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Interview with Kevin L. Anderson, March 15, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Kevin L. Anderson, March 15, 2007
March 15, 2007
In this interview, Navy Chaplain Kevin Anderson discusses his military career, including his experiences during the Vietnam War, his time working with students at Naval Air Station Memphis, and the complications inherent in raising a military family.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Anderson, Kevin Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 3/15/2007 Series: Military Chaplains Length 60 minutes

Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff member with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's University Library. This interview today is part of our Military Chaplain Interview Project. I'm in Pinehurst, North Carolina. And I'm going to interview Chaplain Anderson. Good afternoon sir, how are you?

Anderson: All right for an old man.

Zarbock: Tell me Chaplain, what event, series of events, or individual, or series of individuals lead you into the ministry?

Anderson: Well, there were a whole lot of people. I was brought up in a Baptist church in East Texas and there were a lot of people. Pastors, Sunday school teachers, so forth, that were real influential. I think perhaps the greatest influence in my life were my parents, my mom, and particularly a grandmother, a maternal grandmother, who one time I told her after I had decided to go in the ministry, I told her about it. I shall don't forget it, she looked at me and kind of chuckled and she said, "You know, I always prayed that one of my grandsons would be a preacher." And I said, "Well, I guess grandma you may have been surprised that it turned out to be me." But she-she liked that. There were a lot of people. I think family, particularly, were the ones that were a strong influence in ministry.

Zarbock: Was your father interested in church activity? Was he-?

Anderson: My dad he went to church. He was not one that I would call an overly religious person but one that lived his faith in his own way. My dad was a painting contractor and big catfisherman too. He loved to fish. And he was a lot of influence in my life, yes.

Zarbock: But he was not a lay preacher.

Anderson: No, no, no, no, no anything but that.

Zarbock: Okay, well where did you do, where did you go to school?

Anderson: Well, when I finished high school, I went to a Junior College at Kilgore and went two years. And this was during the Korean War. The Korean War broke out then. And I thought for sure that I was going to have to go at anytime.

Zarbock: That was 1950?

Anderson: 1950, mm-hmm. And I, in fact, almost joined the Marine Corps at that time but I don't know... The College President kept encouraging us, hey you have a deferment while you're in school, go ahead and then finish. And then well, I went on and finished Junior College. And then I went back to work and I met my wife. And I kept waiting for a draft notice and it never came. And then we had been married about four months and I got my draft notice to go into the Army, you know. To be honest, Paul, I hated every day of it. I said, "Man if I ever get out of this military mess, I don't want to have anything to do with it." But while I was in boot camp there was a Baptist Chaplain by the name of James Wehr He's probably not living now. But he used to come into the barracks and visit with us in boot camp. And pull up a foot locker and sit down and talk to us. That really made an impression on me, really made an impression. But after I got out of the Army...

Zarbock: How long were you in?

Anderson: I was in two years.

Zarbock: And where were you stationed?

Anderson: I was at Camp Roberts-- I went to Camp Roberts, California for boot camp. From there I went to Fort Ord for clerk typist school. I was one of those Remington Raiders they call them. You know, the typewriter, and then I went back to Camp Roberts and when they closed Camp Roberts I went to Presidio of San Francisco, Sixth Army headquarters, and was there until I got out.

Zarbock: That was nice duty.

Anderson: It was nice. I could look out the office window and I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, right out there.

Zarbock: Beautiful place.

Anderson: But then when I got out of the Army, I really felt this sense of call to ministry and more so than I had ever thought before.

Zarbock: How old were you at that time?

Anderson: I was 23 at this time and I was married and we had a baby. She was born before I got out of the Army. But I decided that this was what we wanted to do. My wife and I talked about it. I talked to my parents and some other people. And so I went back to college then at East Texas Baptist College, which was nearby, and finished up there. And from there I went on to South Western Seminary in Fort Worth. And then I had to drop out. We had another daughter, and then while I was in the seminary I had to drop out. Our third daughter came along and this was in '59 and I pastored some little churches around in East Texas. And then I began to ask people about the military chaplains. See the guy who was head of our endorsing agency was a guy by the name of George Cummings. And I talked to him and I really couldn't do anything until I had finished seminary. So after 1959 when I dropped out and I pastored, then in '64, I went back to seminary and pastored a church along the way. And then in '66 I graduated. Then on the 2nd of January, '67, I came to active duty in the Navy.

Zarbock: Just for purposes of history, when you say you pastored one of these churches, what were you paid?

Anderson: Well.

Zarbock: It wasn't magnificent, I'm sure.

