The only women in our area were the Nurses and the USO workers who were often called Donut Dollies. I had only a passing acquaintance with them. The men I got to know well because I lived with them. I bathed with them. I ate with them. I slept in bunkers with them. I went to the jungle with them. I went to the movies with them. I took malaria pills as they did. I counseled some of them. I prayed for and with them. I preached to them. I cried with them. I laughed with them. I feared as they did. I worked alongside of them. I bitched along with them. As much as they would let me, and as much as I dared let myself, I became one of them.

One of the things I did with the solders in Vietnam, at least for my first six months, was to continually build firebases. I had been in country for just over a month and I was living on my second firebase and was planning to move to another.

Jim, as you are aware, under normal circumstances, military policy officers do not live in the same quarters as enlisted men. On every military installation, there are officer’s quarters and enlisted quarters. There are officer’s mess and enlisted mess. There are officer’s clubs and NCO clubs. Like it or not, there's a military social hierarchy. Chaplains are often able to get around that situation. In a manner of speaking, we were the third sex in the military. We can have social friends that are both enlisted and officers. We are not to flaunt our relationships, but usually not too much is said if a chaplain mingles with all ranks. That’s why I was able to stay with Speedy on Warrior and move into a bunker with Joe and Pecker on firebase Tuffy.

Joe was a specialist five in our S-4 section. He was our radio and telephone operator or RTO. He was one of the most responsible men in our battalion. He was a 23-year-old draftee from the East Coast. His goal was to complete his tour without getting shot or wounded and to get back to his home in New Jersey. He had to drop out of college to earn tuition money for the coming year. Just as he went to work, his draft number came up and three months later, he was tugging through the Jungles of Vietnam. He was an 11-Bravo, infantry, blue leg who served over eight months in the bush and earned his short timer’s assignment as the battalion RTO for the remainder of his tour.

He told me, "I didn't plan to work for the government, but a month after I left college, Uncle Sam hired me."

"You could have gone to Canada," I said.

"I don't think so,” said Joe. "They gave me a job I couldn't refuse. Besides, I needed the money."

Joe took time to teach me about being an infantryman in the bush. "When I first reported to the 1/12, I was an 11-Brovo, infantryman," he told me one night. "I spent over eight months, humping the bush and living in the jungle for weeks at a time. I went for three weeks without a bath after being in country for a month."

"Did you get into any skirmishes?" I asked.

"We tried to avoid Charley as much as possible, but sometimes it was unavoidable. We had four men killed and I don't know how many were wounded, while I was in the squad. I really pushed to get my ass assigned to this job," Joe said, as he pointed to the radio.

"Must have been scary out there?" I suggested.

"I was always afraid," he said. "Hell, all of us were. The only thing that mattered was saving our f***in’ asses.”

I didn't flinch at what I used to consider cuss words. Now they were words of war.

"You had to stay out in the jungle for two weeks?” I said with a rather surprised voice.

"Most of the time. Sometimes we stayed out three weeks. It passed the time but I never got use to smelling like s*** all the time. I never really slept at night and the food was rotten. Except when we were re-supplied. But then Charley would know where we were and they would put in a sniper or lob mortar, anything to f*** us up."

"Joe, did you ever have to kill anyone one?” I asked.

"I don't know for sure, whenever a sniper would let off a few round, our whole company would open up and call in artillery or gun ships and all kinds of s***. No, I don't think I ever killed anyone that I know of, and I'm glad of that," answered Joe.

I said to Joe, "When I was in Okinawa taking some Vietnam training with the Green Berets, they told me that race relations was a problem sometimes in Nam. What's your take about that?"

He told me that the men out in the bush are together, but when they get into the firebase, the blacks gather in their hooches and play their music and the white gather in their hooches and play country western. When they get back to base camp for a stand down, the problems get even worse. In the villages, the blacks have their area and the whites theirs. The other ethnic groups sort of stay to themselves because they don't have the numbers to form their own group. "But in the bush,” continued Joe, “the men know that they have to depend on each other. No one allows drugs or marijuana or alcohol or race s*** to get in the way of protecting our asses."

I had to agree with Joe's analysis of the race situation. I noticed when I went out into the bush to hold religious services that there was a real team spirit among all the men. I usually had two groups come for services. The first group would fall in, close to the command center and the other group would stand guard around the perimeter. When I finished the first service, the other guards would change places and they would come in for services while the others took over the guard duty.

