BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Mack C. Branham, February 29, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Mack C. Branham, February 29, 2008
February 29, 2008
Interview with Chaplain Mack C. Branham, Jr.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Branham, Mack C. Jr. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  2/29/2008 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  80 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff member with the University of North Carolina, Wilmington's Randall Library. This interview is part of the Military Chaplains Oral History Project, funded in part by the university and the FedEx Corporation. Today is the 29th of February in the Year of Our Lord 2008 and I'm interviewing in the city of South Carolina. And my interviewee is Chaplain Mack C. Branham, Jr. Good afternoon sir.

Branham: Good afternoon Paul.

Zarbock: Sir, what individual or series of individuals or event or series of events led you into selecting the ministry as a choice of profession?

Branham: Okay. Well I've been active in the church all my life. And I went to Clemson University at that time as I wrote to you and said that it was Clemson College before it became a university. And I was very active in the Corp of Cadets. At that time Clemson was full of military. And I was active in the Lutheran Student Association and was president of that association. I had given some real thought to the ministry during my sophomore year. But on the other hand, the Korean War was going on at that time and most of us in the Corp knew that whenever we finished we would get a commission. And we would go into the service as a second lieutenant. Well the chaplain of the university there, he said to me I suppose at the end of my junior year. He said, "When are you go into the seminary next year?" I said, no, you know where I'll probably be next year. I'll probably be on active duty." Well it turned out that the Korean War ended in May of the year that I graduated and I graduated in June. And at that time, the government said "We don't need you right now. Would you take a year of absence before you came into the military?" And so during that year, I made a decision to go and attend the seminary. And I did. At the end of that year I went and served my two years active duty in the military and then came back and finished my theological degree.

Zarbock: And where did you get your theological degree?

Branham: From a Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. That's one of eight Lutheran Seminaries that we have. You know, (laughs) I guess I had gotten married during that time and we got a little hungry and so it was easier to go to school with the GI bill when I came back. So that's one of the reasons. So that's how I got into the ministry. I served in a church in Lexington, South Carolina, a multiple parish, Providence and Nazareth the Lutheran churches. Small churches, a rural area. I understood that environment because I was raised in that environment while my father was a barber in town. He also was a young man who used to farm a lot. And so he would get me up early in the morning around 4:30 and we would help plant the crop. And it was about a five or six acre garden. And then I would get ready and go to school. But he taught me the value of being a work person. And he also gave me an opportunity to have some taste for being a man of the soil. And that's how I got into that. But I served the parish for about a year and a half and then because of my military background, the Air Force was very interested in me. And of course I was interested in serving in that environment because I understood it. And so I made a decision to go into active duty in the Air Force. Now I chose the Air Force because the Air Force was more of a community kind of chaplaincy. In other words, it has a central chapel and you attend, where the Army is more oriented towards the unit. That's why you see a chapel on one side of the street and the other side of the street you see another chapel. They actually belong to different units. So that's why I went into the Air Force and I enjoyed my service in the Air Force and I stayed there for over 20 years. I was an Army land officer for two years active and four years reserve.

Zarbock: Did you find the discordance in the culture, to which you had been, the culture. Here you are an Army officer-- well really I'm a-- I also had your college work which was you know, in a military mode.

Branham: Yes.

Zarbock: You then go active and now you're in the Air Force. Now Army and Air Force, you're wearing different uniforms, there's different vocabulary, different culture. How did that go?

Branham: I didn't see any real conflict there. It's true that there is somewhat of a different culture, because in the Army we spend a lot of time in the field, being broncs [ph?] I suppose but I didn't see a lot of conflict in the cultures. I guess at Clemson University we had people there who also were commissioned into the Air Force. Now while I was an infantry officer, I still understood that. And so I didn't see any real conflict in that. But you're right. You're in the army. Sometimes you spend a lot of time in the field where in the Air Force you spend more time on a base. And the guys are flying. You are supporting them and the airmen are pretty much in one central location. That was especially true in Vietnam, because the people who came from out of the field, who'd been serving in the remote parts of the jungle at times, and we in the Air Force stayed pretty much you know, on the base.

Zarbock: Mm hm. Well when you got out of seminary you served how long, as a-- in the congregation?

Branham: In the congregation? I served from-- actually I started in May of that year, in '58 and I served until-- I'd been in conversation sometime during the summer and winter with the Air Force. And I went in the Air Force in October of 1959.

Zarbock: Where did you go to school in the Air Force as a chaplain to begin with? Was there a period of orientation--

Branham: Yes, yes we had. The basic chaplain school at that time was at a San Antonio, Lackland Air Force Base. And what they did, they had a course at that time that the chaplains went through and the lawyers also went through the same course. And you know, we had the time--

Zarbock: Wait a minute. That-- they don't know about that paradoxical, about being some comment. Oh, that's wonderful.

Branham: Well we, you know, we took military subjects together and then that which particularly applied to chaplains was a separate type thing that we would have a separate classroom and the lawyers would have their own classroom. I think we-- if I remember correctly, I think we stayed maybe a couple of weeks longer than the lawyers did. But we were together at that time and from there, I went to Shepherd Air Force Base which is also in Texas. And that I took at Wichita Falls, Texas. It was a training center for many of them. Had a lot of training schools there that the airmen would go to and it was a big center.

Zarbock: And what did you do? What was-- an extension of your work at San Antonio?

Branham: Well my work in San Antonio was strictly going to school.

Zarbock: Yes.

Branham: And when I went to the base though, I was over the base chaplains.

Zarbock: Oh, oh I see. All right.

Branham: And we simply, the people with whom we were assigned and the people we served were people who were connected with the school. Either they were students going through the school or they were permanent party. I worked primarily at that time with the permanent party people. It was more like a civilian parish in working with them. Whereby, we had another division that worked with the students. And you know, they both were some _______. But nevertheless the problems are a little different when they come to you and ask for counseling.

Zarbock: And that was going to be my next question. What sort of problems came to you?

Branham: Well from the party?

Zarbock: Mm hm.

Branham: Most of the same kind of problems that one would have in civilian life and sometimes that was accentuated by the fact that they were on active duty. You know, marital problems, people who had some difficulty in making ends meet, people who were separated you know, from their families while they were there for a short time. And once in a while I would get someone who would seek me out because I am Lutheran. And that is, the kid would come you know, who was in the training center. If he was undergoing a course, he would seek me out as Lutheran because he was Lutheran back home.

Zarbock: Uh huh.

Branham: But I didn't see those problems as being too different you know, from what you would counter in civilian life.

Zarbock: The primary-- it sounds as if you were involved in counseling.

Branham: Yes.

Zarbock: And the other activities as would be considered--

Branham: Oh yes. One of the responsibilities I had, was the service which is 11:15, and on Sunday morning. We had some educational responsibilities. We ran a small religious education school, which is like a Sunday school. We had lay people to do that and they had been there-- some of the lay people had been there for a long time because they were probably part of people who have retired in that area and they continued to do that. But I was at that time, the person designated to take over the 11:15 service. And I did that and in addition to that I did a Lutheran service at 8:30 in the morning.

Zarbock: Now what by the way, as a Lutheran, what synod were you a member of at that time?

Branham: I was-- we changed so many. We've you know-- I was the United Lutheran Church in America at that time, and for course, those church bodies, sometime they have grown together and now I'm a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which involved the ________ centered into the other vision. _________ center is still alone and of course since you know, Wisconsin Senate is still __________.

Zarbock: Were those happy days for you?

