I don't know if I understand it. It was difficult for a non-tech
type. I'm going through it again before I take the exam. I can see why they say to study one to two hours a day and no more.
After two hours, everything turns to mush. It is a great feeling to grow a bit.
game inside, and rain on the outside. I feel we are in for some more cold weather.
29 December 1967 2330
I am tired. Lesson two is done. No mail. It's cold and rainy. No planes were
able to get in today. No cement laid down. This has really been a nothing day. It's not just me. There isn't even enough
emotion to start a poker game. That's bad. The day is over, and as Bob Bruner said, "Thank God - thanks be to God for
one more down."
December 1967 2215 (276)
The night is full of the sounds of artillery fire. Fire missions and H & I's [Harassment and Interdiction]
have kept our gun bunnies busy. One H & I came close enough for us to dive for cover.
men have really been handing it out tonight.
I pray for the time when I can sit in
peace and quiet and not fear the night around me. It is not much fun worrying about getting a 152 round in our laps.
I did study, and I also prepared for more chapel services tomorrow. We have all been so busy there
isn't much time or energy to put anything down on paper. Our TOC [Tactical Operations Center] is going nuts with all the activity.
I guess one could say, "We are operational." We have a busy day tomorrow. Off to bed.
31 December 1967 1940
Ring out the old. Ring in the new. Nineteen sixty-eight is almost upon us. With
it comes the sweet breath of promise - promise for more opportunities to serve -promise for a deeper, closer and more practical
knowledge of God - promise for a more intelligent handling of obstacles. The New Year brings its own problems and frustrations.
It also brings a hint of joy. It is the year we will return home.
We had a busy day
with services. I spent most of my time covering the Marines and Seabees here in Dong Ha. Bob took our services and the 8/4th.
D-Med was also a busy place today as well.
Nineteen sixty-seven was a pivotal year
in this family's life. We had a great summer, with a new camping trailer, and we looked with great anticipation to the birth
of our third child. [While stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri] I was finally able to spend more time at home after
turning over the property book and funds to another chaplain. I also was reassigned from the Stockade Chaplain's office to
take over a brigade. That all came to a screeching halt when I found myself on an airplane heading for my new assignment at
Fort Riley, Kansas. It was at that time that Elaine and I grew up. We had to.
separation has caused me to be able to distinguish between the important and the unimportant. The separation has also taught
me the difference between speculation and experience. I now kick myself at the long hours I spent at the stockade making visits
when I could have been home playing with the kids.
I also have seen the value of learning
to surrender to the circumstances of the present. Real growth is only possible when we surrender ourselves to God's control,
love and power. Some here do that quite well. Others do not. Neely is somewhere in the middle.
well. I am grateful to God for my beautiful family. I am grateful to God for so many of my comrades here that I lean on and
who give me strength. I am grateful for the privilege of service. For all my gripes, I am most happy serving the troops I
am proud of and love so very much.
Well, enough already! That's it for 1967. I am going
to ring out this year with a coke and go to bed. Pretty tame compared to other New Year's Eve parties I've attended.
See you next year.
1968 2300 (274)
stupid poker game! Why did I do it? Oh, stupid me! In a flash of rashness Neely dropped $6.00 in a couple of hours. That's
it! I better stick to doing my correspondence-course lessons. (Six bucks doesn't sound like much, but when you only draw $25.00
and send the rest home to a wife and three kids, I guess it can be daunting. I sense a trace of humor, though, in the laments.)
I guess I wanted some fellowship. Boy, I sure paid for my fellowship. The "fellows" saw a sucker coming and put
me on a ship of debt. Oh, well; life does go on, and there is life after poker.
broke the truce by shooting down a Huey near the Rockpile. For his efforts, he received 82 rounds of 175
I sent Elaine flowers for her birthday. It is amazing how long and complicated
it gets to do such a simple task from this distance.
The "truce" will be
up tomorrow. You can sense the fear and grim demeanors returning as the time draws near. Once again, ears are more
tuned to the sound of incoming. We still have a long way to go.
Guess I'll read. The
game reminds me of the motto for the 108th: "Never Again."
New Year, Sweethearts. Good night.
2 January 1968
It is still cold. No cement was poured today. I
did get some study time in but found this day to be one of dragging unproductivity. Sometimes I don't feel that I have accomplished
much as a U.S. Army chaplain. I am getting to be a good sandbagger, however. Is this what I have been called to do -
to stack sandbags to the glory of God? (The answer came many years later ... YES!)
January 1968 2230 (272)
More study time as we can't get out on the roads. I also have a lot of paperwork to catch up
on. I have a lot of loose ends and small jobs to do, so I will be busy. (My dad called these small and numerous jobs "pissant
jobs." I still use this Southern term today.)
Hal Phillips (U.S. Navy chaplain,
wounded on the road to Gia Linh) got back today and called as soon as he got his phone hooked back up. I went over to see
him. He spent 45 days in the hospital but looks great.
Jackpot on mail with two
tapes and two letters. I continue to miss them as all our folks do while over here. I filled in one more square on the cross
today (short-timer's calendar in the shape of a cross with 365 squares on it). Many of the men do similar things to keep track
of the remaining time. One guy sends a playing card a week home and will have a game of strip poker with his wife when he
returns. Hmmm! I could have thought of that if I had been a little more alert. It must be the big orange pill dulling my mind.
Rounds were made amongst the troop workstations. The young men continue to amaze me at their ability
to adjust to scary situations they absolutely detest. We all hang in there. "Commit thy ways unto the Lord
and He shall direct thy paths."
Good night, all.
January 1968 2230 (271)
Today was productive. My desk work was completed and all quarterly reports were submitted. I even
completed a lesson and got some sermon preparation in, as well as troop visits. All of this was at the cost of only one cigarette.
I must resolve not to back down, but 24 hours isn't too bad of a record.
not many planes flying today due to the weather. No planes mean we are more in danger to incoming. The fear is always among
us, but I am continuously amazed at how our awareness of God's love increases in proportion to our fear and needs. I see this
in the unit everywhere I go.
A firefight broke out nearby tonight, and everyone is
still on high alert. No one knows if it was a probe or not. It did develop into a full-scale battle for about 30 minutes.
We had everything from M16s to TOTs (Artillery Time on-Target fire). It was too close to be ignored, but we don't have
any particulars. Wounded will mean chaplains making a trip to D-Med.
My course exam
was finished and is ready to mail. All at the cost of one cigarette. (I was able to kick it all when I got home.)
I place this unit's and my life in His hands.
5 January 1968 2330
I mailed the exam and immediately found one wrong answer on the way to the graders.
The roads are still a mess, but we continue to make troop visits on our firebase.
The Seabees appreciate our coverage very much and give us so much support. I wouldn't have the hopes of a chapel without them
and Frenchie's expert hands.
I ate up a storm today and only had one smoke. I didn't
enjoy it. (Yeah, right!) We put a lot of miles on the Jeep, around the camp between D-Med and the airport, as well as visits
to the firing batteries under our care. Jack Young is a very fine driver and a very neat young man. Everywhere we go, I hear
the loneliness, fear and anticipation to return home. Those feelings are with us 24 hours a day. I certainly look forward
to home as much as well.
I'm hungry. I think I'll hit the mess hall before I turn
6 January 1968
I sat today at the pump organ and played the one
song I knew. I don't play a keyboard. For a moment, I wasn't amidst the danger, the dirt, the blood of D-Med, Dong Ha, road
trips, incoming or death. I had no fear. My daydream carried me back through time and distance. I was sitting at the Hammond
at the Ash Grove church. (Newly married, we spent a year at Ash Grove, Missouri, on an internship. Needless to say, we were
very happy.) Elaine was sitting next to me. I was trying to get her to play something. She was laughing at my many variations
of my one song. Then a Twin-40 came clanking down the road. The clatter of the tracks shook me out of my reverie and, once
again, I was back to the stink of reality.
It is an interesting and gratifying experience
to see how pleasant memories often come back to comfort us during these moments of stress and uncertainty. These thoughts
sustain us all and are readily shared as we make our way among the troops. Good thoughts also serve to keep us in proper focus
and remind us from where we came and to whom we will return.
Part of our perimeter
was probed last night ("A" Battery, 8/4). They took a lot of small-arms fire but had no casualties, thank God. The
ARVN and the NVA were involved in a firefight, and it looks like the NVA threw a little diversion to "A" Battery
to keep them busy.
I'm tired. I have been busy preparing for services tomorrow. I have
four, and Bob has four. We will cover our own troops as well as some of the 12th Marines. Goodnight, all.
7 January 1968 2130
The arc lights (B52s) have pounded Charlie tonight. They light up the sky and
shake the earth for miles around.
We returned to Dong Ha before dark. I had four
services: with a Marine sniper unit; with "A" Battery, 8/4; at Firebase C1; and at the Rockpile. Most
services are small in number and brief, as well as done two or three times at a site to prevent multi-casualties in the event
of incoming. I am fatigued but grateful to be able to serve and that tonight finds all of our men safe.
first exam came back with a 100%. I'm grateful. Lesson 4 is tough. I'm a word guy not a science type. Oh, well; it does
pass the time when we are holed up.
Time to get a shower and wash the dust of the day
off. I am grateful for the protection God has given us all today.
8 January 1968 2330
This is a day of cabin fever at its worst. It came without warning. It's also
a day when both chaplains have really felt totally ineffective. Most of the officers are in the lounge, gathered around the
chaplain-issued organ, singing dirty songs. The troops are in the mess hall, gathered around the chaplain-issued PA equipment,
singing dirty songs. Some officers, including my roommate and myself, are trying to get some sleep - lullabied by sex-laden
songs sung by well-lubricated comrades in arms. One sometimes wonders who is the enemy.
(I spent some time researching cabin fever in combat after my return home. I spoke to a number of
Vietnam veterans, as well as to some of my military mental health colleagues, most of whom also served in combat. They felt
that this dynamic seemed to have occurred more often following a lull, a truce, or a significant holiday, e.g., Christmas/New
Year's. It also seemed less common in the units that did most of their work on the move, in the field such as Infantry,
Rangers or Special Forces. Cabin fever seemed more common in units where individuals worked in the field performing their
individual and specific staff responsibilities, and then returned to a base camp where little movement and a closed defensive
position was assumed for the night. That precisely described the 108th. We buttoned up for the night with only
one another for company. My research also noted that when incoming occurred, all cabin fever vanished. My colleagues all agreed
on that point.
When the 108th functioned under fire, it functioned well.
There was no time for petty Mickey Mouse antics. Lives were at stake, and people looked out for each other. Our First Sergeant
was always crawling around during incoming to check on the welfare of personnel. I know this since I did some of the same,
and I often saw him moving from bunker to bunker. All differences went by the wayside when things started exploding. I remember
meeting Sergeant Rodgers coming around a bunker when the ammo dump across the street went up. One exploding mortar round was
especially close, and we instinctively hugged each other and hung on for all we were worth. No cabin fever there.
Suffice to say that the 108th was staffed with good men who did a good job far away from
home and loved ones, marked by stark-naked fear. When I refer to cabin fever in the future, let it be tempered by time and
understanding - ‘nuf said).
9 January 1968
It was a sleepless night until about 0130 when
the phone rang, and the CO, Colonel Jones, called a halt. The singers went to their rooms. Today they are about the place
doing the good work they normally do.
I did some work on the course. The weather has
halted work on the chapel. That's the way it goes. I also got my teeth cleaned. (We had a dentist named Dr. Sparks.
He came after we arrived in country. He was a nice gentleman.)
I received information
about a small orphanage in Quang Tri City. We will go down there tomorrow and check them out. I hope this orphanage will be
something I can get my teeth into. I continue to be troubled by the children I see as we move up and down the countryside.
I received some care packages from my old unit at Ft. Leonard Wood (Special Troops). Some were
gag gifts, but all were downright appreciated. Art and Gretel Durham sent a very handsome portable communion kit. It will
come in handy here.
(I still use it to this day.) I have many happy memories of that
assignment and the people with whom I served.
Off to bed. We have to arrange a mini
convoy to go to Quang Tri tomorrow.
Good night, Sweethearts.
January 1968 2330 (265)
is a day I will remember for the rest of my life.
We took some things to Quang Tri
City today. I met the Reverend Ngo Tan Phi, a pastor in the Vietnamese National Protestant Church. He is married, and he and
his wife have five children. They have also taken 16 orphans into their home. He feeds, clothes and educates them out of his
own meager resources. He is also building a church in which his congregation can worship.
informed me that he has to build the church strong and fireproof because the Buddhists, the Catholics and the Communists all
would burn it down. Protestants are but a tiny sliver of the population of South Vietnam. It is hard to believe that prejudice
like that exists today. Wow! It is unbelievable what one experiences by moving into another culture. He also has plans for
a dormitory if he can get the assistance he needs. His work is short on substance and very long on guts and faith. And
I moan because the cement has not been poured in my chapel as I sleep, well fed and sheltered.
Phi and his brood all live in the half-finished church. He works on the building every day as materials and interruptions
of war allow. The conditions are deplorable with only three beds for 16 kids. Somehow, the children appear nourished and fairly
safe. He even built a bunker for his family. What a screwed up world. Build a church complete with bunker - sounds like our
chapel at Dong Ha.
This man and his faith inspire me. I wonder how many smug and pious
pastors in the States would dirty their hands to do something like this ministry. Would I even be up to a task like this that
goes on in Quang Tri?
Pastor Phi has so little, yet with the courage of David, he takes
on a Goliath of a responsibility. I hope the 108th will support this project. I will present my recommendations
to Colonel Jones. We do need permission to do this work.
did support Pastor Phi and his work. We made many trips to Quang Tri after that first visit. Many of our troops were involved
in assisting this civic action event.
Pastor Phi later encouraged me to adopt one of
the kids. His name was Chu. He was very cute and about my newborn Bruce's age. His father was a Marine (KIA) and his
mother a prostitute. It was so easy: all we had to do was go to Da Nang, fill out the paperwork and get the little guy
on an airplane to the States. I was surprised at how easily this could have been done in those days and places. I did not
do this, because I had many more months in country and faced a very uncertain existence myself. I also didn't think it was
fair to saddle Elaine with another baby at this moment, especially if I came home in a body tin. I grew quite fond of Chu
and often thought things just might work out to bring him home as child # 4. I left the unit in June and found no way to affect
any adoption while there. Pastor Phi corresponded with us after I left country. I still had hopes of bringing the child out
of that mess. Then the NVA overran Quang Tri in 1975. I spent many a sleepless night thinking about "what might
have been." I never heard from Pastor Phi again after that time. I still often think of the son I could have had,
but could not have, due to the tragedy of war. We used our best thinking for the moment and would no doubt do the same today.
Some things are what they are and just too big to overcome.)
The trip to Quang Tri
was pretty and uneventful. I'm grateful. The VC and NVA have blown many bridges. War creates such devastation: blown bridges,
orphaned kids, poverty, filth and ethnic hatred are rampant. Yet, in the midst of this mess at Quang Tri City, sails a tiny
little ship captained by a gutsy little guy by the name of Ngo Tan Phi.
11 January 1968 2345
The Seabees came by today to let me know they were still working on the concrete
pour. After seeing what Pastor Phi goes through, I had no complaints. I am glad they are working on it, and they are very
Even though we still have some residual stuff left from the last bout
of the fever, I am content. Good people still perform their duties, even when times are tough.
many planes up. I had some time for sermon preparation and study. It is quiet tonight and it appears that all are turning
in early. Me, too.
1968 2200 (263)
Zirfus and Mr. (civilian) Coy Nicely are missing. They left Dong Ha on 8 January, supposedly on a C-123. (They were on the
manifest.) We have had no word of them since that time. A chopper from Dong Ha went down west of Da Nang the same day the
123 left Dong Ha and safely arrived at Da Nang. Zirfus and Nicely were not on the fixed-wing, and two unknowns are listed
as on the helicopter. The chopper crash was found about 100 feet from the top of a hill deep in VC country. A Marine battalion
is going to try to get to the crash site and retrieve bodies tomorrow. Sadly, nothing can be sent to families until more definitive
information is obtained.
So tonight, two wives sit at home, oblivious to the
fact that their husbands might be dead. I have seen this scenario too much from the other side of war (the home front). Wives
read old letters and wait for more mail, and all they might get is a uniformed soldier at their door with a telegram. I hope
and pray not.
The fever is gone and replaced with sadness and the realization that
death is so near to each of us. I'm not really in the mood to write.
13 January 1968 2000
No word about the chopper. We are worried.
Short Round died yesterday (a small puppy that a lieutenant brought up from Da Nang as a mascot). He had rabies. Many of us
played with him. We were surprised, since he was a pup (usually immune for a while), but the diagnosis is confirmed, and many
of us began our first rabies shot tonight. It is really scary in that nothing can be done once the symptoms of rabies begin.
Now all of us are in a panic. I have had a headache for two days, and I chalked it up to sinus. Don Watlington, the battery
commander, and I sat in my room going over the symptoms and decided we both had at least four or five of them. The rest
of the unlucky guys who were exposed to this little guy are going through the same thing. The shot is given in the belly,
around the navel. It will get pretty uncomfortable as time goes on. Fourteen shots are given (one per day) and then two boosters,
one week apart. It's going to be a long and scary haul. One NCO was growling as we left the medics tonight. "Chaplain,
this doesn't make any #*!# sense! We come this far and get killed by a #%!* dog!" I had no answer for him as I scratched
my numb face and nursed my headache.