Anderson: The first little church I had I wasn't paid anything. I wasn't paid anything. They had gone through a church split and all of that and there were just a few straggling members there, wasn't paid anything. And then finally some gracious soul decided the needed to pay the pastor something. So they paid me $50 a month. Of course I was a college student too. I was still going to college, and then other churches the salary was a little bit better. Somebody was saying one time about preachers, one guy said that he wanted to go into preaching because he could make a lot of money. And I said well you know, you send that young man to me. Let me talk to him because-- send him down to East Texas, let him pastor a little country church down there. They'll starve that sucker to death and he'll forget about getting rich in the ministry. But then my last church that I pastored before coming in the Navy was a First Baptist Church in Cattle Mills, which was north of Dallas, Texas. And when I went there I told the people that my plans were to go into the military as a Chaplain. And I wanted to finish up seminary so I could go in. They said that's fine, come on. So I was able to commute back and forth and there were some other students there that we commuted back and forth. And then is when I talked to George Cummings again when I started getting close to graduating. And at first was interested in the Army. But he told me, at that time I was, the age limit I think was 35 and I was 35, he said, "You can't get in the Army right now because the age limit." And they had not wavered it. They wavered it a little bit later on. And he said, "I can get you into the Navy." I said, "Ah, you know." Then in the back of my mind I said I love Marines. So I said, "They serve Marines." "Oh yes." I said. So that was the way I went in.

Zarbock: I was going to ask you what motivated you? I mean there aren't many oceans in East Texas.

Anderson: No there's not, no there's not. I don't know. And I used to drive my Navy friends up the wall because I love Marines and made deployments with them. And I tell my sailors, I said, "You know the purpose of a ship is to get you from point A to point B. And then you get your feet on the ground and get off of that sucker." Sailors didn't like that too much. I tell people I'm more Marine green than I am Navy blue.

Zarbock: Where did you do your training as a Navy Chaplain?

Anderson: Okay, the school then was in Newport, Rhode Island. The basic school was there. And as I said, I went there in January of '67. And oh Lord, yeah, we'd like to froze to death. You know its eight weeks. I remember one day we were-- the chaplains were scheduled to go over to Quonset Point by helicopter and they were going to what they call Holy Halos with a chain, a cable and you have a noose and you put on and they take you up and put you down. And it was cold. And when we started out I think the temperature was probably around zero. And it's funny, when we went in and the pilot started calling off all the names of the chaplains, he started calling the names. And he said, one guys name was Claps and he went on down and then another was Cuck, and another was some other-- and he looked around and he said, "Are you sure you guys were a bunch of chaplains?" We went over there and went through that thing, like to froze to death. And the pilots were having the biggest fun. They would lower that cable down and static electricity would build up in it. And it had a ground wire on it, you know, where it would touch the ground. But a lot of times you would touch that thing and it would just knock the pee out of you, you know. And the pilots, they would have the biggest fun seeing those chaplains grab that thing and get shocked. But that was the basic course in '67, January to March of '67.

Zarbock: What was day by day living like for you? You had what, three daughters at that time?

Anderson: Well, I had a son too later, yes, so I had four children whenever I came into the Navy.

Zarbock: But were you comfortable enough? What was the roof over your head like?

Anderson: Well, when I was in Chaplain School I left my wife in Texas. And I went to Newport and when I finished that my first orders to Camp Lejeune. And I went there and we rented a house out in the civilian community. But we were only there about four months. And then I had orders to Vietnam. And they were message orders which means, there was a short notice. I think I got my orders on early July and around the 10th or 12th of July I was, I had, I was on my way. And usually they would send chaplains through what they call Field Medical Service School, prior to going overseas to Vietnam, which was eight weeks of some training to acquaint them with, you know, what the battlefield conditions could be like. I didn't even go through that. I moved my family back to Texas. I figured it would be better for them to be there because I was new in the military. I didn't want to leave them there in Jacksonville. So I got on a plane in Travis Air force Base. And when I was at Travis, I showed the guy my orders and they were to Da Nang. And he said "We don't have any flights going to Da Nang today. There's some tomorrow and he said but we've got some going to Saigon." I said, "Saigon that's Vietnam." So I got on that one not realizing that from Saigon to Da Nang was a long way. So I spent two or three days in Saigon before going up to Da Nang and joining up with the Third Shore Party.

Zarbock: Was this a military aircraft or commercial?

Anderson: Yes it was military. Yes.

Zarbock: Well you didn't have many luxuries on that did you?

Anderson: No, no, and I tell you Paul, when I got into Saigon there was a temporary billeting barracks where they kept all the officers that were on their way to other assignments. And I was scared shitless. There were flares going off. And there was artillery going off in the background and all that kind of stuff. Well unbeknownst to me it was a way off. But this was something new to me, you know, and I was saying to myself my Lord, you know, what have I gotten myself into?

Zarbock: How old were you?

Anderson: I was 35. Yes, 35.

(phone rings in background)

Zarbock: And a different world from East Texas.

Anderson: Oh, much different from East Texas, much different from East Texas. But you know I have told people before, if I had all to go over again I would certainly go into the Navy again. Loved it, loved it.

Zarbock: So you-how did you get from Saigon to Da Nang?

Anderson: Well I had to wait around for flights. And as I recall, I was in Saigon for about two, three days. And then I got a flight up to Da Nang. And then it was fixed-wing aircraft, and then from Da Nang, we flew into Phu Bai which was the forward position on the Third Marine Division. And I went into Phu Bia and I was assigned to the Third Shore Party Battalion. And they, of course, knew I was coming and they had somebody there to pick me up and take me out to the quarters to where the Third Shore Party was located. Out from Phu Bia, a little place called, oh gosh I can't even think of the name of it. Well, senior moment.

Zarbock: But you were green as grass in the military.

Anderson: Yes, yes, yes.

