By Cory Hancock, JFHQ-NCR/MDW Public Affairs July 29, 2014
WASHINGTON (July 25, 2014) -- Vietnam era members of the Chaplain Corps were honored during the 239th Chaplain Corps Anniversary celebration at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.
"Today we gather on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery to reinforce historical linkages from the past with the goal of bringing them to the present," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Mitch Butterworth, U.S. Army Military District of Washington deputy command chaplain. "May we remember today their example and sacrifice as we stand amongst these rows of headstones and monuments."
The Chaplain Corps was born on July 29, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized pay for one chaplain for each regiment of the Army. Since the regiments' creation, nearly 25,000 Army Chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leads for 25 million Soldiers and their families. Army Chaplains have served in more than 270 major wars and combat engagements.
"As we reflect on the service of our Vietnam-era chaplains and chaplain assistants, one conclusion becomes very clear," said Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Donald L. Rutherford, U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. "The Army Chaplain Corps has a legacy of valor and heroism under fire while serving in Vietnam."
Rutherford and Sgt. Maj. Alvin J. Chaplin, regimental sergeant major of the Chaplain Corps, paid tribute to those that have given the ultimate sacrifice by laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns and at Chaplain's Hill, in Arlington National Cemetery.
"I'm going to share a couple of vignettes from the lives [of Chaplain Charlie Watters and Chaplain Connie Walker], but I'm not going to draw religious leadership lessons from them," said Rutherford. "These are powerful stories that integrated every leadership doctrine and phrase we teach."
Thirteen Army chaplains were killed in action during the Vietnam War. Among them was Chaplain (Maj.) Charles Watters. Watters, was a Catholic priest who had volunteered for another year-long tour in Vietnam, when on Nov. 19, 1967, he found himself in the battle for Hill 875, at Dak To.
During the battle, he aided wounded Soldiers, gave last rites to dying Soldiers, and left the perimeter three times to assist the injured, despite Soldiers of his unit trying to restrain him from doing so. He was assisting medics in treating the wounded, as well as offering comfort to them when he was mortally wounded. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously, and is buried on Chaplain's Hill in Arlington National Cemetery.
Following the wreath-laying ceremonies, the celebration continued with the cutting of the Chaplain Corps Anniversary cake at the Spates Community Club on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. In keeping with Chaplain Corps tradition, the cake was cut by the chief of chaplains, the regimental sergeant major of the Chaplain Corps, along with the oldest chaplain and youngest chaplain assistant in the command.
Four hundred Army chaplains have been killed in combat. Eight members of the Chaplain Corps have been awarded the Medal of Honor.