Goodnight, Sweethearts. May God protect
14 January 1968 2000
We had our second shot tonight. They are still trying to round up all who played
with Lt. Short Round. Our group has become strangely bonded to one another as we go about our daily duties.
The Marines were not able to get to the crash site, so we have no real word on Zirfus and Nicely.
Their loss has cast a pall over our unit. This is the first time someone we know and work with is possibly dead. Death has
gotten too close.
Between the helicopter crash and the #*!# dog, we are really something
else right now. Yet we prepare for services and do what we have to do.
Today is Elaine's
birthday. I sent cards and flowers. I hope they got there. I will not mention anything about that "friggen" dog
to her. These are fears we keep to ourselves.
Goodnight, and happy birthday, Honey.
15 January 1968 2230 (260)
Lt. Short Round, one small black puppy, has successfully terrified 25 big, strong, brave men. Nine
gathered for the first meeting of the Dong Ha Kennel Club. We are the charter members. As I took my third shot, I saw all
25 lined up - some for their first shot. The medics will have fun keeping this all sorted out.
of us went to see Dr. Williams about our "symptoms." He smiled and reassured us that we were okay and the
vaccine had been given in time. I guess if the doctor isn't worried we should not worry either. Of course, he didn't play
with the dog.
The Kennel Club will continue to meet for two weeks, and as one trooper
said, "We don't even get a medal for this!"
In spite of all of this, we continue
to do what we are called to do. Bob Ritter is doing a great job in getting around. Notification to the families went out yesterday
about Captain Zirfus and Coy Nicely. I now have two letters to compose for Colonel Jones to sign.
on this sad day.
16 January 1968 2200
My face was really numb today. Several of the Kennel Club members had an increase
in their rabies symptoms. This prompted another visit by five or six guys to Dr. Williams. The chaplain had to go along
to comfort the troops. He wasn't scared a bit. He was just there to support the troops (right). Dr. Williams has been
most patient with all of us, as he realizes that this is scary stuff. In my case, he thinks I have gotten some severe sinus
that is causing some of the sensations. The rest of our symptoms are psychosomatic. It is amazing that we are, for the most
part, more frightened of dying of rabies than we are of becoming KIA. Talk about male pride. Many one-liners are flowing back
and forth between the Club members like, "How did your daddy die in Vietnam?" "He got bit on the butt
by Lt. Short Round." (Other remarks are not printable for this edition of the diary. There were many.)
Two letters came today to relieve the tension. I haven't told Elaine about the dog yet. I will wait
until it's all over. Lesson 3 came back with a 100%. I'm happy. Lesson 4 is ready to mail.
go out on MEDCAP (Medical Civil Action Program) tomorrow. This will be a first experience for us. The doctor, dentist, chaplain,
and troops who wish to go, will visit a village and offer assistance to the inhabitants. I think this is one way the U. S.
is trying to "win the hearts and minds of the people." I pray for our men's safety in this exercise.
17 January 1968
One of our trucks hit a mine yesterday. Hagen and
Nickle (my assistant) were in it. They were shook up but had only minor injuries. I'm grateful. The sandbags we sit on do
make a difference.
The fifth shot is down today, and we are counting. We keep hoping
that Dr. Williams is right and it is just nerves. I hope we will look back in the years to come and laugh about all this.
If so, Elaine will laugh the loudest, as she knows me so well. She knows I can take a symptom and create a global pandemic.
MEDCAP was a resounding success today. We went to Dong Ha Village. The medics treated over 125 people.
Our troops roamed throughout the area, passed out candy and food and enjoyed playing with the kids. The Vietnamese seemed
grateful. A grim reminder of war was seen as we saw our perimeter guards, turned away from all of this, providing the necessary
protection we needed. They didn't get to play with the kids and later wished they could have done so. The poverty is ever
before us. I keep referring to my single-car garage back in Iowa that has more comforts than anything I saw today.
I'd like to think we are on the right side. We came by day to build, heal, share and offer protection.
One village leader said the VC comes at night to burn, intimidate and conscript into their ranks, or kill.
It's amazing how we have become more used to traveling the roads. Today's trip was not a fearful experience
at all. Perhaps it's because we all felt we had done something positive instead of blowing up things. Perhaps it was
because we realized how poor these people are and how blessed we are. Or could it be that we are more concerned about
rabies and our male macho image than anything combat could throw at us?
(I talked to several members of the Dong Ha Kennel Club in later years.
To a man, they all felt it would have been very embarrassing to die in Vietnam of rabies. One put it this way: "Getting
killed by a dog would have been the height of embarrassment; I wouldn't have even gotten the Purple Heart; I didn't want to
die over here, but if I was going to, I wanted my family to know I died like a man and not like some wimp killed by a #&%!
dog." Ahh, male pride.)
18 January 1968
"Perfect love casteth out all fear."
Thank God for scriptures like that in this place of ultimate fear. Several of the Kennel Club members are under the weather
tonight. I feel very punk. Guess (HOPE) it is some sort of viral bug that is floating around. When it is wet and
cold (in the tropics?) things seem to grow much faster, bigger and stronger. Today has also been a lonely day. The rain and
illness aren't helping, I'm sure.
Lesson 4 is completed. It was challenging. Will begin
lesson 5 tomorrow. I have enjoyed the course very much so far.
I also have promises
of cement for Saturday. There is still hope for a chapel for our troops yet.
19 January 1968 2345
I felt much better today. The bug has passed. I'm grateful. Seventh shot down,
seven more to go, plus two weekly boosters.
Today was a psychological kaleidoscope.
I rarely feel so many emotions at once in the course of one day. Surprise, hope, fear, grief, frustration, gratitude, a sense
of belonging and a sense of progress all mingled to make today a memorable event. I got a conex container of materials
for the chapel today and a promise of cement for tomorrow.
I made a visit to our "shopping
center" (a collection of Vietnamese huts outside the wire at our main gate). I received a surprise that warmed
my heart. I was looking around the shop where I had my picture taken for Elaine. The proprietor is a very fine gentleman.
He speaks little English; I speak no Vietnamese. We converse in French. I shared that my wife had enjoyed his work (the picture).
I priced a few items for future purchases and turned to leave. He stood in the door and presented me with gifts: he
gave me three hand-painted (pen and ink) landscapes and a desk calendar. He wanted me to have them because of the respect
I had shown to both him and his country. He was Catholic and had fled North Vietnam when Indochina was divided. He was
grateful for the American presence in his country. I hadn't bought anything, but he shared, from his own meager stores, his
profound gratitude. With tears in his eyes, he said, "I know many Americans die here so I can live. I would be dead in
Du Nord (North Vietnam). (Along with Pastor Phi, I often wonder about this gentle man who touched my
heart in such a meaningful way.)
The warmth of that moment was soon replaced by the
more common feelings of this place: sadness, grief, outrage and frustration. I visited D-Med and spent about two hours working
there. Chopper after chopper landed to unload KIAs and WIAs (killed and wounded).
young Marine was in very bad condition. I watched nine or 10 medics working on him in a valiant but futile effort to save
his life. They did everything they could do, including heart massage through a hastily cut incision in the kid's chest. It
was so damn frustrating to see such a handsome and strong young man now shattered and dying right before my eyes. He expired,
and with his last breath, the promise, hope, joy and goals he had for the future died as well. The physician, who had been
massaging his heart, withdrew his hand from the boy's chest and turned to me. He said, "Chaplain, I had his life in my
hand. Would you pray?" I did. Then we could only hold each other and sob.
at the morgue were also conducted for four more KIAs. Sadly, this is a daily occurrence in this place. It's sometimes hard
to comprehend the dead. You want to visualize them as young teens, just taking a break and having a nap. These kids
are now part of a long line of America's finest who have dashed their hopes and shattered their dreams in order that others'
hopes and dreams may be realized. Their deaths will set into motion a chain of events that will devastate five families within
the next 24 hours. What a screwed up world. When will mankind ever learn the peace and love our Lord showed our world? Yes,
I know - a peace He died for to share with us.
I spent a happier time in the lounge
tonight as we all sang and were grateful for one another. I needed that sense of belonging so much after D-Med. I also had
to assist one of our junior officers home to his BOQ. It does pay to have one guy who drinks Cokes all night to show the way
Goodnight, Sweethearts. Love you all.
20 January 1968 2145 (255)
Cement! We now build. What a beautiful sight to see mucky, sticky, messy mud pouring into the forms.
Now we are building.
We took our eighth shot tonight. I felt good except for the effects
of the "big orange pill" that has produced gas and misery. I do think I am jinxed, however. I got a call today from
Cecil Lewis (1/44th chaplain). It seems that one of his men came down with hepatitis. I ate in their mess hall
last week when I was visiting Cecil. I also had to take a gamma globulin shot as well as the rabies serum. Now, not only is
my belly sore, but my butt as well. My luck seems to be real consistent lately concerning hypodermic needles.
The singers were at it until the wee hours tonight. The colonel's band has expanded (LTC Scroggins).
We had Captain Hamilton, an Australian infantry officer, playing a dishpan, and Captain Jones, a visitor, on guitar. They
are enjoying themselves, and God knows we need to bleed off some of this stress any way we can.
have had much activity on the roads today. A mine-sweeping team was caught in an ambush on Highway 9 and wiped out. An ambush
occurred at the sand pits, with two Marines KIA. J. J. Carroll had incoming tonight. We have no word about causalities, but
three positions were hit with some secondary explosions. We sense something is going to break soon.
to try to sleep.
21 January 1968
J. J. Carroll got hit last night with rockets and
artillery. Hill 881 and Khe Sanh were worked over pretty well, too. It looks like Charlie is increasing activity throughout
the DMZ area. We were thankfully quiet.
I had only one service today. We have nine
shots down. I felt good today. The cement looks good, and I'm grateful. I will study and do some sermon preparation
and then off to bed.
1968 2200 (253)
Horton is now Major Horton. We congratulated him after the leaf was pinned on. He is a fine officer and a very nice guy.
We got to 10 shots today. Our bellies are raw. At least the end is in sight. We have four more and
then two boosters.
I coordinated with the 1st Cav units that have moved
into our area. I will be adding another service for them, as they have no chaplain at this time.
Hamilton (our Australian liaison) continues to be his cheery self. He is a leveling influence to the group.
Loud explosions interrupted our quiet tonight. We went to the holes. It was later determined that
they were close H & I's. They seemed a little too close for me.
I will do some
visits to our guards tonight before I turn in. It's a funny way to make a pastoral call by crawling on one's belly (ouch!)
following the sergeant of the guard, visiting one troop at a time in the dark of the night. They didn't teach us that in seminary.
23 January 1968
Another day is gone. I spent a lot of time at the
desk today getting reports out. It seems that the ever-present paperwork is still a part of our existence. I also got some
of lesson 5 done tonight.
The 1st Cav is making its presence felt in an
impressive way. I know our perimeter is much quieter and safer since they have moved into our area. They possess tremendous
firepower, so I guess our perimeter is probably considered a hard site.
will start soon on our chapel. Frenchie and his crew will do the work. We have not received the approval for the materials
we ordered for the building, but piles of lumber and corrugated sheet metal seem to be appearing as if by magic. I have cause
to hope, and also to believe, that the "Tooth Fairy" is really, really, really, real.
took shot 11, with now only three to go, with two boosters after that. Our new doctor came in today. He seems like a very
Bob Bruner left today to become the executive officer of the 1/40th.
He made a fine roommate. I wish him well and God's protection.
We still have no word
about Captain Zirfus's chopper. Evidently, it has not been reached as of yet.
two services today with 1st Cav and 2/94th. Every day is Sunday when the chaplain rolls around. I also
made some calls on our Seabee friends and to D-Med.
There appears to be a lot of activity
around Khe Sanh and vicinity.
I got two letters from family today. All of my folks
have really done a job in writing. Bud and Bev, Sandy, Aylene, Mom as well as Reverend Chapman (my childhood pastor) have
kept me going. Of course Elaine and the family pictures she sends are like a lifeline to me.
24 January 1968 2330
Today has been a horrible day. The 1/44th was ambushed near
Carroll with 14 WIA and two KIA. The 2/94 had five WIA. Several Seabees and Marines were also killed. It was not a good day
at D-Med at all.
Word came that Zirfus's helicopter was reached. All aboard were killed
on impact. I will be writing those letters yet tonight before I sleep. No study and not much time today to do anything but
react to what's happening.
We took the twelfth shot tonight. I had to take it at D-Med
since I spent most of the day there. I hope for a quiet night. The lounge is empty. The mood is sober.
25 January 1968 2100
I have 13 shots down and one to go. I'm grateful.
of us have been up most of the night. I hope and pray for quiet. We have taken more casualties today around the Rockpile,
Carroll and Khe Sanh. Many are going to try to get to bed early tonight. This will be short.
26 January 1968 2100 (249)
We have taken our fourteenth shot. The Dong Ha Kennel Club is about ready to disband. We only have
two more weekly meetings (booster shots) and then we are finished. Needless to say, we are all relieved and symptom free.
Now if we could only do something about that big orange pill.
Defensive fire laces
our perimeter tonight. There appears to be more stuff happening at Carroll and Khe Sanh. Tet will usher in a truce.
I hope it holds. We could use the down time.
(Obviously Tet did not result in a truce.
It became the Tet Offensive, and the U. S. sustained heavy casualties for several weeks. The 108th was in the middle
of this action. At the time of this writing, we were hoping to stand down with only minor infractions.)
have much for which to be grateful: My God, my family and my health. I'm also glad that another day is gone. Things calmed
down a bit today, and the unit worked a touch football game into our schedule. Doctor Lefeber is a very nice man. He is seriously
thinking of doing some mission work when he returns home. I know he would do a great job in the mission field.
I have to draft a letter for SP4 Strickland of the 1/44th who was killed in the 24 January
ambush. The road is still closed where the attack occurred.
27 January 1968
Work began on the chapel today; I'm grateful. No
shots today; I'm grateful. We are making progress. I'm tired. The NVA are all over the place. Some things don't feel right.
We are moving into a higher sense of alert. That's strange just before a holiday truce. I place this unit's safety in His
hands. That's all we can do.
January 1968 2245 (247)
am very tired. We have one wall up. Frenchie and his crew have worked very hard. This is a day of progress.
The B-52s delivered a very close arc light tonight about 1700. That indicates the possibility of larger
concentrations of enemy troops nearby. (At this point we had no idea what was about to happen.)
shower, quick letter to Elaine and off to bed I go. Wow! I only had one day of manual labor, and I'm beat. How did I ever
work my way through college and seminary?
Goodnight to all our loved ones.
29 January 1968 2100 (246)
Today again was a day of progress and personal satisfaction. I feel pretty good, with the exception
of gas. For some reason the malaria pill is affecting me more this week.
All the walls
are up on the chapel. Got some sermon time in as well as study time on lesson 5. Lesson 4 brought a 100%. Lesson 5 will be
a real challenge.
I was told that we were to stay off the roads for the time being.
We will have enough to do on the chapel, but we will still be doing services to firebases.
have been getting up quite early so it's time for some rest. The hooch is strangely quiet tonight.
30 January 1968 2200
We are now working on interior plans for the chapel. It does keep my mind from
wandering too far from reality. We are in the midst of some uncertain moments. (If we had only known how close we were.) Again
I pray for the safety of all the men in this unit. One character guidance class was conducted today. The men seemed to be
somewhere else. It certainly couldn't have been the instructor, could it? No mail. No milk, either. Maybe tomorrow.
31 January 1968
Incoming! We received rounds at the airport and
in the 155 artillery positions. I was called in and asked to carry a .45 today. I have no objections but would not use a weapon
except to save another or myself. I would pray that I would never see that moment.
did get one letter from Elaine today. She writes every day, as I do, but the system is being taxed right now.
A lot seems to be building up around Dong Ha. I hope we have enough men to handle whatever arises.
I know we all want to return home to our loved ones.
The mind does strange things under
stress. I do not know why, but I spent a lot of time thinking about the pleasure I get out of camping. Here we sit in primitive
conditions and I'm thinking how neat it would be to be out camping with my family. What's happening?
suppose the pleasant memories are what sustain us in uncertain times. We camped all over Europe and saw things we could have
never seen if we would have had to pay for hotels. We have also seen much of the United States courtesy of the U. S. Army
and our trusty camper. I look forward to the times when we can really "rough it" at a campground with hot showers,
flush toilets and round doorknobs.
I'll sign off for now.
MiG? I signed off too soon. Aircraft bombed C-1. They are trying to determine
if it was theirs or ours. We are so close to North Vietnam, we could spit across the border. We are in bunkers for the evening.
1 February 1968 2300
It is getting rough. We are on 100% blackout and red alert. About 125
NVA were spotted about three clicks away. (A click is slang for a kilometer.) I commit our lives to Almighty God’s protection.
Khe Sanh and Dong Ha towns are being evacuated of civilians. It really looks like Charlie and his
NVA cousins are going for it. God, let us be strong.
