Monday, February 26, 1970
Dear Chaplain Miller,

Jim, I finally found some time today to write my thoughts and observations to you. The other day I sent you a letter about the women in Vietnam. In this letter, I'll try to talk about some observation about the men in country.

I returned from Pleiku and dropped off the chapel supplies that Chaplain Honeycutt had asked me to pick up from the Pleiku Chapel. Then Dave and I drove over to our Battalion Headquarters to let them know we had returned. At HQ we found that the Battalion firebase had moved to a new location five miles from Warrior and deeper into the jungle countryside. The HQ company commander told me that the new firebase would be called Tuffy. He also said the men would not be coming back for a stand-down until the firebase was operational.

As I was about to leave the HQ and head back to my hooch, the Sergeant Major who had just come back from the firebase stopped me, "Chaplain, you better get out to Tuffy. The troops are really feeling down. They thought they would be coming back here for a stand-down for at least three days. Now, they have to stay out in the field and build another new firebase. They need a break but the Division told The Old Man that we would have to wait until the new base was set up," he said.

I told Dave to get my gear ready for me and I'd check and see if I could get a chopper out in the evening. As luck would have it, I got ride within the hour. The pilot had me sit up front and wear a helmet with radiophone in it. I felt important; it was the first time I flew up front in the co-pilot’s seat. The pilot and I were able to chat as we flew out to the new firebase, Tuffy.

He said that the new LZ was a "hot LZ,” meaning that the landing zone was apt to receive sniper fire. On our flight out, he pointed out some landmarks to me, a small cluster of straw huts, a brown twisting river and a patch of banana trees that he said belonged to the VC. I didn’t ask him how he knew it belonged to them. He said that we were flying low and hugging the jungle canopy of trees to avoid any quick sniper fire before arriving on the firebase. When we were ten minutes out from the base, he radioed into the TOC to let them know we were about to come in for a landing. The S-3 cleared him to land on the new LZ and for him to alert our door gunners to watch for sniper fire.

As we approached closer to the landing area, the pilot called into the TOC again to let them know he was about to land and what he was carrying. I was surprised as I listened over the chopper radio to hear the pilot call in to the command, “This is T-36 with a re-supply and one pack, The Batman."

Specialist Joe Desart, the S-4, was on the other end of the radio. There was a brief pause and then he came back with, “Say again, over."

"I repeat, I have one Batman,” said the pilot.

The radio was silent for several seconds again. Joe came back over the chopper’s radio, "The Man (meaning the CO) wants to know, what in the hell is a Batman?"

"Skypilot," the pilot said.

"I read you. Tell him to report to the TOC when he arrives," said Joe.

"Roger that. Here we are," said the pilot to me over the headset. Giving me a thumbs up sign as he did a quick turn and approached the LZ, lowering the chopper rather quickly.

Because of the sniper warning, the pilot didn't make a normal pass over the base. Since the base was just getting built and many of the GI's had put up poncho tents and shade while they dug their bunkers, the pilot didn't want to blow them away. Also he said to me as we were going down “that a fast landing and fast get-way might keep Charley from opening up on him.”

I had been in country long enough to know that the enemy had many names. There were the politically correct names used in the Command briefing such as the VC, meaning the Viet Cong. NVA or The North Vietnam Army, they also were called the NVL or the North Vietnam Liberation front. There were other less politically correct names for the enemy such as Charley and Gook or LBs, Those Little Bastards.

We landed, unloaded and the chopper was out without a shot being fired. I ran over to the TOC area to report to the CO.

A firebase in its infancy is a sight to behold. The war won't stop for construction and everyone who is not out in the jungle is working their tails off, building bunkers and setting up fields of fire so they can be secure by nightfall. The Recon Platoon and Bravo companies or Infantry companies or Grunts or Troops, or Blue legs or GI's; what ever you want to call them were units of the 1/12. A company and C company were also out in the bush. They were scouting the area for the sniper who was ruining the day for the battalion as it tried to complete the occupation of it’s new firebase, Tuffy.

Lieutenant Colonel Sterling welcomed me to the area. "What's the weather going to be like?" he asked, giving me his big grin. Then he went on and told me that orders came to move the same morning I left for Pleiku. He didn't see any need for me to get involved the first day, but wanted me out here as much as I could. He promised me again that he would see that I got out to the units in the bush at least once or twice a week. I told him that was fine and then I asked if I could be excused to try and dig a hole for myself for the night. "Of course, maybe you can find someone to move in with. You'll have to help them build a bunker though; most of the troops are still on top of the ground. “They won't get my damn TOC in a hole until tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I'm not going anywhere,” said the CO as I was leaving.

Specialist Joe Desart, the S-4 who operated the command radio, looked up as I was leaving the area. "Say Batman, I got a place started but I can't get away from the horn with the action out in the bush. I started a hole but had to leave it so I could cover the radio.” Pointing eastward he said, “It’s just over there by that tree. Pecker's there now, digging and filling sandbags. If you want to help out, we can make it big enough for three."

"Pecker?” I asked.

"I'm sorry, Captain. I mean Specialist Peter Murphy; he pulls the night shift on the horn," said Joe with a sheepish grin on his bearded face.

"I'll call you Joe, if you'll call me Chaplain or Chap or even Batman."

Joe laughed. "No problem, Chap."

Lieutenant Colonel Sterling heard our conversation. "That will be fine out here, Chaplain, but in base camp you need to stay with the officers. This damn war has some protocol.” He laughed. “By the way, what in the hell was the code word, Batman, all about?"

"I have no idea. That was something the sky man called me," I answered.

Joe was laughing. "I asked the pilot where he came up with Batman and he said he couldn't think of Skypilot at the time, so he said Batman, because the chaplain is always swooping in on the troops to say a prayer."

Sterling smiled, "You better get to digging. There are a couple of hours of daylight left."

I worked my butt off that evening. Pecker and I got the bunker halfway finished. Joe came over a little later and the three of us got with the program. We humped timbers from around the area to put over the hole so we could put sandbags on them for overhead protection when we were finished. Joe insisted that we build a large bunker so the three of us could sleep and play cards and relax under three layers of sandbags. He needed extra room for a radio. If he had a radio in his hooch, he wouldn't have to stay up all night at the TOC. So we worked until chow time and didn’t quite finish. That night I slept under the stars in a large hole with only several timbers overhead, cuddled up in a sleeping bag.

The next morning I got up early, made a canteen of chocolate milk, put in three or four extra cremates and opened a can of peaches from the C rations for breakfast. The mess hall wouldn’t be set up until the evening. The rest of the day, I spent digging and filling sandbags and by the close of day, we had safe and secure hooch with radio and three layers of sandbags overhead. What I didn't expect was that the hooch was not only safe from enemy mortars; it was also an ideal place for a little "pot smoking."

It seemed that Pecker had a little unauthorized habit. Joe said he only smoked a little and he never smoked on duty. I sat down with Pecker and suggested to him that he needed to wait until I went into base camp, or to at least smoke when I was not in the hooch.

"No problem," he said. Then he asked me. "Chap, you won't say anything to the CO, will you?”

"Not unless he asks," I said.

"Thanks, Chap. That's cool."

That evening, HQ at base camp flew in some "hots" (Meals in thermo cans) because the mess hall still wasn't ready to start cooking. Sterling called me up to TOC to eat supper with him. We got to know each other quickly over the short time we were both in country. We shared our families, philosophy and religious view and from time to time, what we thought of the war. He was Protestant, but not of any particular denomination. During our conversation he asked, "How's your bunker coming along. You and the S-4 getting along all right?"

"The bunker’s fine and I like having the radio there. I can keep up with what's going on out in the field." I answered.

"You like that funny weed that Pecker smokes?" he asked with a weary smile.

"I haven't seen him smoking anything but Luck's," I said.

"Now, Chaplain," said the CO, “I know he smokes marijuana, but he and Joe are the best damn troops on this base. I would rather have one or both of them out here with me than any other GI in the Battalion. I know he smokes a little. I told him to keep it to himself or I would bust his ass. They both told me that they only do it a little."

"I haven't had a problem with them smoking," I said.

"Good, just let me know if they get carried away." That was the last word the Colonel said about the matter to me.

After dinner, there were a couple of hours of daylight left. It was a cool evening in the jungle mountains. The sniper had been quiet for the day, so I sat down on the bunker, took out my journal and stationary and continued to put my thoughts down in this letter to you to let you know what was happening to me so far in the war.

[The good thing about waiting thirty years to rewrite this letter is that I can give some data that I didn't have available to me in 1970. When I use statistics in this writing, they are open for criticism as most statistics are. Those who opposed our action in Vietnam had one interruption and those who were pro Vietnam War have their rendition. I will merely provide them as a matter of interest.]

Jim, I can't help but ask myself, "Just what kind of men are in this war?” Some are so young that to call them men is an error in judgment. I was thirty-five by the time I got to Vietnam, so anyone younger is a youngster, a lad, a kid, and many are still teenagers. However, no matter the age, some were reported to be as young 16 years old. A day or two in the bush, out in the jungle or rice patty with a heavy rucksack and a M16 in their hand, trudging hour after hour through monsoons and humidity that suffocates the very air one breathes, made them men. They may cry like a baby. They will do childish things. They have fears, anxiety, anger, hostility, love, commitment, and devotion - all a mark of the solider-man.

