Saturday, January 28, 2006

So THAT'S Why You Have A Bronze Star...
Me and the Chaplain

Former Altar Boy jogged my memory concerning Chaplains I've known during my life time. First a little bit of background. For those who don't already know, I'm a retired Marine. My 2d eldest brother is a retired Naval Officer (both of us are Gulf War vets). Our eldest brother is a former Marine (Viet-Nam vet 0331 - Machine Gunner), our dad is retired Navy Chief (WWII, Korea and Viet-Nam). Suffice it to say, the vast majority of priests I've know my whole life were Navy Chaplains. Most of them served at least a hitch or two with the Marines. Most of them were combat vets.

Take my word for it... you'll never meet a more saintly, spiritual, flat out hard core (in every aspect of the word) priest until you've met one who served a tour of duty in... oh, I don't know... say Iwo Jima or Khe Sahn?

But anyhow, I remember years ago when I was stationed on Parris Island. The Chief Chaplain aboard "The Island" was good old Father Kelly, full bird Navy Captain. I think he went through Officer Candidate School with Moses. A five foot, five inch Irishman who couldn't have weighed more than 145 pounds. But literally could freeze water with a mere glance.

I usually saw Father Kelly at Mass, and obviously, he was wearing his vestments. But one day, I ran into the Padre outside of Mass. He was wearing the Charlie Uniform (dress uniform, short sleeve shirt). And did he had a serious stack of ribbons. I think he had the Battle Of Lepanto service medal... anyhow, I noticed that he also had the Combat Action Ribbon. Like a dope searching for something to say, I asked him how he got it. He gave me one of those water freezing looks and gave the obvious answer; "the battalion I was with in 'Nam got hit a lot, and we hit back a lot'.

I couldn't leave well enough alone. I just had to ask how he got the senior medal on his stack, the Bronze Star with Combat "V" (the "V" denotes personal valor in a combat situation). His demeanor changed at this point. He got very far away and quiet... but he answered nonetheless. "We were on a firebase, and I was walking the perimeter checking on the boys. I was in the .50 pit (50 caliber machine gun position) when we got hit. All hell broke loose. Here we were, an understrengthed battalion, and we were getting hit by at least a regiment. The A-Gunner was killed... I gave the boy Last Rites. I was trying to help the primary gunner as best I could, but then he was killed... I gave that boy Last Rites, too. So there I was, all alone in the .50 pit and over the ridge line, here comes what seemed like the entire NVA (North Viet-Namese Army)".

So says I "what'd ya do then Father?!"

His priceless response; "well... SOMEONE had to kill those godless Communists!"

May God bless ya, Father Kelly. Wherever you are.


Blogger Former Altar Boy said...

Classic! What a great story with a powerful punchline. This one isn't near as good but you Cavemen will appreciate it.
My second youngest brother was a Hospitalman (aka Corpsman) in the Navy but billeted his entire time with the Marines. Of course he loved it there. He told me the Marines knews they would always be first into the fray, so they really took care of their Corpsmen, in additon to calling them "Doc." Anyway, they were getting ready to move out to some hot spot and one of the Marines sees my bro strapped with a .45. "Hey Doc," he says, "I thought you were a conscientious objector. What's with the hardware?" Bro responds, "Hey, being a conscientious objector doesn't mean I can't defend my life."

4:41 PM  

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