Since 1775, more than 25,000 chaplains from a multitude of religions have provided spiritual guidance and counseling to the men and women serving in our armed forces. While chaplains were noncombatants, they often became targets as they put themselves in harm’s way to pull the wounded to safety or to administer comfort and last rites.
The Chaplain Corps of the United States Armed Forces has been active in more than 270 major combat engagements and more than 400 have died serving their country.
During the Vietnam War, chaplains were resolute in offering compassion and connection to all service members. They were responsible for holding memorial services for those killed, conducting religious services, raising troop morale, lending an ear, and offering spiritual counsel to service members under duress.
Peaking at 300 chaplains serving in Vietnam in 1967, this number alone is not representative of the amount of steadfast care and compassion these men were able to provide and the danger they often faced. There are 16 chaplains with their names inscribed upon the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and thousands more served their country and fellow man.
Chaplains on The Wall
While meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division on May 4, 1966, Army Chaplain Barragy was killed when the CH-47 he was riding in crashed due to mechanical failure. From Waterloo, Iowa, he was serving the Roman Catholic Church. Panel 7E/22.
With less than one month left in Vietnam, Army Chaplain Bartley was assisting in the filming of a television program on Vietnam chaplains when he was killed after the explosion of a hostile mine. From Rockbridge Baths, Virginia, he was serving the United Presbyterian Church at MACV headquarters. Panel 23W/109.
During the siege of Khe Sanh, Navy Chaplain Brett was killed during an artillery attack while caring for the wounded on February 22, 1968. Assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, Chaplain Brett served the Roman Catholic Church and was known to have provided up to ten masses per day. Panel 40E/58.
On Easter Sunday 1971, Army Chaplain Brown was calling upon soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, AMERICAL Division when his helicopter was shot down by enemy fire. From Columbus, Ohio, Chaplain Brown was serving the Lutheran Church. Panel 4W/118.
While administering comfort and last rites to Marines, Navy Chaplain Capodanno was wounded by small arms and mortar fire while serving with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Advancing to aid a wounded corpsman, he was killed by enemy fire in an act of heroism that would earn him the Medal of Honor. From Staten Island, N.Y., he is being beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. Panel 25E/95.
A veteran of World War II and Korea, Army Chaplain Engel died of a heart attack shortly after admitting himself to a hospital in Saigon on December 16, 1964. Chaplain Engel was born in Israel and immigrated to the United States. Based at MACV Headquarters, he served service members of the Jewish faith. He left behind two sons. Panel 1E/77.
Army Chaplain Feaster was injured by artillery fire on September 18, 1966. Only after helping other wounded was it learned he had also been wounded. He died several weeks later of an infection. From Portsmouth, N.H., he served Congregational Christian Church while serving with the 196th LIB. Panel 11E/109.
On October 26, 1966 in the Gulf of Tonkin, a fire engulfed the USS Oriskany killing 44 crewman and injuring another 156. While attempting to provide last rites and comfort to those injured and dying, Chaplain Garrity was overwhelmed by the heat and smoke. He was from Havre, Mont. and was serving the Roman Catholic Church. Panel 11E/110.
While conducting a church service on May 25, 1967, Army Chaplain Grandea was wounded by a hostile mortar round. Evacuated to Clark AFB in his native Philippines he died several days later from infection. He was serving the Methodist Church with the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry. Panel 21E/97.
While serving the 5th Special Forces Group, Army Chaplain Heinz was killed when his helicopter crashed into a hillside in poor weather on December 9, 1969. From Coventry, Conn., he was serving the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) and left behind a wife and two daughters. Panel 15W/42.
As a passenger aboard a Navy VC-47 airplane on March 10, 1967, Army Chaplain Johnson died with 14 other service members when the wing failed during a flight. He was serving the Baptist Church in the 4th Infantry Division. Panel 16E/53.
On February 17, 1968, Army Chaplain McGonigal joined the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in the final assault on the Citadel in Hue. While administering comfort and last rites, he was killed by small arms fire. A former physics teacher from Washington, D.C. he was serving the Roman Catholic Church. Panel 39E/75.
Known for his clean green uniforms and guitar playing, Army Chaplain Nichols was killed by an enemy booby trap while traveling between units in the field on October 13, 1970. Serving the Assemblies of God Church, from Kalispell, Mont., he was attached to the 1st Battalion, 52nd Infantry, AMERICAL Division. Panel 7W/133.
Against the advice of leadership, Army Chaplain Quealy flew to a battle site near Saigon on November 8, 1966. While administering last rites and comforting the wounded, he was killed by enemy machine gun fire. From New York, N.Y., he was serving the Roman Catholic Church with the 1st Infantry Division. Panel 12E/43.
Army Chaplain Singer had been in Vietnam for one month when killed while flying aboard a C-123 plane which crashed after takeoff en route to perform Chanukah services on December 17, 1968. From Flushing, N.Y., he served service members of the Jewish faith and was attached to the XXIV Corps. Panel 36W/37.
While assisting medics and providing spiritual assistance on November 19, 1967, Army Chaplain Watters was killed by fragmentation wounds. For his actions, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor. From Berkeley Heights, N.J., he was serving the Roman Catholic Church with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Panel 30E/36.
Sixteen chaplains died in Vietnam, including Father Charles Watters. While assisting medics and providing spiritual assistance on November 19, 1967, Army Chaplain Watters was killed by fragmentation wounds. For his actions, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor. A photo of Charles Watters and a remembrance written in his honor is part of The Wall That Heals exhibit.
Callie Wright, VVMF’s Director of Education, talks to students at The Wall That Heals about the role of chaplains during the Vietnam War and Charles Watters.
EP9 – Combat Chaplain
There are 16 chaplains on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In this episode we interview Jim Johnson, a former Army chaplain, recipient of three Bronze Stars, and author of two books about his experiences during the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
EPISODE SHOW NOTES
- VVMF Topic Page of Chaplains in Vietnam – https://www.vvmf.org/topics/chaplains/
- The Wall of Faces: Father Capodanno – https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/7787/VINCENT-R-CAPODANNO
- The Wall of Faces: Father Charles J Watters – https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/54801/CHARLES-J-WATTERS
- Jim Johnson’s books: Combat Chaplain, A Thirty-Year Vietnam Battle & Combat Trauma, A Personal Look at Long Term Consequences – https://www.amazon.com/James-D-Johnson/e/B001K8GJ4W?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_5&qid=1629382238&sr=8-5
- The Wall That Heals – https://www.vvmf.org/The-Wall-That-Heals/
- YouTube Echoes of the Vietnam War Interview playlist – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLK63b6Cn53unMMj-yZYEch0RuYy1YN1zl
For more information on this history of chaplaincy in our nation click here: https://thechaplainkit.com/chaplains/20th-century-wars/vietnam-war/
For a detailed history of chaplains during the Vietnam War click here: https://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1927&context=dissertations
To learn more about Charlie Litkeky and his Medal of Honor citation click here: http://www.charlieliteky.org/
For more information about Father Vincent R. Capodanno and his Medal of Honor citation click here: http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/3242/capodanno-vincent-r.php
For more information about Charles J. Walters and his Medal of Honor Citation click here: http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/3437/watters-charles-joseph.php