They call some of their senior Sergeants, Pop, Big Daddy, Top. The Commanding officers are referred to as the Old man or just The Man. There are titles or names given to the various units within the Army itself. Names for such fighting men are, Blue legs, or Red legs depending whether your Infantry or Artillery. They answer to GI, Dogface, Grunt, Troop, Bushman Specialist, and Sarge, PFC, or Hey You. One wounded man told me that the bullet that wounded him didn't know what color he was, what age he was, what rank he was or what sex he happened to be.

The men and women who were part of the 543,300 in country at the peak of U.S. commitment in Vietnam in 1969 were not all aware of what was happening to themselves or to the United States. The soldiers, who were facing the enemy and dodging the bullets that may be looking for them, were not fearing the political battles that were stirring the inside of the Belt-Way in D.C. The men I lived with on the firebase in the Central Highlands were on a mission. That mission was primarily to stay alive for 365 days and then take the freedom bird home.

They had no idea the war would leave behind such statistics as 58,148 of their fellow soldiers killed in action. When they returned to the homeland and the freedom bird landed in Washington State, they listened to President Nixon's tape recording welcome them home. They had little interest in the statistic that five men killed in Vietnam were only sixteen years old. That the oldest soldier killed was sixty-five years old. When they headed home, they were not aware of the statistics that said 11,465 of their commanders killed in action were less than 20 years old. No one I talked to in December 1970 while I was on my way home, mentioned that the average age of the 11- Bravos killed in Vietnam was 22 years old.

Those KIA’s in Vietnam all seemed to die before their time. There is nothing fair in war. The men and women who die in war are all cheated equally as far as death was concerned. It mattered not to any of us returning home that approximately 70% of those killed in Vietnam were volunteers. None of them that I knew before they were killed joined the military to die. They joined to fight. They joined to avoid the draft. They joined to serve their country. They chose Vietnam rather then Canada or jail. There may be as many reasons for a person to join the military, as are persons. None of them joined to die.

Those 58,148 KIA’s who came into the military understood that they were risking their lives. Most of them I suspect, if we knew their reason for coming into the military, thought that in 365 days they, too, would be hearing President Nixon's recorded voice. "Welcome home, the American people are proud of you for serving your country."

I'm sorry, Jim; I'm getting ahead of myself in this letter. The men I served with in 1970 were a part of the statistics in some way. My observation of these men was limited in scope to the men of the Fourth Infantry Division and Supportive Units in the Central Highlands at An Khe's Camp Radcliff and later at Camp Granite near Qui Nhon Nhon.


Doug entered and took a seat. I knew he had gone on R & R for some rest and recreation earlier and had just gotten back. He looked worried as he took a seat. I poured him a cup of black coffee. "Sorry, no sugar or milk" I apologized.

"I take it black, Chaplain, that's the way we have it in the bush."

"Did you have a good time on R&R?” I asked.

"That's what I want to talk to you about." He stared at his coffee cup.

"Where did you end up going?”

"I went over to Taiwan. Vic from A Company went with me."

"Well, how was it? What happened? You don't seem too excited about the trip. Or is it having to come back here that's got you down this morning?" I wondered why he wasn’t looking at me.

"We went to Taiwan.” He went on talking. “You know, Chaplain, I got married just before I came to Vietnam. Cathy and I had planned to meet on R&R, but I couldn't get enough money together. Besides, she couldn't get off of work. Anyway, I ended up going alone."

I began to catch on. "You got into some trouble in Taiwan?”

"Yeah,” he said, hanging his head. He couldn't look me in the eye. He paused for a moment and continued. "I really didn't want to commit adultery. I told Vic that I was going to keep straight. You know, like you said about cussing. I was going to be different. At least I thought I could be different."

I knew the answer but asked anyway. "What happened? Can you tell me?"

He began to tell me. He arrived in Taiwan and he and Vic took a cab to their hotel. It was plush and cool and everything looked exciting. When he registered, the desk clerk asked him if he wanted a girl. Doug refused. The clerk couldn't understand. He asked him if he wanted a boy. Doug laughed at him and said no. “I want a hot bath and clean sheets and a steak dinner.” The bellboy took his bag and led him up to his room. It was a wonderful room, with complimentary fruit and wine. He tipped the bellboy and closed the door.

Soon there was a knock at the door. He opened the door and there stood a beautiful woman wearing a see-through gown. "You like?" she said.

“No,” said Doug and closed the door. When he got out of the shower, there was another knock on the door. Again another attractive almost nude woman stood before him with a cart of lotions and fresh towels.

"Maybe you want massage?” she asked.

Doug said. "I finally gave in. I thought a message would be nice and that would be it." She came in and I lay on the bed and before I knew it, I was unfaithful and it was over with."

"It's tough trying to resist temptation." I comforted.

"Yeah, I gave up fighting it and now I'm miserable and afraid I may bring something back to Cathy."

"You can go see Doc and he can check you out." I said.

"I'm going to do that. I wrote Cathy and told her all about it and how sorry I am that I messed up our marriage."

I was shocked. "You wrote Cathy already?"

"Yes, just as soon as I got back. Mailed it this morning. Do you think that was a mistake?” Doug asked.

"Well,” I started out. "Now she has to make a decision. Too bad, now you laid a trip on her. It's your sin and your guilt, but now she has to deal with it, too."

"I know,” said Doug, tears filling his eyes. "I thought she had a right to know."

"I'm not sure about the right business," I suggested. "Your punishment will be that you have to live with what you did. You can't go back and repair the damage. You could have asked God to forgive you and you know he would, but you still have to live all your life knowing you broke your marriage vows. That's a heavy load," I told him.

"What can I do now? I won't get home for another five months.”

I thought for a moment. Took a drink of cold coffee, sat silent for several minutes and finally I said to him, "Look, give me Cathy's address at home and I'll try to write her a letter explaining what you just told me. It may not help, but if it's ok with you, I'll try to help her understand what happened to you."

"I'm not sure it will help, Chaplain, but I don't think it can hurt anything either."

He wrote out the address, took the Kleenex I handed him, dried his eyes and went out the door saying, "Thanks again, Chaplain. Thanks."

The rest of the afternoon I attempted to compose a letter to Cathy. I suggested to her that Doug was very sorry for his actions. I told her about his tears and his genuine sorrow. I pointed out how his fellow grunts talked of nothing else but sex when they were back in the camp and in the jungle. Even in the field and at base camps, the bunkers are wallpapered with Playboy centerfolds. I explained to her about the pressure that he faced when he went to Taiwan. How they thought nothing of sex and that it was on every street corner and that was the way of life in the hotels. I told her I was sorry that they couldn't afford to be together. I told her of my previous experience with Doug and how faithful he had been to attend services and try to keep from being as foul mouthed as his buddies. I suggested that she had every reason distrust him now, but that I felt he would stay straight. He was heart broken for what he did. I didn't make a copy of the letter, but now I wish I had.

Two weeks after I sent the letter, I got an answer from Cathy. She told me that she had gotten both letters on the same day and she opened Doug’s first. It broke her heart and made her so angry that she didn’t read my letter until later. She took off her rings and wrapped them, getting ready to mail to him when she opened my letter to her. She said she didn’t know what to do after she read what I wrote.

She wept all night and asked the Lord what she should do. "Chaplain," she said, "This morning I decided to put the rings back on. I wrote Doug and told him I would try to forgive him this time, and we could talk about it when he got home. I do appreciate you taking the time to write to me. I guess I deserve some of the blame. I told Doug that it would cost too much for me to meet him in Hawaii. We could have borrowed the money. I'm sorry it happened but I do understand his needs and my own for that matter." She signed the letter. “Thanks again. Please pray for Doug and me.”

I guess what I'm learning alone in Vietnam is that women, the war within men, are not only the women here in Vietnam. However, as they represent the sexual thoughts of most men, they indeed are with the men in the field and at war.

The other day a young man came into my office and said, "Chaplain, I'm horny as hell."

"Ain't we all,” I responded.

"If that's true, what do you do about it?” he asked.

"Me?” I answered. Trying to shift the question back to him. "What do you think I do?”

"I have no idea. That's why I asked,” he said. "Do you get a boom-boom girl or do you beat your meat?"
I tried laughing. "You’re serious, aren't you?” I asked.

"I'm going crazy,” he said. "I don't think I can wait till I get my R & R."

"Ok. I'll tell you what I do. I don't beat my meat. But I do masturbate. I find relief in that way. It's not the same as making love to my wife, but it's a whole lot better and safer than poking it in a boom-boom girl."

He was stunned. He looked at me and repeated, "You masturbate?”

"Yes, I do sometimes. Now don't go blabbing to the other troops. I'm not ashamed to admit it, but I don't want to stir up any problems for the command. I just happen to think it beats the alternative. Please excuse the pun."

He laughed. "I guess most of us do the same thing. But no one talks about it. I've always been told it was a sin and that it could harm me."

