Well, the time has come. After nearly thirty-four years of military service, the end of this chapter of my life is closing as of September 5 – my 60th birthday.
Every career military person knows that day will come. It’s accepted as part of the inevitable movement of time. While finishing up my time here at the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters in New Orleans, I ran into a friend and fellow chaplain of many years, Calvin Reynolds. We decided to have dinner together at one of New Orleans’ finest restaurants, located in the French Quarter, called Dickie Brennan’s.
Cal and I lingered over our meal discussing many of our experiences over the past twenty-five or so years while serving at various times with the Navy and Marine Corps. We both came away believing we have been truly blessed to have served.
In looking back on where I’ve been the past forty-odd years, I marvel at the hand of God, especially when I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. In my late teens and early twenties I was adrift. This is one of the reasons I was seriously considering joining the Marine Corps right out of high school in 1966. That quickly became a bad idea, not because the Vietnam War was well under way, but because my brother, John, had enlisted in the Marines in 1964. As I was graduating from high school, he was completing flight school where they made him a helicopter pilot. Vietnam had quickly become a helicopter war. I seemed to recall hearing that Marine 2nd lieutenant helicopter pilots had a life expectancy of two minutes in a combat zone. I wasn’t the brightest light on the street, but I could see that both of us being in the Marines at the same time was potentially very risky. I decided to forgo the Marines until I knew what would happen to my brother. John left for Nam in February of ’67, returning home thirteen months later. I asked him if he planned to stay in. He said that he wasn’t. After he left active duty in 1969, I went ahead and enlisted in the Marines.
During those three years since high school graduation, I had bounced around in junior college, making a general mess of things. I was tired of school, didn’t know what I wanted to study, or even what direction to take with my life. My college grades were so bad . . . “How bad were they, Chuck?” . . . They were so bad that at the end of the Spring Semester in 1969, I received an official post card from the school strongly recommending that I not register for Fall classes! Now that’s bad!
So Marine Corps boot camp, here I come! I enjoyed the training, but most especially the camaraderie Marines share. I applied for the officers program but didn’t seriously believe I had a chance simply because my college grades were . . . well, as I said, Bad! So the Marine Corps decided I should fix jet airplanes. This I did for the rest of my time. Because of this, I was eventually sent overseas with “Orders to WestPac,” a euphemism for Vietnam. Thirty minutes after landing in Da Nang, South Vietnam early in the Easter Offensive of 1972, we were hit with a rocket attack. In scrambling for shelter, I was hit square in the chest with a piece of shrapnel, measuring about two inches by a half in. It had lost its penetrating velocity, falling harmlessly at my feet. Had it hit me four inches higher in the throat, or thirteen inches higher in the eye, this would be an entirely different story.
Six months later, I wandered into a Christian Servicemen’s Center where I heard the gospel preached with such conviction and clarity that I knew I had to make up my mind. Up to this time I had been living pretty loose and free, using God’s name, and the name of Jesus, as swear words. Now I was being confronted with a choice. Would I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Or would I risk an eternity in hell by walking away from him? For me, it was a simple choice.
The message of the Gospel finally clicked with me. I’d heard preaching before. I’d even read portions of the Bible. But I hadn’t understood how much God loved me, and how much he was willing to sacrifice for me through the life, death, and resurrection of his son, Jesus, in order to free me from the ravages of sin. The epiphany for me was the discovery that Jesus really does love me! This was absolutely wonderful! And it’s why the Gospel is called the “Good News.”
So learning to follow the path the Lord laid out for me was not difficult because I knew he always had something special just ahead. This has consistently been true in my life, no more so than the opportunity that I was given to serve as a chaplain in the United States Navy these past twenty-five years. The Lord has allowed me to share this very same Good News with the men and women of the Navy and Marine Corps. These men and women are the ones who willingly place themselves in harms way every day so you and I can live free. Who better to share God’s message of love and sacrifice with than those who already understand self-sacrifice?
It has been a joy and a privilege! To God be the glory!