11TH BRIGADE CHAPLAINS HAVE "AWARENESS OF NEED" FROM THE SOUTHERN CROSS FOR MAY 29, 1970.
Electronic copy of article provided by Leslie Hines
By 1LT J.P. Collins Jr.
FSB BRONCO (11th INF BDE IO) — The five chaplains of the 11th Infantry Brigade have an unusual church. It covers an area of nearly 2,000 square miles, its steeples are mountains and when the sun hits the paddies just right, its floors shine like the finest cathedral. Its alters are often hedgerows; its pew C-rations cartons.
The church is not haunted by the proverbial church mouse but by VC and NVA soldiers.
The congregation? Well not exactly the best dressed. Some are shirtless, many are unshaven and all are dusty or muddy according to the season. The Chaplains, four Protestant and one Catholic, prefer helicopters to miracles when it comes to making their appointed rounds. They go unarmed in a land where firearms are more numerous that [than] books. They preach "peace on earth" in the midst of war. They see death not at the bedside of an aged parishioner in a super-sterile hospital but in the field and on the blood soaked tables of small evacuation hospitals.
What motivates a priest of minister to forego the social niceities, safety and the relative comforts of civilian ministry?
"Let's say it's an awareness of a need," explains Chaplain (Major) Gordon B. Hanson, Fargo, N.D. "Men from our homes and churches come here so we must follow them."
Chaplain Hanson, whose eldest son is presently receiving basic training at Ft. Polk, La., was ordained at Luther Theological Seminary located in St. Paul, Minn. During his college and seminary years he followed the wheat harvest from "Texas to the Dakotas" as a combine operator.
He likes the variety of the military ministry. "The clergyman's product is people. In the Army I've had the opportunity to serve a wide variety of people in may places." During his 11 years as a Chaplain he has served, "A small isolated base in Turkey at total population of 500 and spent three years in Japan."
Chaplain Hanson feels that "The men over hear [here] are more open because all the facade of civilian life is gone." He also notices a corresponding increase in devotion in the field.
As the only Catholic Chaplain in the brigade, Chaplain (Captain) John E. Watterson, Newport, R.I. has his work cut out for him. Despite the size of his "parish", he is able to visit each company every two weeks.
A large jolly man who occasionally tips a beer with the troops, Chaplain Watterson was ordained in Lyon, Belgium. There he acquired a certain fluency in French. "I had very little choice in the matter since all the courses were taught in French," he explains.
Serving his second tour in Vietnam, the first an 18 month stint with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade and the 8th Transportation Group, Chaplain Waterson's field sessions are usually followed by a short bull session. "I try to fill them in on what's happening elsewhere in the area of operations," he explains.
Chaplain (Major) Verne A. Slighter, Hamburg, N.Y., is known as a man to be feared on the ping-pong tables of this fire support base. The athletic Methodist minister, and one time college ping-pong champ is also an avid golfer, bowler and bridge player.
He was recently wounded while spending the night in a company defensive position of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry. "I heard three CHICOM grenades go off and was wounded by the third," he said simply. "An incident like that makes a man realize how close to death he can be. Values become important to him. He'll listen to what you have to say more attentively."
Also on his second Vietnam tour, Chaplain Slighter enjoys the opportunity the military ministry offers to work with young people.
Chaplain (Captain) Eugene W. Scott, Trenton, Mo., always carries four Claymore mine bags with him when he goes to the field. "No there aren't any mines in them," he quickly points out, "just some Bible literature and my [?] and my portable altar kit."
"You know, for those guys in the field even taking their boots off is a luxury," he said with concern.
Chaplain (Major) George E. Ormsbee, Salem, Mo., a newcomer to the brigade spent the first nine months of his tour with the redeployed 82nd Airborne and 1st Infantry Division. "I've seen a lot of territory," he understates.
He finds certain advantages in conducting field services. "Our [Out] here in the field, anywhere from six to 25 men will attend a given service. That's an ideal size congregation; it lets the chaplain give the men very personal service.
"What are so few among so many?" is a question that might well be asked of these five chaplains. The original question was answered two thousand years ago when five fishes and a few loaves of bread were multiplied to feed a throng of over 5,000. In the same sense, the five chaplains of the 11th Brigade multiply their efforts and energies to serve the more than 5,000 soldiers under their spiritual care.
Photo Caption: Chaplains from the 11th Infantry Brigade, Chaplain (Captain) John E. Watterson and Chaplains (Major) Gordon B. Hanson conduct memorial service for an Americal soldier. (Photo by 1LT J.P. Collins Jr.)
The copy of this issue of the Southern Cross was a personal purchase from Carlisle Barracks Military History Institute by Leslie Hines.