"To tell you the truth, it won't hurt you or me and I'm not even sure it's a sin,” I said. "But if it is, I'm sure the Lord will forgive me for my weakness."

I would be amiss if I did not confess my experience of pushing the temptation envelope to the edge on a hot, sticky, sweaty afternoon. I had gone to Qui Nhon with Hugh, a chaplain friend from a sister battalion, to visit the hospital. His battalion had a jeep that they allowed him to drive. So two Baptist Chaplains were on their own in an evil city. We had spent a couple of hours in the hospital and another hour sitting in traffic on Highway Nineteen. My friend was a little more adventurous than I was. When he spotted a "massage parlor," he suggested we take a hot bath and get a massage. I agreed to the idea. After all, I was sweaty and hot. We had done our ministry and I was ready for the adventure.

Several military vehicles were parked in the makeshift parking lot. We looked around the area, half expecting to see a Baptist deacon or a woman missionary society member standing by watching who went into this parlor. It was a rundown building with orange, blue and yellow painted sides. One wall was made out of split beer cans. When we opened the door, a little bell rang and a Vietnamese man in a grubby dirty white shirt came to the front desk. “You want massage? Got two girls ready now. Five dollars American. You pay me now. Tip girls if you like.” He spoke through large yellow, front teeth.

I looked at Hugh. "Are you sure this is a good idea?' I asked.

"I need a shower and so do you,” he said.

"Come this way, gentlemen,” said the Vietnamese manager.

We went through a door that led out of the reception area into a long hallway with rooms running along both sides. My heavens, I thought to myself, what am I getting into? My last massage experience was in Tokyo at the officers club three years ago when Gwen and I went there for a vacation from Okinawa. Maybe the stories about these places in the city are true.

A very tiny young girl, wearing a loose-fitting T-shirt interrupted my thoughts. She was wearing short shorts. She took my hand and led me into one of the little rooms and said, "Take off uniform.” Too late to back out now, I thought.

Hugh was ushered into the next room.

She handed me large, white, clean towel. I went to the corner of the room and pulled back a curtain. She pointed to a shower. I got the message. I must confess the shower was hot and refreshing. As I stepped out of the shower, I started to dry myself with the towel. She gave a giggle and began to dry me off. Now what do I do? I thought to myself.

"Come.” She led me to a waist high table that for some reason I noticed for the first time since coming into the room. How did that get here? I thought. She took my towel away from me and left me standing naked and confused. It's true. I was confused. I couldn't speak Vietnamese, and she couldn't speak English very well. I remembered the two teenagers in Pleiku. The little masseuse laid the towel on the table and patted it, indicating she wanted me to lie down on the table.

Her hands were soft and light as they worked the muscles in my back and legs, working the pleasantly scented oil into my fresh-cleaned skin. I decided to allow her to do her thing and began to relax. I remembered that I had only three weeks to go before my R & R came up and I would be in Hawaii with Gwen. The girl’s small hands worked my stiff neck muscles and than down to my backside. She took each toe and rubbed them softly, massaged the bottom of my feet and worked her way up to my inner thigh. Then she tapped my side and turned me over. There I was, at half-mast and wondering what next.

"Ho! Ho!" She said. "You say good morning." She moved her hand along my thigh. "I give you special massage, you tip five dollars." She told me.

"No, I no tip,” I said.

"I do for three," She held her hands out in a pleading manner.

"No, I don't need it today." Who was I trying to convince?

Then she said, "You want more, special?”

I was afraid to ask what that might be. "No, no, just massage." I tried to say.

I believe she got the message. The flag went down and she handed me a dry towel and went out the back door. I got dressed, feeling good about several things. I was clean, I was relaxed and I had no guilt. Well, not as much guilt as I could have had.

I went out to the reception area, a little fearful that a GI might see the cross on my uniform. Hugh came out right after me. I looked at my watch. "Thirty minutes." I said as I pointed to a sign that advertised one-hour massage. Hugh started to complain to the man of the house. He smiled and shrugged his shoulder. Hugh leaned on the desk and looked him in the eye and said, "We should get a refund. We didn't get a whole hour. You owe us thirty minutes," Hugh argued.

The man shrugged again, reached in the drawer and handed us printed card that said, "Next massage half price." We both began to laugh and walked out. I never asked Hugh if he got the special and he never asked me if I gave in and got the special. All I could think about on our trip home was how anxious I was getting to get through the next three weeks so I could take my R & R.

As I keep saying, “Women are the war within man. Especially when man is at war.” One way that the Army attempted to negate the women war within men at war was the concept of R&R, rest and relaxation. It was good for the grunts and it was great for this chaplain. Rest and relaxation in the midst of war. What a concept! "America,” what a country! I wonder if the United States would have been victorious in WWI and WWII if it allowed the men to stop fighting for a week and go off to a romantic island with their spouses or with their significant others.

Women followed men in other wars and waited behind the lines or around the campfires to provide comfort for the soldiers. In Vietnam the men had excused absences to go to their women.

I chose to go to Hawaii where I planned to spend five loving days on R & R with my wife. It was the hope and the plan of that meeting that kept my morale up and my libido in check.

The chaplains in Hawaii were in charge of setting up the program for mates to meet. We had a plush suite on the beach at a reduced cost. Planned tours were available for those who wanted to go on them, but only the waiting wives attended them before their warriors arrived on the island.

Sex was implied in the programming for the week. When the wives’ husbands got off the plane from Vietnam, there was one place they wanted to go, a wonderful motel on the beach.

However, not all R & R's are successful. Every month or two I heard of GI's being stood up when they arrived in Hawaii. It seemed to me a new form of a Dear John letter. It was a Dear-John-I'm-sorry-but-I-just-couldn't-make-it-to-Hawaii, enclosed-is-your-ring. Have a nice war. Personal relationships cannot always be put on hold and even in the middle of a tour of war; a soldier fights a war on two battlefields simultaneously, in Vietnam and Home.

Sorry for the rambling letter. A woman in a war zone is an important combat factor. Men are often battling both war and women. The human urges of men and their moral duty are fighting battles that they don't always understand.

Jim, keep me in your prayers.




(This letter has been edited to include later experiences I had with women while I was in Vietnam and how they affected the men and women fighting the war. This is an attempt to pull thoughts and experiences together without regard to dates.)

Monday, February 23, 1970
Dear Chaplain Miller,

I have been in country for a month now. I have seen action, and I have slept in a bunker on a firebase. I have had religious services in the jungle, I have flown in helicopters, I have seen sniper fire, I've tasted new wine, and I've seen dead enemies and dead friends. Most of my association has been with men, boys who had to grow up and become men in order to survive. However, as has been true since Adam and Eve in the garden, women play an important part in man’s actions. Women can be a war within the man.

I read of wars and see movies about wars and there is often only a passing view of the problem of sex in a war. Women are either depicted as playing a large part or a passive roll in conflict with countries at war. My experience in Vietnam was limited when it came to women in war. Women were the subjects of GI conversations and thoughts. However, most of the thoughts were internal and the conversations were couched in four letter words that debased the act of love. When I hear a grunt, a sergeant, or an officer talk about "This f###ing war,” I hear them saying they've been screwed. There is no love involved in the act they are talking about. I don’t even see an image of women in their language.

Whether spoken or not, women are, at times, a war within the soldier. Since I have no way of understanding the inner thoughts of the women soldiers nor can I speak to their experience in a war zone as a fighting person, I venture to guess that men might be the war within the women as well. I will not attempt to speak for the females in the military. I leave that to future writers and historians. I want to share with you my limited experience, with the women I happened meet on my journey in blind faith.

Dave and I made it home from Qui Nhon without any event worth writing about. When I arrived in camp, I got word that I was wanted out on the firebase. I figured the CO wanted a report on the wounded, so made arrangements to get out to the base as soon as possible. I was fortunate to catch a re-supply bird quickly and reported to the TOC and to Lieutenant Colonel Sterling.

Indeed the CO was concerned about the wounded. He had been writing letters to their families and wanted the latest information. I gave him my report and he took some notes.

I then told him the Division Chaplain told me that the Commanding General wanted the Division Chaplains to conduct Character Guidance classes not only at base camp, but also on the firebase as well. I told the CO that I didn't think much of the idea of gathering the men on a firebase to a mandatory class of race relations, drugs, sex, and such.

His comment gave me the answer I was looking for. "Damn it, Chaplain, every time you talk to a troop out here, it had better be character guidance."

"Thank you, sir," I said.

Then after a moment of thought, he offered a compromise. "Maybe you better get some classes together for the units back at Radcliff."

"Good idea, sir," I said.

"By the way, Chaplain,” asked the CO, "how often do you plan to bring services to the guys in the bush?'

"As often as I can, sir. It gets difficult sometimes for me to get on a supply chopper.”

"I can fix that. I'll see that you get out on the supply runs. That would be about every third day or so, depending on the weather."

"Thank you, sir. The men look forward to the service, especially in the bush. I like going out there. It makes me feel like I'm doing what I came to Vietnam to do."

"That you are, Chaplain, that you are."

Out on a mission in the bush, A-Company broke through on the radio. "In coming, in coming."