Branham: Oh yes. They were happy days. From there I went overseas and I went to Chateauroux, France, which was a little town about 150 miles below Paris. At that time, President Kennedy was there. No excuse me, I Eisenhower was president at that time and he made the decision that we would not send the dependents with them overseas. And so that made it a little difficult. But also Kennedy came into office and Kennedy lifted that band. And so I was without my family only about two months or so and then they were shipped over.

Zarbock: What size base was it?

Branham: At Chateauroux?

Zarbock: Yeah.

Branham: Chateauroux, Chateauroux was a relatively small base but it was a support base where there were people who were flying the line, that is, transport aircraft, flying supplies, they would come through that, they would gas up. They would go on down into Africa. And so we supported them. That was our primary mission. But we did have a Silk Purse outfit there. Silk Purse is a code name for the people who are flying in the air, maintaining a command. They were concerned at that time about nuclear war. They wanted people up in the air so that if people got destroyed on the ground and so a Silk Purse outfit had a flying command center at that time. And so they were kind of secret there about what they did but that's what they did. Big aircraft, kept it in the air all the time. When one would land another person would go up you know, and who had some authority to make decisions.

Zarbock: So it really was a flying command center.

Branham: That one, that outfit was. Yes it was. I don't know a lot about them. I had a lot of those people who came to my services and it was a highly sensitive or confidential kind of operation. But nevertheless they were just regular folks on the campus as far as we were concerned.

Zarbock: Chaplain I'm going to jump way ahead in your career but ask you a question that I've asked just about every other chaplain. During your career in the military, was there at any time, a situation in which you were ordered or strongly suggested or suggested or nudged and waived at, to do something that you felt was a violation of your personal ethic or your religious beliefs?

Branham: I don't think so. I think some commanders had to be reeducated in regard to that, because some commanders thought that you know, the chaplain worked for them was like any other staff officer that he or she had. And I think that we had some conflicts in regard to that. I was never asked to do something that I thought that I should not do. They asked me to do such things as-- at one base, they had the thunderbirds come in and they asked me to be the person who would announce over the speaker, you know, the various events that were coming up. And so you know, that's just, that's fun to do. I didn't have a problem with that. I wrote an article some years ago when I was at Air University working on the board of chaplains and it is on the net by the way. If you would Google me you would find that it pops up. And it was talking about the role of the chaplain whereby there possibly could be some conflict because a chaplain serves not only in the military. He was a military officer. But he also serves as a church pastor. And you simply cannot ask him to do something which would be in conflict with the conscience and also the policy of their own church.

Zarbock: So if ever asked, would it be misinformation on the part of the requestor or--

Branham: I think that that's primarily. It depends on the commander. If the commander you know, thinks that he owns everybody, then that's it. But fortunately I didn't have that problem in my career. Maybe if I'd served with Patton I might have had that problem. Because I remember that at one place he asked the chaplain to pray for perfect clear weather. I don't think the chaplain had a problem with that but maybe Patton was pretty--

Zarbock: I remember the chaplain was-- somehow it was a successful prayer. The prayer was answered.

Branham: But indeed, the next day and I think Patton thought some God had intervened. I'm not sure that's true.

Zarbock: Is that a-- is that a difficult sit-- how difficult a situation is it in general for chaplains to find a conflict between let's see, the Navy guys who were seeing the cross on one side and the rank on the other. You're caught in between.

Branham: The only time I remember that we had a real discussion about that, it happened to me at Shepherd that first-- and we had a chaplain who was there. And at that time they were building the Air Force Academy. And we just had so much money to build a chapel up there. And now the Chief of Chaplains decided that he would ask people through the chaplain offerings to maybe contribute toward the building of that building. And we had one chaplain who thought that it was terrible to ask us to do that because the people who gave, gave to the service of God. I didn't see that as a conflict. Because on a civilian congregation you would ask people to give, you know, to help us construct the church. And so if I understood correctly, they were asking to supplement the funds to build the chapel at the Air Force Academy which originally, the plan had talked about 19 of these spheres, you've seen that? And it turned out that they only did I think was 17. But it's a very distinctive chapel and I'm glad that we had a hand to do that. But one of the chaplains became disturbed about that and so we said fine. Take and don't bless it then.

Zarbock: Okay but I asked a general question about, was there ever a situation in which you felt your conditions were violated. But let me go back-- return you. So there you are, you're relatively new in the military, certainly new in the United States Air Force.

Branham: I was new in the-- as to the Air Force, yet at the same time, when I had gone to Clemson University I'd been in the military just like West Point, for four years.

Zarbock: Yeah, yeah.

Branham: Then I'd been an infantry line officer for two years and in the reserve for four years. And so you know, I was pretty much engrained in the military.

Zarbock: The meter was running at that time.

Branham: Yes.

Zarbock: What rank did you start off in the United States Air Force?

Branham: As a first lieutenant. That's where we all started. See I was a first lieutenant an infantry first lieutenant and they did that change there and I was a first lieutenant. They did bring some people in later on as captains. But when I went in, you were commissioned as a first lieutenant.

Zarbock: Despite all your military experience?

Branham: No. You know, I was an infantry line officer. And I was the first lieutenant in the infantry. And so when I became an Air Force officer, they looked at that and they gave me you know, the-- anybody would have been commissioned as a first lieutenant. Now I did have-- my date of rank was back-dated a little bit you know, because of that.

Zarbock: How long were you first lieutenant before?

Branham: I made-

Zarbock: You made captain?

Branham: I think I made captain before. Yes, I did. I made captain before I went overseas. So I was from let's see, I went overseas in '62 and I went on active duty and in '59 so I think I made captain in '61.

Zarbock: Let me probe a little bit in a world unknown to me and many others. So you were ordered to go to France. And you went to France and you arrived at the base. What happens? Are you told what to do?

Branham: Oh no. Oh no. When you're out at the base, you have a chaplain's service and the chaplain service, we knew what we had to do when we get there. Our job is to minister to people who are there. And so when I was greeted and you know, I fitted in and I got an office and I went to work and I did pretty much the same thing that I had did at the other place. And so that was no problem. And it was pretty much like congregational ministry. And I was place down at--

Zarbock: What do you mean by congregational ministry?

Branham: Well congregational ministry meaning that we ran a Sunday school. We had bible classes, we had services, we offered communion you know, and we met-- visited people in the hospital. One of the additional duties I had there was to have a small hospital as I ministered to people in the hospital. That was a delightful thing to do. It was a small hospital. And it was small enough, it was within walking distance of the chapel and I walked down there every day and visited the people. And so--

Zarbock: How many chaplains were on the base?

Branham: On the base at that time. Let's see, we had one who ran the religious education program. We had a priest, only one priest there. So we had a center chaplain, who was a protestant, happened to be a protestant. So that makes four chaplains and that includes the Catholic priest, at that time at that small base.

Zarbock: Who was the-- who was the commander of the chaplains? Which chaplain--

Branham: There was a senior chaplain there. The senior chaplain there was Henry Duhon when I went and he was a lieutenant colonel. And he had a lot of experience. He had been on the Chaplain's Board and Henry was a colorful man, a delightful guy. And I remember there was some argument about a regulation at one time. And he said I know what the regulation says because I wrote it. That issue he served on the board. One of his requirements was to help write those or revision to the regulations.

Zarbock: Tell me, what do you mean by the Chaplain's Board and what's the function of it the Chaplain's Board?

