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Interview with Stan Beach, March 27, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Stan Beach, March 27, 2008
Date:
March 27, 2008
Description:
Interview with retired Navy Chaplain Stan Beach.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Beach, Stan Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 3/27/2008 Series: Military Chaplains Length 90 minutes

Zarbock: My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Randall Library. Today is the 27th of March in the year 2008 and I'm interviewing Chaplain Stan Beach, retired Navy Chaplain. We are recording in the Leesburg, Florida general area. Good afternoon, sir, how are you?

Beach: Fine, thank you.

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

Beach: I was an engineer in school. I wanted to design automobiles. I didn't come from a church-related family. I guess I can remember going to a vacation bible school once or twice, but I had the landlady that we lived with, a group of students, and I was the only non-Catholic. So I had to drive her to church in the wintertime and I heard they had free coffee in there, so I wouldn't have to sit in the cold car. I went in, had coffee and really heard, for the first time, a credible message of the truth of scripture, and this brought me to my own conversion. And maybe within a year I had a sense of urgency to be in the ministry.

Zarbock: How old were you?

Beach: I was 20.

Zarbock: And what year was that, Chaplain?

Beach: Oh boy, that was '55, somewhere in there. No, wait a minute, yeah, probably '55.

Zarbock: And where was this?

Beach: This was in Clinton, Michigan, at General Motors School of Technology, you know.

Zarbock: But you were driving this Catholic lady to mass?

Beach: Yes, driving a Baptist lady. I was the only non-Catholic, and so I was the duty driver to drive her in the wintertime because she was a widow and I would drive her to church. And there was a statement, I had a lot of debates with them, but I remember the statement by C. S. Lewis, "Either Jesus was a lunatic, a liar or Lord, precisely who He said He was." And I just couldn't debate that one and that really drew me to faith, it was God's means of grace, if you will, to draw me.

Zarbock: When did you get into the seminary?

Beach: While I was in college I researched seminaries, I went to seminary in '58, a covenant seminary in St. Lewis, which was a reformed Presbyterian seminary there. During that whole time, I was in the Naval Reserve in my college and seminary. And through that, I began to sense when I'd do my two weeks or one month of duty that there was such an interest and a need and an openness spiritually. And that, again, was the Lord's way of convincing me that the chaplaincy was a way to go. But then of course, I was turned down by the Navy. They said that the school was not yet accredited. It was still a new school. I guess it started about a year before I got there, split off from another seminary. And so, at the end I figured I wouldn't be a chaplain, I'd be a minister. But then that changed over a period of about six months and they accepted me.

Zarbock: And off you went to Navy Chaplain School.

Beach: I went to the Navy Chaplain School in 1960.

Zarbock: And that was in Rhode Island?

Beach: It was in the Fort Rhode Island, right.

Zarbock: How long was your class?

Beach: I think it was two months back then.

Zarbock: It was a combination of class work and orientation to the military, wasn't it?

Beach: A lot of class work and lectures, practical things, little bit of marching and so forth. It's much more sophisticated now than it was back then, but it was a good thorough preparation. I think most of my class remained on active duty, that was a little unusual at that timeframe.

Zarbock: How many people in the class?

Beach: I would have to say probably about 30. It was a pretty good-sized summer class. I reported, I think, in July, right after the 4th of July.

Zarbock: Were there any women in your class?

Beach: No women. No, we had three Rabbis and I don't remember a priest, but we had three Rabbis in the class.

Zarbock: How much in class was there intellectual give and take?

Beach: Well, you're more taking it onboard than discussing and those sort of things. So there wasn't a lot of intellectual give and take, but there was probably a lot of discussion after the morning devotionals. And as a new graduate of seminary, it was a little bit challenging to listen to other viewpoints, but it was good for all of us, I guess. That was some difficult years, theologically. There was a lot of debate and the lines were being drawn between the conservative and not conservative viewpoints back then, in the '60s.

Zarbock: In all denominations?

Beach: I think pretty much all denominations. Protestantism was struggling with its identity as whether it's social gospel or evangelistic and whether scripture is trustworthy or not. And these were some of the debates back and forth. So in the barracks we had a lot of great discussion during those times about what we believed and where we stood.

Zarbock: I'm going to say the obvious, Chaplain, that being as long as the planet Earth is capable of producing electricity, this tape and other holdings that you're going to produce will be available. Well, that means that students, scholars, authors, filmmakers, years from now may hear something about a tumultuous time during the '60s. Well, I remember those years very vividly. Again, for the purpose of our video tape, could you go into a little discussion, what was it like in the '60s and why, what happened?

Beach: Certainly, as a conservative or we use the term evangelical, whatever term a person wishes, I certainly was a minority at that point. I think there were probably three or four, maybe four or five of us in the whole class. And of course, in seminary, in those days, you were, I think it was kind of an approach to study "here's why we don't believe, this is what other people believe" and you take it apart. And so the trustworthiness of scripture and the authorship of books and the deity of Christ and the virgin birth, these were constantly being challenged. And I think the Chaplain Corps was largely a more liberal, dominated leadership, at that point. And so I certainly was a minority. I remember my first duty station, I was referred to as an evangelistic born-againer and it was kind of a putdown and I remember one other one, some of those comments are-- after the first time being calling names, I learned what I was, okay. So I never really enjoyed these labels that people put on you. So it was good for me, it made me appreciate my training, it made me listen to the other person, rather than just crank out answers. But I respected the leadership fairness in the chaplain part. They may ridicule my theology and the rest of it, but they were fair in how they treated me. I never sensed injustice because of what I believed. And I think there's been a swing more to a conservative evangelical leadership now. And I trust and hope that they will be equally as fair to a person who hasn't come to that position.