Sterling shouted out, "Coordinates! Get the damn coordinates!”

The XO was on the horn. "Artillery ready! Pop smoke when ready!"

"Alert mortars!” commanded Sterling. "What's happening out there? How many? Any hits? Get me in contact with the CO," he continued to yell.

"Yes, sir!" replied the S-4, Sp. 5 Dausset. “He just got on the horn.”

"No sweat" said the RTO. "Only one sniper, no hits, I sent out a squad to flush the bastard out. Over."

"Good job," said Sterling. “Keep us informed."

The commotion died down and the TOC became quiet and normal. "Sir, is there anything else you need from me? I’m going to have service in ten minutes on the base,” I said.

Smiling, he asked, "Damn, is it Sunday all ready? No, go on ahead. I have nothing at this time - except to be ready to move to a new firebase this week. Just as things get hot, it seems we are ordered to move,” said the CO.

"Sir, speaking of moving. I need to go to Pleiku to Camp Anarie to pick up some Chaplain's equipment that was left there when the Battalion moved to An Khe. I'm not sure what it might be, but the Brigade Chaplain asked me to pick it up if possible."

"Go right ahead. Be careful. Highway nineteen can be tricky through the mountains. You can go tomorrow; it will be day or two before the new firebase will be open. We’re all headed back to base camp tomorrow or the day after. Have a good service, Chaplain. One of these days I'll attend."

"You're always welcome, sir," I said as I went to the door.

As I was about to leave, he stopped me and asked, "What’s the weather going be like tomorrow?"

Again, I smiled. "I checked with our HQ’s before I came out and they said, "Same-o, same-o."”

"Good," said the commander.

By now, my friend Jim, you may be wondering what all this has to do with women in the war. Well, my little experience in Pleiku when I got there the next day is an interesting adventure and story that speaks to my naiveté and my lack of experience with women in a time and place of war.


February 20, 1970
Dear Chaplain Miller,

Dave came by the BAQ around 1030 hours. I met him out front and we headed on our journey home. Home. That's a strange thing to be calling a tent with floor made of wooden pallets in the middle of a battalion campsite. This place we call home is in a strange country with even stranger sounding names for its near-by towns. Home should be a place where families live and children play.

The home to which Dave and I were heading had children called soldiers, grunts, bushmen, troops, brothers, blacks, and honkies. Parents were assigned and called officers, lifers, the man, Top, big daddy and high higher, as well as other names that I’ll spare you from hearing in the name of decency.

The women at home were mostly nurses in military uniforms like ours. Donut Dollies who were USO workers attempted to give refreshment and entertainment. There were also some in our town that were hussies of the neighborhood. The boom boom girls that sold their wares and sometimes were smuggled into the perimeter bunkers. "Home is the place that when you get there, they have to take you in," according to Robert Frost's poem, “The Death of the Hired Man.” We headed up highway nineteen to Camp Radcliff where they had to take us in. So I guess we were going home.

As I was getting ready to enter the jeep, I told Dave that I was going to drive back. "Ok,” he said, "Any reason why?"

"Well,” I answered, "I was talking to a Lieutenant Colonel last night and he told me that I should drive, because the VC know that officers sit on the right front seat of a vehicle and they like to shoot at rank."

Dave had a stunned look his face. He had no idea I was just kidding. But Dave was a smart assistant and quick on his feet and he replied in a flash, "Then I'll ride in the back."

I laughed and said, “I'm just kidding." I reached over and took his M16 and climbed into the passenger side of the jeep, put the weapon across my knees and said, "Take me home, James."

"Right, massah,” he replied as he pulled out on the road filled with buses, bicycles, pullcarts, and motorbikes all stacked with people of all sizes and shapes.

As we drove through the little business area of Qui Nhon, the children were out on both sides of the road, begging. I was reminded of my bus ride from the airport to the Beinhoa's Reception Company when I first arrived in Vietnam. Dave didn't slow down. He had heard of the war stories about some of these little tykes, stealing gas cans off of moving jeeps and other tactical vehicles if they went too slow through the city streets. Children indeed were involved in the war. Horror stories about them dropping hand grenades into passing American vehicles were more than rumors.

What follows is an addition to this letter to Jim when I was doing some editing as I prepared my manuscript for my editor in my hope of publication.

I had the following experience three months before my tour in Nam would be over. It happened on one of my visits to Qui Nhon Nhon. I had my wristwatch stolen off my wrist when my jeep was stopped in traffic. I was sitting in the backseat of the jeep. Two other chaplains and the driver were riding with me. We had been to Chaplains training conference at MACV and we were heading back to the BOQ. There was an accident in the middle of the road. Traffic came to a dead stop and crowds of people were milling around, children begging for whatever they could get. Suddenly, a small, thin brown hand reached through the back canvas flap on the right side of the jeep.

I wore my watch on the right wrist because I was left-handed. In a flash, he snapped the band and snatched the watch off of me and took off in a run. I jumped over the front seat and out of the jeep, cutting my leg in the act. I chased him through the myriad of little businesses along the street. Jumping over vendors selling chickens, charcoal for cooking pots, homemade beads and woven rugs. I thought I could catch him. I didn't think about what I was doing. I was just angry.

We ran down narrow walkways where women were fixing meals on the sidewalks. I tried to jump over them, stepping on food, plates and teapots. I just about got my hand on this munchkin. It looked like he had come to a dead end. Then he squeezed through a crack in a wall at the end of the corridor and vanished. I couldn't fit through his escape crack in the wall and by then I began to fear for where I found myself.

I turned away, mumbling under my breath. Breathing hard, I began to realize that I was in a "no man's land," out of sight of my fellow chaplains and to them, out of my mind. They stayed with the jeep. I made my way back to where they parked, looking over my shoulders and to my side, trying to be as vigilant as possible. All I could think of was how stupid I was to venture out into the population without any protection and lacking any good sense. I was lucky. I only lost a watch and cut my leg, I still had my life.

Three chaplains begin to preach to me about impulsive actions that could destroy me. Together all three began to rib me about applying for a Purple Heart medal for being wounded in action. I never applied for the medal. I was too embarrassed.

As we headed back to the BOQ and I was wiping the blood from my leg, I couldn't help but think what a fool I was. I was lucky only my leg was bleeding. Here I had been in the country for over six months and still acted like an idiot and forgot were I was and what I was doing here. I was in Vietnam because soldiers were here, not because I had to run down a "steely boy,” who was only trying to provide something to sell so he could buy something to eat.

Our jeep made it back through An Khe pass, through the little village of AnTuc with an orphanage filled with children, victims of the war. In the months ahead, Dave and I would be making weekly trips to the orphanage to bring candy, excess C-rations, and slop from the mess hall for the pigs they raised.

My contact with the director, a Catholic Priest, Father Frances, was both a challenge and a delight. He wore a black gown that touched the ground; a large cross hung around his neck and hit him in the middle of his thin chest. He wore a black hat and had a short, graying beard. He was over sixty years old. He had an elongated face with deep wrinkles that gave his beard dark shadows to match the dark bags under his eyes. He was a dedicated man of God who was not seeking fame but seeking to maintain and run his orphanage and care for his twenty or so orphans of various ages and sizes and sexes.

My experience and association with Father Frances and especially a little black haired girl with dark brown eyes, named Kim, was one of the grand experiences of my stay in the Central Highlands. Whenever I see the word orphanage or I have a slight flashback to Vietnam, I see her shy smile and feel her tender touch when she would take hold of my finger as I walked with her around the campus. It was a sweet moment in a senseless war.

Father Frances had lived for forty years in South Vietnam. He had lived through the French and Vietnamese wars and the Japanese in WWII. He had seen political turmoil over and over again. His major complaint was that it was always the children who suffered and were the forgotten victims of any war and corrupt government leaders. I remember when he told me about his experience with government and politics, he put out both hands, palms up, hunched his shoulders and in broken English said, "No change."

The Priest could not speak English; he was from a French order of priests that had been in Vietnam from the days when the French controlled the country. It was always an interesting trip to the orphanage and school. Dave and I both attempted to communicate as best we could. Several of the teenage children interpreted for us.

I would load up the jeep with discarded C-rations that the troops dropped by my tent every week. There were cans of peanut butter, jelly, ham, cookies and other foods that the troops didn't use. The Battalion mess would load down my trailer with two or three fifty-gallon containers of slop held over from the mess. When Dave and I would pull up into the school grounds, the children would gather around.

One beautiful, dark-haired little six-year-old, Kim, would come up and take my hand. I fell in love with her. I remember writing my wife and suggesting that I might bring home a surprise. However, the law of the land made it impossible for any American to adopt a child during the war. The priest told me that in order to adopt a child, I would have to get permission from any living relative of Kim's. He then said, "Impossible. Kim's family was lost. Some were dead and others were missing." He had one of the older girls interpret for me, saying, "The last time I heard from her mother, she was working in Saigon as a prostitute.”

I commented, "That's a shame."

The priest shook his head and said, "It is no shame, and it is a way of life these days."

These children of the orphanage never begged. They waited patiently for the boxes of C rations to be unloaded and the older boys, eight or nine years old, took the barrels of slop off the trailer.