Branham: The Chaplain's Board at that time, I don't know what it is now because I've been out for some time. I left the service in '79. But the Chaplain's Board at that time, worked directly with the Chief of Chaplains office. And we did religious education materials. We bought all of the film that the Air Force used. We reviewed a lot of films. They came in and those films were short films that we used for-- to jump off with a discussion. And we bought a lot of Polish films that had been made because they were situational films that offered a situation which sometimes with a moral dilemmas or so forth and it led to an opportunity for people to discuss. I noticed that in his interview Tom Groove made mention of something about the films. He worked at an entirely different level. While Tom was there and we worked for him sometimes, I wrote several speeches that Tom used. So we were speech-wise I didn't like that part of it. But Tom was always asking me you know, give me some run rhymes and so forth. I'm not exactly a comedian you know. But we had one chaplain who was very, very good at writing speeches and I got that job too and in addition to that, we'd have a chaplain's newsletter that went out and I served as a you know, it was a monthly newsletter to all of the Air Force chaplains and I served as editor of that.

Zarbock: All of the Air Force chaplains.

Branham: Oh yeah, all the Air Force chaplains got a newsletter at that time, yeah. It was a small letter. It's about four or five pages and it had some news in it and it also had mostly resources that one could use and how they could use them. And then we were responsible for doing research and writing some materials that they could use. Like we did a special study on marriage during the time that I was there and published oh, I guess, maybe a 20 page research paper on that. And what is happening in marriage or what are the trends, you know, divorce rates, that kind of thing. And it was simply a tool that they could use.

Zarbock: On the base in France, in those days in that place, were there difficulties with drugs? What about the role of alcohol in the lives of the airmen?

Branham: I did not run into that problem there. I did not run into that problem there. We had that problem when I returned stateside many years later, we had some problems with that. You know, that's when LSD came in and we had some kids-- I remember I was in charge of running the Christian Encounter Conference. At that time I believe it was called a spiritual life conference, out of Estes Park, Colorado. And one of the men who had been assigned there from Larry Air Force Base, which is of course over there in Denver, they were the support base for that conference at Estes Park. And one of them got hold of some LDS and he was high that night. And so we sent him back to the hospital. But that was the only time I ever had any real problems with that. I remember an airman told me one time, he said he wanted me to take a bag of marijuana and have it checked to see if somebody had put any poison on it, you know, like spray. And I told him I said-- this is by telephone. I said so what you do with it, is you take it and flush it down the commode. He said oh you're just like everybody else. He was rather angry about that. So that was the humorous side of it.

Zarbock: You said your wife joined you in France.

Branham: Yes.

Zarbock: Did you have children?

Branham: I had two children when I went to France, and we had two children while we were in France.

Zarbock: Really?

Branham: Yes and ah--

Zarbock: But how long did you stay there sir?

Branham: I was three years. My wife was pregnant when we went there and we had one child. See we went there in-- I went there in May and one child was born in January and the other one was born a year later, approximately 13 thirteen months later.

Zarbock: Now am I correct? Our laws say that those children born in France are U.S. citizens.

Branham: That's right. Mother and father are U.S. citizens. They had dual citizenship really. And you know, because they were born in France they could claim French citizenship. Neither one of our children have done that, although one of them was working at a mission incorporation and went to France and spent six months there in learning their process which he later help implement back in South Carolina. And he enjoyed going to France. But he said he didn't tell anybody. He didn't want to get drafted into the French army (laughs).

Zarbock: And you were ordered back to the States.

Branham: Yes. I received orders to come back to the States. And at that time I went to Wright Patterson in Ohio, which was a very nice base. It was a logistics base but also had headquartered there, the Air Force Institute of Technology. And the Air Force Institute of Technology, they had a program that they ran for a masters degree right there. But primarily most of the people are sent to civilian universities and they simply do the paperwork there at Wright Patterson. Wright Patterson also has an Air Force Museum there with all these planes there. And it's very interesting because in an area, they were trying to get a B-52 into there, one that had been retired which was not going to be used anymore. And it was a very short runway there. And the day that they were bringing that plane in, we all went out and the pilot came just over the edge of the hill as soon as he could and put that thing right down the runway and was able to stop before he reached the end of the short runway, big airplane.

Zarbock: Good pilot.

Branham: Yeah, he did a good job.

Zarbock: What were your duties there?

Branham: Oh, duties there were pretty much the same as they were at all the bases. My duties were to be a chaplain there to the people on the place. And I you know, I did counseling. I did religious services. I ran a Sunday school. I taught bible classes, did a lot of counseling. I returned from France, I had not been to school. Chaplain's have a number of schools that they try to go to. They have the basic chaplain school. They have the intermediate course and then they have the staff's chaplain's course. And I had not gone to that school. So they sent me to that school and that was for about three weeks. Then later they wanted me to go to the Heart Foundation which is located at the University of Texas and golly we were there for about a month or more. And my wife said, oh you're gone all the time. But anyway that's what we did. I was there only two years because I was selected to go to Commander Staff College out of there. And so--

Zarbock: Let me pause and quiz you on that. You say you were selected. What was the selection based upon?

Branham: Well first of all you had to give an indication to the Chief of Chaplains that you were interested in being a candidate. And I wrote a letter and said you know, if you think that I'm qualified etc, etc, I would be pleased to you know, be a student at the Commander Staff College. And I was selected.

Zarbock: Did you have to make an argument that says, my attendance there would be a merit to the Air Force--

Branham: I didn't have to make that argument. They had looked at my record and determined whether they thought I would be that kind of person.

Zarbock: Okay.

Branham: And I went to school and at that time, the Vietnam War was going on. And--

Zarbock: What year are we at now Chaplain?

Branham: Let's see. I came back in '65. This is '67. I went there in '67. And they had originally had 600 officers in the class, they're captains and majors. It's a rare thing we had originally a colonel in there, because that's the War College, a lieutenant colonel and colonel. But we at Air University in Maxwell and they had originally 600 but they pared it down because, I guess they had so many people that were going overseas to Vietnam. And they pared it down to 150. And I was the only chaplain in the course at that time, so.

Zarbock: What was the curriculum?

Branham: The curriculum was pretty much like it is at War College. They bring in people from Department of State to talk about it. They bring in experts who had been already in Vietnam. They have-- of course they have a faculty there and many of those faculty members had already been there and they taught all kinds of courses. But you had an opportunity to get the word I guess, direct from the Pentagon then. And so that was very, very helpful to do it. And we even had a chapter chaplain to come in and talk about what the role of the chaplain was, that kind of thing.

Zarbock: And as a student, what was required of you? Were there papers required to sign?

Branham: Oh sure. Sure it was, it was curriculum. You went to school at eight o'clock in the morning and you were there all day and I participated in an evening class, George Washington University which I know that you have encountered that before in your interviews. George Washington University offered a course. They gave you so much credit for what you were doing in the school but also you could go to school at night. I went to school at night and took Econ, human relations all of that kind of stuff. And at the end of that time I finished up and got a masters degree and that was a masters degree in business administration. You could go either business administration or like a, what do they call that community involvement? I don't know but anyway I went for a masters in business administration. So ended up being a chaplain with a masters in business administration. So-

Zarbock: Did you have to write a dissertation?

Branham: Yes we did. Well, it was called simply a thesis at that time, you know.

Zarbock: Yeah, thesis I know, yeah.

Branham: And you had to write that in Commander Staff College but you also, they looked at it and they said it has to be approved by the college and it also had to be approved by the university. And so the one document took care of both of those. And I left there at the end of the school and went to Vietnam. Now I did ask, I said, if you're going to send me overseas and most of the people who were there who had not been to Vietnam, were going. They usually went to Vietnam or Thailand. And of course we had people in the school who had already been there and returned. Some of them went back. But I said, if you're going to send me overseas, don't send me to Thailand. Send me to Vietnam.

Zarbock: Why?

Branham: I just thought I wanted to be where the action was. And they did that so I went to a place called Cam Ranh Bay and Cam Ranh was a big base where they had people who came in the country, many of them-- most of them came through Cam Ranh--

Branham: Let me pull that apart. How did you get to the country? Did you fly commercial? Did you fly military? Did you go by boat?