Zarbock: How is this fairness manifested?

Beach: I don't know, it manifests itself in very public ways, less now because I think even though, say, it's not so much a denominational issue any more. You could be a conservative Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran or visa versa. So it really isn't a denominational thing. I don't know how you would say what manifested, certainly in the worship services working together. But where there's a struggle, I always found it comfortable to-- I remember my first duty sanction, I was my first week here, reported on Monday and assignments are given on Wednesday. I would hold a Communion Service, but the person who wasn't Unitarian, I don't-- totally outside of the normal Christian standards. I would hold a communion service with them. And I really struggled, I can't do this. And so, listening and realizing the privilege, I went to him and said this is an honor for me, you're an experienced Chaplain, I know and I would need to have my church's permission to do this, which I knew they wouldn't give. That was about-- in our main room. But I will open the doors, hand out bulletins, clean up and take your duty for you next week, if you'd like. And then he said, "Do you normally like to serve communion?" I said, "I love too." He said, "I don't like it, why don't you just take it by yourself?" And so, I think I learned something there. There's a book by the President of Fuller Seminary that's very good called "Uncommon Decency." Tact, grace and decency is what ought to be expected from the Christian leadership. And so it's Dr. Mouw, and that probably stuck with me. So I never found any injustice in there.

Zarbock: The C-change that was going on in the social order in the '60s was not restricted, of course, to churches. It entered the life of higher education, family life, everything. As a matter of fact, even police and criminal justice, it was a genuine C-Change. And extremes on both sides were taken.

Beach: Yes. And I was with a group that was- probably back then was labeled fundamentalist, you don't use that term much anymore. Just by God's grace and providence, I had a lot of independent duty, so I never really got thrown into the Lion's Den where it would have...

Zarbock: Would you illustrate what you mean by independent duty?

Beach: Well, when I got to Camp Lejeune, a huge base and I'm assigned to the base, I was given my own Chapel out of Montford Point. And I really was doing my own thing, I loved it, but at the main meetings, they would give me a hard time about born-againer and all this stuff. But from there I went to ships, I was the only Chaplain. I went to another place, two, three, four, I'm the only Chaplain. So I didn't really have to interface a whole lot with somebody at a theologically opposite pole. There would be a Catholic Chaplain and we could work very well together, there was not that.

Zarbock: What about your relationship with Rabbis?

Beach: Well, it's always been great, I've got the greatest respect, I think, mutually. They have their own, what would you say pluralism within dutyism, from orthodox to the non-orthodox. And I've just-- [inaudible] Jim Apple, Arnie Resnacoph [ph?], some of those people, Phil Robinson [ph?], really get along good. I think that [inaudible], I don't know what their response was.

Zarbock: Chaplain, I'm going to go back to the word you used, fundamentalist, if you said that now, it would probably be met with an explosion of indifference.

Beach: Yes, even the word evangelical, I don't-- I have found all of those titles wear out. For a while, I said I'm Orthodox, orthodoxy and then that became, kind of, lost. Evangelical means just about anything right now, it means just all, well, everything. So those terms don't really take hold of me too much. I would like to use the word biblical, biblically loyal, bible believing, I don't know, even that's got to be-- that's one of the refreshing things about the chaplaincy. We don't always have a lot of labels. You respect the differences. You don't particularly like your differences, but you- fairness, that's the main thing. Because we say, the president is the president of all the people. Well, the chaplain is the chaplain of the whole command and he has to be there for all faith groups and just get them in touch with their own people, their own spiritual leaders. And I don't find that's well understood in the civilian pastor. What, you send Catholics to mass and Jews to their Passover? Absolutely.

Zarbock: Chaplain, if you care to comment, currently, now in the year 2008, many new faith groups are beginning to call attention to themselves in the military. For example, I was doing some interviewing in one of the Washington D.C. facilities, Fort Meyer, and they were talking about the Samoans, who want their own religious identity and religious space, the Wiccans, et cetera. It seems like new religious and demanding groups are appearing.

Beach: New religions, you say.

Zarbock: Yes. I wonder if you had a comment about that?

Beach: Yes, a lot of-- there are two ways to go. Whatever you mean by new religions, you could say the new religions for _____________ group or things like this or you mean even in the nations, like they're not only the Assembly of God, but then there are different splits in the assemblies and different- some 40 kinds of Baptists and Presbyterian, and usually it was where they drew a line in the sand from all of the rest and set themselves up. But I think the man who comes into the chaplaincy, as a whole, has pretty well put that behind him. You get so involved in the ministry with the troops and you come to appreciate the kind of commitment to the troops of another chaplain who doesn't agree with you and you respect that. But I've seen a trend in the last 15, 20 years, maybe up until the last 5 years. There was the later chaplains who came and said I don't care about other groups, I'm here to do my thing and I don't cooperate with anybody. And there wasn't that sense of-- we used to turn cooperation without compromise, there wasn't much cooperation and there certainly wasn't any compromising. But there was a period where we did that and I notice a few years ago that seems to be switching back. For example, Chaplain Anniversaries were usually big things and I remember speaking at one of them and people from my own church who were stationed didn't show up. They cancelled one a few years ago in Jacksonville; I was to be the speaker. Nobody wants to get involved socially with other people. You don't have functions in the commands anymore, like those sort of dress-up kind of things. So I think we went through that phase, but I think it's coming back. There's a sense of I belong to something bigger than just myself and my denomination. And there's a heritage legacy of ministers and of working together and that's pretty awesome and exciting, rather than just me doing my thing, winning people for my church. I think we've turned that corner, we went through a state, but I sense that across-- I'm an endorsing agent, I call it, for my church, so I visit chaplains for the last eight years all over the Pacific and all over the U.S. And I listened and I think it was every denomination was kind of going through that. And I think we're coming back.