The priest invited Dave and I into his quarters and offered us a glass of his special French wine. It tasted awful but Dave and I smacked our lips and thanked him for his graciousness. When we got back to the jeep, everything was always in excellent order. The jeep was washed and the barrels were scrubbed and clean enough to eat out of them. Only after we were ready to leave did the priest offer any candy to the children. It was always a disciplined ritual to see them take their treat in such a respectful manner.

On one of the visits we were invited into the school for a special activity that the children had prepared for Dave and me. They had a musical program in our honor. They sang hymns in Vietnamese, English and French. Four of the older girls were, I would guess, thirteen to sixteen. It is difficult to guess children's ages. They were so small and tiny in stature. They did a pantomime of the Beatles, swinging and dancing and pretending to play guitars. It was a happy day and a reminder of the children's choirs in churches I had pastored back in the world.

While he served us his special wine, I asked the priest why he did not have any teenage boys in the orphanage. I went on to share my observation that most of his children were girls. He responded. "The war they're fighting is a war of boys who hope to be men."

Well, once again I need to close this letter. The orphanage and its memories is a time that refreshes my mind and gives me a partial answer to the question, "Why are we in Vietnam?" It helps me to think that we are helping some of the children find peace.




Tuesday, February 17, 1970
Dear Chaplain Miller,

I slept well last night. I'm not sure of the reason for my ability to find such rest. It may have been the clean sheets or it may have been the glasses of wine. I woke up around 0700 refreshed and at peace, took another hot shower and went to breakfast. Fried eggs and bacon and white sliced bread toast. Wow, I could get use to this kind of living, if it weren't for the war around me.

I went back to my room and read a little. Picked up a Stars and Strip’s newspaper and just cooled it, until the sun began to rise and fill the Vietnam blue sky with its warm rays. I took the clean white towel that was issued to all guests and headed out to the beach. So Jim, here I am, continuing another chapter in my story of Blind Faith.

I'm lying here in the shade of a large palm tree. The shadow it casts makes my skin look like it is striped. However, the humidity is here but so is rest
on a sunny beach after a hectic weekend. It may be hot, it may be humid, but it is safe and not crowded. In fact, Dave and I are the only ones on the beach. I did bring my journal, so while Dave reads his book, I'll share my thoughts.

Funny, I remember one summer in St. Petersburg, Florida, when I was in high school, I spent every afternoon on the beach. I worked nights, saving money for my first year in college. What I remember as I lay here on this beach today, so many years later, is a line from song that was on the juke box in the beach cafe that went something like: "I'm reclining especially when the sun is shining. I want to relax down by the tracks, hearing the train go clickety clack." There was no train but I did remember the relaxation in the warm sunshine as I enjoyed the soft sand and my worry free moments as a teenager.

The Asian wind is blowing with a soft coolness from off the waves onto a trash-cluttered beach in this early, cloudless Vietnam morning. The ocean waves are unyielding to the gritty sand. They keep washing up on the shore all sorts of mysterious, miscellaneous, misplaced, mangled and mutilated trash such as a mess of rotten remnants of fishing nets. Nets that once served, I can well imagine, as a source of livelihood for a small sun-baked, leathery, wrinkled, stooped and thin-framed man of the sea, who himself may now be as unusable as those rotten nets. Or he may very well be carrying packs of cargo along the Ho Chi Minh trail for the Vietcong.

In this twisted backwash of seaweed, fishing nets and indescribable filth, are odd pieces of twisted, rotten rope that once, perhaps, held proud seaworthy crafts that served as business, home and recreation for an industrious Vietnamese family. Rubber straps of water-beaten thongs, with faded colors of red, yellow, brown, black, blue, green and withering, dirty white are all caught up in this twisted web that the churning sea has macerated and vomited upon the shore. There they remind one of the feet they must have once protected. Small, running feet with skinned knees that are held up twelve inches above dirty toes with ragged nails trimmed by the indifferent manicurists of dust, dirt, sand rocks and stubby grass.

There are some larger sizes of such rubber thongs half buried in the beach sand, reminding of heavier loads of a mother with a bare-bottomed baby under one arm and a roll of plastic, variegated rugs under the other. The rugs would serve as a mattress for both when the darkness comes. She may be willing to sell her pad to the American Soldier for "two dollars American, cheap."

There are still other remnants of more worn and broken sandals lying among the clutter. They may have come from the foot of dead Vietcong, or an ARVEN of the South. Could it be that one of these sandals once belonged to the foot of a motorbike driver who is a "go for-boy" by day and a Sapper by night?

Mingled with this turmoil of smelly ocean refuse are broken, torn, almost undetectable pieces of discarded or lost toys. Once designed to bring joy to the
young, now they are only obstacles for small crabs and wiggle bugs, and places for ocean flies to find lodging. The world, it would seem, is there in that unmanageable pile of empty beer cans, shreds of sandbags, and faded wasted pieces of cloth, all twisted and tied together by wet seaweed. All of this concoction of pollution seems to me to be symbolic of war.

At a distance down the cluttered beach, a tiny figure struggles with a beach-found burden. He looks to be five or six years old. Who can tell? His shirt is too long, button missing, black stringy hair falling over his determined, young, half-slanting black eyes that only see what’s on his mind. His shorts are cut off at the knees, toes digging little notches in the wet cool sand, as he bears his burden.

I was thinking to myself, Should I be on guard? Is he going to throw a grenade in my direction? I was told, “Always be alert and trust no one,” it was a mantra given to me by the Green Beret who trained me while I was in Okinawa.

The burden of this lad is a blue, used I would guess, light bulb, clenched tightly in one hand and a water-logged piece of drift wood, a two by four over five feet long. It is resting over his thin shoulder and extending over his own bent stature, giving the appearance of a child bearing a cross. As he passes close, he seems to be making a point of not paying attention to Dave and me as we watch him struggle by.

He continues to drag his treasure of the sea behind him, holding the light bulb high to keep it from breaking. The end of his wooden burden cuts a groove in wet the sand along the beach, leaving a small trail in his wake that the waves attempt to wash away. I watch as he slowly moves past the half-buried barbed wire divider that separates the American beach from the people's beach like a silent sentry of the nemesis of war.

I watch this image of blind faith and his hope for tomorrow's Vietnam as he carries a new brace, a new step, a new rail or wood for a fire to his home so his mother could cook his rice. He has gathered flowers from the sea of thorns to make his mother proud of him, if, in fact he still has a mother. Will she beam for joy at this wooden burden, this prize that is leaving a trail in the sand?

See, he is way down the beach now, almost a dot. He has shifted his burden around several times, yet the trail is still being marked in the sand. Only now and then, and all too soon, a reaching wave washes the crooked line away, the mark of a boy and his treasure along the sandy beach. Would that the long trail of war that marks the sands of history be washed away as easily.

Those beaches would be cluttered with the sound of laughing children with waves reaching out to wash away the sandcastles that are a joy to remake. Searching along the beach would be for seashells to collect like a bunch of flowers to bring home to a smiling mother. A little fellow playing on this beach would have determined eyes as he watched the gulls soar freely and with peaceful ease.

The beach would be a stretch of open space where his little legs could run their fastest. That barbed wire would never mar the open space where little toes can freely leave prints in the cool wet sand of happier times.

Well, Jim, that’s about it for now. I wouldn’t try to swim in this water but it has been relaxing to lie here and enjoy a moment of silence before I return to the war.




The double swinging doors to the ER were open. Three tables under bright lights had a patient on each one. The area was buzzing with commotion and activity. I could see only parts of the patients through the staff working on them. The nurses were cutting uniforms off and pulling off boots and letting them drop to the floor.

IV's were popping up around each patient like strange antennae. Doctors and nurses were calling out commands while medical aides were running back in forth between the patients, picking up bloody swabs and bandages, bloody boots and pieces of clothing. It looked like the movie MASH, only there was no joking around, no Father Mulcahy in a white collar under his chaplain's uniform.

The Catholic chaplain who was standing by me continued observing the action of the staff. He had done his duty when the men were off-loaded at the chopper pad. I don't remember how long I stood there before I spoke.

"Hi, Jerry," I said to the priest. "Looks like a busy afternoon."

"Welcome, Don. It never is slow here. They're either coming or going."

"I know,” I said. “We sent a bus load down to you on Sunday."

"You were at the firebase that got overrun?” Jerry asked.

"I was on the firebase, but I wouldn't call it being overrun. It was exciting. It was the first time I slept on a firebase since being in the country," I told him.

Jerry changed the subject. "My assistant is in the office. He has the room numbers of your men. He told me to tell Dave to stop by when you got here."

"I told Dave to hang out for a while at your office. I'll go on up and see my men and check out with you before I go to MACV."

"By the way, two of your men were air-vacced to Japan this morning,” said the Chaplain.


I went up and got the room numbers and visited the troops. They were interested in what happened after they were dusted off and where they would be transferred to, and what they were going to have for dinner. Their spirits were high. After all, they were going home and none of them were wounded too severely, but just enough to make it back to the world or to Japan.