Branham: I really flew, I really flew both, commercial and military because the government chartered the plane that you got on. And they gave you orders and you flew on that. And so I flew out to Tacoma, Washington and from Tacoma, Washington I was given orders to get on the plane and fly directly, you know, to Cam Ranh Bay. So when I landed there I was you know, that was my base.

Zarbock: How old were you at that time? Do you remember?

Branham: Sixty, what was that '68? No, yeah '68. I was 37.

Zarbock: And you were a captain?

Branham: I was a major at that time.

Zarbock: Major. Okay, I ended-- I arrived in the Yokohama Harbor years and years and years ago. The first thing that struck me, not only was the humidity but the aroma. What were some of the early, early-- the door opens up and there you are in Vietnam and you clamber down the--

Branham: Well you know, I can't be deceiving because when you land you have a great big terminal. And you think well it looks almost like stateside. But really of course, you go to the other side. The terminal is located on one side and the airfield is in between and you go around to the other side to the base. And when I got around to the other side, I was put traditionally in the Quonset [ph?] hut, you know, that's where we stayed for a time. And there were a lot of Vietnamese nationals who came in to do laundry this kind of thing, for the GIs. Later on we had (laughs) a chaplain to come in and he went down to-- he said he needed to go to the restroom and I said well go right ahead. And he came right back and he said well there are some women down there. Meaning there were Vietnamese women who were ironing and so forth and he said, I can't go because they're down there. And I said well if you wait for them to get out you're going to be waiting a long time. Because they paid-- it was simply a bodily function that they paid no attention to. And that was not part of his culture. So he had to learn some new things about that at that time. But you know, it was a different kind of a base where you had transports coming in and out all the time but we also had the F-4s that were flying out of there. And they were flying missions that went on to North Vietnam, bombing missions and we also had some foreign observers flying small aircraft out of there. Had a navy branch there who later became a good friend of mine. One of the gentlemen there and he was in charge of much of the construction because he was an engineer. And it turned out that he was from the University of South Carolina and had an engineering degree. And so we became good friends and I would occasionally go with him and we would fly mostly on Air America out to the very small places. We'd fly into little places called Bu Crackton [ph?]. We'd arrive there and there'd be two or three army men there, that is, Americans and the rest of them were Mountain Yards. The Mountain Yards are the mountain people who they enlisted to fight you know, the communist and is quite interested in flying out. We'd fly out and take our lunches they gave us, the flight lunches and when we got there we generally gave our flight lunches to those guys and we ate their food, because the flight lunch was a change of pace for them.

Zarbock: Sure.

Branham: And we ate their food at that time.

Zarbock: Would you talk a little bit about Air America? Years from now, this-- language like that will have disappeared from--

Branham: I had very little contact with Air America because they were not particularly stationed in our base, the people who were there in Air America. They just simply flew in and picked us up and when I was working with this I was flying with this Navy officer, out to take a look at the various places he needed to look at. Air America is a bunch of civilian pilots who were chartered by the government to fly. And I imagine they were paid very well because it was a combat zone and they flew the airplanes and that's it. I know I lost a good friend there who was flying on a Goony Bird and he'd been Red Cross representative at the base and the plane got shot down, so we lost him and I hated that. He was a good churchman and a fine man who'd come to Vietnam simply to serve the people. Red Cross people were people who certified that if an airman had a problem back home, the Air Force would check in to see if that was a real problem. If it was they'd notify. If they had a death in the family a notify would come through him and he in turn would talk to the commander and get authorization for this person to go on leave at that time. So I've limited knowledge about Air America but that's what they were.

Zarbock: But it was a bunch of civilian pilots flying basically unarmed aircraft.

Branham: That's right.

Zarbock: Delivering goods and services and personnel.

Branham: That's right.

Zarbock: In most hazardous and most wretched of possibly landing strips and landing fields.

Branham: Well I also went with Air Force people. We had some short take off and landing in a Caribou [ph?] airplane which is, you can fly in and oh, set right down then take off. And I was going around to places like Deloct [ph?] we had a group of folks out there and we had to minister to them. And the only way you get around in Vietnam at that time was to fly. You'd not dare take a road. And I get on the aircraft and there would be someone with a cow in the back and I say, what are you doing with the cow in here? He said, well the guys out in the field we're taking it out in the field because they like steak and fresh meat and they have no way the get it out there and so we take it out and we put this cow off. They butcher the cow and take care of it. And then of course, the Vietnamese would hop on these airplanes and go with you. And the Vietnamese would always have the fish sauce with them which is nuoc mam. And nuoc mam it was highly odorous you know. We had a guy who was helping to load the airplane and he spilled some nuoc mam on his uniform and it stunk so bad he had the change uniforms and go. But it was kind of a fun thing to do. Interesting days.

Zarbock: When you would get to these isolated bases, this is a strange question but how welcomed were you?

Branham: Oh, we were always welcomed. The few Americans there were so glad to see us. And the Mountain Yards there they, you know, they were happy to see you too, especially if you brought something, you know, for food. And I remember asking one what you want. I wanted a cross bow that the Mountain Yards made and the guy says to me, he says "Well you know, I think I can get you one of those." And I said well how much would it cost? "What they're gonna do with money out here?" I said, well I never thought about that. And he said, "Now if you got some rice or something like that you know, you can barter." It was a barter situation.

Zarbock: Sure.

Branham: Later I was given a crossbow by a Mr. Ha who was a teacher and who was running--

Zarbock: How do you spell his name?

Branham: H-A, pronounced Haw. And Mr. Ha ran a school for-- he was trying to get an orphanage of displaced children by the war. These children had been displaced by the war and the chaplain before me had worked with him and when I got there, there was a slab, a concrete slab in this particular part of what they called Cam Run City across the base from-- across the water. Cam Run is surrounded by waters, kind of like an island. We'd go over to a place called Sue Chen in Cam Run City. That's where they were building this orphanage. And we, when I left, we had two buildings, a pig farm, we had a well--

Zarbock: Where did the funds come from ___________?

Branham: The funds came from the generosity of the people that we worked with. You know, there's a word for gathering materials which you call scrounging. And so I had a commander who was a great guy and when we said we needed materials to put this building up, he said well chaplain I'll find them. And he found them, these materials and we'd take it over there and put it up. My only problem with those folks, was that I had people who wanted to over there every day, all of the time and work. They were, you know, they'd work at night and they'd be off and they would say let's go to the orphanage and work. And I never had a problem in getting people to go over there and work, because it was just a wonderful thing for them to do. The kids needed a lot of things. We would take, we'd take rice and supplies over there to them. And the people in America, the congregations, we had a Baptist chaplain, the man who'd been there before I had, had written several congregations that he had contact with in civilian life and they'd sent funds. When I got there they had a slush fund of $25,000 in the bank. It was in the stateside bank and we said we can't have a slush fund. So we had a Baptist missionary there who was a great guy and who was our liaison--

Zarbock: Now you're talking about a civilian?

Branham: I'm talking about a civilian, right. Not only was he there but his whole family was there. He had children and wife and that was in Vietnam during the war. And so we placed him as a trustee with that fund.

Zarbock: A 30/30 bullet can kill a civilian as well as it can kill a military.

Branham: Yeah, that's exactly right.

Zarbock: That's a lot of verbiage [ph?].