Zarbock: So it is a pendulum situation?

Beach: Yes, used to turn, like I say, in heritage, now it's a sense of pride. Before it was-- yeah, didn't mean that much.

Zarbock: I'm going to take you back conversationally to a personal part of your life. You graduated from seminary, you entered training as a Navy Chaplain, when were you married?

Beach: I was married while I was in college. So I had a wife and two children when I graduated from seminary. My son was born my last year of seminary. And so I had my family intact and had my wife at that point, so they're-- my kids grew up on military bases in the 30 years.

Zarbock: To their advantage, to their disadvantage or a mixture?

Beach: To their advantage. Both of my children speak highly of those years. I hear chaplains say, "Well, I need to keep my family in a church off the base in my denomination," they have youth groups and all this stuff. We never did that. And I don't think it's what the church has for programs, it's what's in the home and the family devotions and the spirit of the home. My son is an elder in his church, he's a federal agent but he goes to seminary part-time. He's a leader in his worship in a huge church in Augusta. My daughter is an active Christian in her church. It was there that they participated in the programs and the chapel. The loved living overseas, foreign languages- I remember we were in one place for a four-year tour and my son, the whole last year, came home and said when are we going to move? And so we were ready to go. And the wives get a lot of credit for that. The wives set the tone when you're deployed and how you handle the stresses of moving and the rest. So my family thought it was a plus to be in the military all those years.

Zarbock: I'll be critical, there are some ladies that say, "This is not the life for me."

Beach: Yes, a few years ago I used to hear that from somewhat-- I don't hear it anymore. As a matter of fact, we kind of joke among ourselves that the-- when I was at Chaplain School and as an Endocet [ph?], who should have recruited the wives. They were gung-ho. They had many, many gifts for their own ministry.

Zarbock: How did your wife approach your decision to go into the military chaplaincy? Did she have any family background at the military?

Beach: I had none, my wife had no background in the military. Both grew up in farms, never met anybody we- well, her brother had been in the Navy in World War II, but that was about it. And it was really a sense of prayer and her sense of that's where the Lord has called you, then that's where he's called me. And so, it was never an issue, really. My wife's never has driven a car.

Zarbock: To this day?

Beach: To this day. She raised the two children, I was gone on a ship for two years, gone two-thirds of the time, I spent 22 months away from her when I was in Vietnam and she made a lot of friends who did drive. And it's never been a problem. Neil Stevenson [ph?] and his wife checked on her when I was aboard ship and Skip Vogel [ph?] and when he deployed, we'd check on his wife. And there was such a camaraderie in the Chaplain Corps back then, and I think it's there now too, but I guess when you're younger you really see it and appreciate that more.

Zarbock: Trace me through your career. What kinds of ships have you served on?

Beach: I was on destroyers, out of Newport and that was the only sea duty I was ever- ever had. After I was wounded, I couldn't go back to sea. My hearing aids-- and they had fused my left leg and they always used to joke if they said abandon ship, Beach would go down with the ship, it had nothing to do with dedication, he just wouldn't have heard the words. So every time I came up to sea duty I would go back to the Marine Corps, which was my first love anyway. So I had three or four tours with the Marine Corps Anyway...

Zarbock: This has been a great learning experience for me, the reciprocal affection and respect that Navy Chaplains serving with the Marines had for the Marines and the reciprocity is the Marines affection and enormous respect for the Chaplain, why?

Beach: Well, I don't actually know if I could answer that. Some of the mysteries of that, when you see from the Chaplain's standpoint, when you see the willing depravation they endure, when you see the sacrifices, when you see the loyalty, absolute loyalty and dependence upon one another, that's pretty heavy stuff. That's what you ought to find in the churches. And you don't always see-- and these guys profess nothing. They have an uncanny ability to know if you're real and genuine, just uncanny. I've seen chaplains who really hadn't found themselves, and the Marines knew it. And they have no religious factor, but if you're real and genuine and care about them, you're their chaplain. And, in other words, if you understand the community in which you're functioning, the Marine Corps ethos, then you will be a Marine Chaplain, and they will love you and you will love them. If you don't get that, you never will. That's the best way I could explain it. I had one, two of them, I was wounded at-- being wounded for the third time and strapped on a wire gurney and they were mortaring the landings and I was getting hit in the shoulder and my head. Two Marines came out of their foxhole and covered me with flak jackets in the middle of the attack, they didn't have to. It wasn't because I was a Chaplain, I don't think, it's because I was-- I needed them. And they would have done that for anybody. You just don't-- when you can tell me, how do you make a Marine, then I could explain that equation, I don't know. But they do it, they do it.

