Right now, I am awaiting some incoming sources, so in the mean time, I will discuss the lifestyle of a sky pilot and various roles one would play in Vietnam.
A lot of the following information comes from an official site of the 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Association (http://www.ichiban1.org/html/chaplain.htm). The first sky pilot in Vietnam was deployed in 1962; eventually there were over 300 of them by 1967. All pairs of boots have many jobs other than their main duty, like how marines also supply civilians and not just engage the enemy. Sky pilots were also tasked with aiding the Vietnamese with counseling (calming), food, water, clothes, money for schools (as we have discussed in class about LBJ’s such initiative), orphanages, , medical facilities, etc. Not to mention, without a helicopter, many of these duties would be difficult due to the distances between DMZs, or combat zones, for that matter.
Speaking of combat zones, several chaplains did go into battle. In my latter post, I found a veteran on a forum who posted his views about “Sky Pilot” being an anti-chaplain song; chaplains did not always go into battle, but several did, including his. The first chaplain to die in Vietnam was William J. Barragy in 1966 (two years before the Tet Offensive). In total, 13 chaplains died in the war. Although this confirms a number of chaplains in the thick of it, it is nowhere near the 50-60 thousand soldier KIAs.
Another element of the song was how chaplains blessed soldiers, giving them a sense of duty and a goal under God’s protection and will. On the Association’s site, there are several verses listed that chaplains often used to give comfort and assurance of their duty.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . .” (Psalm 23).
(David’s song of serenity for the believer.)
“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us.” (II Cor. 1:8-10)
(During a cataclysm in Biblical times, God delivered then and will deliver us now.)
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)
(Fear not; He is with you.)
“He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:29)
(Fear not; He is with you and our weaker allies. Also maybe spoken to Vietnamese?)
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.” (John 14:1)
(Perhaps for those unsure of their faith, or just scared of war.)
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)
(Perhaps for those who wanted to accept the faith in their final moments?)
Last passage mentioned is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which spawned another popular song:
“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: .
. . . a time to kill, a time to heal . . .”
As I end this post, I will admit that I could not help but burst into tears the whole time. Why? Am I just a sap? Was I feeling the fears of the soldiers? Was I feeling the inner silent lament of the chaplains? Or best yet, all of the above and more? I am very familiar with most of these Bible passages due to my beliefs, but I have never wept so hard upon reading them in a context like this . . .
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