We had no mail in or out today
for obvious reasons.
Thanks be to Thee, oh Lord. Help us to love much, even our enemies.
1968 2030 (242)
We had more incoming. At 0245, VC and NVA were reported inside the city limits of Dong Ha City. We
have had no sleep.
Major Payne, an advisor to the Vietnamese, was killed in an NVA
predawn attack on Cam Lo. Mr. Gibbons, a warrant officer helicopter pilot from the 1st Cav, was killed near Quang
Tri this afternoon. The 1/44th suffered two KIAs near Cam Lo this morning. One of the men was the winner of a Bronze
Star for Valor who was slated to go home today. He volunteered to go to the aid of the folks at Cam Lo when he could have
stayed in the relative safety of his base camp. What manner of men are these? I have been to D-Med three times today.
The boat docks at Dong Ha were shelled this afternoon. The 1st Cav must have caught some NVA out in
the open near here (WSW) as the helicopters raked the area with rockets and machine guns, and the Air Force brought in napalm.
I would have hated to be on the receiving end of that amount of destruction. What a screwed up world.
know Elaine has to know what is now going on and is surely worried. All I can do is keep encouraging letters going to her.
The mail is disrupted. I hope my pre- departure briefings as to what to expect will comfort her in that she is not getting
any official notification. We are grabbing sleep when we can.
(Some would go almost
72 hours without sleep during the worst of the fighting. I briefed Elaine before I deployed about how notifications are made
to families. The teams usually consisted of two soldiers, at least one of equal rank to the person for whom the information
was about. They would not call after 10:00 p.m. They would not leave a phone message. They would appear, in person at the
door, and notify her face to face. During the Tet Offensive, a military sedan parked right in front of the house in Manchester,
Iowa. A major and a sergeant got out. They paused and looked around. Elaine was watching all of this from
the house with her heart in her throat. She had not heard from me for a week. Then the two went in to the high school across
the street. They turned out to be recruiters who had been invited to the school to help start a Junior ROTC program. Talk
about scaring the pants off someone. I ALWAYS said that the real heroes were the ones who sat at home and wondered. We always
knew our status right up to the second. Our loved ones didn’t have a clue. Things are a little better today, what with
cell phones and email, but waiting at home is still the worst experience a loved one can face.)
February 1968 2130 (241)
It finally quieted down last night, and we got some much-needed sleep. We also got some more work
done on the chapel. Life must go on in a normal fashion or we would go nuts. Some mail got through, and I got tapes and pictures
from home today. I also received a letter from the Bettendorf Presbyterian Church promising soap, candy, kids’ clothes
and whatever. I hope this mess calms down so we can get some help to Pastor Phi and his kids.
am grateful that another day has passed. We are still under red alert. I will be so very glad to shake the dust of this place
off my feet and return to those I love so much. I want to go home and be an even better husband and father. I guess combat
does that to us.
Goodnight to all our loved ones.
4 February 1968 2130
More fighting is occurring all along the DMZ. Lieutenant Murden and PFC
Dingers of “B” Battery 1/40th were killed yesterday about 1530 near A-1. A 130-mm round made a direct
hit on a bunker, penetrated fifteen layers of sandbags and exploded inside. They were fine men who will be sorely missed;
I am saddened, as I knew them both. The prayers at the morgue are now getting a bit too personal. I also
must compose more letters for Colonel Jones, as well as write my own, after I conduct still another memorial service.
The thing that makes casualties so rough is that we are taking more of them, and they are people we
know. That makes losses 10 times harder to accept.
We have three more WIAs from 2/94th
when Carroll was hit again. They received rockets and mortars.
We now wear flak vests,
steel pots (helmets), weapons and gas masks everywhere. Colonel Jones has ordered it. I understand that Khe Sanh is
still bracing for more attacks. The radio and TVs are spewing out all this information to our families. I think the thing
that bothers me most is the fear our families must be facing right now. We know our status; they don’t. Their fear is
the worst. They live in constant uncertainty. I think the unknown is much more terrifying than what we actually face, although
I hope none of them has to see what we have seen and felt here.
I had two services
today. Colonel Jones felt the sermon was “right on.” The problem was the 108th service
was quite small. It seems that no one wants to venture too far away from holes.
off to bed and some study. I’m still on lesson 5. Charles Payne is on lesson 11, but he is carrying an 81%, and I’m
almost at 100%. I know I could take the test now, but know I would get a lower grade. Oh, well; it does keep my mind active
and takes me away a bit from the crap of this experience.
No official word to the families
of Zirfus and Nicely other than “missing.” They cleared what they could of the helicopter,
and I guess it was a mess. The identification process could be impossible. (We had no DNA technology available in 1968.)
Better grab a warm bed for a while.
5 February 1968 2345
This has been another terrible day. We have had two KIAs and 35 WIAs from
all of our battalions. All four were hit hard today “A” Battery 1/40th was hit by rockets at the Rockpile
and had two KIA, Brown and Lowery. The 8/4th and the 1/44th were ambushed on Hwy 1 near C-1. The
2/94th was hit by incoming 130-mm rounds at J. J. Carroll. I have been called to D-Med three
The prayers at the morgue were rough. Major Payne had just eaten with
the 108th the night before he was killed. It is such a shock to see someone alive and sharing a meal and then,
hours later, see him being put in a body bag and shipped to the mortuary at Da Nang.
is an ironic story concerning Major Payne. I received a letter from my childhood pastor, D. Paul Chapman, a few weeks after
Tet. He wrote that he had been asked to conduct a funeral for an Army major who had been killed in Vietnam. He had died at
a place called Cam Lo. Pastor Chapman received and honored Major Payne in his home church in Hardy, Arkansas. I had bid Major
Payne goodbye at Dong Ha just days before. We were both humbled when we learned of this eerie connection.)
Our general area has been spared incoming as of this moment. I don’t know how long that phenomenon
will last. The airport has received its usual incoming. We tried to work on the chapel, but it is hard to do in full field
gear. Things are going slow.
I received a letter from Elaine today (written 29 January).
It shows that she is just getting an inkling of what happened to our Tet truce. I can imagine the last few days have
been Hell on her and everyone else back home. We lay our lives in trust before Him who holds us in His hand.
I had my first booster shot tonight. I have only one more next week. I will be glad when this distraction
The doctor and his medic henchmen played a trick on each man as he came in
for the shot. Doc held a huge syringe with at least a five-inch needle attached. (The apparatus is usually used for spinal
taps.) He explained that the booster had to be given in the intestines and the long needle was necessary for an effective
dosage of serum. It was the only way they could be assured that we would be rabies free.
looked in disbelief, but there were others, who had preceded us, who convinced us that his words were true. We had already
heard vague stories of men passing out and had seen some, running and screaming from the dispensary. It didn’t help
to see two guys laid out with medics working on them and one more getting off the table and heading for the floor. My belly
was twitching something fierce when my time came to get on the table. They elaborately filled the syringe and then gave
me my shot in the usual manner. WOW! Thunderous laughter pealed out, and I realized I had been had. My remarks were unprintable
and extremely unchaplainlike. All of these highjinks did make for laughs and cut some of the terrible tension
of the day.
My only consolation is that I get to get in on the act when the next group
comes in tomorrow night. They think it’s true, of course. And would a chaplain lie? No way, after almost damning
his soul for his unprintable remarks. I’ll have to look up Father Fogerty and go to confession
before I help the crew out tomorrow.
We worry more about our loved ones tonight than
ourselves. We’re OK. Our doctor will take care of us with his five-inch needle and his merry band of henchmen.Goodnight,
my Loves. May God grant us a quiet night after such a Hellish day.
February 1968 2230 (238)
It’s cold but thankfully quiet. We have taken over 50 WIAs and four KIAs in the past few days.
We are worried that some of the wounded might not make it. D-Med has become a nightmare of blood and horror.
Today, I talked to some of the men who lost buddies this week. This took us out on the roads, which
are not safe, but it had to be done.
had to be done because it was the right thing to do at that moment. It is imperative that the chaplain reaches out and comforts
those closest to such a terrible loss. Some of these kids had also been wounded. They begged to remain at their posts and
not be evacuated. The medics granted the requests of the less-seriously injured. We linked up with convoys and got around
as best we could to get to as many of the survivors as we could contact.
I sense it
also had to be done because some of us were really getting stir crazy being pinned down on base camp just getting our tails
shot at. At least I felt somewhat effective as a clergyman today. As one earthy trooper put it, “It’s always good
to see the chaplain when the #*!% flies.”
I am grateful that we all got back
off the roads safely. For some reason, this day really flew fast. We had a late supper the mess folks saved for us, and when
I stepped out of the mess hall, I wondered why it had become so overcast. Then I looked at my watch. It was dark and past
1830. Tempus fugit [time flies].
Hopes are in the air to start work on the chapel again.
I’ll believe it when I see it.
Goodnight, brave kids who went with me today.
Goodnight, my Loves.
February 1968 2200 (237)
Progress! Nine A-frames went up today. We now have a chapel that is taking shape and looks like a
chapel. Sergeant Major Wright and Frenchie got things moving today. I am thankful.
continue to be under alert as suspicious aircraft were reported to be in the area. We also continue to move about in full
battle gear even when we work. It is cold and misty which does not help our moods either.
was reported that a Special Forces camp west of Khe Sanh was overrun. The NVA used tanks on it. At least five PT-76s (NVA
tanks) were knocked out in the battle. We lost some Special Forces advisors in that defeat. Hill 861 near Khe Sanh was also
under heavy siege today. A 1st Cav chopper was hit and crashed. It landed within our wire. The two pilots were
seriously hurt. The 1st Cav attacked a village nearby where heavy VC activity was noted. We have taken incoming
from there for quite a while. Our artillery units did not take any casualties today. I’m grateful.
After some real work today, I’m tired but feel good. It’s nice to see the skeleton of
a chapel finally rising.
8 February 1968 2100
Bruce is five months old today. About this time last September, I was
strutting around Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, like the NBC Peacock celebrating the birth of my son. My kids mean so much to
We keep getting reports of hostile aircraft in the area. We are certainly close
enough to North Vietnam for one of them to sneak over. The Special Forces camp near Laos and Khe Sanh has been evacuated.
We lost that one with many KIAs.
The 1/44th lost a lieutenant near Quang
Tri today. Cecil will do another memorial service. I have a service for Brown and Lowery tomorrow. What a screwed up world.
We did make progress on the chapel today. I recalled my high school graduating class prophecy today.
It didn’t mean much in 1953. It read that Don Neely would be the pastor of the only church behind the Iron Curtain.
Boy, this is close enough for me. (About seven or eight miles would do it.)
all tired from working with all the gear on.
9 February 1968 2230
The photographer gave me a couple of 8x10s of the rising chapel today.
I am thankful for his thoughtfulness.
I conducted a memorial service today for Corporal
Larry Brown and PFC James Lowery of “A” Battery 1/40th. This is a job I don’t like too much and
would rather do without. I hope it went well for the sake of the unit.
We broke out
more blankets tonight. It is very cold. (It was probably less than 50 degrees F. but windy and wet. We all were wearing thermal
underwear during the monsoon season.)
Chaplain Bischoff and Chaplain Hilliard from
the 1st Cav paid a visit today. They really have to hustle to keep up with their troops who are all over country.
They have the 1st Cav swagger but are really neat guys.
Most of us are in
bed trying to stay warm tonight. I think of our young men on our perimeter tonight pulling guard. This can’t be a fun
night for them. God Bless them.
10 February 1968 2330
Lesson 5 has been digested. All that remains is the review and exam. I
feel I have grasped the material. It was a rough lesson.
Another day has gone, and
I’m grateful. This diary sounds so repetitious but every day is lived in narrow confines and doesn’t vary much
except as to the time or severity of incoming. We did not work on the chapel today because of high winds. It is still cold.
We are preparing for services again. I will be going to C-1 and Gia Linh. The work has to be done
where the troops work. The roads are still dicey, as usual. We have been restricted in our road movements.
Chaplains located closest to individual units, regardless of service or unit assignment, conduct many chapel services on an
area- coverage basis. C-1 and Gia Linh have no chaplains residing on the firebases.
Sahn now has tanks moving around its area. They are NVA, and things still are hot there.Goodnight, my Loved
God Bless and protect our guards tonight.
11 February 1968 2230
This will be short but sweet. Three services were held around Dong Ha
today. They were fairly well attended. I thank God for His protection of the day. I’m tired.
big malaria pill is really having its way with me tonight. Ugh. This is Sunday. I can tell - that’s when our fiendish
medics come around and distribute their drugs.
We had three WIAs today from the 8/4th.
A command-detonated mine was blown and heavily damaged a 175 coming back from Carroll. Fortunately, none of the injuries was
serious. A lot can happen in the time we still have left in country. I commit this unit to Almighty God’s protection
February 1968 2210 (232)
It is quiet, and I’m grateful. Elaine was really shaken in her letter I got today. The coverage
of Tet has been all over the news. (At the height of the offensive, we were losing, in country, about 500 KIAs a week. Naturally
the news reported those figures to the folks back home.) I made a tape back to her and tried to reassure her that we were
being careful without any John Wayne stuff. All of us are scared, but we try not to show it to one another, and especially
to our loved ones.
Colonel Jones commended me on the memorial service. I know we still
need to get them briefer. It is a dangerous thing to mass too many troops in one place for any length of time. A well placed
round can wipe out a lot of folks.
13 February 1968 2200
I was assigned to suite 4 today. I will now room with Jim Bentley. He
is the S-1, and a very nice man, as well as a very competent officer.
We spent more
time on the chapel today. Slow but sure progress makes the time move faster. Hopefully we will leave this place better than
we found it.
I continue to try to assure Elaine that all is well. It is so hard to
do when you are 12,000 miles and fourteen hours’ difference from home.
February 1968 2300 (230)
Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope they got my cards and things I sent to them.The
docks received five mortar rounds. Other that that calling card, everything was quiet, and we all did our normal duties.
I will be traveling to C-1 and Gia Linh tomorrow. Sometimes we have to wait to get out on the roads
because we have to have a radio (and operator) as well as a machine-gun jeep. As usual, I’m into the Psalms in preparation
for the road. They have a lot of meat in them for these times. I am grateful for God’s protection. He has shown His
love to me in so many ways. I must also continue to show my faith in Him by giving Him a chance to be what He says He wants
to be in my life. I thank God that He has found room for me in His wonderful love.
miss my Valentines very much. I am going to try a MARS call tomorrow. My friends at the Seabees are always open for me. It
will be good to hear Elaine’s voice.
15 February 1968 2300 (229)
We have another day down. This was a day of progress. We had services and visits to C-1 and Gia Linh,
returning safely and without incident. I'm grateful to God for the safety for all of our men. We also saw about 99% of the
tin up on the chapel. Not bad at all.
I have torn up my membership card in the Dong
Ha Kennel Club. I had the last shot tonight. I still have a bad headache from the medicine, but I hope that passes, as we
won't have to take any more. Oh, well; this experience did help us pass 34 days. I hope all our days go safely and fast for
I like my new room and roommate very much. Bobby Lewis (the former tenant) came
back for a visit, and I almost felt guilty getting his old room. I asked Colonel Jones if Major Lewis was being considered
for an award for his work with the 108th. The colonel assured me he was definitely going to receive a medal for
his effort. I was glad to hear that he was.
The weather warmed up a bit today. The
"hot" shower wasn't as much of an ordeal as normal.
Lesson 5 is about half
studied. More tomorrow. I'll be glad to get rid of it. I do have something different to think about when I'm wrestling with
electronics and such.
Well, we are off to bed. I am always very tired after road trips.
16 February 1968
1st Cav choppers really tore into the
NVA about four clicks away tonight. They are still at it. It is a sobering sight to see the rockets and tracers spewing death
from the sky.
All the tin is on the chapel. I am very grateful to Frenchie and his
crew. We are buttoned up because of the possible enemy activity tonight. We were told to sit tight - so we are. I did some
more studying and sermon preparation. We never know what tomorrow brings. I pray God's protection on our troops tonight.
Goodnight to all our loved ones.
17 February 1968
Another day and week are gone. Every day is the
same lately, even with the heightened tension of the Tet activity.
We have not had
mail for four days. That really makes for low morale for all of us. Things are really snarled up with weapons, ammo, food,
medical supplies and evacuation of our casualties the highest priority for transportation. Routine matters do not move as
fast right now.
Jim Bentley received a phone call last night about 2300 from Long Binh
that made us all laugh. He was chewed out because some minor report was late. Bentley reminded the bureaucrat that, what with
Tet, we had been very busy up north. Jim is a fine officer and a hard worker. It seems that some guys in the
safe air- conditioned offices down south have a bit of a guilt complex and spend long hours into the wee hours pushing paper
at their desks to prove the maxim that "War is Hell."
Screens were installed
at the chapel, and more work was accomplished. We are weather-tight now. The troops will have a place of worship thanks to
some very nice Seabees and our own talented work crews. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the building unfolds.
I have services tomorrow with the 108th and with the 8/4th. I am now doing
multiple services at each site to minimize large groups making easy targets of opportunity. Bob Ritter is going to do some
Marine coverage tomorrow.