I stopped by the Chaplain’s office as I was leaving, picked up Dave and headed to MACV for the night. Dave dropped me off. We agreed to meet on the beach around 0930 the next morning and then head back to An Khe after lunch. I checked into the BOQ and was assigned a small room with clean sheets. Down the hall was a hot shower and flush toilets. What a wonderful pause of refreshment to have indoor facilities.

That night after a long hot shower, I went to the officer’s club for a steak dinner and a poor floorshow of some Vietnamese girls dancing and singing to Beatles’ songs. I met a Lieutenant Colonel Al McKittric who was in Qui Nhon to inspect MACV. He was with the Inspector General's office in Saigon.

We hit it off from the start. No doubt both of us needed companionship and conversation. We drank a bottle of dry red wine and commiserated with each other about the state of the war and the politics of Vietnam. He knew a great deal more than I did about how the U.S. got involved with South Vietnam. I really was naive about the war and how our government got involved.

Jim, when I joined the Army in ‘66, I believed that America was fighting to save Vietnam from the Communist Red menace. I believed that Russia was attempting to take over the world and our army was in Vietnam to stop their aggression.

I mentioned to Al that my SGM blamed the Navy and their screw-up at Tonkin for our becoming involved in the war. He laughed. "Sounds like an Army Sergeant. Tonkin did give President Johnson the excuse he was looking for to up the ante and to draft more troops. But this mess started back in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations."

I gave him a look that said, "Go on, I'm listening."

He continued talking, "Roosevelt said toward the end of WWII that he favored nationalistic self-determination in all the European colonial areas. He stressed international postwar peace that would depend on America's global leadership. However, he didn't reach out to the nations like Vietnam and assist them in their quest for independence."

He went on to say, “Ho Chi Minh was a communist, but I don't believe he was necessarily in bed with Russia at that time. In fact, in a speech on independence to his people and in his quest for Vietnam independence, Ho used a well-known American phrase."

Al stopped, took a sip of wine. "Do you know what the phrase was?"

Smiling, I said, "No, but I bet you're going to tell me."

Al looked right at me and began to speak again. "We hold that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." He went on to say, "If Roosevelt had encouraged Ho at that time, no telling what might have happened and how the New World Order would have fallen out. As you know, Roosevelt, like America always does, gave in to the French and let Ho go off on his own to seek assistance from his old Russian friends." He paused before continuing.

“Ho was really active in Vietnam in 1945. He set up a provisional government after Japan surrendered and later declared the independence of Vietnam. The situation was so bad that the British forces had to come to Saigon to return authority to the French. That's when LT. Col. Peter Dewey got it. He was the first American to die over this country. The Vietnamese thought he was a French soldier and shot up his jeep, killing him." He stopped speaking, took another sip of wine, and went on telling his story.

"Truman was no better in his attitude toward Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam then Roosevelt," Al continued. "Truman was satisfied to let France and Vietnam solve their own problems at first but later sided with the French. In 1950, his administration ended up supporting the French in their struggle to maintain control over Vietnam and Indochina by having the United States grant them three billion dollars. Our country was so fearful of the Russian brand of communism that we failed to look into Ho Chi Minh’s idea of communism. I think if we had, we might not be here today."

I tried to give some input to his information by suggesting that we were involved with Korea at the time of Truman and really didn't have any idea that Vietnam would be a serious factor in our life. Al agreed, but went on with his history lesson.

"The French had a battle on their hands. I think they, like us, underestimated Ho’s ability to lead his people and underestimated the ability of the Vietnamese to fight. I know you heard about the French losing the battle at Dienbienphu; I think that was around 1954."

I chimed in, "I was a freshmen in high school, wearing white buck shoes."

Al smiled. "I remember that, too. I also remember Eisenhower talking about the Domino Theory after the French were defeated. You know, all the small nations were standing in a line across the world like dominos and when one falls to the communists, there is a chain reaction and all other countries began to tumble one at a time. America was coming off the McCarthy hearings and still had the fear of a communist under every bush. So Ike continued to provide aid to the French, but he did have the balls to refuse to send in any U.S. troops."

I said, "What I remember most about Eisenhower, was the slogan, I like Ike."

Al looked at me and said, "Where in the hell did you go to school?”

I answered, "I was into running track, trying to make out with girls, laying on the beach all afternoon and planning to go to college. I wasn't much of a student. In fact, I remember telling my counselor at the time that I had a scholarship to a Baptist college to run track but was afraid of more school. I told her I wanted to join the Navy. She suggested that I try college and if I failed, it would only be one year and then I could join the Navy.”

"You remember Kennedy, don't you?” asked Al, as he took a long drink of wine. He reached over with the bottle and poured me another glassful. "I know you’re Baptist, but what the hell are you doing in Vietnam? I won't tell on you."

"Thanks” I said. “And I do remember Kennedy. I was in seminary when he was elected. The big theological debate at that time was if he were to become president, would he owe his loyalty to the Pope or to the people of the United States? I do remember somewhere in that time frame, after his election there was some talk that the reason he supported Vietnam was because the government of the South Vietnam was Catholic." I was on a roll now with my bit of history. “And I also remember the Bay of Pigs mess and how Kennedy screwed that invasion up. I remember television, showing pictures of Russian ships bringing missiles to Cuba. In that time frame I believe that James Meredith was enrolled at Old Miss. That was the big news."

"Your education was lacking some even if you were in seminary," said Al. "Let me go on and enlighten you so you won't blame the Navy for your being here in Vietnam. You’re right. Kennedy did support Diem. In fact, he sent Green Berets Special Forces into Vietnam as advisors to try and help the South. However the Vietcong defeated the South Vietnamese Army in the battle of Ap Bac. That was a critical battle for the Cong."

Al pushed his chair out and crossed his legs to get more comfortable. “You'll remember, Chaplain, things were a mess on the home front. Martin Luther King was doing battle in the South with you bigots." He paused and smiled. "Well, with some of the bigots. Then Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Buddhists were burning themselves in the streets of Saigon and finally, President Diem and his brother were murdered, with America's blessing." Al shook his head as if in disbelief. “I'm sure, if it was not for American help that General Nguyen Khanah would not have seized power in Saigon."

Al went on talking, “By then, President Johnson was in full command and after Tonkin's fiasco in ’64, he began to send in mega-troops. We bombed the hell out of the Vietcong in the north for three years; as Commander-in-Chief, he was determined to whip out the North Vietnamese communist insurgent. By 1966, there were over 200,000 troops fighting in South Vietnam."

I reminded him about the students and their protests. Al jumped in and pointed out that there were others. He said, “Don’t forget the Veterans and Martin Luther King. He began to call for Johnson to end the war and bring the boys home. All that was too much for Johnson. He announced in March of ’68 that he was through. He wasn't going to run for the presidency again."

"I remember that, too,” I said with a big simile. In 1966, I was one of the 200,000 that made it possible for him to send more troops to Vietnam. I was pastor of a church in Fresno. My young men in the congregation were being drafted and they had to go, so I joined. Now here I am getting a great a history lesson on why I'm in Vietnam."

"Good, you need it," said Al with a laugh. He looked at his watch. "It’s getting late, Chap, and I have to get up early tomorrow.” One last thought for the night. I think Nixon is going to try and call the troops back home in a couple of years. He's going to try to flex his military might and then pull out with some kind of treaty. I personally don't think it will work. We may get home some day, but when we do, we won't be called winners. Chaplain, I enjoyed talking with you tonight. I bet you'll sleep well after all that wine, I know I will. If I don't see you again, cover your ass and look out for Charley."

"Thanks, Al. To say the least, tonight was the best briefing I've had since being in the Army. Take care and God bless.”

I wished I could have listened to him longer, but I was dead tired, so I joyously tucked myself into my clean white cool sheets and dreamed of being home in my golden adult playpen.




February 16, 1970
Dear Chaplain Miller,

I will start this memory from my lift-off from firebase Warrior after my valentine experience with the VC. I was happy to be going back to base camp and even happier with the CO’s order to go to the hospital in Qui Nhon to check on our wounded that were medivacced to the 85th Evacuation Hospital. As the chopper left the firebase, the door gunner handed me a pair of earplugs and pantomimed that I should place them in my ears. I took his suggestion and placed one tight in each ear. It was one of the better helpful hints I received from the experienced GI’s while in Vietnam. The loud chopper noise became a drone sound and soon I drifted off and fell into a sound sleep. I took no time for sightseeing on my way back. I was exhausted, more than I knew. When the chopper set down at the Golf Course, I jumped off, waved goodbye to the pilot and gave a thumbs-up thank you.

Dave, my Chaplain's assistant, was there to meet me with the jeep. The CO had radioed HQs and told him I was on the way. Dave was a fifth grade school teacher that was drafted when he didn't find a teaching job in New Jersey. It was wonderful to have such talented and educated assistants handling things in the rear when I went to the field. On the drive back to my hooch, Dave told me that HQ told him he had to drive me to the hospital tomorrow because the chopper would not be available.