Most of the time the men were shirtless due to the humidity and jungle heat. When they came to my services, sometimes one might put on his shirt. It didn't seem to matter whether they thought I was Protestant or Catholic, Jew or whatever, all stood together, in reverence, black and white side by side. When I gave communion, I used the intention method, that of placing the wafer in a cup of wine and placing it on the tongue of the participant. The one thing I noticed was that they never asked what denomination I was, and I never made a point to tell them. All I ever said to them was to say that they were to take communion in the same manner that they did in the world in their home church. I was sure Catholics took communion along with me. All of them that participated appeared to want something tangible to be a part of their worship in the jungle. There were Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and on one occasion a South Vietnamese scout took part in the service. He could have been a Buddhist as far as I knew.

After the formal part of the service I would talk to the guys about almost everything. They would all gather around and share cigarettes, passing along the butt from person to person, handing it through the group, black to white to whatever. They would pass a canteen of water along in the same matter, not bothering to wipe the rim before taking a long drink. In the bush, they shared almost everything, water, food, smokes, socks, shirts, and even pants. They would have shared underwear except that most didn't wear any because of the sweating. They did not see color; they only saw brothers sharing with each other to make sure they didn't come back in body bags.

However, when they did come back to the firebase, I noticed, as Joe pointed out, the Brothers went their way, to their bunkers and back to their life style and the Whites to their own hooch and way of life. There wasn't any fighting among them that I saw on the firebase. They merely ignored each other. They were civil to one another most of the time. When they did get together, the conversations were about the bush, lifers, women, food, and the numbers of days left before DROUS. There was good-natured kidding within the races most of the time on the firebase.

One step back from the firebase, the distance between the races appeared to get wider. The Black Brothers went to their AO's and the Whites had their areas of operation. They would come together for religious services. However, I noticed that even then, there would be fewer blacks coming to the division services, and brigade services and when they did, they tended to sit together.

On Sundays when I went down to the unit level for services, even at base camp, both races would be just about even in attendance but sitting in their own race groups. I have no personal recollection of any race riots or skirmishes or unrest at base Camp Radcliff.

I did hear of some alterations from time to time between the Brothers and Kickers at our chaplain’s Staff meetings. A “Kicker” was the name given by the Blacks to describe those who were into country western music. Those chaplains who didn't go to the field said that there was a lot of tension among the races in base camp. That was one reason Chaplain Kelly at Division gave in to the chaplains for having character guidance classes, like chaplains had back in the States; to help the command to deal with race relations and tensions.

I have no way to measure the effect of the guidance classes. I do as little of them as possible while I’m here in Vietnam. I feel that having command training for social morality in this country is a sham. The men are marched into the class given by the chaplain, and staff sergeants stand by to make sure they don’t fall asleep. Most of the men could care less about attending these classes when they are standing down from fighting the war.

At one point in my conversation with Joe about the race problem, he asked me, “Chaplain, how bad is it getting in the States? I'm from up north and really never got into any problems with the Brothers. Since being in the Army and over here, I still don't know much about the so-called race riots. They leave me alone and I leave them alone."

"Joe," I answered. “I don't know much about riots either. There seem to be plenty of unrest and unhappy reactions among both the blacks and whites. I was stationed in Okinawa before coming to Vietnam and we had our share of racial problems. The command insisted that chaplains address the issue in character guidance classes. But there were tensions in the barracks and sometimes in the village nudie clubs, fights would break out when a Black showed up in a White club or a Whitey showed up in Black territory."

"As a chaplain, did you ever have any personal knowledge of racial problems?” asked Joe.

"Well, yes, I did get involved in a situation that could have been explosive when I was in Okinawa. It was the only one I got into, but that was enough."

"What happened?" he asked.

"Let me see, where to begin. It was last year, in January.”

Jim, I'm sure you will recall that situation. I remember you helped me write up the after-action report I had to do.

I went on telling Joe my story. “I had just finished an evening service at the Chapel in Machinato, Okinawa. I was in my civvies as I usually dressed for the evening service. I headed home and I noticed the lights were still on at the Youth Center. Since I was on the youth board, I thought I would stop by to see what was going on. The place was almost empty. There were two teenagers playing pool and Sergeant Jones, one of the NCO’s in my battalion, was in charge. As I entered, I called out, "Hey, Sergeant, not much going on tonight."

"Not here,” he said. "But there's a real problem brewing in Naha."

"What's happening down there?" I asked.

"The Brothers at the NCO club are about to explode," he answered.

"Why, what's going on?" I asked.

"I got out of there as soon as I could; some of my friends are threatening to take on Alpha Company across the street and their Commander, CPT Fowler," he answered.

"Sounds serious. What's the problem?" I asked.

"There's a whole bunch of problems,” he said. "The white guys from A-Company across the street from the club are sticking their heads out of the windows and calling us niggers and mother f***ers." He paused, "I'm sorry Chaplain, but you wanted to know.”

“The club is packed with angry brothers and I think a riot might break out. I got the hell out of there. I had to work tonight, and besides I can't afford to get into any trouble. My CO has me up on an article 15 charge for failing to repair as it is. I was an hour late for formation last week. My car broke down on the way in and I had to hitch a ride. Captain Fowler wouldn’t give me a break."

“Who's your CO?" I asked. I had forgotten that there was a new company commander named Fowler. Naha was near the end of the island and he was new to the command. I hadn’t met him yet. I knew A company was loaded with problems. I had visited the area a couple of weeks earlier and felt a lot of tension. I thought most of it came from the work they did in the warehouses and shops. I didn’t realize that there were high racial tensions going in the barracks as well.

"Captain Fowler of A company," he answered.

"Do you think I should go down and check it out?" I asked.

"It wouldn't hurt, but be careful," he paused. "My CO is in the middle it,” he said.

"Well, he's no ken of mine but I might be able to get help," I said.

Joe interrupted me. “Chaplain, wasn't Sergeant Jones Black?"

"Oh, yeah," I said. I opened up a coke, took a drink. "That's the good thing about being a Chaplain. The troops generally accept me and appreciate me no matter of my color. So they generally talk to me before they talk to any other officer."

I went on with my story; "I jumped in my little Mitsubishi car and headed to Naha. I didn't bother going home to get into uniform. I had no idea what to expect so I didn't have a plan. As I pulled up in front of the NCO club, I could see the soldiers in Alpha Company hanging out of the barracks’ windows and yelling derogatory names at the blacks in the club.

There was only about five hundred feet between the barracks and the club. The company was all lit up, there were troops standing by the door, giving the bird to the blacks who were milling about the club. The club was dangerously full of men, others outside were yelling back the A Company troops. I had to push myself through the front door to get into the club.

As I got into the club, one E-8 stopped me and asked, “Who in f*** are you?” One of my battalion NCO’s told him I was the Battalion Chaplain. Then that NCO came over to me and whispered, “Damn, Chaplain, what in the hell are you doing here in civvies?”

I told him I didn't have time to change, that I had met Sgt. Jones in Machinato and he told me that something was going down tonight.

"Chaplain," said the E-8, "this place is going to blow up. Look at the crowd. There must be over three hundred brothers packing this place. Several of us tried to break them up but some are drunk and pissed off with CPT. Fowler for not controlling his men and all hell is about to break loose."

I asked, "Where's the club manger?"

"He locked himself in his office," answered the E-8.

"Let's go and see him," I suggested.

I went to the office and knocked on the door. He came to the peek hole in the door. "Who in the hell are you?” said the manager.

"I'm the Battalion Chaplain." I answered. “Can I come in? We need to talk.

"What the f***,” I heard him mutter as he opened the door.

I told him, "You got a bomb out here, and you better close the club as soon a possible."

"I can't do that unless the General authorizes me to," he said.

"Have you called him?" I asked.

"No," came his terse reply.

"Damn,” I said. "Give me the phone."

I first tried to call my battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Noble. He was at a party at the General's house. I then called our XO but he was in the shower. I told his wife that it was important that I speak with him. He came to the phone and suggested that I call the General quarters and inform the CO what was going on. He said that he would be down as soon as he could get dressed.

I called the General’s house and talked to Lieutenant Colonel Noble and he put the General on the phone. The General asked to speak to the club manger and told him to close the club, “now.” Then he would get the Military Police down there as soon a possible.

Three sergeants from the battalion began to help by taking charge and moved throughout the club, telling the crowd that the MP’s were coming and they needed to get the hell out of there.

Joe broke in again, "Damn Chaplain, you were the only white guy in the club."

"That's right," I said. "But I wasn't even thinking about that.”

“I decided to pay a visit across the street to the barracks to find out what was going on with Alpha Company and Captain Fowler,” I said.

I went on with my story. “The tension was just as hot as it was in the NCO club. The men were mostly drunk or high on drugs and cussing and yelling obscenities to the blacks as they were leaving the club. Some, who didn't recognize me in civvies, wanted to know who the f*** I was. The Duty NCO met me at the door. He knew me and welcomed me. "Damn, Chaplain, this place is dangerous. Everyone is drunk and itching for a fight," he said.

"Where's Captain Fowler, Sergeant?" I asked.

"I'm not sure, Sir. He may be in his office," he answered.

I walked right into the office; I was getting angry and didn't care what the CO might have thought. Fowler was sitting behind his desk. It was obvious to me he was drunk and not in control of himself, let alone his company.

"Captain," I said. "Are you aware of what's going out in the area?"

He stood up and began to stagger around the desk. "Damn right I know. We’re going to kick some these black mother f***er's butt." He slurred as he spoke.

I said, “That’s crazy, captain. The situation, it's getting out of hand. I just had the General close the NCO Club and the XO is on his way down here as I speak."

"I don't give a good g**damn who's coming," said Fowler. He moved over to his safe and began to fumble with the combination. After several starts, he opened the safe. "Chaplain, I'll show you what I'm going to do." He showed me a .45 and a clip of ammo. He pounded the clip into the gun and said, "I'm going to shoot those mother f***in’ niggers. That's the only way to stop this s***."

My anger began to move into fear. What in the blazes was I doing here? I asked myself.

“I went up to the captain, put my hand on his shoulder and with my other hand, led him to put his weapon on the top of the safe. “Come on, let's sit down and cool off a bit,” I suggested to him. He came over to his desk, forgetting the gun. He started babbling incoherent obscenities about the “niggers” and the moral of the battalion. I signaled the NCOIC to take the .45 and lock it in the arms room. He caught my eye, realized what I wanted him to do, and removed the weapon from the office. When the captain realized what had happened, he started to yell and take off to the arms room, but was met in the hall my Major Mattson, the Battalion XO.

Matt stopped him cold. He got right in his face and commanded him to return to the office and to stay there. Fowler mumbled something but turned and retreated to his office. Matt then spotted me. “Chaplain, what going on?” he asked.

I explained as best I could what had transpired since I last spoke to him. He told me that the MP’s had just arrived in the area (two truckloads of them) and Lieutenant Colonel Noble and the Commanding General were on their way down to the area. He then told the NCOIC to make him a list of all the troops that were in the barracks and those who were causing the problems as far as he could tell. “Beginning with your Company Commander,” Matt said.

"That's it, Joe. That's as close to a race riot as I ever want to be."

Joe thought for a minute, then said, "Sure is strange, the way that works. The further away the troops get from the bush, the more likely they are to riot. That's weird."

"I know, I've only been here for a little over a month and haven't really seen any problems between the Blacks and the Whites," I said.

"What happened to that Captain Fowler?" asked Joe.

"I'm not sure, he just disappeared. Within a week, we had a new Alpha Company Commander," I answered.

"What did they do to the troops?" asked Joe.

"Let me see,” I thought for a moment. "Not much as I remember, they sort of swept it under the rug. I know my supervisor Chaplain, COL. Harms tried to get a medal for me for squelching a potential riot. He put me in for a Legion of Merit. He got a packet of letters from those involved suggesting I was responsible for keeping a potential explosive situation from blowing up. He had about twenty letters of commendation from various commanders and NCO’s who were involved. But the 2nd Log Commanding General wouldn't pass on it, because it would mean he had a race problem in his command and he didn't believe there was a problem."

"What did your commander say to you after things cooled off?” asked Joe.

“The next morning they had a barracks shake down. The MP's went through the whole building, checking the entire lockers and beds and everything. They found several stashes of marijuana and some other junk, but what became more important was the amount of weapons, mostly homemade ones that they uncovered. My CO, Lieutenant Colonel Noble called for me to come down to the company HQ the next morning and there he showed me a room full of these inventions of distinction.
They had machetes shaped so sharp you could shave with them. There were lead pipes, brass knuckles, and an assortment of chains. Steel hammers with chains welded to the handle and various sizes of baseball bats. There must have been over a hundred individual weapons; all of them could have killed someone. The Colonel pointed out to me that I was in the middle of a war. We laughed about it and he thanked me and told me that I would be hearing from him.”

“When I started to drive back home, I felt weak and nervous. I got sick to my stomach. It hit me that I could have been killed if that night had erupted. When I left the Battalion for Vietnam, they gave me a hammer with a lead pipe handle and a chain welded to it. The card that came with the weapon said I could use it in Vietnam if they would let me take it into country.”


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