Branham: That's right but he was a dedicated man. He said, I lost contact with them. I have no idea you know, of where-- I just can't remember the name off the top of my head. But Mr. Ha now, the man who replaced me continued to work with the orphanage and later on I learned that Mr. Ha in his, when the communist came south, that he and the children had gotten a boat. Where they got the boat from I have no idea. But they traveled to the Philippines and from the Philippians they made their way to Texas because they found a man in Texas who wanted to sponsor the orphanage. And he took all of them in out there and established an orphanage and Mr. Ha went with them, took his whole family and the chaplain who succeeded me is sending me a note about that and said that they had had a reunion that he found out about and he went. And this happened only about a year ago. And he said the kids from that orphanage, he said it was just heartwarming to see that they had become doctors and lawyers. They had been you know, just involved in American culture and became good Americans. And Mr. Ha unfortunately, he had gone to theological seminary for a period of time and gotten ordained you know, as a Baptist minister. And he spoke French and English and I spoke some French of course, because I'd been in France. And he's deceased now. And unfortunately his wife died too. That's a long time ago, so both of them are gone.

Zarbock: I'm going to raise a historical, philosophical request for comment now. Again, this, these tapes will be available. They're DVDs or whatever format, years and years from now. As long as the planet earth is capable of producing electricity, your words are going to be heard. So given the fact that or given the fact that I am conceptualizing part of this activity as a long range, way out in the future. Well way out in the future things get murky about the past. But here's my question. What-- why didn't we "militarily" win the war in Vietnam?

Branham: First of all it's a different kind of war. And you must understand that the military generally doesn't start wars. It's a political decision that starts the war. And so military is simply an enforcement arm and part of the political establishment. And so the politics made that decision you know, to send us there. And you had a lot of limitations on you. There are certain things you could not do. We're afraid that if we went up and we bombed certain areas, especially in China which was working you know, to supply the people in North Vietnam, then they would escalate the war and then get out. And of course politically speaking, they did not want to do that. And so in some respects you were handicapped for that. It's not like McArthur had North Korea. McArthur wanted to do certain things and that's why Truman fired him. But we were sent there to do a job and we tried to do it. We did not make the political decisions about it. We tried to understand those political decisions and on the other hand, I went there as a pastor to serve the people who had been ordered to do it. And that's the only reason why I was there. It just happened that they let pastors you know, wear the uniform when we come in. I know with some of the background that you have, you know that Wisconsin Senate, we had a man who was Wisconsin Senate who wanted no part of the military except, he wanted to serve his people. And so he came to Vietnam as a civilian and to serve his people. Well we had so few of them, that on base and I think maybe we had two there at Cam Ranh. But nevertheless we made every effort to make sure that he got those folks and met with him. It was interesting because about three months later, he shows up in civilian clothes and so forth and he asked to hop a ride on a military to Gober [ph?], he was going. They were generous you know, they didn't do that. But about three months later, it was a hard time distinguishing between him and a regular chaplain because he had scrounged and had military uniforms on, fatigues. No insignia, but he was wearing fatigues and boots and everything else. I guess he thought he would fit in better there. But he was still not a part of the military establishment. It was a difficult time and some of the chaplains, they were not that cooperative on all the bases with him, but we certainly were. We were glad to see him, let him minister to his people. But that's why we were there. And so we didn't make the decisions to start the war. It's a war that we just pretty well could not win. And so consequently you know, people--

Zarbock: [inaudible]

Branham: -A war we lost. When we started the stop the communist from coming south we didn't. Interesting thing about war, we fight the Germans and then after we had defeated them, we go back and we provided the marshal plan you know, for them to rebuild their cities. And so we rebuilt the cities. We fight the Vietnamese and not too long ago, some of my colleagues who had been prisoners of war six and seven years, went back and rode bicycles from Hanoi all the way down to Ho Chi Min city which at that time had been Saigon. And so we fight people and then we become the best of friends. And the people said they are so gracious over there, the Vietnamese were, to them. I wonder what might happen you know, what we're doing in Iraq right now. If we had the foresight to see 20 years from that, maybe we'll be close again. I have no idea. I would hope that this war would end. And anyway you look at it, war is hell. So that's my comment about that.

Zarbock: What was the nature of the morale of the people that were on the base when you were there?

Branham: Which place?

Zarbock: Cam Ranh Bay.

Branham: Cam Ranh Bay. I think the morale was good. You have a lot of folks who had some marital problems and they were eager to get home and to take care of those. You had some folks, especially some navigators-- I worked with a couple of navigators who were flying as the back seat in an F-4. And they pretty well became conscientious objectors. And that was a real problem for them because they wanted to be relieved you know, from flying duty and no longer flying missions. And--

Zarbock: Chaplain tell me why? Why the navigator?

Branham: I think that we might have had a pilot or two in there. It just so happened these people that I work with were navigators.

Zarbock: Yeah.

Branham: You know, they do pretty much everything that the pilot does but they just ride in the back seat that's all. And but these people were folks who were religious. They were dedicated people to faith and they had no appetite for going and shooting and dropping bombs. That's the bottom line over there. And so over a period of time, they'd grow older and they asked to be relieved and it was difficult to get it. The chaplains did work with them and as conscientious objectors, you know.

Zarbock: What was the role of the chaplain in the process, if a person--

Branham: We were part of the process and you had to file for that status. And the part of the process is, one of things you had to do is, you had to have an individual session with the chaplain at that time. And we wrote a letter, you know, whether we sense that this person was truly a person who was a conscientious objector for various reasons. And they may be faith reasons et cetera, but we wrote a letter which is part of the package.

Zarbock: So you would endorse or fail to endorse, is that correct?

Branham: That's right. That's right. Well you know, we were just one bit of the whole thing because they would have to meet with psychologists and physicians and whatever.

Zarbock: What was the end of the process? Would it be like a military command?

Branham: I rarely heard the end of the process because it's a long process and I was in Vietnam only for a year. And the process would start and maybe that they were given the advice-- they were approved you know, and sent back to the states.

Zarbock: Did that mean an end to their military career?

Branham: Well I would think so.

Zarbock: Could it be?

Branham: Oh yeah. I would think that that would be an end. If he was a pilot or he was a navigator who flew combat missions and he couldn't fly combat missions. So what are you going to do with him? So that's pretty much of an end. And they were ready to get out. They were ready to get out.

[tape change]

Zarbock: Tape number two, 29 February 2008. Go ahead, sir.

Branham: All right. Well, one of the funny things that happened to me while I was in Vietnam is that this young airman came to see me one day and I said, "Well, you know, son, how can I help you?" And he said that he wanted me to make the Red Cross girl, we called them donut dollies in those days. They had a number of young women who came to the base and they served donuts and had little dances for the GIs, and they had a mature woman who was sort of the house mother of these girls, and she kept close watch on them. Well, these girls would date the single pilots, and of course the pilot, you know, he's the-- he's like the baron who flew over-- flew in the World War and that was a lot of enticement for these young girls to date them. Well, this airman was a three striper and he wanted me to make this girl date him. And I said, "Son, I have no control over who she dates. You'll have to do that." So that was one of the funny situations. And he was unhappy with me because I was unable to swing this. I guess she was a cute little girl. One of the tragic things that happened, and it happened daily, was that at Cam Ranh we had a staging hospital which meant that the people who were wounded in the filed were flown into this hospital and then those who were severe were flown out the next day to the Philippines or to Tokyo. And we had had as many as 300 and sometimes close to 400 a night, a night. And so the chaplains went up to the hospital as a team, and we canvassed that whole ward and visited every one of those people while they were there. And if it was a Catholic then I'd make sure that the priest knew about him and who could come and serve him. And there were some sad situations there, you know, some people were young kids 17-18 years old had been severely wounded and we'd know that they'd carry that for the rest of their lives. And so we did that day after day every day. It didn't seem to slow down any because it was just a staging hospital. We did that. I recently read something and used it in a message, by the way, that this young man who was-- had written that Christmas, what Christmas music meant to him. And he said that he was in a hospital in Japan, and it was Christmas Eve and he heard that night the Christmas music. And there was a man that was located near him and this man had been unresponsive. He had been severely wounded and he said that he asked the nurse to push his bed close to him. And they pushed his bed close to him so he could reach over and grab this man's hand. And he squeezed his hand and the other man squeezed back, which meant that he was aware of what was going on. And he said that music that was being played over the intercom system in that hospital was very significant to him. My thoughts about that is that if that man had come through our hospital it's likely that either I or one of my colleagues had ministered to him on his way to Japan. So it was a small world and being linked in that way. But I thought that was very interesting to discover that. So that was a sad note and yet at the same time a hopeful note because he gained much from the experience of listening to the Christmas music, and also he had an opportunity to minister to the man who was next to him.