Dave was a little apprehensive about driving down Highway Nineteen. That was the main artery from Pleiku through An Khe to Qui Nhon. We sometimes got reports about ambushes along the road by the VC. I had gone down to Qui Nhon with another chaplain and it was just an interesting drive for me. There were rice paddies and charcoal shops along the highway. They burned wood and sold the charcoal remains as firewood for cooking. I saw several Buddhist Pagodas but we did not stop to visit any of them. I told Dave not to worry, that we would be just fine. After all, we were doing the Lord’s work. His comment to me was, “That’s what all martyrs said just before they were burned at the stake.”

I had Dave get our HQs to set up a place for us to stay with the Military Assistance Command Vietnam or MACV. We would spend the night there. The Army, still being the Army even in wartime, Dave would have to stay with the enlisted men and I would stay in the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters). I thought when I heard this that sometime in the field, officers can stay in the bunker of enlisted men, like Speedy. However, back in base camps army tradition stayed the same.

I had no problem sleeping when I got to bed after making plans for our trip. My prayers that night were those of thanksgiving for seeing me through the weekend. My first visit to a firebase was to me a memorial of faith and trust. I was needed and I was there. That was why I came to Vietnam.

The next morning I met Dave at the mess hall. He told me there was a message from the Brigade chaplain's office for me at HQ. After I ate, I went by HQ. The Brigade Chaplain wanted me to hold a service at one of the units that was about to move out into the bush. I called him and told him I would catch the unit for a service on my way out and that I was headed to Qui Nhon Nhon hospital.

“Good,” he said, “I'll send my assistant over with the names of the troops from Division that are in the hospital, and you can see them as well."

Dave had the jeep ready to go. We put on our flack jackets and helmets. Dave checked his M16 to make sure he had several clips of ammo to take along with us. He was still a little nervous about the trip. After we went over to the unit and I had a little service for them, we pulled out of An Kha and onto the highway. I began to think about the dust-off chopper I saw the morning of the attack and how wonderful their response time was during the firefight.

Efficient and quick medical treatment saved many American lives during the war. When a troop was wounded in the bush or on a firebase, the dust-off choppers were there quickly and efficiently.

The wounded were usually triaged on the spot by a doctor, nurse, or medic whichever was most available. When injuries were serious enough, the men were evacuated to hospitals like the 85th in Qui Nhon, treated there and, if necessary, sent along to larger better hospital facilities out of the country.

The MASH unit like the one in An Kha would also take those who were not serious but needed fast treatment and then moved on to larger medical unit. Some troops in An Kha were being treated for other war-related diseases as well as small wounds and illness. There were tropical fevers, parasitic diseases and the most critical, malaria. Some were overdosed on drugs and alcohol.

All troops, including officers, were subject to urinary testing to make sure we were using our malaria pills and were not on other drugs. The war on drugs was being fought in Vietnam in many respects as it was being fought in the real world.

It was at An Kha MASH unit that I saw my first prisoner of war being treated. There was a ward tent set off by itself where prisoners were treated. When I walked through the ward, I saw several patients who were anxious and fearful. In the doctors’ lounge I heard one Doc say to another, "I did a good repair job on that gook, but I should have split him from his neck to his pecker."

It was over a two-hour ride to Qui Nhon. As we drove along the highway, my mind began remembering as it often did, of this dream that I only seemed to be a part of. I remembered when I was stationed in Okinawa a year ago. The various units there took turns visiting the causalities from Vietnam that were sent to Camp Kuhe Hospital.

When my turn came to visit the hospital, I was always surprised to see the high morale of those that had been shot and blown up in Vietnam. They were mostly Marines who were sent to Kuhe Hospital in Okinawa. The Army wounded were usually sent to Japan.

In my dream in the jeep, I remembered the Christmas I spent alone in Okinawa. Housing was a problem and I had been there seven months without my family. On Christmas Eve, I shined up my cross, put on my dress uniform and went off to see the suffering in the hospital. I didn't feel very cheerful and was fighting homesickness. I felt like an abandoned child from a sad Christmas story. Here I was, six feet tall, thirty-three years old but inside I was just over four feet tall, ten years old and all alone at Christmas, feeling sorry for myself. However, I was doing my duty and going to visit the wounded troops in the hospital.

I remembered walking in the front door of the hospital. Troops were everywhere. Some of the patients were watching Armed Forces Television. Others were playing cards, listening to Christmas music, joking around and laughing aloud. They greeted me with, "Hi Chap. Merry Christmas. How you doing? You going to have dinner with us? We’re having turkey and ham and all the fixings.” I wasn't ready for such cheer. I felt blue and alone. I remember thinking, I'm not staying down here, I'm going up to the orthopedic ward where broken-boned bodies and lame soldiers were stuck in their beds and confined to their ward on this humid, hot Christmas.

I got off the elevator on the orthopedic ward. Decorations were everywhere, hanging from the ceiling, and pasted on the walls. It seemed that every bed had wreaths. A large, fully decorated Christmas tree stood in the recreation room, and everyone that could, had gotten up and were waiting, they told me, for Santa Claus to arrive.

The USO and Donut Dolly's had guests visiting from Hollywood, California. Joey Bishop, the comedian, and three very attractive scantily dressed young ladies, who were flirting with the patients, leading them in singing carols, having their pictures taken, were celebrating life. After all, they were only wounded. Joey came up to me and put his arms around my neck and the next thing I knew, I had my picture taken with a Jewish celebrity on Christmas Day, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive on a ward full of wounded Vietnam soldiers.

From down the hall came the sound of jingling bells. We heard a shout that Santa was on his way.

Everyone got quiet, waiting expectantly for Santa to come through the door. The door swung open, and there stood a large, six foot seven Santa. His eyes were peering out of a large head-cast. There was an opening for his ears and nose and a wider one for his mouth. His arms were in a cast with braces holding them out like wings at half-mast. His upper body was in a cast down to his waist. Both of his legs were bound with surgical elastic tape. His feet and hands were the only indication that there was a man inside the massive shell. On the cast covering his head, sat a bright red Santa cap with its fluffy tassel hanging down to his neck. The cap had the words “Merry Christmas” printed in white letters. As he entered the ward, with his mini-skirted elves carrying bundles of gifts, he muffled out as loudly as he could, “HO! HO! HO! Merry Christmas."

Santa's real name was Jerry. He had been on the receiving end of a Vietcong rocket attack. He had a fractured skull. His shoulders and arms were broken. His ribs were broken and his legs full of shrapnel. The other patients nicknamed him "The Mummy." He did look like he had come out of an Egyptian tomb. I stood there in amazement along with Joey Bishop and his three attractive ladies. Here was Santa, bringing joy and happiness to his fellow wounded patients. The ward was full of Christmas spirit and joy. Patients were greeting visitors with smiles and those who could, were shaking hands. The lucky patients received a kiss from the ladies. The ladies then planted lipstick kisses all over the face cast of Santa.

Dave woke me up, "Chaplain! Hey Chaplain! Look what's up ahead!” There were MP's blocking the road and stopping traffic. We pulled to the side of the road. A very large MP came to my side of the jeep. He saluted, "Sorry to stop you, sir. There was a little skirmish up ahead."

"Are you closing the road, sergeant?” I asked.

"No, sir. An APC hit a land mine off the side of the road a mile up. There was light arms fire but no one was hurt. There's a Cobra chopper is in the area checking it out. I think every one has cleared out. You can be on your way shortly."

Dave looked over at me. He wasn't smiling. "I thought you said the road was safe.”

"I didn't say safe, I said nothing will happen to us."

Dave smiled. "Yet." That was all he said.

We sat there for about ten minutes. Dave didn’t say much; he checked his M-16 and asked me if I had ever shot one. I told him I did once when I had a week of basic training while in Chaplain’s School. All he said, shaking his head in disbelief, was “A week?”

The MP motioned us on our way. "Drive carefully, Chaplain, and take care,” he said as we drove by him.

I told Dave as we continued down the road that I had made plans for both of us to spend the afternoon on the beach after our hospital visit. He looked at me like I was crazy. "Beach?” he said, like he had never heard of the word.

"Right. There’s a great beach near the hospital. I wouldn’t advise going in the water but the sun and sand are great."

The rest of the trip was uneventful until we pulled up into the hospital compound. A dust-off helicopter was hovering about to take off. Dave pulled into a parking area and the chopper flew overhead. "Must have brought someone in," I said. “I'll check out the emergency room. You're welcome to come with me, or find yourself a coke or something. I'll meet you back here and we'll go over to MACV." Dave had no intention of going into the emergency room.


I excused myself and made my way back to Stony's bunker. Stony was there with several other fellows. Still excited, they were drinking coffee and talking about the attack.

"Want a cup of coffee, Chaplain?”

"Sounds good, thanks." I asked a question to no one particular. "Did any of you know the guys that got wounded?"

"Most of them were from recon platoon," someone said.

"I heard that they got the new Major,” said another.

"I know. We came in together yesterday morning. He seemed like a nice guy."

"Charley don't know nice,” said one of the fellows.

"Chaplain, did you see the bodies of the Dinks, there up at the Artillery area?”

"No, I haven't. How about taking me up there?”

"Sure thing. Let's go. It's light enough now to take some pictures."

I thought to myself, do I really want pictures of anyone dead? Oh, well, I might as well take my camera.