Zarbock: You say you were wounded three times. What was the first time, Chaplain?

Beach: I got some-- a couple of shrapnel in the arm. I was working with a Corpsman and he said, "Do you want to be tagged?" I didn't even know what tagged meant, I said no. Then I saw people walking around with a tag, they'd been wounded. And then I...

Zarbock: Where was this?

Beach: This was on a hill in Vietnam. We had no food or water for three days and I heard there was some water, they dropped some cans over night from helo, I went back to fill my canteen and there was a lull in the fighting and another group was going to move up and take the front and I was going to go back with them. It just one company on the ridge lined up, but it's taking you in. And I took a short round artillery and it took out my leg. I guess it was artillery; mortars were coming at the same time. And then when I was waiting to be medivacced, that's when the mortared again and I was getting hit again, for the third time and little pieces in my head and shoulder.

Zarbock: Chaplain, what was a Chaplain doing in a company-strength firefight?

Beach: Well, the whole battalion was on the mountain but I was with the forward company. You can be a liability or an asset. You're a liability when you're with a company, normally, but three companies back. But you also can be an asset. I went through field medical school before I went and I worked with the Corpsman. They were busy bandaging and I was waving the medivacs to my truck and so I was there, we had a bomb crater, we put the wounded in there so I was probably 50 meters-- I remember seeing the enemy trying to flank us. So they tried to get around us a couple times. So I was there, that's all I can say.

Zarbock: Your leg, you say it was cut off, was it blown off?

Beach: No, well, I remember my boot laying up here and I knew, it was absolute silence. I couldn't hear anything. I didn't feel any pain, very peaceful, I knew I had to get to my spider hole, I had claimed, and I wasn't making any progress. And I saw my boot and that's about all I remember in and out from there on. I remember taking that shot, it was the morphine, and I didn't feel anything in the leg.

Zarbock: So you were medivacced off the hill, back to?

Beach: Down triage to the hospital ship.

Zarbock: Were you in pain?

Beach: Never felt a thing.

Zarbock: How old were you?

Beach: Thirty-two, 31, 32.

Zarbock: What was your rank?

Beach: Lieutenant. I ended up at an Army Hospital. was in Tarc [ph?] Air Force Base and then Triplers [ph?] for four months and I was listed lieutenant, I was treated like an Army Lieutenant. And I found out that lieutenant meant captain in the Army and my treatment got a whole lot better after that on the part of the nurses. It was hilarious, they make a big thing about that jump, but not in the Navy.

Zarbock: A person who is wounded in battle and evacuated back, it starts the process of medical help and care, but there are other things that are going on. Somebody notifies the next of kin.

Beach: They had started a new process. Before I went to Vietnam, I had orders, nominated for the South Pole went to a ______________. I had two funerals some days in Minneapolis. I was the only chaplain from Great Lakes to Seattle Navy, so every morning, maybe, I had a funeral. Fort Snelling was the second largest cemetery we had. And I guess it was just before Christmas, I wrote to the Chief, I just, I can't go to the South Pole. I need to be where they are. I got a letter back from his executive assistance stating, "No, the chief is visiting the troops in Vietnam, you are nominated for South Pole, so you will be extended until May." That normally rotated in January.

Zarbock: You're saying South Pole?

Beach: Right, with the wintery ____________. And then on the 9th of January I got message orders, Vietnam, real quick. So I had one month to move my family and get to Camp Pendleton for some training and get out there. So, my wife had seen me go out and notify families with the ______________. And normally she watched Hugh Downs every morning, news, and that morning she didn't. And Hugh Downs had said this marine outfit was being surrounded and even the Chaplain, a Baptist from Michigan had been wounded. And she didn't hear it, the neighbors did and didn't call her, didn't know what to do. And the kids had just left for school and the Navy car drove up with two Navy Officers and that meant he's dead. And she just said she remembers saying "It's okay, whatever God has." And they showed up at the door and said, "He's wounded." And then she got messages and telegrams of where I was and so forth. So, she's handled it very well. I spent...

Zarbock: So, two officers appeared at your home and your wife, having had previous experience with you going on...

Beach: And this was a ________________ to her. Providentially, a Newsweek reporter was with us in the battle and I had, kind of, clashed with him, but he was writing up a minute-by-minute description of what we were going through. And it appeared four days later in "Newsweek." My brother was a missionary in Korea, who went to the library and picked up the new Newsweek magazine and that's how he knew what had happened.

Zarbock: Were you named in the article?

Beach: Yes. And Debouch Grave was the Senior Editor for the Newsweek and we had no food or water, but a helo came in and dropped off some ammo, finally, and three reporters right after the initial ambush we walked into. And I didn't know this, and here was this guy with a captain's helmet taking pictures and fighting going on and I just kind of lost it. He doesn't have a weapon, he's not doing anything. And next to me, I was next to the company commander, J. J. Carol, who was killed a few days later, and J. J. hated helmets, they gave him headaches. So he gave his helmet to the reporter, and he only asked for it back when he had to go report to the Colonel. And so that's how this guy had captain bars on his helmet. And we got talking later, and he was interviewing people on the road up there. So at the battle, minute-by-minute, he described me walking by carrying a wounded man and dragging another man and then how I was hit. And so it was all written up in Newsweek magazine.

