Rockbridge County








POSTED ON 7.16.2015
POSTED BY: Larry Henry

Comfort in a time of Chaos

I met Chaplain Bartley in mid-October I believe. I had come into country the first of August and spent my 1st wedding anniversary at the replacement center in southern South Viet Nam. My final destination as Army Infantry would be the Americal Division (Chu Lai) in I Corps. I was a replacement for those lost in the February Tet Offensive, 1969…a pleasant thought.

Once in Chu Lai, I would be reassigned to the 196th LIB and 3 BN/21 Inf operating off of Firebase Center, a mountain-top camp about 30 miles south of DaNang. I remained in the field, without even a side-trip to the firebase, until mid-October when I had received a not-so-glamorous wound while on patrol in our A/O.

I was choppered to the field hospital on LZ Baldy…196 LIB Headquarters. It was here that I met Chaplain (Major) Don L Bartley. I was processed in and assigned a bed where I would stay for the next week or so. Prior to shipping out to Viet Nam, my wife and I had agreed to 1) calculate the time difference between my location and home, and 2) read the same passage of the Bible at approximately the same time each day. One of my first days in the hospital, while reading my Bible passage, an officer came through the ward and stopped to introduce himself…Brigade Chaplain Bartley.

He commented on my having the Bible out, so I explained. We talked for a while concerning my wound, my field duties, and then he left. I was to see him many times after that…Chaplain Bartley made it a point to visit the Hospital and the Morgue every day he was on the Hill. He brought a lot of comfort, relaxing discussion, and hope to the wounded. After that, he would visit Graves Registration to pray for those men who would go home before their tour ended.

I moved from the field hospital to another hospital in Chu Lai, to my Company Surgeon on Firebase Center, back to the Field Hospital at LZ Baldy. Once again, I met up with my friend, the Chaplain. Days later I was released to return to my unit in the field. I walked over to the Chaplain’s office to say good bye. He was outside, building a Chapel in medical area for Sunday service. He excused himself saying that he needed to place a call and asked me to wait. When he returned, he asked if I would be his assistant. I explained that I knew very little about what he did. He said I would only need to know how to drive a jeep and to ‘appropriate’ things. I assured him that I could do both…he told me to fly to Firebase Center to retrieve my equipment and to return to the office.

It would be a couple of months before I would join Chaplain Bartley on LZ Baldy. His assistant would not be leaving for a while so he moved me to Firebase West to assist a new chaplain until his permanent assistant came in. Then he moved me to Chu Lai to operate the rear office and Chapel. Every Sunday, after service on LZ Baldy, Chaplain Bartley would fly back to Chu Lai to give a sermon to all military and civilians in our area that had not had an opportunity to go to service elsewhere on base. The chaplain felt very strongly that everyone should have the opportunity to attend Church service even though they may not have transportation. Later that day, he would return to Baldy to visit the hospital and the morgue.

During this time, Chaplain Bartley was fulfilling a dream. He was building a large, Brigade Chapel on top (well, almost) of LZ Baldy…overlooking the chopper pad, air strip, and the Artillery placement. It was the Chaplain’s feeling that everyone should have a place to go that didn’t look temporary or military. Rather he wanted them to feel at home. I soon learned the reason I was to ‘appropriate’ things and help him with the completion and furnishing of the interior. In December, my Dad died. Chaplain Bartley flew to Chu Lai to tell me…he did not call me for a pickup at the chopper pad like usual, but walked to the office.

His chopper flew the two of us back to Baldy where I would process out on emergency leave. The Chaplain’s jeep had Brigade Chaplain on the front with a Cross and the symbol of his rank as Major. Chaplain Bartley drove me to HQ. I could not disappoint the guys we passed who were saluting…so, as the Chaplain drove, I returned all salutes. He thought that was fantastic.

Our office was inside the medical compound of C Co., 23rd Med where the hospital was located. The Chaplain felt that he…and his assistants…were on call 24 hours a day. We were to meet every Dust-Off Chopper that came in to help transport the wounded and deceased. Therefore, we pulled no HQ company duties such as KP or guard. However, we did pull guard with the Medics to help ‘pay’ for our rent. I would soon learn just how much that man was admired in the medical compound, with soldiers just meeting him for the first time, and with his staff of field Chaplains.

When I returned from emergency leave, I felt a real tug from my friends in the field. I slept on a cot every night…they slept on the ground. I had abandoned them. I told the Chaplain that I had to go back to my infantry unit. He would not sign the transfer. He had communicated with my Mother. He had sent her a letter after my Dad died…she returned the letter explaining that my brother had died while I was in basic training. He promised her that he would keep an eye on me…and not let me go back to the field. She had lost a son and a husband within a year. He would not be responsible for her to lose another.

