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Interview with John G. Cottingham, July 15, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with John G. Cottingham, July 15, 2008
July 15, 2008
Interview with chaplain John Cottingham.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Cottingham, John Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  7/15/2008 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  30 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Randall Library. Today is the 15th of July, 2008, and we're recording in Laurinburg, North Carolina at the home of Chaplain John Cottingham. Good afternoon, sir, how are you?

Cottingham: I'm good thanks, Paul.

Zarbock: What individual or series of individuals or event or series of events led you into the ministry?

Cottingham: Well, thank you for asking that question. It's one that I've reflected on a good bit. I don't think my story is so unique or different than many men and women that we find in the ministry today. I grew up here in Laurinburg. It was a wonderful community to grow up in, the church was very important in my life. The community sort of focused around this church. It sponsored our boy scout troop of which I was a part, and cub scouts, and you grew up in the youth fellowship, and most of the kids I grew up with were church people and their families. But I grew up in a Christian home, attended the First United Methodist Church. It's kind of interesting, we had some unique pastors. Henry Rulark [ph?] is pastor there I remember most. He was in my formative years as a adolescent and it was the pastor after him, though, when I was a senior in high school that said to me one day that he thought I'd make a fine minister. Of course I thought he was full of it, you know. I had no intentions of being a minister. I was very much into athletics and things like that, and I was fortunate enough to go up to college, a small college, played football there, got a grant aid, and...

Zarbock: What was the name of the college?

Cottingham: The college was called Frederick. It was Frederick College up in Portsmouth, Virginia. And we played small college football, played a lot of the teams here in North Carolina and played ball in those days with schools like Lenoir-Rhyne and played Wallford [ph?], and Catawba and in Virginia some schools like Hampden-Sydney and Emory & Henry, those kind of schools, and spread it a little bit up into Pennsylvania. Played a team called Slippery Rock a time or two, it was kind of interesting.

Zarbock: Was it a church affiliated college?

Cottingham: It was more than a church-affiliated college. It was a privately-endowed college. It was a new school. It was sort of interesting. St. Andrew's, which is here in Laurinburg, opened in 1960. And there was a small school up in Portsmouth that came out of the military academy. There's a Frederick Military Academy in Portsmouth. And it was a whole different location. The gentleman endowed a coed four-year school called Frederick College.

Zarbock: A gentleman of wealth.

Cottingham: Yes, he is. His name was Frederick Beazley. And I've always thought that that school was created just for me and guys like me that went there, the men and women. It was a wonderful experience there. And what happened at Frederick College, I guess, was that I suppose that seed planted in my mind that I would make a good minister. That's something, I mean, that's planted there. And as I've mentioned, my background was around the church, but you had to take Bible as a freshman. You had to take basic Bible, Old Testament, New Testament. And I enjoyed it. And so I took another course in religion, you know, and pretty soon I found myself majoring in religion. And so about the second semester of my sophomore year I had indicated I guess to my mother or something that I was-- that I might go into the ministry. And it just so happened that this kind of gets into how I got into the military genre as a chaplain. I'm United Methodist. In our tradition Methodists are signed to conferences with the bishop, and you moved around that part of the state about every three or four years. So I was a member of the North Carolina conference, which was the eastern part of the state. And I had a brother, my brother, I still have a brother named Andy who's a good bit older than I am, seven years. But I sort of idolized him, I guess, or followed along in his steps in many ways. And he was a medical doctor, he finished at-- he went through medical school and he, I guess, went into the military. He joined the reserves, or whatever. I guess it helped him financially and all. And he went into the military as a doctor. In fact he did 20 years and retired. And he said to me, "Well, you might want to consider the army chaplaincy." And I said, "Well, that sounds like a good idea." So I did investigate that even while I was in college. I'd written to our endorsing agency about it and got a pamphlet or two, you know.

Zarbock: And you say this brother was really a very significant influence on you.

Cottingham: Andy was very significant. He's seven years older, so it was kind of like another generation when you're that age. So he had finished high school in '55. And my father was an older man when I was born. He was 50-years old and I was born in '44. And of course I guess we age better now. I mean, I look at myself, I'm 64 now and I'm doing things that I know my father couldn't have done. And so my father was 50, and he had a stroke in '58 that really-- he would have recovered from that stroke, but then he-- they found cancer. He was a heavy smoker and cancer developed, and so he never really was to go back to work or do much. And my father died in '60. And that had a big impact on me, I think, as far as my religious development also, the death of my father. I remember he was in the hospital here initially, here in Laurinburg, and I can remember going up and we led him around in a wheelchair, and hopped up down the hall some, but he did have some difficulty communicating, of course, which was-- but he did not lose his speech, so that was fortunate. But then the cancer developed and he ended up in the VA hospital, and actually in the Durham VA Hospital as well as the other one. So he was in and out a good bit. And that had a profound impact on him that time. I would have been 14 when he took ill. I could remember that summer because it was right before I was scheduled to do my scout ranch. But I went on to the scout ranch, of course, that was a big thing, and my parents wanted me to. So that was significant. So my brother, I've always felt, took on kind of a fathering role for me. And so he was in the military at the time and, when I was in college, and he just made that comment, I might want to look at the army chaplaincy, that it offered some good things. And so I went to seminary after graduating. I actually met my wife there at Frederick, but I had some great professors that helped. Dr. Hembold was a major professor in religion and...