Zarbock: Chaplain, that's a tremendous emotional battering that you must have taken. Who ministers to you?

Branham: Well, my kids wanted to know why I didn't come back like some of the veterans with posttraumatic syndrome and I said, "I don't know." I just-- I think there's a certain detachment that you must maintain like a physician when he is working. If you don't have that kind of detachment then you become useless when it comes to ministry and the physician becomes useless when it comes to patients. And so while we had a lot of emotional attachment we sought to sort of detach ourselves in such a way so that we could provide that ministry. I survived that. I didn't have any breakdowns, so I guess it's just the kind of personality that I have. I don't know.

Zarbock: Was it difficult returning to the states?

Branham: From Vietnam?

Zarbock: Yeah.

Branham: When I was in Vietnam I came back to the states I had-- I weighed about 179 pounds and had a 28 inch waist. And my children hardly recognized me. And I was very tan. I had seen my wife three months earlier when we had an R&R in Japan, not Japan, but in Hawaii. And, but when I came back to the states I was supposed to come back at the end of that month and you work with the man who was making the arrangements for all of that, and I went up to him and he said, "Chaplain, would you like to get out early?" And I said, "Well, sure," because my replacement had arrived and he had been there a week and half or two weeks. And I said, "Sure." And so he called me and said, "In a couple of hours we're going to load this aircraft and we've got one seat available." And he said, "Do you want it?" And I said, "Sure." And so I barreled down and there was, I think, 208 people on that aircraft and I was the only Air Force officer on it. Everybody else was Army. And so we flew back and I did not call my wife and let her know until I had gotten to Atlanta. And my wife was in South Carolina at that time because we're originally from South Carolina and she was staying there. And so I called her from Atlanta and told her that I'd be in on such and such a flight. And she said, she said she told the children-- they were sitting there after dinner. She told the children, "Get in the car." And so they met me at the airport and that was a glorious time. That was a glorious moment coming in.

Zarbock: Sure.

Branham: And when we got home we had a little dachshund dog and one of the kids went, as we were standing in the driveway, and opened up the door and the little dog came out. Well, the little dog saw me and we was (makes barking noise) barking at me and not recognizing me because I had changed, my physical appearance had changed quite a bit. And I spoke the dog's name and the dog got so excited he just wet all over the pavement. So it was an emotional good time coming in.

Zarbock: Sure. Sure.

Branham: It's emotional even to remember it.

Zarbock: What about absurdities? Again, this is not one of those expose things, but funny things of an absurd nature take place in huge organizations be the United States Government, be the Untied States Air Force, it can be General Electric. Sometimes silly things happen, any reminiscences there?

Branham: I didn't run into too much of that I guess. Maybe I put that in the back of my mind. I think, you know, sometimes we have a tendency to remember what we what to remember and not remember those other things. I think the situation when the guy wanted to date the donut dolly was absurd. That is absurd.

Zarbock: That qualifies.

Branham: Yeah, that qualifies for it, you know. I had an opportunity to visit Israel when I was overseas and ________. And we jumped on the airplane and went for several days. I took leave to do that. And we hopped around and went to Israel. And it's sort of absurd to grab a guide and say we want tour, we only got two days here. And so in about six hours he took us all over Israel in a taxicab, about five of us, and so we had an opportunity to see that. Well, later on I had a chance to go back and take a tour, you know, in-- of the Holy Land. We went Malta during that time.

Zarbock: That must have been interesting.

Branham: It was interesting to go to Malta. It was also interesting to see them load the aircraft because they had a lot of-- they sold a lot of booze there and so the guys were buying this liquor and loading the aircraft, they said, "But, chaplain, you don't see this, do you?" I told them it didn't bother me that they were taking it back because they were taking it back to the guys. They simply got a better price for it, that's all, but it was interesting to do that. I can remember that during that flight we hit an air pocket and many of us were standing up, and we must have fallen 20 feet in the air, oomph, like that and hit. And fortunately no one got hurt real bad about that, but I remember that well. But those were all GIs. My wife and I hoped around from several places when we were in France, and we rode the military aircraft to go to England. And it was so cold in England at that time we would go from one coffee shop to another to have hot coffee, but we grabbed a couple of plays that they had, and of course then went back home and went back to work again. But I guess maybe I put those absurd things out of the back of my mind that I just don't remember too much about those.

Zarbock: Well, when you came back from Vietnam what assignments did you have? Where did you serve?

Branham: Well, because I had-- I was a graduate of the Command and Staff College they sent me to Headquarters Air Training Command.

Zarbock: Located where?

Branham: It was located at Randolph Air Force base in San Antonio, and I was there four years. And my oldest son entered high school there and graduated from high school there, four years. That's the only child I had who went to high school for a straight four years. Most of them went to school and had been in as many as three different high schools during the time that they were a high school student. But that was a good assignment. My responsibilities there was also-- was in the professional division whereby I would visit base and we would do what we called staff assistant visits. We would try to ascertain whether or not the chaplains were doing the kind of job they should be doing. We...

Zarbock: Essentially quality control.

Branham: Yes, that's true. And if the base was not up to par then we tried to say, "You know, why aren't you offering these services." and to try to find out if they had the materials that they need, if they had the personnel they need. Getting personnel is a difficult thing, but that was what we did. And it was not a, exactly a duplication of the IG. We did have an IG team the chaplains were on and they went all over the world and did that, and they did pretty much the same thing. But we did that professionally and then we found that they had some real-- they had some real needs that they needed in education. And so my colleague and I, we went and we got training in an outfit which was called INSTROTEACH [ph?], and that was out at Arizona State University, and that an evaluation of the effectiveness of the teachers. And we went and trained teachers at different bases and this process of how to evaluate their teaching in an effort, you know, to improve that teaching. And it was always a positive kind of thing, and they were happy to see us come. And we'd spend a week there. And so during that time I was gone three weeks out of every month and so was he. And I made a decision a little later on, you know, another assignment or so to get out and he stayed in and he became Chief of Chaplains. Stu Barstead [ph?] is his name.

Zarbock: How long did you spend as a chaplain in the military?

Branham: Over 20 years, 20 years. And my Army service counted, you know, for retirement purposes and so I really retired with 26 years.

Zarbock: And what did you do after you retired?

Branham: I retried because I wanted to be in higher education. This guy says, "Why in the world are you quitting," since I was a full colonel at that time, and I had recently come out on the permanent colonel's list which is a regular office and that meant I could stay 30 years. And, but a guy said, "Why in the world did you quit?" And I said, "Well, I guess I was looking for a new challenge." I had three masters degree and a PhD by that time and so I was looking for an opportunity to teach. And it just happened, as I shared with you earlier, that there was a place at the seminary where I graduated from.

Zarbock: What seminary?