Actually, I felt safer in the field. The enemy knew exactly where we lived on Baldy. At least in the field he had to find us. We got hit many times each week. Some worse than others, sometimes only mortars or gunfire. Other times they were full-on battles. One such battle took place in May, 1969. A company-sized offensive made up of NVA Regulars hit the North side of LZ Baldy. We fought all night with most of it contained to the North side. Word was that the enemy was headed through a rice paddy towards the medical compound but they could no longer be found.

At first light, before the perimeter was clear the Chaplain asked me to drive him around the hill…’the men need to see us’…he said. They did. We spoke to many of the guys who had fought all night…evidence of their battle was everywhere. The Chaplain spoke to them, held their hands, embraced them. Whatever they needed. He was amazing. Then he told me to take him to HQ. A cleanup detail needed to be arranged immediately. Not only to remove the bodies, but to give respect to their souls. Enemy or not, we were to respect them in death.
In the midst of all of the chaos, we had some great times. The Chaplain had a wonderful sense of humor and enjoyed being part of the group. He encouraged the medics and doctors to meet in our office each evening after chow to do whatever they wanted to do. Usually someone brought a guitar and we would try to sing or just listen. Chaplain Lovelace (from Tennessee) would entertain us with his version of the Hambone when he was on the hill.

His serious side came when he was preparing his sermon or reflecting on his family. His area of the office contained his bunk, his desk, and pictures. There was no door, but everyone knew that, when he was in his chair, that was his private time…do not disturb.

The Catholic Chaplain’s Assistant and I lived in a space in the back of the Chapel next door to our office. Just after I became comfortable with sleeping indoors, he wanted us to move. He felt that it was not acceptable to live in the Chapel. We built a new living quarters out of materials left over from the construction of the new Brigade Chapel…even mahogany plywood and ¼” paneling.

He and I had long discussions about the war, our family, and our plans after we returned to the world. How do we reconcile the death and destruction that went on day after day with our own beliefs of non-violence? On a Sunday evening, while waiting for anyone to show up for our new Sunday Night service, we sat on a big rock outside the Brigade Chapel. He told me how he had run away from home at 15 to join the Marines. He was caught three weeks later and sent home. He never lost his desire to join the military. His dream when he returned home from Nam was to attend the US War College. I wish I could remember more of our discussions.

I do not remember how long it was after that the Chaplain told me he was going home. There would be a detour, though. He was asked by the Americal (23rd Infantry) Division Chaplain to prepare some training films for an Army Field Chaplain, Brigade Chaplain, and Marine Chaplain. There may have been a Navy Chaplain in there, but I do not remember.
He came onto the Hill one day saying that he was going to pick up all of his gear and head to Da Nang for the final filming. He would spend the day with the Marines and then head home. While I was very happy for him, I told him not to go to Da Nang. I knew he had no choice, but I had a bad feeling…superstitious I suppose. A few hours later I received the news.

I do not recall why the Catholic assistant and I began calling him Black Bart. It certainly was not out of anger. He did know, however, that, if we had too much free time, we could get into trouble. One day I was to dig a hole…a large one…that would be used as a dry well for our laundry water. How all of those sand bags got buried right where the hole was to be, I’ll never know. The whole compound was not that old. When I voiced my opinion, he just said…’keep digging’. Right after that I had to dig another dry well…he wanted his own shower. I’ll have to admit…they were nice additions. And, he could be stern. Maybe it was the time we were going to the PX in Chu Lai. A soldier was walking toward us…obviously new in country with really fresh fatigues. He walked past the Chaplain without a salute (optional for a Chaplain). Major Bartley stopped the soldier and scolded him for not saluting. I asked him why he did that…he just smiled.

I miss that man.

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POSTED ON 6.8.2015
POSTED BY: Curt Carter [email protected]

Remembering An American Hero

Dear LTC Don Laverne Bartley, sir

As an American, I would like to thank you for your service and for your sacrifice made on behalf of our wonderful country. The youth of today could gain much by learning of heroes such as yourself, men and women whose courage and heart can never be questioned.

May God allow you to read this, and may He allow me to someday shake your hand when I get to Heaven to personally thank you. May he also allow my father to find you and shake your hand now to say thank you; for America, and for those who love you.

With respect, Sir

Curt Carter
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POSTED ON 6.8.2015
POSTED BY: A Grateful Vietnam Vet

Thank You

Thank you Lt. Col. Bartley for your devotion, leadership and courage under fire.
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POSTED ON 7.16.2012

Never Forgotten

(Photo Credit: Gary Weaver) Rest in peace with the warriors.

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POSTED ON 11.18.2010
POSTED BY: Robert Sage

We Remember

Don is buried at Stonewall Jackson Cemetery,Lexington, VA. LM SS AM-2OLC ARCOM-2OLC PH-OLC
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