Zarbock: I mean you know how to wear a uniform and salute but...

Anderson: Yes, I knew all that. I guess maybe when they looked at to send me over they saw that I had been in the Army for a couple of years and they probably thought hey, you know, the guys at least not completely green as it were but yes, yes.

Zarbock: What were you suppose to do when you finally ended up getting to where you were supposed to be?

Anderson: Well, the first thing I did was to, the chaplain that I was supposed to relieve in Third Shore Party had already been ordered out.

Zarbock: I'm sorry what did you call it?

Anderson: Third Shore Party.

Zarbock: Third Shore--

Anderson: Shore Party.

Zarbock: Yes.

Anderson: What they would do, they would assist in the cargo that was going from one location to another by helicopter. And they would drop it in these slings. And somebody from shore party would be there to help get whatever the supplies were from there to the vehicles or wherever it went. So when I went there the chaplain had already gone. I was pretty much on my own to go around and introduce myself. I didn't mind that. Even though I was-- I guess, I was still in a state of shock. I'll never forget the smell of Vietnam. It's just a smell that I can't describe. It was a kind of a smell like a mixture of crap and urine and then the humidity, this was in the summer. It was just stifling hot. And I don't think I'll ever forget that.

Zarbock: How were you greeted?

Anderson: Very well, very well. I learned quite early that Marines, if you will show that you are like Marines, and you're privileged to serve with them, they will love you and they will do anything for you. So I was greeted real well. My battalion commander, a man by the name of James Quinn, Lieutenant Colonel James Quinn, great guy, Roman Catholic, great guy, accepted me. And while I was there, he wanted to build a chapel. There was no chapel. In fact I had church in the bar, in the club. And I would use the bar stool for a pulpit. But he wanted to build a chapel. So while I was there they were going to build a new chapel for the Third Marine Division in Phu Bai. So they were going to do away with the old building. So some of our people had a flat bed and all kinds of equipment, they went down there cut that chapel in half, loaded it on the flat bed, brought it back out to a Jollie [ph?], set that thing up, sandbagged around the side. We got ready to decorate it I said it looked good to put some bamboo matting and stuff inside. Well how do you pay for it? I said well we'll just take up collections, you know. So I started taking up collections and I found out you're not supposed to do that. I did it anyway. I guess that's my Baptist background, you know, you pass the offering plate to get money but we decorated it up and we had a nice chapel called it St. Michael's Chapel. Fact there's a picture up there on the wall that.

Zarbock: Why did you call it St. Michael's?

Anderson: He's the patron saint of the military or something, I'm really not sure. My Commanding Officer was one who came up with the name.

Zarbock: Sounds good to you.

Anderson: And I said, "Yes sir that sounds good."

Zarbock: How long did you serve there?

Anderson: Well I was there for a year. I was wounded in June of '67, '68. I was due to come home in July and we were out on hill 689 out west of Ky Son, I'm sure Ky Son is, but you know everything was over with there. We were out west of Ky Son not to far from the border I think of Cambodia or Laos. And we were digging in. We were digging in. There was a saddle of mountains and we were digging in, in there. And while we were digging in there was some mortar rounds came in. And the first one that came in it landed probably about 10 or 12 feet from me. And my clerk, a young Lance Corporal by the name of James Hennin, was standing between the impact area and me and he was killed. I took some shrapnel, a little bit in the head and a chunk in the leg and my face, I couldn't see. I had blood in my eyes. I thought maybe I had lost an eye but I hadn't. And I crawled up to my clerk to see how he was, he was dead. I can still smell the smoke and all. And I did, I really agonized over this because here was a young man, 18 years-old, Lance Corporal in the Marine Corp. Second time he had been wounded. He's killed and here's a 35 year-old fart that somehow or another manages to live through this and go on. And I said maybe because of that, God was trying to tell me that there's still some use for you, even though you are a dumb redneck from East Texas. Maybe there's still some use for you. But I recuperated for about a month at the hospital in Cameron Bay and then I went back for just a short while to the Second Recon Battalion, which was down in Quang Tri which was a little bit south I think of Phu Bai.

Zarbock: The business of being in recon, isn't that extremely hazardous?

Anderson: Yes, yes. Fortunately I was not involved in making any of the recon inserts and so forth that they made. They certainly wouldn't want a chaplain going along because they were small teams and every team member on that recon team had to know what he was doing, had a job. To get a chaplain in there would just have bungled things up.

Zarbock: What were your duties there?

Anderson: Well I just kind of stayed there in the area and there were some recon people that were in some outline positions around I would go and visit with. And then it was my responsibility, of course, to do worship services on Sunday. And we started a little newspaper while we were there. I still got some copies in my files over there. So I found a great little kid from Grand Prairie, Texas that drew cartoons, excellent cartoons, and then somebody wrote up the ten top tunes of that day/ And then they Marine Corp-ized them a little bit with they were a long way from their title originally was. But they did that. And after that, it was in late July and then I came on back home, yeah. And, you know, I've heard a lot of people, Paul, say that when they came home people would spit on them, would curse them. I flew in to Travis again and from Travis I took a cab down to San Francisco to the airport to fly to Dallas. And I was in uniform. I had nobody to do that to me. I never had anybody show me any disrespect. And of course when I got back to Texas, people welcomed me with open arms. But I never experienced any of that thing that I read and heard a lot about.