I have the start of a duesy of a cold with a ton of discomfort.
All I need to add to the mix is the big orange pill that I get tomorrow. I might have to see the doctor tomorrow.
It is time for a shower. We always seem to be dirty. You can get out of a shower and need one five
minutes later. Then back to my neat room for letter writing and sermon preparation.
to all loved ones tonight.
18 February 1968
There is still no final disposition on Captain
Zirfus and Mr. Nicely. It could be months before they are taken off "missing status." This has to be very
difficult for their families. (It was many months.)
We moved about cautiously but provided
services for our men and firing batteries of the 8/4th. These moments of bringing the gospel to this barren and
hostile environment is the greatest blessing a pastor can ever hope to have. In spite of all the hardships, loneliness, frustration,
danger, horror, boredom and crap of this place, I still wake up every morning grateful to God for the privilege of being chosen
as an ambassador for Christ.
This room is even warmer than my previous one. I am grateful.
Jim found a sink, and we have a water barrel attached to it. We don't have to shave outside the room. Who would have "thunk"
it - running water in Vietnam. Up until now the only running water I've seen is the rain running down my neck.
Even though it is relatively quiet here, we are still on high alert and wearing full equipment. It's
only a matter of time.
I will write a quick letter and go to bed. I still feel pretty
punk tonight. Many people seem to be fighting the same ailments.
Goodnight to all.
19 February 1968 2110 (225)
This has been a very bad day! The 2/94th was hit hard this afternoon and suffered two KIAs
and three WIAs. One of the WIA will probably not make it. I have been called to D-Med three times.
have also had incoming four times so far today. We expect more. Ira was flipped out of his Jeep by a close 130-mm. He
hurt his knee but is otherwise OK. Several of our men had very close calls as well.
is a buildup of NVA around Dong Ha, and a ground attack is forecasted for tonight. I really think of our perimeter guards
at times like this. I often go out with the sergeant of the guard when we are under these kinds of alerts. These kids are
our first line of defense and would be the first to be overrun and killed. This looks like a rough night. I hope our H &
I's and ambush patrols the Marines have out tonight interrupt any plans Charlie has. The weather is against us, too. It is
rainy and cold with fog. If we add that to darkness, we really have a dilemma. We would be hard pressed to get air support
in this mess. They did move a "duster" (quad 50) from the 1/44th to our perimeter. That beast is a comfort
Scripture says, "Thou art the strength of my life and my portion forever."
We lean heavily on those words tonight.
A quick turn around our perimeter guards for
"worship" and then I will try to turn in. Goodnight, Sweethearts. I love you all very much and ask that Almighty
God keeps you in His hands.
20 February 1968
It was surprisingly quiet last night. The weather
conditions were so lousy that we hope even Charlie buttoned up. I didn't get much sleep anyway because of a worsening cold.
Many have the same problem.
We have had incoming twice so far today. We hope for a
quiet night. Sometimes it is quieter at night since the flash of artillery gives away Charlie's position. That's why we usually
get hit in the early morning or in daylight.
One more KIA was reported from the rockets
at Carroll yesterday. A bunker took a direct hit and all in it were killed. What a screwed up world.
have no mail again today. I've only had two letters in the past week. I should have a lot when the mail finally does get through.
I hope the folks at home don't find mail as screwed up as here (it was). Oh, well; at least we can mark one more day
off the calendar. I'm doped up and going to try an early shower and bed. I really feel bummed out.
21 February 1968 2100
The S-3 reports that Khe Sanh is getting hit very hard tonight. They have been
under fire since 1500 with artillery, rockets, tanks and ground probes. It looks like a major battle has started. The NVA
want to make Khe Sanh their Dien Bien Phu and drive us out of South Vietnam. (Dien Bien Phu was the last battle the French
had facing the Viet Minh in what was then French Indochina. They lost, and Indochina was partitioned into North Vietnam, South
Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. N. Vietnam was under communist rule. S. Vietnam was to be an elected democracy, and Cambodia and
Laos were to be neutral.)
I was put on quarters today, as I really felt rough. The
doctor said it was pneumonitis. I guess that stuff borders on pneumonia. I don't know about that, but I am doped up and in
bed. It's a little scary when you don't feel well and can't move as fast as you should. I feel a bit helpless and vulnerable.
I now understand that line from the Apostles' Creed about "The Quick and the Dead." (I never recite the Creed to
this day without those thoughts crossing my mind.) I hope we don't get incoming until I get back on my feet again.
I did well with mail today. Some got through. My mind goes back to World War II when a letter from
Bud was read and reread until it almost fell apart. Letters were often weeks old before the folks heard from him.
Oh, oh! We had incoming. I moved pretty fast for a sick guy. I'm back in bed at 2300.
22 February 1968
Whew! What a day this has been. We received
a lot of incoming, and it was hairy. We were pounded most of the afternoon, and it was close. You could literally hear the
shrapnel singing as it flew through the air.
The perimeter of the 2/12th (Marines)
was attacked by a company-sized unit and driven off. I don't know about casualties. Bob Ritter and Nick (108th
chaplain and assistant) spent some time in a ditch as they were pinned down and could not get back to our area. I am grateful
that we are all safe at this point. We have all had a scary time today. We are still hearing small-arms fire around our perimeter
tonight, but no alarm has been sounded. Needless to say, we received no mail. That is understandable but sad.
The Tet "truce" still rages on throughout the country. I know my family cannot help but
know what is happening here. I think I pray more for them than for my own personal safety. Theirs has to be the hardest ordeal
to face. I do not see how they stand the hellish waiting.
Goodnight, My Darlings. God
keep us safe for one another.
23 February 1968
Father (Chaplain - Major, U. S. Army) A. P. McGonigal
is dead. I'm shocked and in disbelief. I just learned of his death a few minutes ago. I just saw him within the last two weeks.
He was well known around here and had been helping us with our Catholic coverage. (Father McGonigal extended his normal duty
tour of one year and was loosely assigned to cover some Army units in I Corps. He was assigned to the U. S. Advisory Command
at Hue but roamed at will throughout the northern part of South Vietnam.)
and Stripes article tells how he was killed at Hue. He was with the Marines who are trying to get the city back from
the NVA. As usual, he was where he was not supposed to be. He had been ordered to report to Da Nang and was fighting that
order for all he was worth. He wanted to be near the ground forces. These were the men he loved the most. The paper stated
that, "he died with a unit that was not his own in a battle he could have missed. He practically fought his way to the
He was an excellent chaplain who was absolutely fearless He always
wanted to be where the troops were and the fighting was the thickest. I guess that's why he was always around our units. I
can't be critical of him, however. Any good chaplain wants to serve and minister to troops. Now Al is gone, and I mourn him.
Father McGonigal is the first Army chaplain to die in 1968 and the second since I have arrived in country.
We had incoming twice today, so we are walking around on razor blades right now.
going to go back and sit by the radio at the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). I don't feel like sleeping right now.
Goodnight, all. God Bless you, Aloysius P. McGonigal. May you truly rest in peace.
24 February 1968 2330 (220)
This is the sixth straight day of incoming rounds. We have been pounded. I read the article in the
Stars and Stripes today. He has been made a real hero. He was a faithful chaplain, and he is dead. I mourn
that loss. He really wanted to go wherever the action was. He was drawn to it like a magnet, even if it meant leaving his
own unit to get into the fray. That's what happened at Hue. He died with the Marines. We all must take chances to be with
our troops. We would not be much of chaplains if we didn't. I guess Al did not know when to quit. As one senior chaplain said,
"He was fearless, and he pushed his luck to the limit. This time he pushed too far." He was a good man, and we have
lost a good chaplain. I miss him.
Incoming was light but fairly frequent today. We
were in the holes three times. We also had rain, as usual.
I really miss my loved
ones tonight. I did get some desk work done tonight. I also sent some pictures home. I must put the finishing touches on the
sermon for tomorrow. The sermon is "The Church is Called to Serve." May we serve well and not forget we are
25 February 1968
We have an unsubstantiated report that another
chaplain was killed at Khe Sanh today. So far nothing has shown up at D-Med. I assume it was a Navy type. War continues
to take its grim toll in lives, dreams and resources. Anyone who glories in war is a full-blown, certified idiot. Yet we continue
to take our stand and do our duty.
We have had incoming three times so far today. A
heavy battle is now going on near the docks again. J. J. Carroll is also being shelled tonight. I pray for our Group's protection.
We really had a very poor attendance at chapel today. This has been a minus day for the "Boy
Chaplain" what with rain, incoming, lousy numbers at worship and no progress on finishing the chapel.
I still know we have a silver lining. God is good, and this is the day He has made. I will be glad
and rejoice. I do have much for which to be thankful.
26 February 1968 2020 (218)
Ho, boy! This has been a day and a half. I'm as jumpy as a pregnant pussycat trying to have her kittens
and outrun a pack of vicious dogs at the same time, with no trees for miles.
had incoming eight times today and have literally had the Hell shelled out of us. We were rattled out of bed by rockets. They
have the scariest sounds that can freeze your blood. They sound terrifying. Then the artillery began in earnest. We made it
to the bunkers okay, and I was feeling pretty good, considering the circumstances.
I noticed that my right foot was really hurting badly. I thought I had been hit until I realized that I had two left
boots on. What a mess. It's crazy what can go through a man's mind in the middle of a heavy shelling. Here I was, sitting
in a bunker, sweating out an artillery attack and trying to figure out what to do about the left boot on my right foot. I
kept thinking that if I got hit and taken to D-Med, the medics would die laughing at me. If I got hit in the left foot, they
would ask, "Which one?" At least I wasn't worrying about the attack.
to hide my foot as best I could until I could get back to the hooch to change. When I did get back, I found a big hole in
the side of the building right where my head had been while I slept. I just missed death by inches or minutes.
I went to D-Med where I spent most of the day. It was on our way back that I about lost my breakfast.
An incoming round landed less than 15 meters from our Jeep. It was so close we could feel the heat. We haven't been able to
hear much most of the day. According to the artillery types, it landed too close to hurt us. If it had been out another 20
or 30 feet, we would have been cut in half. The cone of the shrapnel flew over our heads, and the metal took everything out
on either side of the crater. We just happened to be right under the frontal path that went up and over. We didn't get a scratch,
but others around us were badly hurt. Jack and I were near a bunker and bailed out of the Jeep. Many others jumped in, as
well as some wounded, which were tended to until we could get them to D-Med.
that you never hear the one that gets you. I believe that to be true. We did not hear a thing until we were engulfed by the
explosion, heat and blast. This is the most frightened I have been in my life.
in bunkers eight times today and are still are under orange alert. I don't think a man can ever completely get used to the
idea that death can drop out of the sky without warning in the blink of an eye. I commit my life to His hands.
As usual, my greatest concern is for my family. I pray we will be spared the grief and pain of loss.
I can't do anything about that but take reasonable precautions and trust that all will work out for all of us. If I were alone,
it wouldn't mean as much. This is the price we pay, however, when we open our hearts to another human being. We become vulnerable.
Yet the price is not even worthy to be compared to the deepest joy that binds man to wife - and both to Almighty God.
Well, off to bed. I pray that this unit can get some sleep tonight. We need it in the worst way.
27 February 1968
We have put another day in the books. We had incoming
twice that drove us to the holes but nothing like yesterday. Jack and I still sit and wonder why we weren't killed. We were
so close. I am so grateful. I'll remember that feeling for the rest of my life. Mail today helped ease the fear a bit.
Last night was peaceful, and I'm grateful for the sleep. Today seems a little clearer and we can make
out the shapes of some of the mountains in Laos.
The clearing weather also helped us
get planes up and hit back at those guys who have given us such bad days lately.
must have been a rumor about the death of the Khe Sanh chaplain. Captain Swearingen just got back from Khe Sanh and had no
word of it. I'm glad. Well, we are off to bed to grab whatever sleep we can get.
28 February 1968 2330
It started out as a very peaceful day. All went well until about 1500. Then a
swish and a crump interrupted our sense of well-being. It sounded like a high velocity weapon.
were hit again as a couple of us were headed for the latrine. Once again a swish- crump and I was off and running for the
hole. This time my pants were down to my knees, and my butt was as bare as the day I was born. It was a funny sight
for the ones who watched the two of us tear out of the can. We were hit again while in the mess hall and all ended up on the
floor crawling for shelter. It turned out Charlie had gotten hold of a recoilless rifle and boldly ruined our day. No casualties,
thank God. I'm off to see the guards and then to bed.
Goodnight, all. Love you.
29 February 1968 2215 (215)
I was really frightened today. I came out of a bunker and saw something on the ground. It startled
me. I jumped back, and it jumped right after me. I ran, and it followed me. I ran over to some other men and asked what that
thing was. They were no help as they were just as frightened as me and pointed to similar things on the ground near them.
We suddenly realized, to our great relief, that we were looking at our shadows. It had been 36 days since we last saw them.
Praise God. The sun has finally begun to shine on our lives again.
I lay out on a bunker
and let the sun beat on my face. What a glorious feeling. It wasn't much of a sunbath with pot and flak vest, but it certainly
felt good to dry out. February is gone. I just noticed this is a leap year. We get to spend an extra day in country because
of that "holiday."
I thought we were going to get by without incoming, but
we got about five or six rounds about supper time. Fortunately, it was light and did no harm except put more gray hairs on
We did draw pay today. I will send money orders home tomorrow.
Goodnight, Sweethearts. Tomorrow, God willing, I will wake up to a new month. Praise the Lord.
1 March 1968 2130 (214)
awoke at 0330 to the sound of artillery and small-arms fire. I thought we were under attack. We checked and found that the
boat ramps were under ground attack. We went back to sleep. (In retrospect, it was amazing how one adapted to combat. Sleep
was important, and we snatched it whenever we could. The docks were close, but we could do little but listen. Our firing batteries
were supporting the battle, and our TOC was in operation. We could do nothing at the time, so we went back to sleep.) This
morning we learned that two companies of (about 300) NVA attacked the north end of the bridge over the Cua Viet River. The
bridge was defended by nine ARVN. Thanks to out artillery support, the attack was unsuccessful; no friendlies were killed,
and 15 NVA were KIA.
We had incoming again today. It was close enough to get our attention,
and we were in the bunkers. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Incoming seems to just be part of the day anymore. It never ceases
to scare the #%*! out of you. You never get used to it. You react to it and go on - glad that it missed. I will never forget
the one that landed 15 meters away. THAT one did get my attention. I'm still shaking.
are in another month. I pray for God's protection for all of us and the rapid passage of time. All of us want to return healthy
Goodnight, Sweethearts. I love you.
March 1968 2000 (213)
The weather is
lovely. Today is magnificent. Tonight is even lovelier. It's amazing how important a beautiful day can be after the monsoon
I spent time at the desk. I have two services tomorrow. I made a lot of visits
to the areas where our troops work. I sense that some of the line officers don't see these visits as meaningful work.
We are trained in seminary and chaplain school to provide a "ministry of presence." That means visits and
conversation with the men. It's a way for the chaplain to remain visible and in relation to his flock. I sometimes hear comments
about how easy it is to be a chaplain and stuff like, "I wish I had your job." If they want my job, let them go
to D-Med and the morgue every stinking day. We get shot at and killed just like everyone else. Some of these people never
even get out on the roads. These comments are unfair and they hurt. Bob, Jack, Nick and I are doing our jobs to the best of
our ability. We don't need stuff like that. Oh, well; at least another day is gone. (Please forgive the PLOM - Poor Little
We had incoming as usual today. We were hit twice after 1600. C-1 had three
WIAs from "C" Battery 1/40th. It's getting hairy just running around Dong Ha fire base. As usual I pray
for safety and God's protection. I'm off to make the rounds with our perimeter guards with the sergeant of the guard. Then
I'm off to bed.
3 March 1968
The unsung heroes of Dong Ha are at it again. The 192nd
Finance Team from Da Nang comes here each month to make certain we are okay with our pay status. They not only handle the
money, paperwork and pay problems, but they also deal with incoming and frightening road trips. They have a mess dealing with
new units, men leaving, arriving, being discharged, reenlisting or getting killed. Now that's one job I would not want. They
do their job well, and I am grateful.
I incorporated a new clerical gesture into my
service today. The benediction was replaced by an index finger pointed to the door and the words, "Hit the hole."
Incoming broke up a fine service with a good crowd. My other service with the Seabees was not as eventful.
The "medical Nazis" are at it again. They appeared at my door with a loud knock, and now
the big orange pill rests on my desk. It's that time of the week again. UGH!
is a time to get my reports out for the USARV chaplain. I will be at the desk all day (or, somewhere else, dealing with the
big orange pill).
1968 2215 (211)
Today was the first day without
incoming in a very, very, long time. I am grateful. I also cleared my desk of a ton of correspondence. All reports are done.
I don't want to get a midnight phone call like Major Bentley, ha ha.
I really had a
rough day with the malaria pill today. I had a ton of chest pains that always seem to accompany my distress. (The symptoms
would eventually lead to my being hospitalized and reassigned because of pre-existing stuff I had prior to being assigned
to the 108th.)
We are being probed near the airfield tonight. I hope it
doesn't spread. We go to bed to the sound of jets bombing and strafing and our artillery supporting the defense of the airfield.
(Yes, we slept in the middle of battle whenever and wherever we could. I will never forget a soldier on an air mattress lying
right next to a 175-mm gun. Each time the weapon was fired, he would be lifted off the mattress about six or eight inches
and then dropped back down again. He never missed a snore. He had been up for two days on fire missions and was exhausted.)
Our mail is messed up again. We write every day, but it doesn't always get out as
we would like. As usual, it is a lonely time for us all. What would we do without those loyal loved ones at home? They are
the true heroes of this mess. If things don't get better, I will try another MARS call to Elaine. I don't have enough praise
for our Seabees. They have been so good to me. None of us would be as comfortable as we are if it weren't for them.
5 March 1968
We had incoming two times. We also had no mail. The sun did
shine, and we were not cold. The day was not a total loss.
I have a load of things
to take to Quang Tri tomorrow. It will be nice to see Pastor Phi. He is one of the gutsiest guys I have ever met. A lot of
the young troopers like this trip, so I never have a problem rounding up the necessary guards, radio and machine-gun crew.
I think they want to play with the kids. I know I do. I have one who really lights me up - (Chu).
to my own family. What a lucky man am I with beautiful Elaine and those three wonderful kids. I am blessed.
6 March 1968
Today was a wonderful day (as if any day in Vietnam was wonderful).
Our trip to Quang Tri was productive. A visit with the S-5 (civil affairs officer) was very promising for further assistance
to Pastor Phi and his orphanage. The kids were cute and reminded me of my own at home. God, I miss them. Many of the men who
went with me also have kids and shared the same feelings. Trips to the orphanage remind us of home in a big-time way. We passed
out the usual candy. I also had boxes of clothing, and our mess personnel provided some "used canned goods" that
no one knew what to do with. The food is most appreciated by almost 20 people Pastor Phi feeds each day. I do not know how
he does it.
I also visited a new battalion, the 6/33rd Artillery, attached
to the 108th at LZ Susan and LZ Betty (Landing Zones). They are a towed-105 outfit. Fort Sill was my first assignment,
and I saw so many kids training on those types of guns. They even have a chaplain. I met him today. His name is Chaplain (Captain)
Roger Bradley. He is a very nice young man. They will be posted around the Quang Tri area in support of the Marine operations
in that region. I am now responsible for a third chaplain and assistant. Our units range from Quang Tri to Khe Sanh and to
the Gia Linh River to the north. I now have four Army chaplains in the area. I will coordinate Roger's work with the
Navy chaplains in the Quang Tri area.
Today was beautiful. I never thought I could
look forward to a hot, dusty day as beautiful, but it was just that. After the monsoons, anything is a blessing. We had incoming
once at Dong Ha, but we were out of town on that one. Thank God no one was hurt. It was a relief to get out on the roads again.
The close confines of base camp do not make for good mental health. I never have a problem getting kids to volunteer to ride
shotgun for my little forays into the countryside. The country is beautiful and quaint. These people have only had about 60
years in the last 2,000 to govern themselves. They have fertile land, timber, rubber, oil and so many other resources that
are being destroyed in the senselessness of war. What a screwed up world. Now I must write a letter and get to bed.
Goodnight, my Babies.
7 March 1968 2230
This will be short. It was quiet, hot and dusty today. For some strange reason,
time really dragged. We did get phones hooked up in the chapel today. We had no incoming which was a switch.
A new unit moved into the area next to us last week. It's a truck company from the 446th
Transportation Battalion from Long Binh. I don't think they have a chaplain, so I'll drop by and make a visit. I think they
are going to beef up supply runs to Carroll and the Rockpile. I sense something is in the air about Khe Sanh as well.
Mail and milk made for a happy day. My belly always feels better if I can get some milk in it.
8 March 1968
The "Dong Ha Daisies" came today. They brought
not the fragrance of perfume and life; rather, they carried the stench of death.
0628 we awoke to the sound of rockets whining overhead. I hit the floor before they hit the ground. We were subjected to four
separate attacks. The base was really laced for over an hour.
I was sitting in the
TOC when a call came in that the doctor and medics were needed. The 446th Transportation Company had been hard
hit with many serious casualties. I ran from the bunker and joined Dr. LeFeber and his medics. We made our way under fire
to the 446th. I don't think we had time to be scared.
A tent had taken
a direct hit. The kids thought the attack was all over and went back to bed. They had not been up north long enough to know
that the first round isn't the last one. They died in their beds. The unit had nine killed and 18 wounded.
It was a horrible sight to see what a rocket does to a human body. Oh, God; what a mess! Tonight,
sleep comes hard as I close my eyes and see the gore of decapitated and mangled bodies. Pieces of bodies were strewn about
as if some evil giant child had been playing with his toys, got mad, tore them up and flung them all over the place.
Dr. LeFeber and his men did a masterful job. We all ended up doing what we could. We did this stuff
in the middle of the attack. I never thought I would be able to do anything like that. I guess we just went on autopilot and
didn't think. (The mind is amazing at how its defense mechanisms work. I think we really shut down and just tended to what
was before us. I've heard people say that they didn't have time to be afraid. I believe that. I lived it. I shook for a long
time after the experience.)
Sometimes I was praying with a wounded or dying man. Sometimes
I was applying pressure bandages. Sometimes I was carrying stretchers. We did what had to be done at the moment. It was hairy,
especially since we saw firsthand what a rocket does to a person.
We did the cleanup
today for the unit. It was a mess, as small pieces of flesh were gathered and placed in small plastic bags. Walker picked
up a triangular-shaped body part. It was a nose, upper lip, moustache, and upper set of teeth still intact and cleanly separated
from a head. We almost lost it at that point. Today was the most horrifying day of my life. I will have to hold memorial services
for 10 men. (One of their trucks hit a mine later that day, and the unit suffered another KIA.)
of the medics came by tonight to wring out with me. We are all a mess. I know we hated to expose ourselves, but the
unit needed our help. I really believe we often act without thinking. It's the mind's way of allowing us to face danger or
death and still act in the thick of it. None of us wanted to act like a hero today, especially in the middle of a rocket attack.
I don't think any of us feels very brave tonight. There isn't a swagger among us to be sure. This has been a truly bad
Goodnight, Sweethearts. I wish to God I was home with you all tonight.
I will never forget this day as long as I live. (Amazingly, the mind does allow us to function and
be productive after the most terrible of moments. It's a tribute to the power and grace of a mighty God. We are never the
same, but we're also more appreciative of what we have in our hands at the moment. We learned "carpe diem"
[seize the day] the hard way.)
9 March 1968 2200
The night is quiet. The 446th is still in shock. I spent a lot of
time over there today. The quiet also carries a lot of tension. It looks like the whole of Quang Tri Province is under alert
tonight. The old hands sense something, but we have nothing upon which to substantiate our feelings. It could be that we are
just jumpy from yesterday.
I hit the jackpot on mail today. I got four letters with
pictures of the kids. Bruce is really growing now. It was hot and dusty but still better than the cold and rain. The all-too-
familiar feelings run their course today, from highs to lows, and everything else in between. The latest report on the 446th
truck driver was that he was not KIA, only WIA. Thank God. All in all, I'm just grateful to be sitting here, alive and one
day closer to home.
It's time to prepare for the Lord's Day. I thank God for
life and the buoying evidence of His presence. I am often depressed but so many times feel inspired to rise above those feelings
and continue to serve. The Master has led me through so much in this lifetime. I'm grateful and proud to sit here tonight
as an Army chaplain but realize I would have never been one without the guidance and forgiveness of Almighty God. May that
peace continue to sustain us all.
Goodnight, Sweethearts. God, how I wish I were home
10 March 1968
This has been a very hairy day. The chapel was
dedicated at 1115 and riddled with shrapnel at 1506. We were shelled for over 1½ hours. Almost every building in the
area shows scars tonight. Even Colonel Jones' trailer was hit. The field-grade hooch had damage, some to my old room and Major
Brown's. It is fortunate that no one from the 108th has been injured so far today. The 8/4th was not as lucky,
as they suffered two KIAs and six WIAs. I was at the aid station when the first round landed. It was very close. I
jumped into the bunker and was followed by a red hot piece of shrapnel that rolled off the roof of the chapel. My beautiful
chapel was peppered.
I've just completed my rounds of the area. Many of the troops
are electing to sleep in the bunkers tonight. I can't blame them for being shook up. Many of the officers are doing the same
thing. Last night's quiet was shattered at about 2315 when Charlie provided us with a rocket attack. I had just turned out
the light. We were lucky on that one. We were topside with no place to go when the first ones hit. We got to a bunker and
ended up sleeping there for the rest of the night. I continue to pray for God's protection and also continue to fill sand
bags like they are going out of style. "God is our refuge and strength and our portion forever."
Goodnight, Sweethearts. (More incoming drove us all to sleep in the holes again that night.)
11 March 1968
I just finished the paperwork recommending Captain
Lefeber and his medics for the ARCOM w/V [(Army Commendation Medal with Valor] device for their actions on 8 March. The guys
at D-Med said that lives were saved by the quick intervention of our medics. I guess this means that I will have to stop calling
them "Medic Nazis" for what they did to me with the five-inch needle.
has given us a respite for almost 24 hours. It falls from the sky without warning. Now the quiet is deafening. It seems
that a period of no incoming is a prelude of things to come. It is in the quiet moments that the slightest sound will set
us off. Therefore, the quiet can also be as troubling as incoming to battered psyches.
Elkins said we received over 100 rockets, as well as artillery, on our base camp yesterday. I was most concerned about the
artillery. The NVA are very accurate with their 130s. They don't waste ammo, as they have to carry every round in on their
backs. They do not have the luxury of trucks very often. They carry supplies on their backs or use bicycles to haul their
armament. (They were ingenious in getting supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They could carry up to 300 pounds on a bicycle.)
We listened to "Hanoi Hanna" tonight (a propaganda disc jockey who played American hit tunes
and broadcast VC and NVA-slanted news.) She said Dong Ha received a devastating bombardment with hundreds of casualties. She
further stated that the base was leveled with great fires and secondary explosions that continued for 10 hours after the barrage
was over. Actually, the damage and losses were remarkably light considering the amount of fire we took. The smoke probably
came from the barrels of latrine waste we burn each day, and the secondary explosions no doubt came from the big orange pills
the "Medic Nazis" force us to ingest. Oops, I said I was going to be kind to the medics. Bless me, Father, for I
have sinned. At any rate, I can't begin to see how "Hanna" can push those lies down people's throats. (In retrospect,
I'm certain our "spin masters" were at work as well.)
The chapel has 11 holes
in it. We will do some patching. I'm just grateful our men are okay. We are all exhausted. I hope for a quiet night
1968 2100 (203)
It has been quiet so far today except for two or three rounds that landed outside our wire. The 8/4th
responded, and things have been quiet ever since. You never know if they were probing our responses or we hit something. C-1
was hit today with three WIAs and light damage. We have been pretty quiet since Sunday afternoon, but we are still keyed up.
Yet we refuse to become groundhogs or tunnel rats. I'm sleeping in my bunk tonight.
have a memorial service tomorrow at 1830 for the nine KIAs from the 446th. Bob Ritter has one for the KIAs from
the 8/4th. They never prepared us for these kinds of funerals in seminary. Each time I conduct one, my mind seems
embedded with the families of the deceased men. It seems like they are strongly present in a strange and eerie manner.
As the day has gone on, we are beginning to feel a bit more "normal" and walk somewhat more
confidently. For the past few days, we have felt like we were playing "musical bunkers" (a spoof from the children's
game, musical chairs). I pray for a quiet night. Goodnight, all.
1968 2300 (202)
Today is a day where sadness reigned. I conducted a memorial service for the nine KIAs from the 446th
at 1830. Bob Ritter, only a half- hour earlier, conducted a service for the two KIAs from the 8/4th. Bob's service
was held in the chapel that bore the scars of the attack that killed those two troopers. We are still tense but mercifully
quiet. Chaplain Goldie, the USARV chaplain, will arrive in the morning. He is a fine chaplain and moves about the chaplains
in the field. I pray God's safety on him.
The 446th is very grateful for
the coverage we gave them. I suppose we will pick them up on area coverage just as we did the Seabees. Captain Lenway (446th)
is writing people up for decorations. Most of us are just glad to get out of that mess in one piece. (It was interesting to
find out later that each unit involved in the recovery and evacuation awarded different medals for the same action. One 1/44th
guy received a Silver Star, the 446th men received the Bronze Star w/V and the 108th folks got the ARCOM
w/V. I don't think a single man thought of a medal on that day, and to this moment, that award still reminds us of nine dead
and 18 wounded.)
Today I met a major who was on the Weigel with us. He said his battalion
lost many, many men before 1967 was over. He mentioned names of guys I played cards and monopoly with who have already returned
to the States in body tins. That also added to my sobering day. Off to bed to try to sleep. It has been difficult to fall
14 March 1968
I am emotionally and physically tired. I was up
late last night with a trooper who was really down in the dumps. Times like this also take a toll on me, as it is hard not
to have similar feelings at times. The biggest toll is lost sleep when these moments of unrest come. Now that I have an office
at the chapel, it's easier for men to drop in and chat. I'm glad that they now do have some measure of privacy.
Alpha Battery 8/4th suffered a KIA today. They were on their way from the Rockpile to Carroll
when they were ambushed. Then Sergeant Sowers of "C" Battery 1/40th was hurt when a breech block on a
howitzer burst. He died at D-Med tonight at 2010. Now Bob will have two memorial services tomorrow at C-1. We were hit with
incoming 130s this morning and had some recoilless rifle fire tonight. We will soon be under 200. Oh, happy day.
Chaplain Goldie made the trip up from Long Binh today. I was able to gather all of our chaplains for
him to meet. I hoped everything would go well. He was pleased. I think he is a fine man. He brought us up to date on Al McGonigal
and sternly warned us not to be making any independent road trips. I shared with him the Group policy of never going out on
the roads without a radio, radio operator and a machine-gun vehicle as an escort. He concurred with this and made it his policy
No mail today. I miss them all very much. Things don't go as well when mail
doesn't arrive. I don't know how Elaine has time to write at all what with three kids and her family. Goodnight, all.
15 March 1968
The magic 200 is here. We begin to count in the
hundreds [one hundred and xx] tomorrow. It is but one more small step home. We also got mail. The morale of the unit goes
up a thousand percent when we can hear from home. Tet has really screwed things up both for us, as well as the folks back
Elaine told me of Lisa crying about being teased by some boys in class. How I
long to be there and comfort her. I can remember some times when bullies teased me, too. I guess it goes on in every generation.
We have had no incoming so far today. I'm grateful. Oh, God, give me the strength to change the things
that need changing and the courage to live with the things I cannot change. I pray for this unit's safety.
16 March 1968
We are under 200 days remaining in country. It's
still a long way to go but better than when we came. We had incoming rockets this morning about 0600. They have such a terrifying
whine. The Seabees were hit with no casualties, thank God. The crater-analysis guys said these were 107-mm, used on us for
the first time. They were only able to get one volley off before they were spotted. Our counter-battery fire scored some hits
and produced secondary explosions. We have had no more incoming today.
It is now official
that two chaplains were killed at Khe Sanh. They were Navy-types serving with the Marines. We thought the first report was
just a rumor, but both deaths were reported today. I have one service tomorrow. I went to the 446th and invited
them, since they are only about 100 meters down the road. They will put out the word. Got to prepare. Goodnight, all.
17 March 1968
Incoming stopped church at 1115. We rescheduled
for 1830. The attendance has picked up lately, and I'm grateful. Bob did some work with the Marines. We are out on the roads
again next week.
I wrote letters of sympathy for the commander of the 446th
KIAs. I am saddened and frustrated to think of nine families who grieve. One of the men had a son he never saw or held. We
collected those pictures and sent them home.
After chapel was interrupted, several
of the men stayed and sat around near the bunker. They got into a discussion about why they are here. Death can fall from
the sky at any moment and instantly end youthful dreams and aspirations. Yet, they still know why they are here. Most of the
men passionately hate being in the Army. All dream about getting out and returning home. Yet they stay here and take all the
danger and fear the enemy can give. I sense that they are secretly proud that they have met head-on the best the NVA has to
give, and they will continue to meet what is thrown at them. They are neat kids.
saw the doctor about my silly chest. He thinks we might be looking at a gall bladder problem. Heart and blood pressure are
fine. That is a relief. Things get worse when it comes time for the big malaria pill. At any rate, this Boy Chaplain is going
to bed. I am really proud to serve with these kids who want to be called men. They are men! They do their dirty jobs day after
day in the midst of horrible dangers and intense loneliness. They also know that some of society and the media have turned
their backs on them. Yet, they are here, and they will serve with honor. THEY ARE MEN!
18 March 1968
It has been quiet so far. We are grateful
but also very tense. The silence can be almost as scary as the incoming. You wonder if Charlie is moving his guns around,
needs to be resupplied, has been destroyed or is just about ready to give you a real shellacking. The waiting and wondering
is stressful. We've had too much history to become complacent.
We made great progress
on the chapel today. We now have about 90% of the paneling up in the sanctuary and the front platform built. Sergeant Major
Wright and Frenchie continue to be the driving force in this work. SGM Wright will be leaving us because of the infusion process.