It's very difficult to describe what it was like early that morning. I did take pictures, but one of the GI’s told me the PX would refuse to develop them.

There were three tiny bodies lying next to each other. They looked like teenagers. They had on black pajamas and sandals made from pieces of tires. Their faces were covered with charcoal making them dark black and they wore black bandanas around their heads.

One of the VC was shot in the neck and another in the chest. I could not tell where the other was hit. Jim, it was strange I didn't feel anything. I was sort of numb. I remembered the LRRP’s (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) I saw at Radcliff. I didn't feel hate. I felt like this was some kind of nightmare. They had their weapons lying near them. There were two AK47s, a M16, some machetes and satchel charges that looked like they were wrapped in banana leaves. There was an U.S. Army hand grenade as well.

One of the sergeants handed me an old fashioned grenade, the kind that the Germans used in WWII. It was shaped like a bottle, made out of wood with a steel bottom and a wooden handle. He had disarmed it earlier. “Why not keep it as souvenir of your first night on a firebase.” He laughed. I thanked him and put it in my chaplain’s kit.

The morning light was getting brighter as the smoke and haze had drifted off. I looked around the artillery area. There was a 105 Howitzer; its barrel was peeled back like a banana or a flower that just opened up. It was ripped, from the barrel end right into part of its name, “Blind Faith."

The Artillery commander came up to me. "What do you think Chaplain?”

"Are you going to move these bodies soon?”

"We will just as soon as the chopper gets here. It's on the way," answered the commander.

"I would like to hold Sunday worship service in your area if you don't mind?”

He put his hand up on the barrel, "Blind Faith,” he said. "A great place to hold church." he said with a smile.

I took his picture standing there, holding on to his wounded gun. On my way around the firebase I spoke to several of the troops. They all were thankful it was no worse than it was. When I asked, “How you doing?”

They answered, "Fine, thank God."

A few asked if I was having a service. Several were writing letters home. There was no horse-playing going on; everyone had a serious attitude that morning. A kind of reverence, as though something holy was going on, could be felt. I can't explain it. No one offered high fives. No peace symbols were made with fingers when the men greeted me. One fellow said, "Good thing you were here, Chaplain, or it would have been worse."

He was giving me more credit than I wanted. I came up to Amazing Grace, the second of the three 105 howitzers. Its barrel was also split. Lieutenant Colonel Anderson was sitting on one of the bunkers in the area. "Hi, Chaplain,” he called out.

"Some night," I responded. "Glad you’re all right."

"Only my career is shot to hell,” he retorted.

I didn't respond because I was not sure what he meant. I sat next to him.

"A hell of a way to end my tour,” he went on. "I had a good tour, until this f###-up."

"I'm not certain I understand what you mean," I said.

"Damn, chaplain, I'll be lucky to get a seat on a plane home after this mess. Damn, only one more day and I would have been out of here clean. I can kiss my promotion good-bye. One f### up and I'm dead."

I decided that active listening was called for. I nodded my head and he continued to express his grief over letting down his guard for this one night. It didn't matter that no one was killed except the enemy. The attack happened on his watch. His OER (Officer Efficiency Report) would not come up to standard and would reflect the morning raid. The People's Army of Vietnam, the PAVN, had ruined another commander’s career.

I can't remember what else was said. I remember walking back with him to the TOC. He checked out what was happening with his soldiers along the way. They all smiled. Some smiled and said, "We busted their ass, sir."

He smiled back. "Damn good job, son."

"Sir, I'm going to get back to my hooch and prepare for the service. Is there anything I can do for you, Sir?”

"Nothing now. I appreciate your listening to me. You'll enjoy working with Sterling. He’s a great guy and will be a great commander to work with." He turned and walked slowly away with his shoulders drooping.

I made my way back to Stony’s; I had to get my thoughts together for the morning service.

I turned to my Bible and read from Second Timothy four: "I fought the good fight, I kept the faith, I've finished my race." With that verse, I went up to the artillery area where Blind Faith stood wounded. I didn't preach. We had a discussion of our last night's experience, our fears, our hope and God's amazing grace. There before the Blind Faith howitzer, we reminded each other that our faith was not in cold steel but in God's grace. Our faith was not blind for we were saved by the grace of our merciful God.

Sunday evening I made my way to Camp Radcliff. The change of command went off without a hitch. Most of the battalion was standing down in place, remaining alert but taking it easy. Lieutenant Colonel Sterling took over the command. After the ceremony he talked to me and asked if I could go to Qui Nhon to check on the nine wounded troops that were dusted off to the hospital. I told him I thought that was a good idea. He said a chopper would pick me up Monday morning at Radcliff. He already called it in. 

"Go back tonight and get ready. My Loach (Light Observation Helicopter) will take you in. I'm coming in Tuesday. I'll see you then. I'm glad you were up here, Chap. The men appreciate your presence." He smiled that little all-telling grin and asked, "What's the weather going to be like tomorrow?”

I just returned the smile, saluted and went to gather my chaplain's kit and ruck and headed to the pad to catch a ride back to Radcliff.

While I was waiting for the command helicopter that is at ready for the CO at a moment's notice, TOP (Sergeant Major) saw me talking to Stony. He came over to say good-bye and to make sure I'd talked to the CO about going to the hospital.
I see you survived your welcome to Firebase Warrior.”

"That was quite a welcome, TOP. You really didn't have to go that far to make me feel welcome. By the way, how are you doing?” I asked.

"My head feels as if I was hit by a mortar, but I'll be ok. He was grinning, but his eyes looked bloodshot and his face seemed much older than it had yesterday.

He came and sat next to me. "Too bad about the Major. I just got word they air-vacced him to Japan. I believe he's on his way home."

"Did you hear about the others?” I asked.

"They took them right down to Qui Nhon. No one got off at Radcliff. As far as I know, they are all doing just fine." He stopped talking for a moment, took a deep breath, lit a cigarette and went on to tell me, "We were lucky. Those were VC regulars, part of the People’s Army of Vietnam, or what we call the PAVN.”

"TOP, who or what are the PAVN’s?” I asked.

"They are regular troops, trained mostly the North, sometimes in China. The little bastards hate Americans as much as they did the French. They hate anyone except for other North Vietnamese." He stopped speaking and took a deep breath. "I take that back." He pulled on the front rim of his helmet. “They don't hate the South Vietnamese, only the rich ones who run the government. They see them as patsies for Europeans, and especially United States." He took a long drag on his cigarette. "In a way, I admire them. They are disciplined, trained and tough as hell. They kicked the sh## out of the French over there at Dein Bien Phu."

I remembered seeing a field of white crosses that looked like a small Arlington, when I flew in the area between Pleiku and Radcliff. The pilot had told me it was a French cemetery.

"How did we get into this mess if the French lost the war?” I asked.

Top went on with his impromptu history lesson. "Truman started helping the French and then subsequent leaders kept adding more and more help. Now, here we are,” he began.

“Johnson, he’s the one who really got us involved. He is the one who really got us f###ed up, by putting so many troops in this god-forsaken place that it will be almost impossible to get out. We have another Korea, only worse, right here in Vietnam.

I interrupted him for second. "That stuff went on back in the fifties. I was just getting out of high school. I don't remember too much about it. I was disappointed that I missed the Korean War and was worried about girls, track and going to college."

"Damn, Chaplain, you wanted to fight in Korea?”

I laughed. "I thought I would like that, but now I know I was just a crazy kid."

"Let me tell you, Korea was a bitch. This-” overlooking the firebase, he went on saying, -"is no picnic either. I’m afraid we’re going to go home with our tails between our legs." He took off his steel pot and ran his hands through what little hair he had.

"I’m sorry. I didn't mean to stop you. You were saying the Sappers came from North Vietnam."

"Not all of them. They get some of the village people to join up and fight. They train them well. Those slimy little bastards up at the artillery pit were VC regulars. Those Sappers are like guerrillas. They're trained in using explosives, ambushing and planting booby traps. They go after helicopters, aircraft, howitzers, mortars, and I guess commanders, when they can. They're the Special Forces in the PAVN. They use kids, women, anyone they can. They don't give a sh## about dying. Did you see those satchel charges, made from banana leaves and gunpowder they captured from us?" He asked.

That filmier sound of a chopper filled the air. Dust was blowing and pieces of paper and junk swelled everywhere. "See you in base camp,” said TOP. "Tell the guys in the hospital to keep their sh## together for me," he said, as I ran to the chopper.

"Will do, TOP, thanks for your help. I couldn't have managed without you." Looking over at Stony who was throwing supplies off the chopper. I yelled, "Stony, thanks for the use of the hooch."

"Any time, Chap,” then he saluted at we began to lift off and slide across the abused firebase.

Jim, this experience has been something else. What I received the last two days as an introduction to the "Field" in Vietnam, I will remember for the rest of my life. I really thought I would be killed in action when it first burst out. This is going to be a long year, yet I hope it passes quickly. I'm trying to put my thoughts down in a journal and in the letters I'm sending to you. I appreciate the opportunity to let my thoughts fly to you, because of my trust in you and your trust in me.

Take care and God bless you and yours. Keep me in your prayers.




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