Zarbock: Yeah, well, you're back in the states. You've got a little more experience under your belt now.

Anderson: Yeah.

Zarbock: Where were you sent?

Anderson: I went-- after Vietnam I went to the Naval Air Station Memphis, was in Millington. It's a school command primarily. They had several different Naval Schools there, aviation, and a lot of others. There was a Marine Corps support air training group there that had some schools. And when I got there, the Senior Chaplain was a guy by the name of RQ Jones. RQ was always going around with a cigarette in his hand, a cup of coffee in the other one. Played golf and gave all us young Chaplains a hard time. Anyway I guess he figured because I had Marine experience, he wanted me to go over and set up an office with the Marines, right in their Headquarters. So I went over and they had me a room, never forget it. A Master Sergeant Reed came in and he sounded like he had been drinking Drano, you know, gravelly voice. Sergeant Reed I'm here to help you Chaplain, get you squared away. So then he came back over to my office when they were moving me, to move books and so forth. And he said, "What all do you need moved Chaplain?" And I said, "Well sir, aye, aye, sir." And there were several sailors down in the waiting room waiting to see a Chaplain, some of them probably had problems. Master Sergeant Reed went down there, you, you, you, come here. Got them all out. They moved all my stuff over to the office. After I got in there I said you know Top, it'd be nice if I had-- could you get some carpet on the floor? You want carpet, I'll get you carpet. Came back a few days later, red carpet, brand new red carpet on the floor. I said, "Top where did you get that?" "You wanted carpet, you got it. Don't ask any questions." I learned later that that scoundrel had taken another Marine and they pulled up in a truck next to a warehouse and they crawled through a window where they had carpet. And they cut out a big piece of red carpet and of all places they bring it back and they put it in the Chaplain's office. (laughs)

Zarbock: What was your rank at that time?

Anderson: I was a Lieutenant at that time.

Zarbock: Relatively new Lieutenant? How long?

Anderson: Well, I'd only been in, well, a year in Vietnam, about a year in a half when I got there.

Zarbock: What were you're duties in it's...

Anderson: Millington.

Zarbock: Millington?

Anderson: It was primarily working with the Marine students there. And then we had a schedule where we would give lectures to all the different schools. And we would rotate on Sunday with the worship services in the Chapel. Usually there would be two of us. One would be the preacher, one would do the lecture.

Zarbock: What sort of, you said you would go around and provide lectures too?

Anderson: Yeah!

Zarbock: On what?

Anderson: Well, there was a CAN program. At that time there was so many programs and lessons that were required, as I understand, they were required that these students get from the Chaplains during that time that they were in school. Some of the topics I don't remember.

Zarbock: But they essentially spiritual or were they ethical?

Anderson: Yes more ethical. Yeah, yeah, yeah and some of them were just some stuff on getting adjusted to the school there, the system. Some of them came there shortly out of boot camp. Some had been in probably for a while and then came to a school later, because some of the schools were a little more advanced than the others.

Zarbock: So it's a combination orientation and education?

Anderson: Orientation, yes and education, yeah.

Zarbock: But no preaching as such?

Anderson: No, no, no, not in those. You know, if wanted preaching you'd come to chapel on Sunday.

Zarbock: I'm going to ask you at this time a question I've asked all of the chaplains. At any time during your career in the military, and how many years did you have in by the way?

Anderson: Twenty-two, almost twenty-two.

Zarbock: At any time during that period of time, were you ever in a situation which a superior officer ordered or suggested or hinted broadly that you do something that you didn't particularly want to do?

Anderson: Not when it came to religious services. No, they gave us complete freedom. I remember when I was in Vietnam, I went to, after I moved from Shore Party, I went to the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, which was a grunt battalion. And when I got in there, the CO was Lieutenant Colonel Lee Bendell, Great gentleman, great Marine, fine Christian gentleman. And I reported in. And the Chaplain before me had started a little newspaper there. And when I went in, he told me, the Colonel told me about the newspaper. And I said, I don't think that's an appropriate duty. And here's me-I was Lieutenant JG at that time. And here's a Lieutenant Colonel and I shall never forget, he looked at me and he said, "Chaplain, it will be an appropriate duty and you will do that newspaper." I said, "Yes sir." But I loved it because when I left there and I went down to recon after I had been wounded, I picked up this idea on the newspaper and it did real well.

Zarbock: Well you do have the educational background and some writing skills.

Anderson: Yes, some.

Zarbock: It sounds like, you know, it wasn't an oddball way off the wall assignment.

Anderson: No, no in fact it was a good thing. I had, you know, a place in there where I could do a little religious article. But the rest of it would be stuff that I would pick up from the Marines and like the cartoons and the top 10 tunes and all of that. I would let them contribute, they'd be a part and they'd be anxious to see that thing every time that it came out.