Zarbock: What Newsweek magazine?

Beach: It would have been the first issue of October 1966; it was called "Hill 400."

Zarbock: So you say you lost it, then what did you do?

Beach: Well, he would try to ask questions, I didn't really want to talk to him. I'd written him off. But he's an unbelievable individual. He started the Washington Times. He was the founder and editor. And he now is the head of a think-tank and transnational threats. He's covered 26 wars. He is an amazing man, but he wrote this article, that's another story. We've kept in touch over the years, I see him every few years.

Zarbock: What's his name?

Beach: Debouch Grave. D-E and then B-O-U-C-H G-R-A-V-E.

Zarbock: Say that again?

Beach: D-E and then B-O-U-C-H G-R-A-V-E. Debouch Grave.

Zarbock: Got it, thank you.

Beach: He's on Fox and CNN from time to time, interviews. So that's how a lot of my friends learned that I'd been wounded, this issue came out. And then when I got the copy he had mentioned my closest friend the Captain Company Commander had been killed about the day after I was wounded, took a another short-round. Commander Ed Arness [ph?], friendly fire they got. The first day we walked into an ambush. And that morning, along with the reporters coming in, I guess, we had gotten some mail and I had been working with three men, meeting, praying with them. One had just gone through an operation and he states that he was literally shaking when he came to see me. His friend had been killed, he's a hulk of a man and there was no place to send him to get help. So I met with him every day. The other kid was a father-- going to be a father any day and concerned. And the other one I really hadn't met very often, he came to my Bible study and so forth. We were always on the move. The first man walked into the ambush and was captured. He was a prisoner of war for six-and-a-half years. Lives in Columbia, Missouri now, Dick Burgiss. The second man was cut down by a machine gun trying to get to him, 13 days after his baby was born. He was going to show me the picture when we stopped at the end of the day. He had gotten it in the mail sometime, I guess, the day before, but we never got to see it. And I keep in touch with that daughter now. And she likes in Lakeland, went to her Paevan [ph?]. And the other one was wounded, he was from Michigan. And so that was how the battle started- went on for, I guess, about five days, something like that, I guess. I don't know how many days, I was there for two or three days, it went on for a couple days after me.

Zarbock: The battle that you just mentioned took place before you were wounded?

Beach: I was wounded two days after that, two or three days after the first men were captured and went down. And then it went on two more days after me, I think.

Zarbock: Tell me a little bit about the medical treatment and the restorative treatment that you received, what was the quality of it and once they got your rank how did they treat you?

Beach: That hospital ship, I don't remember too much, but I had surgery and then they medivaced us. And I was on my way home and started hemorrhaging and took me off the plane in Clark [ph?] and more surgery in the Philippines. Back in the plane and the same thing happened, when we landed in Hawaii and they took me up to the Army hospital and kept me there for three-and-a-half months. And then finally got to Chicago, Great Lakes and I was there for nine more months and a lot of surgery, rebuilding the leg and-- but a bone infection had set in. And next stage, after forty years, two years ago, it got so bad that they had to take the leg off, amputate. Treatment was unbelievable. The nurses, the doctors, it was great. The Doctor who put me together in the repose make a commitment to faith in my Chapel in the Philippines. He attended my Chapel and I had to baptize him and his wife and his oldest son. He was the XO of the hospital in the Philippines when I was there. That was quite a joy, we keep in touch. He lives in Florida now, too. I got limited duty after that 13 months in the hospital. And my medical board, the doctor made me a profile, they called it, L4, which is a Marine Corps file and I said, "but doc, I'm not a Marine." And he said, "You know it, I know it, but by the time they figure that out in Washington, I'll have you on limited duty." So I get this set of orders to Navy Hospital Long Beach and my medical board hasn't even been approved. So I called, "What do I do?" They said just go. So I went and they returned me to-- they sent me to limited duty.

(tape change)

Zarbock: Tape number 2. Chaplain Stan Beach, 27 March 2008. Military Chaplains Oral History Project. Okay, Chaplain.

Beach: They sent me to limited duty at the navy hospital and you had asked a question about absurdities. They said, "Well, if you could go to duty, what would you like?" I said, "Well, I need some further treatment." I had a full leg brace, I had to change bandages every day and they were, "Well, you couldn't handle a hospital." ________________ to be the only chaplain. Lo and behold, they sent me to-- only chaplain at the hospital at Long Beach but it was great because...

Zarbock: What year was that, Chaplain?

Beach: Year?

Zarbock: What year was it that you...

Beach: That would have been-- I reported the first of December 1967.

Zarbock: And, again, for historical purposes, how old were you and what was your rank?

Beach: Well, I was still-- I had made Lieutenant Commander while I was a patient so 34, Lieutenant Commander.

Zarbock: Okay.

Beach: And while I was there, I got hyperbaric treatment and very special treatment, experimental treatment that was-- everybody was ________________ the medical staff. When it came to the end of my limited duty, the doctors said, "Why should a chaplain have to pass a pilot's physical? You guys don't do anything except on Sunday anyway." I said, "You're right, doc." So he wrote me up, "Return to full duty. No hiking, walking or running over rough terrain." He said, well, "You can't run." I said, "You yell incoming and watch me." (laughter) Anyway, it was a great relationship and they returned me to full duty and providentially they sent me to the Philippines for two years. It was just terrific.