Branham: Luther Theological Seminary in Columbia. And they-- the president knew me and he asked me would I come, you know, I think he was more interested in my administrative ability than he was in my teaching.

Zarbock: What year was that pastor?

Branham: That was '79, 1979. I went there in '79 to the seminary and I worked as administrative assistant, and then they changed the title to vice president for administration, and then in 1981 he accepted the position as president of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, coal country. But he accepted that, and when he accepted that they asked me would I be the interim president, and I was, and then later on they elected me to be president. So I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that's how I became president of the seminary.

Zarbock: Could you, one of those academic things, compare and contrast your experiences in the military vis-a-vis your experience now as the chief executive officer of a seminary.

Branham: Well, one of the things you had, you don't tell people to do things and expect they're going to do it right then. You don't order people to do things. But rather you have to have-- be sensitive to the human relations and you have to work as a team. And, but I had a great faculty. You know, a seminary is a fairly small faculty, not a huge thing, and the faculty was always responsive people. And many of them had set on the board, you know, when I had-- was elected to be president. And so we had-- in fact seeing as much as I was a graduate of that institute, by the way, I was the only the second graduate to become president of the school. But in as much as I was a graduate of that school some of the older faculty members had been my professors. And those folks were the most supportive, the most supportive when I became president of the school. And so it was a delight to work with them. I guess that I didn't have to retire until I was 70, but I did. I retired after being there for ten and a half years. And I did that because I thought that perhaps it was not as much fun as it had been when I first started, and I did not want that to show at anytime. And so I made a decision to go ahead and retire. And I announced that a year ahead of time. And the interesting thing is that the newspaper people called the chairman of the board and said, "What's going on?" You know, they had thought they had pushed me out. And he said, "No, no we want him to stay." And so I announced it a year ahead of time so that they could have an opportunity to find a president, do a search. And they did. And they had that president to come in at the time, a couple of weeks before I stepped out into retirement. And he did a good job. By the way, he just retired and we have a new president now, and he's doing a good job too.

Zarbock: But as a military officer and military chaplain, now back to your alma mater where you become president of the facility, was there any discontinuity there, or what was the nature of the discontinuities? You pointed out one you just don't tell a faculty, "You, you and you are going to do this by Tuesday afternoon."

Branham: At that time, by the time that I got out of service I had had specialized training that I went out on my own to do in marriage and family therapy. And so I was a certified licensed marriage and family therapist. And fortunately I had the skills, you know, to be able to do that with the faculty as a group, because whenever you're working with a group that just one large social system of faculty. And I think that I had the skills to do that. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions in regard to faculty who are not doing their job and, but by in large it was a very, very positive experience. And I had the opportunity at that time to rebuild the faculty. We had a number of faculty members who were retiring and of course we didn't fire anybody, but they retired and we had a lot of searches going on. And the interesting thing is now most of those that I call there most of those are retiring now. And this president has got four searches going on at the present time, you know, that he's trying to fill before the end of the year to start out.

Zarbock: I once had a colleague, a witty colleague who said, you know, the business of tenure. He said, "I no longer look at them, at the publications that the candidate has." He said, "I'm really no more interested in, or less interested in the evaluations of the candidate. What I really look at the candidate and ask of myself, can I live with this person for the next 20 years." So faculty, look at the organizations that you've experienced and each with a different direction, a church where you served as a young pastor, the military and the bases that you served and the people whom you met. Now here you are on a campus and you're mister the top of the pile. Would you like to say something reflective about if I had it to do again I wouldn't do, or if I had it to do again I would certainly emphasize.

Branham: Well, I would do it again. I guess the part of the job that I did not like is, too much, was that I think some of the major colleges they get most of their money from tuition and we got a small amount of money. Only 15 percent of our budget came from tuition and the church, you know, gave us a subsidy, you know, to run. So consequently we had to go out and raise a lot of money. That's true with seminaries down the line, especially a self standing seminary not connected to a large university. Like Candler School of Theology at Emory, and Duke. You know of the courses at Duke. But we were a stand alone. In fact all of our seminaries are stand alone and you had to raise money. One of the things that bothers me right now is that they built some new facilities when the last man was there, and they needed those facilities, and he did the right thing, but they have a pretty heavy debt to overcome right now and it's hard to raise the money to do that. And we had some folks who died and left the seminary well. I remember that I was notified after I was out about three years that the seminary had received a handsome amount of money in a will and they said we wanted you to know this because this was during the time that you were there. And so you plant seeds and you hope that those seed mature, and some of them did. And, but it was difficult at times. I am pleased to say that when I left the seminary they were debt free and the balance of the budget, the budget was balanced, so I feel good about that. Maybe I was more conservative than they wanted, I don't know.

Zarbock: But your role was what, certainly a ceremonial one.

Branham: Yeah, a ceremonial one but, you know, to see the day to day operations, and see that people did their jobs, to listen to students of anything they needed. We brought-- we brought a young man there who was one of our graduates who just graduated when I arrived to be-- he served sort of as the pastor of the seminary. He did not fulfill-- he did not have that role initially, but he fell into that role because the students had a great respect for him and he was not a classroom teacher. And later on that position was established to be chaplain of the seminary, and he was really a recruit, but he did a great job. They were concerned whenever, and he was concerned and so was his bishop when we looked upon him and we wanted him to come to the school. He said, "Well, what does this have to do with, you know, the word and sacrament?" And I said, "Well, he's going to have plenty of opportunity to preach the word and to serve the sacraments." And finally he came to believe that. And after he was there with us the first year I said to him, I said, "John, do you have any problem with word and sacrament?" He said, "None at all." So he's been very, very busy. And when they named him chaplain I was already retired and I came back. And that evening he came down to greet people. He said, "Thank you for bringing me here." And he's still there doing a great job.

Zarbock: When you were there as a student was the student body-- what observations did you make of the student body now as differing from the student body now?

Branham: Yeah. The student body at that time seemed to be mostly made of people who would come directly out of college. Some of them had maybe spent a year or two in the workforce and then came to school, but most of them had came directly out of college. The student body when I was there were had a lot of second career students. We had students who had been in lucrative professions and opted out of that. One of them was your pastor at the time. He was with IBM and he made a decision to come to seminary because, you know, his father had been the bishop of North Carolina ________, and he gave up something monetarily speaking. I remember one man came and Phil Lader had been his boss. We all know Phil Lader who has served as ambassador to England and he was running Hilton Head at that time and I remember reading his recommendation he endorsed. He said, "I hope you realize what this man has given up monetarily to come to the seminary," and of course I did. And the man came and he had a tough time at times, not academically but, you know, he had a family of about three or four kids, but he made it, served as a parish pastor and has done well. And so, you know, there are people who make a lot of sacrifices who come. And had a man from West Point who was a major in the regular Army. And he made a decision to resign his commission and come to seminary. And after the first year he came into my office and he said, "I won't be back next year." And I said, "Well, why?" And he said, "I decided that I should be doing ministry as a lay person and not as an ordained person." And I said-- he said, "I think that's my place." And I said, "Well, do you regret having left the military as much as you had been a regular officer, a major?" And he said, "No, I think the decision was the right decision." So he gave up a lot. He could have had a very nice career, especially as a person who was good enough to be asked on the faculty at West Point. But we had a lot of those. I had a lady who called me and said, "I'm coming to seminary." I said, "Wait a minute now, you can't come to seminary until we endorse you by the church. And she said, "I'm going to come anyway." She did come, and the church did endorse her. But when she started seminary she was 58 years old. And she became the mother of the student body, as such. That's what she said she was. And she graduated and the bishop of North Carolina said, and I remember he asked me, he said, "Mack, what am going to do with this woman, you know, who's in her 60s now?" And I said, "I'm sure you'll find a place for her," and he did. And she served a small Lutheran congregation because she was single lady by that time. She'd lost her husband and did very well. Unfortunately several years later she's deceased, but she did a good job.