Zarbock: You know other Chaplains have told me, one of the things that would occur in their career, when they were given what was a side bar assignment-- but yet it was distinct and discreet so that people who didn't know what's a Chaplain do, he does such and such. And from that side bar role, the chaplains would say it was not unusual for people to enter my life through, in your case, through the newspaper, and end up saying, "Chaplain, I've really got a problem." or "I'm frightened about..." or "I..." et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Anderson: Well I remember being on the Med cruise in '75 with the Marines in the Third Battalion, Eighth Marines. And we- each- the battalion had what they called a tour officer where when you went into a port, you would arrange tours or help with a tour agent for tours and so forth. Normally they'd discourage a Chaplain from doing that sort of thing, but I did it anyway. And, in fact, I broke a lot of rules. In that one time I had about, I think it was probably close to $8,000 in my safe where people had bought tickets and so forth to go. And I guess if I had got caught I'd probably been thrown out of the Chaplain Corps. But I figured hey I've got the time to do this. And especially when we went into Naples, because I had had duty in Naples later on for two years and I knew the area. And I knew some of the sights and so forth so I was able to, I thought I'd be pretty good tour guide and help the command.

Zarbock: Again, for the sake of history. When you talk about a battalion, roughly how many people in a batallion?

Anderson: It depends, if it's a regular battalion or if it's a reinforced battalion, you know roughly around 1,000- 1,000 people.

Zarbock: These are 1,000 men or were there women sprinkled in?

Anderson: Well there were no women, when I was there, not in infantry battalions. There were some women in maybe some clerical jobs or so forth. But in the infantry, as I recall, there were no women in there at that time. There probably are now, I don't know, I've been out for 18 years and a lot has changed since then.

Zarbock: Isn't that the truth?

Anderson: Yeah, yeah.

Zarbock: Well, I'm sorry I took you off track. Back to, you're in Tennessee, where did you serve after that?

Anderson: After Tennessee, that's when we went to Naples. I was at Tennessee for not quite, well I think it was about 19 months, it was a short tour. It should have been two years but there was a lot of upheaval going on because Vietnam of course was still going on. So I left there in '69, I mean '70. And the summer of '70 or late spring of '70 and went to Newport and was assigned to a squadron of destroyer escorts. There were three ships in the squadron. And at the time, they were making plans to move the home port from Newport, Rhode Island, to Naples, Italy. And so we just got there and just barely got settled and then the orders came for us to make the move. My Commodore, great guy, a guy by the name of Don Crawley [ph?], great guy from Enid, Oklahoma, he wanted me to fly over to Italy, to Naples before the ships got there. And try to help arrange for housing and making sure that the dependents were taken care of when they got there. So he allowed me and the family to fly on over to Naples. And I'm glad I did because man if I'd of made that crossing the Atlantic in those little old ships, I'd of probably been dead from sea sickness by the time I got there. But we got there before the people, the dependents. In fact, there were a few dependents that were already there. And met some real great people there that helped me, a young Lieutenant JG Half [ph?], Joe Half [ph?], mustanger in the Navy.

Zarbock: What do you mean by a mustanger?

Anderson: He had been enlisted and then got a commission as an officer. He kind of took me in and helped me and he said... I didn't have an office, I didn't have anything over there and he said, "Here, I'll put you a little desk over here in my office and you can use my phone and this will be your place to work out of." So, great people. And there was also a man by the name of Mr. Borg, Englishman, civilian that worked there in that office. And he helped me a great deal too.

Zarbock: How did your family take to that move?

Anderson: Well...

Zarbock: And how old is the family now, your children?

Anderson: Okay, let's see, this was in '70, so let's see, our youngest was about six and our oldest, she was in high school. In fact she graduated from high school while we were there. We were there two years. And the others were- the other two daughters were in between-- the girl that was in high school and the boy that was, I think in the first grade. We did well, we-- at that time, there was very little housing, military housing. So the housing office would arrange with the Italian community to find places. And so we found a place out near Lagos Vassar. You could look out the balcony and you could see across the bay and you could see the Island of Ischia. Beautiful, beautiful, so we moved in there and the children went to a DOD school, Department of Defense School that was there in Naples. And the high school was down near closer to Fleet Landing, but they were all bused and they would be bused from home and back home. So they made the adjustment well.

Zarbock: This is going to drive the transcriptionist crazy. But you really do have an ear for a variety of things. For example you pronounce Tennessee the way most people in Tennessee pronounce Tennessee. They accent the first syllable rather than Tennessee.

Anderson: Oh is that right?

Zarbock: Yeah, and you said "Tennessee". I lived in Tennessee for 30 plus years. Anyway but the way you pronounce with such grace and the areas of Naples just brought that to mind. Again I'm repeating, it's going to drive the transcriptionist crazy. Side board.

Anderson: You know I thought of another story.

Zarbock: Let her go.

Anderson: When I was in Memphis at the Naval Air Station there. As I said I had just gotten back from Vietnam, I was in the Navy Federal, I mean the Marine Corps Federal Credit Union one day, filling out a deposit or something. I looked over and I saw this Marine Master Sergeant and I kept looking at him and he kept looking at me. And I walked to him and I said, "Tom?" I said, "I've seen you somewhere. Where have I seen you?" And he burst out laughing. He said, "Chaplain." He said, "The last time that I saw you in Vietnam we were at Camp Carol." Which was an artillery base and we had just gone in there temporarily. Our battalion had. He said, "We were at Camp Carol." And you must understand too, before I say this, the Navy calls bathrooms, latrines, or heads. The Army calls them latrines. The Marine Corps, particularly the field Marine, they don't have that much class, they call them shitters. So, he said, "Chaplain." He said, "The last time I saw you there was some artillery rounds that came in next to the shitter and you ran out with your britches down around your boots." And I messed all over myself. "And you ran into a bunker." And my CO was in there and he said, I said, "That is a heck of a way to be remembered."