Zarbock: Is your family with you?

Beach: Yes but they had given me so many massive doses of ketamycin antibiotics that it killed my hearing and it started down and they began to pick it up. So, you know, it's no regrets. It was all-- I was allowed to stay in. I have to back up a moment. I think the worst I ever felt in my life, I was conscious for a moment and I was being medivaced and I'm deserting my troops and that was an awful feeling, to leave them out there in the midst of a battle. I wasn't thinking right but I was deserting them and it stayed with me for a couple of weeks, that kind of a feeling. So there was certainly an uncertainty. I didn't expect to be able to stay in. When they returned me to full duty, it was just absolutely wonderful to be able to be back with the troops again.

Zarbock: Anybody help you get over that feeling that you had deserted?

Beach: I think it hit me when I got a phone-- my wife heard I arrived at Hawaii, they notified her and she called. We were connected on the phone and she told me that J. J. ________________ had been killed. He was the Company Commander and it just really hit me hard. The whole thing tumbled in and it was a long night, getting it back together and thinking about getting a realistic view and I realized, I guess, what were [inaudible] and I had a couple of men from my outfit were in the hospital there with me in Hawaii. So my room, I had a room, they had open wards. There were two or three officers and my roommate was a marine pilot who had been shot and so we had a room and these guys in the open ward, they'd drive them nuts after awhile, they'd just come in to visit with me to get away from things and that was good. We called it the zoo. Everybody wanted to know what a wounded chaplain looked like, I guess. We had visits from ________________ Spellman, Bill Graham, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Eva Gabor, and Commander Fuchida who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. He later became an Evangelist and was preaching at churches in Hawaii. He came by to visit. So that's what we joked about the zoo, everybody came by to see the troops and came in to see us.

Zarbock: Well, when were you reunited with your wife and children? You got back to the States and then?

Beach: One year to the day I left, I got back to Great Lakes in a big snowstorm of '67 and we couldn't land the first day. We had been at Scott air force base in St. Louis on my way back and I flew up the first day. They had to refuel ________________ so I had been stationed there and the men came on the plane and recognized me. We had a little reunion. So, the next day, they flew us into Milwaukee and bussed us down by ambulance in stretchers. Probably a month later, I was able to get convalescent leave and they fit me with a cast so I got, I think, about a week or ten days at home. Then I went back to the hospital again.

Zarbock: What did the children say?

Beach: They were-- my family, I moved them near my parents and her parents. We were both from the same home town so we moved back there and rented a house so she had family around her.

Zarbock: But what did your children say when they first saw you in a brace and...

Beach: I don't remember much but I remember-- yes, I do remember my convalescent leave, sitting in the room, looking out the window, watching my son walk with a-- keep his leg stiff, copying my walk. He always-- how old would he have been? Six years? A lot of war games he and the neighbor kids and the neighbor kid was a marine, a brother of the neighbor kid who was killed shortly after I was wounded. Suddenly, they both quit playing war games. There were no more guns and war games. It just happened. There was nothing that was said that I know of.

Zarbock: What about your daughter? What did...

Beach: I can't answer that. I don't know. Nothing changed, really. I know they were all glad I was home. I was glad to be home. I couldn't do a lot, you know, I was on crutches for my whole first year there.

Zarbock: So your convalescence was an entire year, is that correct? Or longer?

Beach: Yes. 13 months. It was the chaplain corps anniversary, 28th of November I was released from the hospital and headed to California for duty. Then my family would fly out.

Zarbock: You've said you had some notes.

Beach: Yeah. You had some questions like absurdities and...

Zarbock: Yeah.

Beach: ...humor and sad moments.

Zarbock: Yes.

Beach: I guess we pretty well covered those.

Zarbock: We've covered some sad ones. How about absurdities or funny things?

Beach: Well, like being returned to duty. I think the hospital was loaded with funny things. You had to have a sense of humor. The doctors said, you know, I guess I'd been in a fully body cast. They sewed my legs together to just keep the-- start the flesh off one leg to growing onto the other one to cover open bone so I never got out of bed for maybe three months, four months. Bed pans get a little old and the doctor finally gave me bathroom privileges. I could hobble with my crutches to the bathroom. So I went out to the elevator one time to the fourth floor from the 13th floor at Great Lakes because a couple of my men were on the fourth floor. The doctor was on the elevator. He really chewed me out. I said, "But you gave me bathroom privileges, you didn't specify what floor I had to use. I'm going to use the bathroom on the fourth floor." Well, he took my bathroom privileges. I had the nurse keep on top of what we were doing but it was-- you had to have a sense of humor. You had to push the limits. If they said you could use the bathroom, you had to go do something else on top of that. The food was-- got a little old after awhile in the hospital. Everything tasted the same and so, at night, we would-- one guy had his right hip fused and my left leg was fused but he could drive with his left leg and we would drive to the club and get a sandwich. He usually had quite a few beers with his sandwich and it wasn't always a safe trip back and we got stopped a couple of times and, because we were patients, they let us go back without ticketing us. I remember him complaining that his crutches were no good. He said, "Three drinks and they throw me on the sidewalk. They're just useless." He wanted a new pair of crutches. We had to keep playing games and tricking the nurses and sneaking around. It used to be a thing of prayer-- you had a top and a bottom of pajamas and they'd just come in and flop, flop and throw a couple of things at your bed in the morning and you prayed it was a bottom and a top. If you got two tops, you were in deep trouble because you weren't going to get a bottom. But you learned-- and a bathrobe. And so you learned how to get an extra one from somebody and snitch it and hide it some place so if you didn't get a bottom, you had an extra emergency set. We played all those games. There were probably a lot of things over the years that-- and you do remember most of the funny things once you get going but...

Zarbock: Were you in the hospital on Christmas Eve?

Beach: Yes, in Hawaii, and that was an experience. Well, they celebrate Christmas, their Christmas with firecrackers and I didn't know that. I guess I realized, when I heard firecrackers going off, it kind of-- yeah, I couldn't get out of bed but I sure would have crawled under my bed if I could have. And then I realized what it was but it kind of ________________ in the psalms but there were Red Cross people. I remember a captain wife, I'd never met him. His name was Pump and she and her daughter would come in Christmas Eve just to bring a piece of cake and she had worked with the gray ladies and the kindness of people during that time, particularly I will always remember her and her daughter. Her husband was a Commander of the Riverine Force in Vietnam then and she must have been ________________ but she would give up her family time to come in. I was touched by all of those people who did that. There were many others but that particularly stood out on Christmas Eve, away from the family. It was pretty good, as I look back, being overseas without my family in a hospital for most of that time but they didn't have to see me go through the surgeries and the-- it protected them from all of that. We went to surgery about every other week, every week it seemed like.

Zarbock: Was it restorative?

Beach: Yes. Skin graft, skin grafts, all that kind and, of course, you always have a day you don't feel too good afterwards, yeah. My roommate had been shot and he had a body cast with his whole arm. He had one hand but he could walk around and use the bathroom but he couldn't tie his pajamas so I had to tie his pajamas and write letters for him. But he could run errands for me because I didn't have legs. We took care of each other, you know?

Zarbock: But Christmas Eve in the military in a hospital isn't-- I guess maybe being in prison would be as stark an experience as that and I'm not equating a military hospital with a prison, just the starkness of the situation, you're by yourself, it's a traditional holiday that you would remember other holidays.

Beach: I don't think I felt the sadness and the rest. I knew my family was with family and you certainly experience-- the first thing you think about is what about my family? And they were in good hands and that was a great load off me. I guess I look at it in the sense of the sovereignty of god and things in His providence that happened and so I don't see things as isn't it awful and this is an obstacle. I see them as one more challenge that is being given to me to help shape and mold my life. And so there were some good kinds of reflection, being able-- I read and read and read and-- things I hadn't been able to read for a long time and one of my mentors was Chaplain John Craven, who came to see me regularly. He was the head marine chaplain in Hawaii and John brought a tape recorder, I don't know, the little cassettes you put in and wanted me to tape my thoughts and I was doing that. When I was medivaced from Hawaii, somebody stole it, all of the tapes and all of my notebooks. So I thought, okay, then that's behind me. It was good to get off my head and my chest. I don't need to do this again. But it was really a time of reflection and what it's all about and I don't think I felt any great negative, isolation that I can remember.

Zarbock: How long have you been retired from the Navy?

Beach: I retired in '87 before I planned to. I was having some problem with my leg and I went to the doctor and he said, "You're not fit for duty." I never had been with a ________________ leg and bone infection. And he said, "I've got..." he was a very devout church man.

Zarbock: This is a military physician?

Beach: This was at Camp ________________ in 1987. And he says, "I've got to write a board on you." And I said, "I didn't come up here. I wanted to be treated, not a board."

Zarbock: What does that mean? A board?

Beach: To put you out of the military and see what your disabilities are. And he said, "Well, in my Christian ethics I have to because you're not fit." Okay. So he wrote a board and the Navy sent it back because I had waived 85% to stay in. I didn't know that at the time. So the leg, they gave me nothing because, see, I was on active duty with it. But they picked up my hearing and it was really bad. It was going down at that point.

Zarbock: And the loss of hearing was directly linked to the antibiotic...

Beach: They said otitoxic[ph?] medicine and so my hearing started to go down real bad about I got at Le Drew in '85 and I noticed it. Other people noticed it. I could still use a phone and, about ten years ago, I went totally deaf and so I have a cochlear implant now but this-- the doctor wrote up a medical board and they sent me home with the disability being hearing, nothing on the leg. Of course, the V.A. changes that so we have a little joke in our family that if you die from your service connected disability, your wife gets a widow's indemnity. Not many people die from a hearing loss. So I tell my wife, "If I die, put me in the car, push it on a railroad tracks and say he didn't hear it." (laughter) Maybe you'll get a little compensation that way.

Zarbock: To what degree and what level has your hearing improved?

Beach: Well, with a cochlear implant, I can hear too much. It's mechanical but I can hear. I haven't used the phone for seven years. It's hard to use a telephone but I function.

Zarbock: Do you have anything on your notes that you want to cover?

Beach: I guess you had asked about ideas and philosophy or whatever that kind of shaped your life. I think back to that first reporting to duty, that it is such a privilege to be a part of this legacy of people who have ministered for years and put their lives on the line and that's pretty awesome. The second thing is it's never about the chaplain. It's never about me. It's about the troops. When a chaplain forgets that and-- well, we have this thing about ________________ and then everybody has a right to their free exercise of their faith and the chaplain says, "Well, I have the right to exercise my faith and I'm not going to cooperate and do that." Well, when you start thinking about your needs, you have lost it as an effective chaplain. And the marines will take care of their chaplain too much sometimes. They will give you things that we call come Shaw[ph?]. They found this (laughs) in Vietnam, they said, "Chaplain, we got a Hammond organ for you." "A Hammond organ in Vietnam?" Here I am, we needed a tent and I went and looked at this crate they had off the truck and it says, "Captain Frank Morton, 3rd Marine Division Chaplain." And I said, "We need to get this over to Frank Morton" but if you accept that, they got me a refrigerator. They got me a bed with a mattress. If you used it, you now have placed yourself at a different level. You got to find somebody to give it to. Give it to the sergeant major, give it to the troops, some place they can store stuff. But if you get more comfortable than your troops, you're no longer sharing their level and you've lost their respect, in effect. They will give you things without realizing. I think, if you-- it's a privilege and it's always about the troops. And everything is a challenge rather than an obstacle where you have to wring your hands and say, "Isn't this awful?" you know? It's just one more challenge. So I think that's really kind of shaped my years in the ministry and I learned that from people like John Craven and Neil Stevenson with his sense of humor, being able to laugh off anything and move ahead, being surrounded with people like that that we didn't have any great theological affinity with a lot of them, you know, among ourselves? But there was a mutual respect and learning from one another. I guess I don't mean I have nothing spiritually uncommon with Neil or John Craven or the rest but we just came from different backgrounds is what I guess what I'm trying to say. But there were people that I respected and admired and learned so much from.

Zarbock: Is there anything else you'd like to say, Chaplain?

Beach: Not really that I can think of. I just have jotted down things on the outlines. You said things you might address. That covers a lot of...

Zarbock: Anything you'd like to say to your children?

Beach: To my children? Well, they were just terrific kids. Both of them made professions of faith and their own spiritual commitments when they were young. My daughter, while I was deployed on a ship, in family devotions, my son after I came home from Vietnam. They both have been strong spiritual leaders in their families. Both of them have a son and a daughter and we're all very close but I would-- the tribute really belongs to my wife and I think everybody would say that who keeps the family together and the attitude of the wife when you move each place, always it's a new venture, something new and exciting to look forward to. So I think my kids have that approach to life rather than say, "I don't want to leave here. I like it here" kind of an attitude. It was easier in the military, you know? You resign yourself to the realization that my orders really aren't just cut by some detailer in Washington, that really the Lord has a hand in this and I accept it from him. But then, when you get out and you have to make decisions, where do I want to live? (laughs) And it's very difficult to have to make those assignments on your own. We used to joke when I was the director of the chaplain school and people would say about the preference card, we called it dream sheet, where do you want to go. I never got anything I asked for. I always got something better than I asked for. When you look back at it, I didn't know all of that. And when you're filling out a card, it's usually because it's close to my family, I own a home there, I like the climate and it's never about ministry. But, when you get there and you look back at it, it's all about ministry. So-- and people would say, "Well, what was your favorite duty station?" Every place I was. It was people and you can't go back-- it was never about the geography or the beauty of the place, it was always about the people that you met and knew and so I'm now the chaplain for 1,300 of the Marines I was with in Vietnam and we get together every two years and constantly email and a memorial service. We lost 400 men in Vietnam in that period and each, every two years, a memorial service. We will set a dog tag for every man and they're presented by companies at these memorial services.

Zarbock: Are the memorials always held in the same place?

Beach: No.

Zarbock: You rotate around?

Beach: Every two years, it's some place then the next year, it'll be San Diego. Last year, it was in Savannah, Georgia. Yeah. So I'm still the chaplain, if you will, for a lot of those people and then, as I visit military bases, I'm interacting with chaplains and mentoring them. And so I would-- it didn't end when I retired. I thought it would but it didn't.

Zarbock: How about a last comment directed to your wife?

Beach: She has been a winner, I'll tell you. I didn't tell you she doesn't drive. (laughs) That's an in-house joke. She loves music and there's a very [inaudible] there's no guile in us, no selfishness, it was always about the kids. My work was-- I think she built into them it's always about the troops. When you were called in on hospital duty, there were three protestant chaplains and we had several hundred deaths a year and you-- a huge hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the chaplain would be called back in. You'd just get home and go back in. You have to break-- well, we're going to do out to dinner, oops, sorry, I can't do that kind of thing. But there was never a sense of selfishness on her part and it was never picked up from the kids, it was so genuine and so I think it was always the support of the troops. This is about my son, which is where [inaudible] We had a lot of psychiatric patients came to the chapel at the hospital and we called it the Thorazine and shuffle by the way they would walk and come in and...

Zarbock: They would what and shuffle?

Beach: The Thorazine shuffle. And one man could not talk and I began working with him and he could talk a little bit. He always clutched the bible to his chest and I kind of laughed about that and my son was very upset. He really cared about these patients and you do not chuckle about them. And it dawned on me and I think the whole family has been that way in sharing that same thing, it's about the troops, it's about the patients, it's about the sailors. When you put that first and I think they're still that way, others, others, others. And that more from my wife than from me. Yeah.

Zarbock: Chaplain, thank you for making the time to come over for the interview.

Beach: Thank you for the privilege.

Zarbock: I'm honored. Thank you, sir.

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