The Warrior Ethos of Chaplains

Soldiers live by the Warrior Ethos.

  • I will always place the mission first.
  • I will never accept defeat.
  • I will never quit.
  • I will never leave a fallen comrade behind.

Chaplains are non-combatants. We do not carry weapons – even in combat – even when the risk to our own personal safety is high. Yet we, too, live by the Warrior Ethos. Let me give you one example of how that is true.

When I attended the Chaplain Officer Basic Course at Fort Monmouth near the New Jersey shore, a display case in the center of the main hallway caught the attention of every visitor. Within the display case was a Chaplain’s Kit much like the one I was first issued. (A Chaplain’s Kit is a small military-style cloth bag that contains the materials a chaplain needs to conduct worship, perform communion, baptize, anoint the infirm, etc.) This kit was torn and burned. It belonged to Charles Watters, a Catholic priest from New Jersey who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. Chaplain Watters was killed in combat 40 years ago today: November 19, 1967.  His Medal of Honor citation tells his story:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Chaplain Watters distinguished himself during an assault in the vicinity of Dak To. Chaplain Watters was moving with one of the companies when it engaged a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged and the casualties mounted, Chaplain Watters, with complete disregard for his safety, rushed forward to the line of contact. Unarmed and completely exposed, he moved among, as well as in front of the advancing troops, giving aid to the wounded, assisting in their evacuation, giving words of encouragement, and administering the last rites to the dying. When a wounded paratrooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Chaplain Watters ran forward, picked the man up on his shoulders and carried him to safety. As the troopers battled to the first enemy entrenchment, Chaplain Watters ran through the intense enemy fire to the front of the entrenchment to aid a fallen comrade. A short time later, the paratroopers pulled back in preparation for a second assault. Chaplain Watters exposed himself to both friendly and enemy fire between the two forces in order to recover two wounded soldiers. Later, when the battalion was forced to pull back into a perimeter, Chaplain Watters noticed that several wounded soldiers were lying outside the newly formed perimeter. Without hesitation and ignoring attempts to restrain him, Chaplain Watters left the perimeter three times in the face of small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire to carry and to assist the injured troopers to safety. Satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he began aiding the medics … applying field bandages to open wounds, obtaining and serving food and water, giving spiritual and mental strength and comfort. During his ministering, he moved out to the perimeter from position to position redistributing food and water, and tending to the needs of his men. Chaplain Watters was giving aid to the wounded when he himself was mortally wounded. Chaplain Watters’ unyielding perseverance and selfless devotion to his comrades was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

As chaplains and chaplain assistants in training at Fort Monmouth walked by that burned bag daily, we were reminded of our own Warrior Ethos. Even chaplains live by the “never quit” attitude that puts others first, no matter what the cost.