Zarbock: You're doing great.

Anderson: Oh, goodness, yes. I-- there's some of the Chaplains that I met that really were a great influence on me, names that you may be familiar with. I mentioned earlier when I was talking to you about John O'Connor who eventually became a Cardinal for New York. John O'Connor when we were in Newport, when were leaving to go to Naples, was the Command Chaplain for the Cruiser-Destroyer Force Atlantic Fleet. He was a four striper, Captain at that time. I shall never forget, we had made arrangements to take our cars across the bay to be shipped, and then from there we had arranged transportation into Providence. And then on, then we'd catch a flight from there to Boston and then on to Naples. But when we were standing in the driveway John O'Connor came by and he said, "Kevin, can I have my clerk take you over?" And I said, "No sir, we've got it all figured out that we can take the car and from there the bus and on to Providence and then from there on to Boston." He said, "Really, is there something I can do?" And I said, "No sir, not really." The last thing I remember of John O'Connor, well no, I saw him after that but in Newport he was standing in my driveway waving goodbye to me, making sure that I got off and things went well.

Zarbock: He really was a Pastor.

Anderson: Oh yes, yes, yes. He-- when he became the Chief of Chaplains, I was at Great Lakes at the training center. And so we went up, several of us to see him. I went along with the Senior Chaplain who was Jude Censor Roman Catholic, great guy, from Kentucky, deep voice. We went up to see John O'Connor about the, they were beginning what they called a cradle program, which was a program to deal with people that had drug problems and so forth. John O'Connor wanted to put this into motion at the Recruit Training Command. And so he wanted to get some people to come up and give him some feedback. He got feedback from Orlando and from San Diego. So we went up and was giving him feedback and the consensus of some in our group was that boot camp is not the place to do this because there's not a whole lot of time for these kids. Better would be over at main side where they have the A schools, maybe there but. He was firm and no it's going to be in boot camp. And that's where it was. You didn't, you know, he had his mind made up and you went along with it. And I had a lot of respect for John O'Connor. Another good guy was an influence on me was an Orthodox Priest by the name of Frmenko. Mike-

Zarbock: How do you spell it?

Anderson: F R M E N K O, I think.

Zarbock: Close enough.

Anderson: Uh-huh, Mike was my battalion commander when I finished Chaplain School and went down to Camp Lejeune, before we went to Vietnam. And I was with the First Battalion, Eighth Marines. And when I got orders to go to Vietnam, Mike took me under his arm just like an old mother hen would take a little chicken. And took me around making sure that everything got done right and everything was squared away before I got off. And after I came back from Vietnam, he was still in the area there and he used to always come up to me and he'd call me Andy and he'd say, "Andy how's your head? How's your leg from those wounds?" I said, "I'm doing okay." Always asking about me, you don't forget people like that.

Zarbock: Where was he from? Do you remember where?

Anderson: I don't know where Mike was from.

Zarbock: I wonder if he's still alive and...

Anderson: I don't, no, no he's not. No, he's not. It seemed to me that when he retired, he may have retired in the Wilmington area. I'm not sure, I don't remember if he was Russian or Greek Orthodox, but he was one of those Orthodox branches. Great guy, great guy. Another great Chaplain was by the name of Ernest Metzger, big tall Lutheran. You'd appreciate this being a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran. Ernie came to me one day, I'll never forget it. He told me, he said, "Kevin." He says, "One thing I want you to remember." He said, "What is on your right collar" which is your rank "is not the important thing. What you've got on your left collar," which is a cross, "that is why you're here." Never forget that, never forget that.

Zarbock: Tell me about, what is it like to have a military family that moves from here to there? There must have been stresses and moments of maybe accusation. Why are you doing this to me Dad?

Anderson: Yeah, I think our kids made the adjustment pretty well. They were all good students academically. All of them went off to college and, you know, did well. But there were some bad moments, when I went to, back to Newport to the Advanced Course, where I told you that I knew Jim Apple. This was in 1980. We were there for a year. We went there from Great Lakes. My son was going into his senior year in high school in 1980. So we had to make that move to Newport and he went to finish high school, just that one year, in Middleton, but he did okay, and I told him I said, "Son." I said, "You know, you're getting ready to go to college. You go and you know you're going to be there in one place if you want to." I said, "There's not much we can do about these orders here. We have to take them." And it was a good set of orders to go there, because it was a year really of post graduate study is what it was. Didn't have any duty, and no responsibilities.

Zarbock: Just learn.

Anderson: Just learn. Yeah. But the children, I think maybe with our children being a little bit older it may have been a little more difficult for them than it would have been for younger children, in particular those that are not in school. You know, one year when I first came in the Navy, the children, the girls were in three different schools that year. They managed to do okay in spite of it.