Zarbock: Did you have any women in your class when you graduated from seminary, when you graduated from seminary?

Branham: No. I had only two women in the class and these women were not master of divinity students. That is they were not in a degree program that led to ordination, because in the Lutheran church at that time we did not ordain women. I know they don't do that in ________________ now, but we did not ordain-- we ordained women in 1970, we started that. And so in my class, which was the class of '58-- I had originally been in the class of '56, but took the two years in the Army and then came back and finished in '58. The two women were Master of Arts in religious education. And both of those women are still living. One is in a home for the aged and another one is in North Carolina and I think her health is reasonably well. But they worked, you know, as religious educators in the church. They were not ordained. But those are the only two that we had in the class when I was there. But, of course, when I came back to the seminary we had about seven percent of the student body in '79 who were women. And now it is around 50 to 51 percent, that high, yes. So if you have not had a woman as your pastor, hold on, you'll get one a little later on, and that-- this changed so much. People said, "Well, do women make good pastors?" Well, certainly they make great pastors. You have people who-- it has nothing to do with gender. They're either talented or not and they're dedicated, and some of them are great and some of them are not. I had one woman who came to the seminary and she finished her course, and did real well and never got a call. And, of course, if you don't get a call then you're never ordained. You can get the degree, but you have to get the call and actually accept that call to be ordained. And so she's doing something else. I saw her not long ago and we laughed about it and I said, "How disappointing." She says, "No." She said, "I'm fine." She said, "I'm busy working and I'm doing okay."

Zarbock: That's a mature woman.

Branham: Yeah. She's a single lady. I don't think she ever married. She's a nice looking woman but, you know, that's just one of those things. And we had some women who came and who manage a small country congregation and they wanted to changed everything almost immediately and you know how that worked. Inconsequently they left that congregation and they always had a rocky road until finally they're just not in the ministry at all. But that's true with men too, so you have to...

Zarbock: But that's not gender linked, I mean, you know, the kind of the bulldozer effect. By gosh we're going to...

Branham: My course that I taught in systems, marriage and family therapy, I always took a time to talk about the church as a system and I'd say, "You know, the church will call you and they'll ask you, the people who are on the pulpit committee will ask you to change this, this, this and this and then when you come they'll resist you in every way they can to keep you from changing that. And you have to expect that because it's hard to change things that have been a tradition, especially in old established churches." So you have to love the people and minister through them and go ahead and then plant the seed among them and then let it be their idea to change it. And when it's their idea it generally works.

Zarbock: So you really didn't find it much of a role.

Branham: I found it different, but I was comfortable in both social systems, the military and also in the academic world. I had to learn a lot when I got out, you know, about how things worked in the academic world, but fortunately I had an opportunity to do that when I was still a VP for administration, because the president would go into various places and he asked me to fill in for him to go to some of these meetings with the presidents. And so I knew most of them before I became president of the school. And so that was very helpful to do that. Oh, by the way, the president who went to Luther College later became the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Zarbock: What was his name?

Branham: George Anderson, H. George Anderson.

Zarbock: I know his wife, ex-wife very well.

Branham: Okay.

Zarbock: Jutta.

Branham: Jutta is a graduate from-- her husband had been at your school I believe and he died and Jutta came to the seminary to study a masters in religious education for arts, and talked a little bit about being ordained, and bought a whole host of paintings that she had insured. And then George lost his wife and somehow they got together, but that was after he left the school. And I don't know the details on that. Both of them were very private people, at least George is. I don't know what happened in that situation. But I think-- I don't think Jutta's remarried, he has.

Zarbock: That's something. It is a small world, isn't it?

Branham: Yes it is.

Zarbock: Well, Chaplain, is there anything else you'd like to say before I render my last question?

Branham: No, I don't think so. You go head and render the last question.

Zarbock: Any reminiscence, any commentary that you'd like to make about anything?

Branham: No. I think the commentary that I made earlier says, you know, what-- about serving in the military and war as such. I just want people to understand what the role of the chaplain is. The role of the chaplain is just if I minister to people, you know, who are in the church, and they're there to minister to them. They don't determine policy. But that's a political decision. The military is simply the arm of that, and so consequently when we came back from Vietnam, you know, people said that they were treated like dogs. I didn't sense that that was true with me because, I guess, I moved in other circles. I was welcomed to do that. One of the interesting things I did while I was in-- this is parenthetical almost. When I was stationed in my last duty station my children had a good friend who was a fine young man, but he had undue bias against people of color. And so they were going to have military day in the congregation which was located-- I was-- I asked to come to Charleston Air Force Base and that's where I was at that time. I was the installation chaplain there. And so they contacted me and asked me if I'd come out, you know, and the sermon that night. I said, "Sure." And so my children and I loaded up and we got Allen and said, "Would you like to go to church with us, son?" And he said, "Yes." And so we all piled in the car and we pulled up to this church and all of a sudden he said, "Hey, this is not a White church." And I said, "No it isn't. Does that make any difference, Allen?" And so Allen had an opportunity to go and worship with people of color and I think that it was something that changed his life, and it was simply because we had not told him. If we had told him I'm sure he wouldn't have gone with us. But that was a good experience. That was both absurd and kind of interesting. But he's a young man who, I think, went into the trucking industry. But anyway, that would e the comment that I would make, you know, about how things have changed. Things have changed so much, and I know you've seen this in your own life whereby you'd go into a store and you would see where we had two fountains, one Colored, one for White. Thank goodness that's all changed. And one of the things in the military that I experienced is we didn't have that kind of discrimination, and we were so far ahead of what society had at that time. And I had some great folks that I worked with who were people of color and people from different ethnic backgrounds and they were great.

Zarbock: Chaplain, with all-- building upon all of the experiences that you've had, wonderful experiences, by the way, what credo have you put together for yourself? If at the end I was asked to say what you were, what would I tell people?

Branham: Well, I tell people you must be a person with character. You must be a person of faith if that's where you come from. You must live that faith. I do that in other circles these days. One of the things that I got involved in when I was at seminary I was-- I became a Rotarian and I've continued that. I'm Rotarian since 1980 and have a perfect attendance since that time. Had an opportunity to serve as district governor, I didn't seek that. My club asked me to run for it, and so I did, and so I served as a centennial governor. And I'm still involved. In fact the presentation that I have tonight, you know, is a celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the club back in 1995. And I had an opportunity to serve as a-- in the Chamber of Commerce. I did that as a representative and then I was elected, you know, to be there as a sort of a director of the Chamber of Commerce and then served one year as a director, as the president of the Chamber of Commerce. And I said, "What am I doing serving as president of the Chamber of Commerce? I don't have a business," but I did. And, you know that's what I've done. I moved from that area, the theological area, you know, as a president of a seminary into a civilian community and continued to serve because the Rotarian motto is, "Service above self." And we've done that and I thought we did that in the Chamber of Commerce. So I don't think I've changed it's just that I've done the same kind of work in different environments, that's all.

Zarbock: That's right. Your leadership has always been there. Your leadership skills have always been there, but you've exercised them in different arenas.

Branham: And nowadays I do that in the gym. Still I'm a gym rat and I work out in the gym and I've made many friends there.

Zarbock: Sure.

Branham: And, you know, that's part of it. That's a social system in itself too.

Zarbock: Yes. Pastor, it's been an honor to know you.

Branham: Well, it's been a pleasure to be with you today.

Zarbock: Thank you sir.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign