There is a special military unit that has totaled about 25,000 members over the centuries, that has deployed with every branch of the US military since 1775. They are often with our warriors in combat, but themselves do not carry weapons. They are present on military bases in the US. In combat, they’re known for going into enemy fire and bringing wounded soldiers back to safer positions. They have responded to combat in such a gung-ho, win-at-all-costs manner that they have won most if not all of the honors our combat soldiers have, including the Medal of Honor. Some of those awards have been posthumous. “Back home”, they are just as dedicated to helping troops deal with transitioning from war to civilian life and helping with the stresses being at war has created. We don’t often hear anything about them.
They are the Chaplain Corps. This Friday’s RED post is dedicated to these fantastic servants of God and America’s warriors.
Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun, who was totally dedicated to his troops, was been declared a “Servant of God” by Pope John Paul in 1993, and is being considered for elevation to sainthood for his Korean War service.
His Medal of Honor citation is five paragraphs long. I strongly urge readers to visit this link and read the full story of his incredible dedication. He was captured by the Chinese and died in captivity: “As Chinese forces closed in, Kapaun rejected several chances to escape, instead volunteering to stay behind and care for the wounded … Kapaun openly flouted his captors by conducting a sunrise service on Easter morning, 1951 … His extraordinary courage, faith and leadership inspired thousands of prisoners to survive hellish conditions, resist enemy indoctrination, and retain their faith in God and country.”
Chaplain (Major) Charles J. Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless actions in the Battle of Dak To, Vietnam, on 19 November 1967. He was recognized by the US Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum but the complete record of his actions that day is found at this link, and it is so jaw-dropping I strongly recommend readers go there and be awed.
According to Military Times, Capt. Dale Goetz of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, was the first chaplain since Vietnam to be killed in action.
“Maj. Henry Timothy Vakoc, the Army’s sole chaplain to have been severely wounded in Iraq [at the time of that writing] died June 20, from a fall at his care facility, five years after an improvised explosive device injured him on the drive back to camp from celebrating Sunday Mass for Soldiers in the field.”
It’s complicated and difficult to become a Chaplain. A very few go the extra ten miles. There is a fascinating story at this link about three chaplains who went through Special Forces training: “My role is to guard the guardians, to minister to those in the SF community.”
Legends from the past:
Actual prayer (audio) of the Chaplain to the crew of the Enola Gay before takeoff.
Becoming a chaplain is not easy, which is good. Being a chaplain isn’t easy either. You’re in a job where you’re counseling people in very private and difficult moments of their lives. You can’t let their anxiety drag you down, but you also can’t lose compassion for them. You get to know your troops (hopefully) and earn their respect (hopefully). If there’s combat, you deploy with them. You may well have to risk your life in an instant to bring them to a place of relative safety. You are going to have their blood on you and believe me, you will feel their pain. You are sooner or later going to have to hold someone’s hand while he dies, and if that doesn’t tear at your soul like a leopard’s claws, you have no business being a chaplain. And sooner or later, you are going to face the agony of triage.
By the time one serious battle is over, you may well have experienced a lifetime’s worth of shattering grief.
And you have to stay sane, stable, compassionate, through it and beyond it. You have to be able to grieve with those who lost their friends in combat, with those who lose limbs or eyesight or suffer brain damage, and still not be broken. You had better be a genuine believer in God, because you are going to have call on Him for help for yourself as well as for your warriors. Frequently. Unless you get hard and cold. If you do that, you need to get out of the chaplaincy.
Your troops need a source of strength. The greatest, most reliable source of strength in the Universe is God. It is to be hoped that you will be effective in leading your troops to Him. If you take that duty lightly, He is going to deal with you, and it won’t be fun.
Easter in Afghanistan, 2014:
“[ Chaplain Mike Charles, Colonel, says that] …Easter is one of the busiest times of the year for chaplains … Unlike Fort Bragg, where soldiers have an estimated 700 churches near post, the military must provide everything.” With 128 denominations in Afghanistan, and their materials translated into dozens of languages because of “… the dozens of nations who contribute forces to the Afghanistan efforts“, I can see how that would be a logistics nightmare, never mind preventing religious quarrels.
There’s an excellent brief history of the Chaplain Corps here which was posted on the Chaplain Corps’ birthday (July 29). Not only has it always been tough, but it’s getting tougher due to cultural challenges and COV19.
But somehow there’s cheerfulness and fun mixed in with the seriousness:
“Christmas Time In Baghdad”
“You name it and we put ’em in it … There was one outpost with a big barrel. We cleaned it out, they would bend down, go under and I baptized them … one guy had a big blow-up swimming pool … We used shipping boxes, putting tarps in them and filling them with water. We were baptizing so many that I told the commander the main chapel needed its own baptistery. He consented, and we built a pretty good-size baptistry.”
I’d say “God bless our Chaplains”, but I’m fairly sure He isn’t waiting around for me to invoke His blessings on these awesome spiritual warriors.
Ah, so what. I’ll say it anyway: God bless you, Chaplains, for caring for our warriors. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.””
Have a safe and blessed RED Friday all.