Zarbock: Good. Good. None of them went into the military as a career, did they?

Anderson: Interesting you ask. My son is a Chaplain in the Navy.

Zarbock: Well, now.

Anderson: His name happens to be Kevin Anderson also, junior of course. And I shall never forget when he went in, I had a friend call me, a former Chaplain that, he called me and he said, "Kevin." He said, "I saw that there's a Kevin L. Anderson back in the Navy as a Chaplain." He said, "It's not you is it?" I said, "No." I said, "That's our son." And he sighed, a big sigh of relief and he said, "I was afraid that you were coming back in."

Zarbock: Other chaplains have told me that there were some emotionally very high moments and there was some emotionally very low. The emotionally high and the emotionally low, according to other Chaplains were most frequently linked to other men or women in the military services. The Navy people serving with the Marines said they (pause) that they really grew to love and respect the Marines.

Anderson: I love the Marines, yeah.

Zarbock: And it was reciprocal. But one Chaplain told me, he said he'd never forget it. The first day the Commanding Officer said, "From now on Chaplain you shine your shoes and you get a haircut." And he said in the Marines they would tell you straight up. There wasn't any elliptical...

Anderson: No names and games. Hey diddle diddle straight down the middle. That's what Marines would say.

Zarbock: Yes.

Anderson: That's true. You know I introduced a young Chaplain one time to-- he just reported down to Camp Lejeune and the Division Chaplain wanted me to introduce him to his new assignment. He was a former Army Helicopter Pilot and was highly decorated. And so he reported in and I set up an appointment to go over and see his new Commanding Officer. I think he was going to the Second Tank Battalion. Anyway, he had on his dress blues real sharp. He had a roll of ribbons up there, you know, and his name was Ron Geshell. And I said, "Ron," I said, "I'll bet you a month's paycheck that when I take you over to introduce you to your new Commanding Officer the first thing that he is going to do, he's going to go down each one of those figuring out where you've been." I said, "I'll bet you a month's paycheck on it." I said, "I'll bet you." Went over there, you know the rest of the story. Introduced him to this tall, lean, mean looking Marine, the first thing he did before he even looked Ron in the eye was he was checking him out.

Zarbock: Naming the campaigns.

Anderson: Checking him out. And not only checking him out to find out where he's been but also checking him out to see if you've got those things in the right order and if you've got them on there straight. That's a Marine for you. I still have contact with an XO that I had in the Third Battalion Eighth Marines by the name of Bill Harris. Bill is up in Lawton, Oklahoma. Great guy. He used to call me Major Anderson; I was Lieutenant Commander at that time. He'd say, "You're not Lieutenant Commander, you're Major, Major Anderson." He was a Major too. We were always comparing trying to find who was senior. I don't think we ever found it out. But anyway he had a habit of sometimes kind of using some typical Marine Corps language. And he would look over at me at a meeting and say, "Chaplain, I'm sorry I don't need to be doing that." So, I told him one day. He said, "Chaplain, I'm sorry." I said, "XO?" I said, "The next time you do that I'm going to make you bend over and I'm going to put a number nine shoe right up your ass." He kind of backed off. We was at a meeting one time and he slipped and he got up and he bent over and I went over and I put one on him. We're dear friends, dear friends. In fact I got an e-mail from him the other day.

Zarbock: Tell me a story or tell me stories. Any particular event that strikes you, for example Christmas or an event where somebody came in and confessed. I don't mean in the sense of church service confession but unburden themselves of something that was really scary, anything like that.

Anderson: Christmases, yeah, that was always a traumatic time. My first Christmas was in Vietnam and we were up near the DMZ at that time and we were in bunkers. And I had only been with the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines for about a month and a half I guess. So I really hadn't found my way around too well. That was the most miserable Christmas I've ever spent in my life. Because here I was, I didn't know that many people and here I am living in a bunker where it's crowded and you've got all of this-- and the B-52's were doing stuff, you know, and they would just be a constant rumble. And you could feel it miles around. That was a miserable, lonely experience for me.

Zarbock: Peace on earth, good will towards men was not abundant.

Anderson: Talking about peace, I remember one time when I-- here again when I was with three, four- Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, our battalion rear was in Phu Bai and the battalion was out in the boonies somewhere, I forget. But I had come back to the battalion rear to pick up something, I forget what it was, it was on the weekend. That Sunday, I was not able to get transportation back to where the troops were, so I went to Chapel there. They had a little hooch there that they had made into a Chapel there at Phu Bai. And there was a new Chaplain, evidently had not been in the country, I didn't know him that was doing the sermon. And he got up and he was preaching about the peace and the serenity that one finds in Jesus and all of a sudden unbeknownst to him, or any of us, not too far away some Marine Engineers blew up some dud ammo. Well if you've been over there for a while you could tell between the sound of something that was outgoing or what they call incoming artillery, oh it had a crunch to it. Outgoing didn't have that sound. But this young Chaplain had no idea of what it was. He jumped up about that high up off the deck and he did an about face and tried to make a door in the back of that building. And I thought that was so humorous, you know, here's the peace and serenity of Jesus Christ and then some engineers are blowing dud ammo. And you just blow that peace and serenity all to hell. I hope if somebody sees this they're not going to think that they are some weird chaplains in the Navy.

