By Chaplain (Lieut. Col.) David DeppmeierJuly 25, 2013
On a remote airfield at dawn in Frederick, Oklahoma, twenty-two veteran paratroopers took to the skies for a 60-second thrill ride - all as a way to honor those who have served and sacrificed among them. Though they wore uniforms from different eras, they shared one common bond: each served, or is currently serving, in the famed 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The paratroopers, both past and present, attended two days of training to make the July 19th jump, which honoured the 173rd's 50 years of service. All were combat veterans from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The oldest 173rd veteran who jumped was 82 year-old Dayton Herrington, a retired Army Sergeant Major.
Soldiers wore the field uniform of their dates of service in the brigade. Some wore Vietnam era rip-stop jungle fatigues with M2 steel helmets while others wore the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) and the Army Combat Helmet (ACH). In honor of WWII paratroopers, they made the jump from an actual C-47 that made airborne drops during the Normandy invasion.
Active duty Soldiers of the 173rd from Ft. Sill and Ft. Leavenworth joined the veterans in the jump. Chaplain (Major) Sean Wead, an instructor at the Command and General Staff College and former Brigade Chaplain of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) in Vicenza, Italy, jumped with a picture of Chaplain (Maj.) Charles J. Watters, who was killed in action on November 19, 1967 at the Battle of Dak To. Chaplain Watters was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery that day, and his efforts to rescue the wounded.
As a former chaplain of the 173rd ABCT, Wead has a deep-seated respect for Watters' legendary ministry, and his selfless service to his Soldiers to the very end.
"His example was an icon for the Chaplains of the Brigade. He shared the risk of his Soldiers to reflect God's presence with them. Chaplain Watters is the only officer of the 173rd to receive the Medal of Honor."
One of the veteran paratroopers who made the jump had served with Chaplain Watters in Vietnam. Charlie Lewie was a Radio Telephone Operator in the 173rd, and related a combat story involving the decorated chaplain.
"Charlie told me that a week before Chaplain Watters was killed, they had shared a foxhole together," Wead said. "Watters arrived at their position just as they started receiving some indirect motor fire. Lewie's fighting position had excellent overhead cover and Chaplain Watters quickly asked admittance. The men spent the next two days and nights together shoulder to shoulder as they waited out the periodic attacks."
Wead admitted that prior to the event he wasn't quite sure what to expect.
"I was apprehensive at first because I knew the Vietnam veterans would be much older and was not sure we would have much in common," he said. "That worry was quickly put aside. What I discovered was these old soldiers were no different than the Soldiers I have served with today. They were older and had a better sense of self, but the experiences we shared were the same. We were instantly brothers."
And, just as it is today, Soldiers from all time periods appreciate the comfort that a chaplain's presence brings.
"They were very appreciative to have a chaplain along, especially at their age," observed Wead. "They wanted to hear all about my deployment and the latest 'goings on' in the Brigade. They have a real interest in the unit and its health even though it has been over 40 years since some of them served. There were a lot of stories about the Brigade from the time of service of each Soldier."
Because of the common bond and experiences shared by all Soldiers, Wead observed a connecting truth about the chaplain's role.
"This gathering was a chance to continue the ministry of Chaplain Watters and other chaplains of the Brigade," said Wead. "There are so many Soldiers who still bear wounds from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. As a chaplain our duty is to these Soldiers no matter how long or when they served."
And just as it was during times past, paratroopers today still appreciate a chaplain's prayer prior to going out the door of an aircraft. Before the jump, Wead offered the following prayer for safety:
"May we remember that we will not jump alone, we will jump with those paratroopers of the 173rd who gave all that they were and would ever be for their country and will be forever young in our minds. One more time, Lord, guide us on our descent through the air keeping us safe. Abide with us from now until we are reunited with 173rd in the sky. Sky Soldiers! Amen!"