He will be missed. He is a popular NCO. I am also grateful to First Sergeant Rodgers. He was the one who scrounged the
plywood for the paneling. He has become a great source of support for the chapel program. I am glad to see our relationship
I held another memorial service today for SP4 Kenneth J. Greene, killed near
Carroll, and PFC Robert Metcalf, killed near C-1. Both young men were from the 8/4th. The sad duty of memorial
services and letters to families is one of the toughest things I do in this environment.
raining, with loud thunder and lightning. It sounds a lot like incoming artillery. One has to listen very carefully. If it
doesn't clear off, we could be in for it tomorrow without our air cover. I commit my life to His hands.
Sweethearts. Miss you all.
19 March 1968
We have passed another day. It has been mercifully
quiet. We made more progress on the chapel.
(I sense I owe an explanation on why I
placed so much emphasis on the building of the chapel. I wanted something in the midst of combat that reminded our young men
of home. I wanted to give them a place that was less military and more like what they had waiting for them when they returned.
I wanted to give men of the unit a sanctuary - a place to get away from the strictness of military life; a place that recognized
their individual worth; a place that represented us ALL as children of God, regardless of rank or military experience; a place
where they could get away from it all and spend time in private prayer. I also saw the chapel as a private place for
counseling. We chaplains often did our counseling on top of a pile of sandbags or in some far corner of a hooch. The
chapel offered the privacy and security of a pastor's office. Most chaplains tried to build unit chapels for these very reasons.
I don't think there were many who saw a chapel as a monument to their greatness or competency. As I shared these feelings
with some of the senior NCOs, I was amazed at how their support and contributions to the chapel program stepped up. On many
a day I would find men in the sanctuary, sitting apart from one another, quietly meditating, praying, or as one man said,
"just taking a break and blowing the stink of this day off, Chaplain." There was no rank in these moments. One could
often find EM, NCOs and officers sitting together. I never saw anyone pull rank, violate each other's privacy or feel intimidated
by one another's presence. That's why the chapel was so important in my ministry to the 108th.)
Elaine's letter today shows the impact of the media. The news has been full of Dong Ha's incoming.
I finally had to admit that it was happening but not in quite as dramatic a manner as portrayed by Walter Cronkite.
I also got a large box from the Bettendorf (Iowa) church today. The folks from my home church sent
54 pounds of soap, candy, clothing and many other necessary items as gifts for Pastor Phi. My church has adopted the ministry
and work of Pastor Phi. I hope this relationship will remain after I leave Dong Ha. (The relationship lasted until South Vietnam
fell in 1975. Pastor Phi was never heard from again.) I hope to get these items to Quang Tri this week.
thank you, Lord, for today's deliverance and protection.
20 March 1968
Today is quiet...too quiet. We are very wary tonight.
He [Charlie] is up to something. Due to its classified nature, I can't write about the briefing I just attended. (I can't
remember what it was all about, but it was enough to get our attention that day.)
continue to see more progress on the chapel. It was hot working today. The evening is cool.
are buttoned up and on alert. I will do a round with the guards and try to get some sleep.
21 March 1968
It was very hot today. It was also surprisingly
quiet. Our road trips have been scaled down this week as it has been difficult to assemble the necessary vehicles, communications
and security to travel. At this point, the quiet is unnerving, considering what we think Charlie is planning. We stack more
sandbags and continue to improve our positions.
We puttered around the chapel today.
At least we have something to putter with instead of dreams and frustrations. The unit now has a chapel, and that is sufficient.
SGM Wright left today for Long Binh. Lew Bedoka left yesterday. Sixteen of our "original"
troops also left today to infuse with a unit at Pleiku. We received 16 of their personnel in return. We also got a bunch
of scared privates in as replacements. I spent some time with these kids today. I remember how we felt when we arrived
in this Godforsaken place. One can sympathize with these kids, yet they will become as battle hardened as the rest of us in
no time at all. (I can't understand the term "battle hardened." We were scared the entire year. We never got used
to combat. I doubt that anyone really does.)
Goodnight, Sweethearts. I pray for a quiet
night for all.
22 March 1968
It was quiet but very tense today. Now we are sweating
out a red alert.
If all is quiet, we will go to Quang Tri tomorrow. Even Dr. Lefeber
and First Sergeant Rodgers want to go. I am gratified by their interest. I am so happy for the first sergeant's renewed support.
We are on blackout right now, so this is short.
was very grateful for the first sergeant's interest and support of the chapel program. I sense part of this relationship grew
because of my admiration of him under fire. During incoming, he moved from bunker to bunker checking on his men. His actions
were largely unnoticed. I sometimes did the same but not as often or consistently as he. On a couple of occasions, we met
while checking out a bunker. On one of those occasions, when the ammo dump blew up, a round landed close, and we held on to
each other like a couple of startled kids. I know this story is a repeat, but it was a significant moment in my life. I never
questioned his bravery under fire. I always tried to hang out near him when times were rough because I felt his stabilizing
23 March 1968
It was quiet, hot and dusty today. We had about
22 rounds of incoming around the docks this morning. Today has been a day of contemplation and gratitude for the acceptance
the group is giving our programs.
Our trip to Quang Tri was safe and profitable. The
gutsy little David of Quang Tri, Pastor Phi, was glad to see us. I met the orphans for the first time. They were clean and
appeared to be well behaved. I met and fell in love with a little guy named Chu. He is about Bruce's age. Pastor Phi encouraged
me to adopt him. (I've written about this child earlier.) The first sergeant was very impressed with Pastor Phi's work. I
heard some of the men refer to him as the "Jolly Rodger." Pastor Phi overheard it, and the name stuck. The kids
then referred to him as the Jolly Rodger from that moment on. He enjoyed himself and made a significant contribution to the
Our doctor was his usual superb self and really took an interest in thoroughly
examining the kids. The box of goodies from my church was welcomed. As usual we had some "left over" canned goods
and medicines that found their way to the orphanage.
On the way back, we came upon
a semi-tanker that had gone off the road, rolled over and broke the pipeline for JP-4 [jet propellant] fuel to the airport.
Thankfully, the driver wasn't hurt. The Vietnamese gathered round it like flies around honey. They came from all over with
jars, buckets, pails, bottles or anything they could find to carry liquid. We drove for over a half mile and could still see
them coming and going. I suppose they used it to fuel their cooking stoves or lamps. I am sure Uncle Sam will pay well for
that little error of driver judgment.
I continue to be amazed at the ongoing progress
on the chapel. Things keep showing up for the building, compliments of Sergeant Rodgers. His support has also positively
influenced the other NCOs, and I (finally), with the exception of a couple of their number, feel the acceptance of this group.
The colonel is cheering this maturing relationship on and told me to use it to complete the project. I am grateful. But this
whole scenario is not about me or my popularity; it is about what the chaplains are trying to provide in an extremely hostile
environment. However, I'll use anything I can grab to get that ministry across.
am off to bed. I have three services tomorrow, two at Dong Ha and one at C-1. We pray for the safety of God's love and protection.
24 March 1968
Our water is green! We were rattled out of bed
by 75-mm and 130-mm artillery. We were in the holes for over an hour. I went back to shave after things calmed down. I turned
the tap on in our exquisite suite, and green water spewed forth. Jim Bentley and I now have 55 gallons of Lime Kool-Aid in
which to shave. I suspect WOPA (Warrant Officers' Protective Association) Ira (a warrant officer), and some helicopter pilots
from the 1st Cav, (also WOs), who were having coffee yesterday in the mess hall. I remarked about so many warrants
in one place, and Ira asked if I had ever heard of WOPA. He said he was the chief honcho of WOPA. All the young 1st
Cav pilots solemnly nodded in agreement. I didn't know about them but said chaplains weren't scared of groups like that. WOPA
couldn't touch a man of God. I wasn't frightened. Jim and I haven't said a word. We now shave in green water and keep
our mouths shut.
I had three services today. Two were not scheduled until evening.
We got back from C-1 before evening and did the other two after supper. It was on the way back that I almost became a casualty.
Nick put our Jeep #12 into a ditch. It was dark, and he was all over the road. Hairy and scary was the day. We went from incoming,
to green water, to chapel, to ditching the vehicle - for which I've signed my life away.
lonely as always. Goodnight, Sweethearts. Thank you, God, that Nick is a short timer.
March 1968 2245
The Dong Ha Daisies came at 0700. I was up and walking around the area. Only
one Marine was slightly wounded (2/26th). The day did pass quietly and quickly after the attack. I continue
to pray for God's protection for our group.
It's cold and rainy. It's been that way
all day. Yesterday was very hot. Weather does change quickly around here. It does make for miserable driving and riding in
I met Chaplain Snider in Quang tri today. He is a Presbyterian and the
chaplain for the 26th Combat Support Group. I shared that I had talked to the S-5 and told him a bit about Pastor
Phi and his orphans.
I'm wet, tired and cold. It's time to write a letter, take a shower
and go to bed. At least I will be warm and dry there.
26 March 1968
Numerous reports have come to Elaine concerning
the incoming Dong Ha is receiving. It seems that Walter Cronkite has had much to say about the activities along the DMZ. But
one incident occurred yesterday that will never make Stateside TV. But to its hapless victim, I'm certain that nothing else
he experiences in this unit will ever match the horror he encountered yesterday. No matter how long he lives, nights will
be full of terror as he relives those terrible moments. Nothing else will impact him more than what he heard, saw, felt and
It was afternoon on a windy Monday. Private X was seated in
the center hole of the six-holer near the helipad. He was new to Dong Ha and hadn't quite gotten used to the rigors of the
DMZ. At that moment, he was manfully trying to master the problems of the big orange malaria pill. Monday is usually a big
day at the six-holer. This day was no exception. Evidence of the "big pill" was in each of the six cans in the latrine.
The Sunday- pill-hangover had made its presence felt once again.
Our stalwart hero
had already undergone much in his brief stay with the 108th. Rockets, incoming artillery and the constant threat
of the NVA had worn his nerves razor thin. He knew that death could drop from the sky at any moment. Even though he was concentrating
on the problems "behind" him, his ears were still keenly tuned to any sinister sounds from the air. The sounds of
a chopper diverted his attention from the agony of his last spasm, and he breathed a sigh of relief. The chopper was on his
side. It had U. S. Army on its side. The young trooper felt a glow of warmth as he watched the bird begin to gracefully settle
on the helipad near him. It was indeed comforting to know that he had friends like these "cavaliers of the air"
that would protect him. He continued to feel a profound flush of joy that completely enveloped his soul.
ecstatic joy was suddenly replaced, however, when the young man realized that he had been betrayed. He continued to feel warmth,
but it was now of a vastly different nature. His position of quiet and gentle soldier had been turned completely upside down
and topsy turvy. His head was on the ceiling of the latrine. The ceiling of the latrine was on the ground. The floor of the
latrine was in the air where, only seconds before, the ceiling had resided. The contents of the six cans were now majestically
settling upon him, bringing new warmth to him and deeper meaning to the statement that, "War is Hell!" Our unsuspecting
warrior became still another victim of the airmobile raiders. So this is the "New Action Army," he thought, as the
truth and everything else dawned "upon" him.
His cries for the medics were
heard, but the only reply he received from his unsympathetic comrades was, "You're a medic; treat yourself." This
valiant GI had made a supreme sacrifice, and yet no one rushed to his aid. In fact his comrades rushed AWAY from him or were
helplessly rolling on the ground convulsed with spasms of uncontrollable laughter. One would have thought he would have been
warmly aided with open arms. This was not the case. He was immediately shunned as if he had broken out with a hideous disease
that covered his entire body.
Today we learn that his compassionate commander had pity
on him. Dr. Lefeber has recommended the young medic for the Gastroenteritis Technology Award with Brown Palm Device for meritorious
performance of duty while participating in aerial flight.
Such bravery should not go
unnoticed. Another harrowing incident has taken its toll on us. We not only have to deal with incoming; we also have to be
wary of the 1st Cav helicopters as well.
Boy, oh boy! We all thought we
had taken a lot of crap up here. The fact is that none of us can hold a candle to Private X. He truly is our hero and, sadly,
he will never be appropriately recognized in his own beloved country.
What else can I say?
27 March 1968
As usual, I am grateful that we are one more day
closer to home. It has been a quiet day. I thank God for His protection.
My entry concerning
Private X caused a bit of a stir. Jim Bentley heard me laughing as I was writing last night. I read it to him, and he wanted
a copy of the entry. I gave it to him, and today there is a typed document residing in the "In" box on Colonel Jones'
desk. I think Jim wants it submitted to the Stars and Stripes. Is there any limit to where my writing prowess will
take me? The article is now being titled "The Epitaph of Private X."
a lot of time in study today. It's a lot of work to come up with meaningful and inspiring sermons when your groups are small,
scattered and under great duress. The 108th itself is a small group, and we are constantly in close contact. The
chaplain has to step away from that closeness and assume the role of spiritual leader and move to the mode as a leader of
worship. It's sometimes like changing your clothes in front of everybody.
I am going
to take advantage of the quiet and go visit the troops and guards.
28 March 1968
More Army units have moved into our area. Something
is up. These guys are unnamed at this moment for security reasons. I bet Charlie already knows who they are. If he doesn't,
Time magazine will inform him. (He in fact did know the identity of the unit since Hanoi Hannah broadcast
about them...they were elements of the 5th Armored Cav Regiment. They eventually broke the siege of Khe Sanh. The
brigade had 98 KIA in that battle. I met the brigade commander after that operation. He was really in grief. He cared so deeply
for his men.)
Jim and I are inviting anyone who wants to shave in a real sink, just
like home, to use our facilities. The idea is to get rid of the green water as soon as possible. Evidently WOPA has put the
word out that they will issue a contract on anyone who does. We have had no takers so far.
Wright leaves for Long Binh tomorrow. I hope he has a quieter time there. He and Frenchie have been the prime builders around
here. The work will go on if I have to finish the chapel myself. I am passionate that our kids have a place like that. SP4
Childress volunteered to play the organ for chapel services, both Catholic and Protestant. The music will enhance worship.
I am off to make my rounds and then to bed.
Sweethearts. Love you all.
29 March 1968
I'm tired. Today was physically and emotionally
draining. Doug, Nick and I worked all day getting the pulpit, lectern and communion table built. Physical labor really
tires one out. Of course I'm not as young as these kids either. (I would love to be that 32- year-OLD man again.)
Our positions have been quiet so far. The dock received incoming last night. I hope it stays that
way. We are getting things ready for a trip to Quang Tri tomorrow. There was some activity there yesterday, but we move forward
as best we can.
Our new Army units (5th ACR) are on the move, but we have
no idea what is happening. We just sit and wait. I'm grateful for God's continued presence in our lives. That's all I can
hope for in this place. Psalms reassure us that "Our times are in His hands." Thank God. Goodnight, all.
30 March 1968
We made a trip to Quang Tri today. We returned
home safe. The trip was uneventful. I am grateful. Each time I meet the "David" of Quang Tri, I return so grateful
for the resources we possess and am ashamed of myself whenever I pout about something that doesn't go the way I'd like.
Pastor Phi was most grateful for Dr. Lefeber's visits and care. As usual, some used canned goods and medicines found their
way to the orphanage.
Ira finally gave in and went with us today. He said he didn't
want to get too close to those funny looking kids. He claimed to have no feeling for them. (Yeah, right!) It was love at first
sight. He stole the show by continually pushing out his detachable lower dental appliance. The kids shouted with glee.
A profound measure of happiness was brought into many young lives by a rough old warrant [officer] who would have everyone
believe that he has an onion for a heart. (The kids' two most favorite visitors from that moment on were Ira and the "Jolly
Rodger." Both men made repeated visits and brought tons of joy to a group of kids who had so little.) It also makes a
difference when religious faith is involved in the mix. These kids don't have their hands out. They are under discipline.
They have nothing and are grateful for whatever they receive. They are clean and are being trained and educated. David did
so much with five smooth stones. Pastor Phi does SO much with SO little.
We now have
another man who wants to play the organ for services. We will have twin organs playing this Sunday. (I can't remember the
name of the second kid who volunteered. At any rate, I was happy for his service to us. On Sundays, we moved the organ from
the lounge to the chapel and back again. I was also blessed to have a number of young men who moved stuff wherever it was
We had no incoming today. I continue to thank God for His protection and love.
31 March 1968
I had a satisfying day with three services at the
chapel, and on the road, amongst our firing batteries at C-1 and Con Thien. The chapel service at 11:15 (108th)
was not interrupted by incoming for a change. I'm also grateful for God's protection to those young men who go with me and
protect me on the road marches. I am tired and will get a shower and hit the sack.
are now at the halfway point with our 26th week. I would like to think it is all downhill from here, but I know
differently. We will officially reach the halfway mark at 1200 tomorrow. We had no mail waiting for us, so it's a little blue
around here. We are so dependent on contact from home.
SGM Wright leaves in the morning.
Some of us had a gathering for him to say goodbye and express our thanks for what he has done for the unit. I wish some of
the other senior NCOs would treat us as well as this man did. He is human, as we all are, but he didn't beat us down or pull
a lot of rank. I feel sorry for those who do not learn this very valuable lesson. (I still do feel that sorrow for some who
still bring only angry memories to others. I hope not too many felt the same about me.)
April 1968 2130 (183)
was a day of quiet. We are grateful. (The push by the Army and Marine troops to open up the road from Carroll to Khe Sanh
was beginning to come into being. The movement of large groups of armored infantry units in that direction took some of the
pressure off of our Dong Ha location.) So much is happening that can't be mentioned at this point.
are now at the halfway mark of our tour. So much has happened. I don't think any of us realized that we would experience so
much in such a short time. We had no idea of the depth and breadth of our feelings. I have never had such emotional intensity
at any level of my life as I do at this moment. Boy, oh boy! You talk about plumbing the depths. Wow!
Wright is gone. Bob Ritter returned from R & R today. Captain Watlington will be transferred to the 1/40th.
Personnel changes are now a part of the infusion policy. They don't want the whole unit to leave country as intact as it arrived.
We are phasing folks in and out so the unit will still be operational on 2 October 1968.
continues to be his helpful self. The holes in the chapel roof were patched today. Materials show up when needed. I'm not
asking any questions, especially since the folks down at Da Nang turned down our request for materials to build a chapel.
I guess I am the chaplain of a chapel that doesn't exist on paper. That's cool. Usually things do exist ONLY on paper. We,
however, DON'T EXIST on paper. Oh, well; a little play on words to keep the mind active. Anything to take us out of this war
for even a few minutes is a blessed relief.
We heard President Johnson's speech today.
It caused quite a bit of discussion in the hooch. I wouldn't have his job for all the money in the world. He inherited this
war from his predecessors and has really had an unpopular and uphill battle. I'm sure he feels bad for the deaths of so many
military personnel and has very little progress to show for the effort.
I will take
my tour around the "campus" tonight and see how our troops are faring. Goodnight, Sweethearts. I hope we have turned
the corner and are heading for home.
2 April 1968
We were quiet today. Frenchie taught us a technique
using a blow torch to scorch the plywood paneling in the chapel. We then varnish it. It looks very classy. There is an art
to the work in that we don't want to hold the torch too long in one place or we will burn the chapel down.
Lisa (my older daughter, age six) wrote me her first letter. I received it today and it is already
in tatters. I'm not certain if it is the victim of too much handling or too many tears. Goodnight, all. It's time to end this
3 April 1968 2200
I received more pictures from home today. I am amazed how fast the kids change
over such a short time. Things remain quiet. We are grateful. (The operations of the 5th Cav and elements of the
3rd Marine Division pushing toward Khe Sanh temporarily relieved pressure on Dong Ha.)
were busy today. Doug and I scorched plywood until 1900 tonight. We are very proud of our work. We ate late tonight thanks
to our folks in the mess hall. They always seem to have something edible for people on weird schedules.
am tired tonight. I have a service with the 446th tomorrow evening. They wanted something for just their unit.
I sense they are still fighting through the trauma of losing almost 30 men in a matter of seconds. We will have it on site
at their unit. That's what chaplains do.
April 1968 (180)
(I returned from the service
with the 446th and was told that Colonel Jones wanted to see me. I sensed bad news from home, and I was correct.
My sister Aylene died. I was suddenly thrust into an emergency leave status. Jim Bentley was magnificent and already getting
orders cut for me to leave, and several officers came up with a pool of cash to see me home. Even our Australian captain provided
a substantial amount. None of us carried much money, so this was a very important gesture that was much appreciated. Credit
cards and ATMs were not in place at the time of our deployment.)
(This last segment
will begin and end with considerable editorial comment. The chapter covers the time I left Dong Ha for emergency leave
until my reassignment in June of 1968. I left for home on 5 April 1968. It took a series of hops to get to Iowa, barely in
time for my sister's funeral. My return home was a mixed bag of emotions. I was glad to see my loved ones but also shocked
at the sudden and unexpected death of my sister. The family was reeling when I got home, and I joined right in to that grief.
After things settled down a bit, I called to check on the status of my orders as I had been instructed
to do. Surprisingly, I felt a sense of guilt about being home when my unit was still engaged in combat. I asked to have the
orders changed to return early but was told to report on the date stated on my orders. Changing them could result in confusion,
and I might find more difficulty in getting flights back with amended orders, etc., etc. So I waited and began the trip back
to Dong Ha about 5 May.
As it was, I finally got back to our base camp at Dong Ha
on 9 May. I was held in Bien Hoa for two days due to weather and a large number of troops coming into the country. I
still felt a sense of guilt at being out of country for a protracted time. Therefore, I chose not to go on R & R. I did,
however, make certain all of my men got R & R. I did not take R & R at my new assignment either.
in Bien Hoa I met Gordon Peterson, a chaplain school classmate, with whom I also served at Fort Sill. We shared a ditch when
mortars began to come in. It was his first taste of combat, as he had just arrived in country that morning. He asked if we
ever got used to it, and I answered, "Not really." He wanted to know why I had not stayed in the building as we
were told to do. I later showed him the building after things settled down. I felt much better in a ditch. Another ditch-mate
entered the conversation. He was an infantry major who was returning to his unit in the Central Highlands. He too had bailed
out of the building that later looked like Swiss cheese. As we talked, I realized that we had much in common and then realized
that he was a high school classmate, Major Joe Arnold. I had not seen him since my graduation. What a small world.
I think Gordon Peterson was grateful we showed him the way that night. I was also appalled at the
lack of cover at Bien Hoa. Believe it or not, I was glad to get back to the familiar and formidable bunkers we had in the
9 May 1968 0655
I am sitting at Bien Hoa waiting for a flight to
Da Nang. This has been a long trip. Jet lag has not helped us either. We were hit with rockets and mortars last night at the
90th Replacement Company. Gordy Peterson was there sweating out his first taste of combat. I was glad to get out
of the 90th area. At least we have bunkers in Dong Ha. The lack of cover and holes scares me.
I finally arrived about 1500 today. I am dead tired. I never realized you could be this fatigued and
still be alive. I almost felt unconscious. Then, to top it off, I tried to write a letter home and could not remember Elaine's
name. I stared at the paper with "Dear____" Wow! That was a first. (I did miss her very much though.) I am off to
bed. I pray for God's protection to our unit and myself. I don't think I can run tonight.
10 May 1968 2130 (144)
I'm still working out the time changes. I will be so glad when I can exchange my bad dreams for good
ones. The days do move, and I'm grateful.
We had incoming about 0530 this morning.
I was worried that I would sleep through it or not react, but I did. Some things are not forgotten. I also found I was pretty
fast for a tired old guy.
My days and nights are mixed up. I woke up about 0330 and
could not get back to sleep. My body was telling me it was afternoon (as it was in Iowa), and I was not sleepy. They say it
takes a while to get back into your normal rhythm. I suppose the reverse will happen when we return home. (It did. I
would find myself barely able to stay awake in the middle of the afternoon, which would be in the wee hours of the next morning
in Vietnam.) Time to try to iron out more jet lag.
May 1968 2215 (143)
I am still bone tired.
I really drug around today. I thank God for His love and protection. Chapel looks great.
12 May 1968 2215 (142)
am almost back to normal. I had two services today, one at the 8/4th and one at C-1. The trips were made without
Mike Rusnok (a Catholic chaplain) left today after an overnight with us.
I am grateful to him for providing Mass for our Catholic troops. He is really a neat guy. (Mike later almost died when his
Jeep barely missed a mine near the coast. It would have completely destroyed his vehicle, as it was an anti-tank mine hoping
to get some of the armor we off-loaded every day. It flipped up out of the sand and came to rest about three inches from the
Jeep's front tire.)
Goodnight, Sweethearts. Love you.
May 1968 2030 (141)
I am about back on schedule
and have the big orange pill on board again. Ugh! I have a headache.
We have 10 chapel
pews cut out and ready to assemble. They will be pretty.
We have had one round of incoming
today. I hope it remains quiet.
Today's most significant event was a giant toad race.
Unfortunately things got out of control due to the overzealous competitive nature of some of my comrades in arms. I can't
believe field grade officers would lower themselves to actually cheat a brother officer out of his rightful prize in international
toad racing competition. Oh, well. Goodnight to all (even the toad assassins).
entry was written with tongue in cheek and a chuckle in my throat. We actually had a good time, although I doubt the toads
enjoyed the attention they got. As we were coming back to the hooch after dinner, we noticed an abundance of toads hopping
all over the place. As seasoned combat types, we began to chase the toads in the event that they were enemy in clever disguise.
I suggested that we have a toad race. None of the officers knew of what I was speaking. I patiently explained the rules of
toad racing to the staff. First, a large circle is drawn in the dirt. Second, everybody catches what he believes to be the
fastest toad. Third, all toads are identified by their owners and placed in the center of the circle. Then the race begins.
The toads are turned loose and allowed to hop away. The first toad to reach the perimeter line of the circle is the WINNER.
Contestants were not supposed to enter the circle but could use any means whatsoever
to urge their toads toward the finish line. A number of men agreed to participate and began to catch and select their entries.
The starting gun was fired (not a real gun - somebody just said, "Bang!"). As the race progressed, some toads
refused to move. My toad, "Blazing Saddles," was far ahead of the pack and happily hopping toward the finish line.
The race began to draw a crowd. The ungainly mob of enlisted men and junior officers fueled the competitive edge of
all participants. Emotions and side bets intensified, and the handlers began to creep into the circle with the competing racers.
Before you knew it, there were six or eight toads and six or eight "owners" all within a 10-foot circle. Of course,
the chaplain also had to enter the circle to protect his thoroughbred. There was much movement (more by the owners than the
toads). Meanwhile, "Blazing Saddles" hopped slowly but surely toward his rendezvous with destiny. Suddenly, tragedy
"descended" upon "Blazing Saddles." Some knave "accidently" stepped on him just as he
was about to cross the perimeter of the circle. Only I noted his swift demise as another officer began to do a victory
dance and declared his toad the WINNER. I sadly looked down on my fallen warrior. He was so close. Instead of the victory
circle, he now resided in toad heaven or wherever toads go when they are crushed under the heels of an occupying army. We
had a lot of laughs over the contest. All but one toad (mine) were released back to the wild. I had a memorial service for
my departed comrade and then called it a day.
In the interest of fairness and honesty,
I must make a confession. The Bible says, "Confession is good for the soul." I have to confess and seek forgiveness
to one I have wronged for many years. I do this now in cyberspace for the entire universe to see my shortcomings. For years
I have falsely accused Major Bentley of stepping on my toad. I realize now that he did NOT commit such a dastardly deed. I
made those accusations without the slightest shred of evidence and made this fine gentleman the victim of my faulty memory.
I know he did not do it for a number of reasons.
First: he said he didn't do it. That
should be enough evidence right there. Secondly: as I relived the race, I remembered my toad heading in the direction of Colonel
Jones' trailer, and Major Bentley was urging his toad toward the FOQ [Field Officers' Quarters] doorway. He could not have
stepped on "Blazing Saddles." I sense I named him as the culprit because I couldn't remember any of the other participants
in the great race. He became the villain because he was the only one I remembered. That's not fair! Shame on me! I confess
my sins and seek Major Bentley's forgiveness.
But somewhere in the deep recesses of
evil men's minds the truth still exists. The real villain knows who he is. Hmm! I vaguely remember our Australian captain
liaison officer being nearby in the fray. Perhaps we will never hear a confession from the lips of the real killer, but I
assure you "Blazing Saddles" knows, and that's enough justice for me.
race and all the morbid drama was a fun diversion from combat and what we would all face the next day. It didn't take long
to put a dead toad into proper perspective when many of us were almost killed the next morning.)
May 1968 2145 (140)
I have never been so scared
in my life. Today started out as a quiet day with boring Character Guidance classes taught by the "Boy Chaplain."
It ended with a BANG.
Incoming interrupted our class at 1145. A round landed across
the road from our compound. It hit the ammo dump, which was only about 40 feet away from us. For the next three hours
we were subjected to the worst experience we have ever encountered since we have been in country. We had three hours of intense
and continuous explosions that rocked our compound. Exploding ammunition was flying all over the place. There was absolutely
no letup in the explosions whatsoever. Most of us are somewhat deafened tonight from the pounding our ears received.
We had two trucks destroyed and three hooches burned to the ground. My chapel is full of holes. Many
of the WW II and Korean veterans said this was the worst pounding they had ever experienced. I believe it. By the grace
of God, we only had one WIA, and his wounds were minor. An 81-millimeter mortar round landed right next to our bunker entrance.
It lay there and sizzled and smoked. Had anything else hit it and it had gone up, I wouldn't be here tonight. Boy! You talk
about looking death in the face. We stared at the *^%#! round for almost three hours. I never want to do that again.
(This was the moment I earlier shared about First Sergeant Rodgers and me holding on to each other
like the frightened kids we were. He was out checking the troops in the midst of the attack. When we heard of hooches burning
and men having to evacuate their bunkers, some of us went out to make sure everyone was safe. "Top" did this on
every occasion. He and I met, crawling around a bunker, and a round exploded next to us. We instinctively clung to each other.
He was a brave man who probably never got the credit he deserved.)
We walk on eggshells
now. Debris and unexploded rounds are lying all over the place. They will have to bring in an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Detachment)
to clean up the mess. Another attack could set this stuff off. It will be a sleepless night.
Jones asked me to have a prayer at the mess hall tonight. It was a very attentive audience to be sure. I commit this unit
to the protection of Almighty God. Goodnight, Sweethearts. I really miss you all tonight.
May 1968 2145 (139)
Thank God it was quiet today.
We had one blast from the blackened and scarred ammo dump. That stuff will have to be disposed of, as it is so unstable.
I had a memorial service today for PFC Jose R. Diana-Diaz of "A" Battery, 1/44. He was in
the dump when it was hit. He was the only KIA for all of that carnage. Of course, one is too many. Today, I shared scripture
with a lot of eager young men. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Amen"
It was very hot. We are all tired from trying to clean up the mess, find shelter for about a third
of our troops and calm our nerves as best we can. Off to try to study and put some sense of normalcy back in my day.
16 May 1968 2200
It is quiet. I am grateful. We have had no incoming. A dud from the ammo dump
went off, and debris hit Lieutenant Lanez in the head. He was in guarded condition and evacuated to one of our hospital ships.
There are still many duds lying around. The area is far from safe. I got a fuse out of our chapel attic today.
The men are still walking around shaking their heads and wondering how we got out of this experience
alive. I pray for a quiet night. We are still looking over our shoulders for the slightest object that can blow up in our
17 May 1968
It has been very hot today. I also sense a letdown
that all of us are experiencing after the ammo dump explosion. It seems that the dump is our main topic of conversation. More
and more of the "old timers" now admit they thought we had bought the farm. They did not see why that much ordnance
blowing up in our laps did not take out most of the camp and all of us with it. Many see it as a miracle. During the explosions,
LTC Scoggins was quoted as saying. "Let's just go home and tell everybody we won." I sense most of us feel that
way. This has to be a memory that will last a lifetime.
(That statement was prophetic.
The ammo dump has been one of the main topics of discussion at our reunions. No one has ever forgotten those terrible three
hours we spent wondering if the next blast would blow us into oblivion. I think the trauma of that moment drove us closer
together than we ever realized possible.)
I will go to visit Pastor Phi tomorrow. There
has been some increased activity in the area, but we are cleared to go. I have some things to deliver to the orphanage. Some
of the troops have also asked their churches and families to contribute, so we have quite a few items to take to the kids.
I pray for the safety of the men who protect me as well as my own. I'm off to do a round with the sergeant of the guard.
18 May 1968 2315
Wow! Today was the high and low of life. I got a call in to Elaine, and it was
great to hear her voice. Direct calls are few and far between in this neck of the woods. That had to be the high of the day.
I'm glad that call came after I got back from Quang Tri. That trip was scary. All of us were very
shook and glad to get back to Dong Ha. The trip to Quang Tri was uneventful. It wasn't until we got into the middle of Quang
Tri City that we knew something was very wrong.
There were no people around. All the
shops were closed, and the city was like a ghost town. The place was deathly quiet. A few ARVN were seen patrolling the streets,
but they didn't even look like their hearts were into their work. They all looked like they were ready to boogie at the first
hostile sound. We heard a lot of small-arms fire in one part of the town.
quickly made our way to the orphanage and found Pastor Phi and the kids all buttoned up in their small bunker. It seems that
Quang Tri had been attacked the night before, and they were expecting more activity. "Choi hoi" (boy, oh
boy!). We left our things and "di di mau'd" (got the heck out of there in a very rapid manner). It's amazing
how we just stumbled into the situation. Pastor Phi was surprised to see us and was also insistent that we quickly leave the
area. We were very careful, had what we thought was good intelligence, and still came close to walking into an ambush. Whew!
When will these days come to an end? Tomorrow is Ho's [Chi Minh] birthday. I suppose things will hit the fan in his honor.
It is hot, and I have finally picked up some jungle rot on my neck and groin. This is a fungus that
is very stubborn to combat in this climate. It is also miserable. I'll have to check in with the doctors in the morning.
(I still have, to this day, minor eruptions of that same fungus that arrives - usually during the
first sign of sustained hot, humid weather. Fortunately it only appears on one spot on my neck and is usually gone in a few
days. That was where the collar of my flak jacket continually chafed me. Many others of the 108th have had similar
episodes of this stuff - a reminder of Vietnamese hospitality.)
19 May 1968
We have been on Condition Blue most of the day.
Ho's birthday has been quiet for the 108th, but the airfield and the Seabees have been hit hard throughout the
We had a good crowd at chapel today in spite of the high alert. It is hot.
Someone also reminded me at chapel that we only have 18 more Sundays to go before returning home. That means only 18 more
big orange pills to go. This one today is especially painful. I hope it doesn't lead to my chest discomfort again.
We had a visit from a USO show tonight. They were a small troupe (two men and two women), but they
did a great job and provided great music for us. The folks in the show were from the Philippines. It takes some guts to wander
around this place and provide entertainment. I remember how grateful Ira, Captain Horton and I were just to hear that hillbilly
band at Subic Bay. These folks tonight were very welcome.
One of the girls was a go-go
type and tried to get me up on the stage to dance with her. That brought a roar from the troops. I was successful in turning
her down the first time, but she came back a second time, and I was lifted out of my chair and flipped onto the stage. As
I stood up, there was no way out but to dance my way out. I don't "go-go" at all and am a very poor dancer with
the rhythm of a one-legged hippopotamus. Thanks a lot, Mr. Hornbeck and some of your WOPA henchmen. Since I can't dance that
stuff very well, the troops howled all the more. I really took a ribbing. I am now known as "The Swinger." It DID
entertain the men, and that makes my embarrassment worthwhile. I will get even with Ira somehow very soon.
I must hit the sack and try to relax my belly.
20 May 1968 2215 (134)
All is well so far. The day passed quietly and quickly, and I am grateful. I pray for a quiet
night and God's continued protection of us all.
I have another Character Guidance
class tomorrow. I will have to move between the 8/4th and the 1/40th. We must be getting
established now. This past month is the first time I have had CG since Fort Riley. The next thing you know they will have
us painting the rocks to spruce up the place.
My assistant brought me a drink of water
today. I wondered why he was bringing water to my desk. He brought the water in a cup that the men had made up for me. It
has "Chap a Go-Go" painted on it. I must have really bowled them over with my stage presence with the go-go girl.
My pain has been good for morale and that makes it worthwhile.
21 May 1968 2245 (133)
had word that Elaine is not feeling well. I got a MARS call in and found that she is suffering from a nasty cold and sinus
infection. She did go to the doctor. I do not know how women like her do it. She has three kids and the gnawing worry
that goes with this job. I keep telling her that I am not made of hero material, so I don't plan to take chances. I
don't think those words sound very reassuring to her. We have lost too many friends that came to this country with the same
promises made to their loved ones. I pray for her as she prays for me.
Hear our prayer,
22 May 1968
I'm tired. I have made a ton of troop visits with
a lot of DMZ miles in. I'm really too pooped to write. I pray for quiet.
23 May 1968 2230 (131)
is gone. I am beat. I also end volume II and start volume III of this diary. I thought two books would be enough for the year.
I am surprised.
Mike Rusnock came today and offered Mass to our Catholic personnel.
He is a great man, and I deeply appreciate his coverage for us. He also lifts the spirits of all around him.
I had to help a boy from the 1/44th get out on an emergency leave. We got him put on a
medevac flight. He could have turned that flight down because it was not a pleasant sight. He wanted to get home. I was glad
to assist him. I pray for his safety and comfort.
I have to get ready for the Jewish
High Holy Days. I have a rabbi coming in tomorrow. We need 10 men to have a minyan [a quorum of Jewish men needed for certain
religious purposes], which will constitute a full service. We have been all over the DMZ looking for Jewish kids and now have
enough. The 108th will house and feed all concerned. Now I am really glad we have a chapel that we can make ready
for these folks.
Goodnight to all.
1968 2330 (130)
Today has been busy and, therefore,
has passed quickly. We have no incoming for a change. I picked up the rabbi at the airport. Frank Breslau is an orthodox rabbi.
He is also the ONLY Airborne rabbi in the entire history of our nation. I am glad that we had a good response for him. Our
Jewish troops have expressed great appreciation that we are able to provide for their religious needs.
have a memorial service tomorrow for two men killed when a round made a direct hit and exploded inside their bunker. That
will take us to A-1, then back to Dong Ha for a Character Guidance class. I don't like to do the memorials,
but they do comfort the men.
May 1968 2200 (129)
I had a memorial service this
morning for SP5 Lemke and PFC Jones of "B" Battery, 1/40th. Then I came back and had a CG class for the
108th. Time has gone fast. The rest of the day has been spent in making the way clear for our rabbi guest.
It has been very interesting in observing an Orthodox Jew being observant to the Sabbath. I admire
him very much since things are much more difficult to accomplish in this place. Frank has done well, and the men had a taste
of home in the person of a rabbi. The rabbis are always on the road. Chaplain Breslau is the only Jewish chaplain in
"I" Corps. This means he is always on the road or in the air to get the minyans we can arrange for him.
I am glad that I have been able to provide religious coverage for all three major faith groups while
stationed on the DMZ. Much of the other things a chaplain does for his troops know no denominational boundaries. Love,
concern, support, comfort, confidentiality and so many other services we provide are universal to the human condition. I am
proud and grateful to be there when the men and women of our forces need me.
note, I will head for the rack.
May 1968 2300 (128)
I have really been busy today. I
had two services at C-1 and the 8/4th and then came back to Dong Ha for three very tough counseling cases. Wow!
This day also saw our 120-degree heat back with a vengeance. I am covered with road dust caked on with sweat. Will I ever
get clean again? I'm off to try to get some of it off tonight.
Goodnight, babies, from
a tired daddy.
(It is interesting to note that the red soil of Vietnam took over two
weeks to finally leave my system. I could not believe how deeply the dirt penetrated our skin. I left red stains on sheets
and red residue in the bathtub for a couple of weeks after I returned from Vietnam.)
May 1968 2200 (127)
Today started quietly until Charlie
dropped some rounds into our POL [Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants]. It went up like the 4th of July.
We grudgingly admit that the enemy has some outstanding gunners. They place highly-accurate fire wherever
they shoot, since every round is carried in on their backs. They have to make every round count. I really wish mankind
would learn to live together in peace. I suppose we will continue to be here until someone gets the word that this is madness.
Yet we still stand in defense of those who would live in a police state. I again remember the words, "A soldier's pack
is much lighter than a slave's chains." I'd like to think we are in the right.
was more activity to the north with Con Thien and C-1 getting hit. There were also many airstrikes around our area. At this
point, all is well and we are safe. Thanks be to God.
The sun has set, and the 120-plus
temperature is subsiding. I like the early darkness. We don't seem to get as much incoming at night. We can see the flash
of their weapons firing and put steel right back on them. Night deters enemy artillery. It's the ground activity that bothers
us after dark. Time to make my rounds and visit some guards. The jungle rot seems to be intensifying. I'm pretty miserable
28 May 1968
It rained today like the great flood of Noah. I
now have eight inches of mud in the chapel that we will literally have to shovel out, scoop by scoop. The medics had a bulldozer
do some work and left a pile of dirt outside my office door. That pile now resides INSIDE my chapel. I had almost forgiven
the "Needle Nazis" for what they did to me during the saga of Lt. Short Round. Now I'm not so sure. To top it off,
they got all my baby clothes muddy. I had a number of boxes of children's clothing to take to Pastor Phi. Now we will scoop
mud and wash baby clothes. Oh, well; war really is hell.
I hit the jackpot on mail
today. I also heard from my home church, as well as the Neely Clan in Bettendorf. Mail is our lifeline. Off to bed. We have
a mess to clean up tomorrow. Hmm! If only I could figure out a way to get all that mud back in the medics' hooch.
(It must be fair to note that Dr. Lefeber and his henchmen did come by the next day and helped us
clean up. They even helped me wash baby clothes.)
29 May 1968 2400
It has been a long day. We are all tired. We scooped mud and washed clothes.
Everything is now cleaned up, and the clothes are drying. The sight of children's clothes hanging all over a bachelor officers'
quarters caused a minor riot. Needless to say, the evil minds of my fellow officers are now implying that I have been sneaking
off post at night and committing nasty, lecherous deeds and now have to clothe my mistakes. How low can a person go to imply
such rot? Oh, well; I will endure and get those clothes to Pastor Phi tomorrow. Some of the medics want to go with me. I pray
for God's protection for all. My jungle rot is spreading and is quite uncomfortable. My belly is really singing tonight as
30 May 1968
We made the trip to Quang Tri without a hitch.
It was hot and sunny. The town seems to have come back. More Army units are moving into the area. We now have a MUST-type
[Medical Unit, Self-Contained, Transportable] field hospital in Quang Tri. (MUST units were inflatable structures that took
the place of tents for some field hospitals. Little did I realize I was soon to be a patient at that very hospital in less
than 72 hours.)
Pastor Phi was very thankful for the clothing. I do not know how he
survives. The kids are clean and well-mannered - and are being educated as well as being schooled in the Christian faith.
What a man. I wish I could help him and his wife more. All I can do is pass on what we can scrounge and give him and the kids
a giant hug.
(We left that day amidst the traditional hugs and children's songs ringing
in our ears. The kids put on a brief program for us. They were cute, enthusiastic and sounded very good. That was to be the
last time I saw Pastor Phi, his wife, Chu or any of the other children. I still wonder about Chu, even after these many years.)
I stopped by for my daily visit to D-Med. I saw my first NVA. The men were not strong or 12 feet tall.
Rather, they were small, slight and suffering. They had been left for dead, and our forces captured them on one of our sweeps
near the Rockpile. The stench from their untended wounds was terrible. It was such a contrast from how we treat our wounded.
They were getting good care.
Our own wounded continued to arrive as well. Young men
from both sides of the war lay side by side, each receiving the same level of care. I wish Hanoi would not subject its young
men to this war. I really wished today that we could find other ways to get along. I'm certain that men have pondered this
moral dilemma for eons and will continue to do so long after we are gone. Meanwhile, we do our best with what we know and
have at our disposal.
I had a Memorial Day service with Cecil Lewis at the 1/44th.
It was a moment to pause and be grateful for all who have preceded us to ensure our freedom and hopefully a sense of peace.
The quest for our security and the defense of freedom continue to drive us into introspection and conflicting emotions. Yet,
I must honor men who swallow their fear, leave family to face danger and death and act even when all of the answers are not
visible and all of the blanks in life are not filled in. I know this sounds like old-hat crap to people like Dr. Spock and
Sloane Coffin, but to me, it is who I am. I can't be anything else. These young men don't need Dr. Spock at this time in their
lives. They need someone beside them, undergoing the same craziness, who can put out a hand to them and say, "I care."
[Sloane Coffin was a liberal Christian clergyman and peace activist.]
was given an NVA helmet and gas mask today. Some of the 1/44th troopers policed it up after an ambush. I turned
it over to our unit. They wanted the items for our headquarters. Again I thank God for the deliverance of this day. I am really
miserable with this darn fungus and belly.
May 1968 2230 (123)
I hurt. The jungle rot and
the chest are really having a great time of it. I should be able to whip this stuff. Lord knows I've had my share of EKGs
this past year, even before I joined the 108th.
A local Vietnamese was killed
today just outside our wire. He was scrapping and picked up a dud round that exploded. It is speculation that he might have
planned to use it as a command-detonated mine. (Now we call them IEDs.)
This week has
really gone fast. I am grateful. I have several road trips this next week. It's time to get a service to the Rockpile even
though they have resident chaplain-coverage there. I still need to make a visit.
going to go to bed. I just feel bum.
June 1968 2400 (122)
Rain. I'm tired
and can't get to sleep. I will have to see the doctor in the morning. I pray for God's protection. It has been quiet,
for which I am grateful.
Dr. Lefeber is not here. We have a substitute while
he is away. I wish he were here.
My letter home tonight did not tell of my discomfort.
They don't need to sweat this stuff too.
June 1968 2230 (121)
I am frightened.
I'm now in the MUST unit at Quang Tri. I had to get to the doctor fast this morning. I was to conduct services at the chapel,
but the intestinal and chest pain were out of control. I ended up driving past the chapel in an ambulance just as the troops
were gathering for worship. I feel like I have let the unit down. I have battled this stuff since Fort Leonard Wood before
I even got to the 108th. Tonight, I don't feel the unit got the best chaplain care they should have had.
Ira came down to see me tonight. He has been a faithful friend to me since we served together
in France from 1963 to 1966. He was a source of great comfort to me. I think they are planning to evac me sometime tomorrow.
I can only pray now. I feel like I have done all I can to handle whatever it is that is wrong. I have
to leave this whole mess in God's hands and let what be just be.
I really miss you big time.
(This was the last entry I made as the 108th
Field Artillery Group Chaplain. Quang Tri ran a battery of tests on me and found nothing wrong. The pain and jungle rot persisted.
I was evacuated to an Air Force hospital in Da Nang. I was then transferred to the 95th Evac Hospital in Da Nang.
They had just arrived and were on the beach in tents. I had to wait on care since the more seriously wounded were a priority.
The doctors suspected something in the bowel but did not have the facilities for further testing.
was then sent to the 85th Evac Hospital in Qui Nhon. After more tests and upper and lower GI series, they finally
found the cause of my chronic pain: I was diagnosed with colitis. The doctor said it was a severe case and that it had
been with me for a prolonged period. I told him I had felt discomfort for over two years. I was then called before a group
of doctors and given what one doctor called his "Come to Jesus" talk. I was told that if I didn't get this stuff
under control I would be dead of colon cancer in five years. They recommended immediate evacuation home. I did not like
that choice at all. I told them I wanted to finish my tour. I wanted to finish what I began with the 108th. I wanted
to return to Dong Ha.
We had a knock-down, drag-out conversation, but I did feel like
they cared about me, and I was strangely relieved that they had found a real issue and the pain was not just in my head.
It was after much discussion that the doctors allowed me to finish my tour in country. They ordered
my transfer out of "I" Corps to what they considered a quieter part of Vietnam. They also ordered me out of the
area where I had to take the orange malaria pill that always caused so much upset. I only took the daily dose that caused
no trouble at all. I was given the standard meds to treat the problem. I was also told that one more upset would result in
immediate return to the States, with no discussion.
I felt I had gotten all that I
could get. I didn't want to leave the 108th but knew if I pushed any more I would be on a plane headed for the
States, feeling like a failure and with a taste in my mouth I would have the rest of my life. I considered my options and
accepted their decision.
I was assigned as group chaplain for the 48th
Transportation Group in Long Binh. Ironically this was the parent unit of the 446th Transportation Company that
had sustained such terrible losses when it came to Dong Ha.
The 48th commander
(Colonel Case) treated me very well while I was with them. I now laugh at the notion of quietness the doctors thought
I would experience in Long Binh. The 48th was a truck outfit. The only way to visit the troops was to ride convoys.
I did that, and my new driver also found new ways to terrify me just as Doug and Nick had done at Dong Ha. We were on the
roads every day. We also sustained losses, and I conducted more memorial services.
was with the 48th such a short time, but I am grateful that they were there and I was allowed to finish a full tour of duty
with a sense of dignity. I returned to the United States on 4 October 1968. It was good to be home.)
ends my transcription of "My Thoughts and Others." Each chapter was a labor of love and the uncovering of
feelings I considered far removed from my present existence.
I had not read the diary
since I wrote it. I required a "wring-out" time after each segment. I also found bits and pieces of other
material scribbled here and there that I added to the renderings. To the best of my knowledge, the diary is accurate and the
chronology and times are as I wrote them.
In reality, this diary is not about me at
all. It's about the 100 plus men who inspired me to do my best and serve as well as I could. It's about a bunch of young men
who gave up the safety of home and lived an incredibly dangerous year together. It's about men who fought with each other
and yet fought to save each other when danger presented itself.
It's about cold and
heat, dust and mud, loneliness and fellowship. It's about pulling weevils from our bread before eating the slice. It's about
men who were never the same when they returned home. It's about men who cannot escape each other now because of what they
experienced. Like it or not, we are joined at our emotional hips for a lifetime. We are brothers.
is to you, my brothers, that "My Thoughts and Others" is dedicated. You all wrote the book. May our shared experiences
be a source of comfort and pride to us for our remaining years.
I add one final note
of dedication. This Vietnam experience is also dedicated to my lifetime hero. He fought in the same area as we but in a different
time and environment. His battlefields were the waters of the South Pacific. He served as a gunner's mate on the U.S.S.
Jallao, SS368, a Balao Class United States Navy submarine. The Jallao sailed on four combat patrols, sank an enemy cruiser
and other merchant ships and rescued five downed flyers while undergoing intense shelling from fortified shore artillery.
The submarines of WW II constituted less that 2% of the total navel force, sustained
over 25% of its casualties and sank over 65% of the enemy's combined merchant and combat shipping
has always been a source of inspiration to me. He was the primary reason, I feel, that led to a career in the military. He's
still my hero. He's my big brother, Gunner's Mate 3rd class Allen N. Neely, Jr. - United States Navy.
This one's for you, Bud.