Zarbock: Well, I always thought that chaplains were human beings.

Anderson: Yeah, yeah.

Zarbock: And they're entitled to be as human as the rest of us humans. Would people come to you for counseling? And if so what was the nature of their problems and what could you do?

Anderson: Yeah, well a lot of them you really couldn't do anything, just listen. A lot of them were family problems and when I was at Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes, I spent the whole three years there dealing with the recruits. The main problem there was, you know, I'm homesick. I didn't know what I was getting into and all of these things. And you just hear those things over and over again. You try to tell them, "Look son, just hang on. If you give yourself a couple of weeks, I think you'll be able to make it." And I had one Company Commander send a kid over that he couldn't do the run, he couldn't do the PFT. He couldn't keep up with them. And I was a runner at that time. I said, you know, "Look. You make some time and I'll run with you." So I just took it on myself, every day I would go out and I would run with him and talk with him and encourage him and finally he got it down and he could pass the PFT.

Zarbock: What is the PFT?

Anderson: The Physical Fitness Test. He had to do runs and some other things. Another young recruit one day, he came in, he was sitting outside my office and just as calm and straight, but he came in my office and he closed the door. He had his hat in his hand and all of a sudden he started crying. And I mean he was boo hooing. And he was wringing that hat like something crazy. So I let him go a while and I said, "Okay, just calm down, just calm down." And he just kept going. I finally said, "Son, if you don't knock that stuff off, I'm gonna come over there and I'm gonna whoop your butt just like I whoop my boy's butt at home, if he doesn't mind and do what I'm saying." He started (sniffs)- of course I wouldn't have touched him, I wouldn't have touched him. I knew what he was going through, but it calmed him down. What it was, he was homesick, he didn't know if he was gonna make it or not, he'd only been there a short while, the recruiter lied to me, all this kind of stuff. I said, "Now, hey, you know, just give yourself some time, you'll make it, you'll make it."

Zarbock: You forget how young people can be. And you know our nation is - well some years back when we were kids was maybe 50 percent agricultural. So a kid coming off of the farm in where - name the remote place. Nebraska will serve as well as any. Coming from a remote place in Alaska suddenly thrown into a military - enters a military organization, either willingly or through a draft, clamped into a uniform and a whole new life is thrust upon him.

Anderson: Yes, oh yes.

Zarbock: Now that is a leap. And I'm sure you've got your fair share of people who came in saying, "I can't make that leap."

Anderson: Well, yeah and some of them they try to come in and con you too, you know, they try to con the chaplain. And after a while you begin to figure those people out and you still have to do ministry. You still try to be an encourager and say, "Hey son, you know, you made your bed now you've got to sleep in it. It ain't gonna be easy. Nobody said it would be, but make up your mind and you can do it, you can do it."

Zarbock: Pastor in your career, in the Navy, did you-- what was the prevalence of drugs when you entered the Navy? What was the prevalence of drugs when you resigned from your commission?

Anderson: When I went in of course it was early '67, I had heard that there was quite a bit of drug usage in Vietnam. I don't know that I ever observed that. I don't know that I, we had any problems with that particularly with grunt battalions, infantry battalions that are out on the front lines so to speak. Sometimes the problems with drugs is as I could see it would be in those rear areas where there was less danger, there was boredom. But I guarantee you there wasn't a whole lot of boredom if you was out in the boonies somewhere. So I don't know and the people that I worked with, I'm sure that there was some drug usage but I don't think it was that big of a problem. Alcohol at times could be a problem, could be a problem. When I got out and retired in 1988, yeah the drug scene was very evident.

Zarbock: Some Army Chaplains have said that they noticed a remarkable difference between garrison troops - again the use of drugs and alcohol, that the garrison troops had a higher percentage of than people who were actually in the combat areas. And again if you're fighting you really don't have much time to say, "Excuse me I'm gonna go away for a couple of hours and then come back."

Anderson: Yeah, I think that observation is probably true of all the branches. Those that are in garrison, those that are in the rear echelon, those would be the ones that would tend to abuse drugs more so than those that were out on the front line.

Zarbock: And Chaplain, you say you would do it again?

Anderson: Oh yeah, in a head. I've still got my uniform up there. I don't know whether I could still get into it or not, but yeah, I loved it, loved it.

Zarbock: We're just about at the end and I'm gonna ask you a question that I've asked all of the others. All of your life experiences, including your education, being a father of the family, the tours and trips you've made and the successes and perhaps sometimes when it was less than a success, what has it all meant?

Anderson: I suppose it's kind of-- it is a mixture of a lot of feelings. It is a mixture of feelings that, hey I have done something hopefully with my life that maybe has contributed something to others. And then there is the other side of the coin that disturbs me in that might not I have done more in some areas where I had opportunity to ministry and maybe I was dense enough not to see it at the time or I wanted to cop out and do something, that bothers me. But I guess if you weighed them both together you would have to say, "Hey that's life, that's life. There are good moments there are bad moments. You mix them all up together and you still got life."

Zarbock: Chaplain. It's a privilege to know you. Thank you for the interview.

Anderson: Same here.

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