Zarbock: How do you spell that?

Cottingham: H-E-M-B-O-L-D, if I'm not mistaken. Brian [ph?] Hembold.

Zarbock: From what seminary?

Cottingham: This was my college professor. But I went to Duke Divinity School, which is another step following my brother, you know, going to Duke rather than to-- I considered Henry and considered the Wesley [ph?] up in D.C. But I went to Duke, met my wife in college, Anita [ph?], and I married her in '66 when I graduated, and it's been the most wonderful blessing for me in my lifetime, certainly. But we went to divinity school straight out of college. And in '69 I finished my divinity work and I was assigned to a little church in the North Carolina conference in Goldston, North Carolina, three-point charge. An interesting thing happened when I was coming out of seminary. A pastor from the Virginia conference came down to the seminary and interviewed me as well as other students, for an associate job. Sounded good to me, my wife was from Virginia. And I had been ordained, of course, as a deacon in seminary with North Carolina conference. So I went up and interviewed at Harrisburg, Virginia. And I was offered the position and I was anxious to take it. And I guess during the previous years our bishop, who was Bishop Garber [ph?], was readily able to let me go to the Virginia conference or whatever, if that's what they wanted to do. But we had gotten a new bishop by the name of Riacana [ph?] in the North Carolina conference. And I went over to the Methodist building there in Raleigh and it just so happened the cabinet was meeting to make assignments. I was coming out of seminary, and of course I was one of those they were making an assignment for. And I indicated to the secretary or whoever I saw that I'd like to speak to the bishop. And she said, "Well, but he's in a cabinet meeting but I'll go and inform him." And so my district superintendent came out and I told him that I would like to take this associate job in the Virginia conference with the pastor there of that church. He says, "Well, I don't know. We made a church assignment for you here in North Carolina, but I'll go in and inform the bishop." Well, I learned a lot about the Methodist bishops, and I guess it helped me a lot in the military as well. But the bishop came out and he says, "Well, young man, that's not the way we do things in the Methodist church. We've worked hard to get you an assignment, and no, you cannot go to Virginia. We're going to point you to this charge that we've worked out for you." Shut up, he was saying. (laughs) Wow, didn't know what to do. I got in my car, I drove back home and I think I was crying all the back over to Durham, you know, and told Anita about it, and I called the pastor up in the Virginia conference and he didn't understand it. But a very interesting thing happened. When I went back to class the next day and we had a directive study, there were about five or six students, you know, in this particular class with some advisors. We were talking, I told him the story. And one of the young men said to me, I don't remember who it was, but he says, "At least somebody wants you." And I said, "Wow, you're right." The Methodist system isn't all bad, I mean, you know. If you're in a conference you're assured of an appointment. That's part of our system. It's kind of like the military, you know, You're in there, you're under an assignment somewhere. So that kind of perked me up a bit in my thinking about that. And so I served a three-point charge in Goldston, North Carolina. Wonderful people, learned a great deal. And fortunately I was called up for an interview by our endorsing agency. And it was at that time in Washington, D.C., United Methodist-- well, yeah, we became United Methodist Church in '68 when we combined with the United Evangelical Brethren, so put the United in there. And I was interviewed and about a week or so later I was given a call and asked if I could come and I...

Zarbock: What year was this?

Cottingham: This would have been 1970. I spent one year in the pastorate full-time, you know, full-time. And I'd informed my district superintendent, I kept him informed of what my desires were, go into the military as a chaplain. And of course we had the same bishop, and I wondered, "Oh Lord, please, we would love to do this." So my district superintendent was a man named Virgil Queen [ph?], and he said, "Yes, I...," of course I was in the-- during War World II he was not a chaplain but he had considered it. But some men had to stay here and be pastors in the United States. And so he did that and he said-- but he had mentioned it, spoken to the bishop about it. And the bishop said, "Well, that's what the young man wants to do, maybe that's his call, and we'll let him go." So I served that year and I entered the United States Army chaplain basic course at Fort Hamilton, New York in July-- I reported July the 5th, 1970.

Zarbock: Am I correct, this is about as far north as you had ever been as a resident.

Cottingham: Well, to go to New York City where Fort Hamilton is located there in Brooklyn, at the base of the Verrazano Bridge, yep, that's about right. I had been to New York before but-- with a senior class trip. My wife and I had lived in Durham, we were at the divinity school, as residents. And she went home to Virginia to stay with her mother. We'd just had our first child in, no, when did we have our-- John was born in '69 so yes, when we were at Goldston my son was born, so he was still in it. And so I went to Fort Hamilton for eight weeks, I believe it was, for the basic course.

Zarbock: And they're going to teach you how to be a soldier.

Cottingham: That's correct. Basic training is not like basic training for the military soldier. We don't train bombs, we get about a week in the field, and we do crawl the infiltration course. I remember that well, and that at Fort Dix. But we'd go to Fort Hamilton, you'd get some basic course study and being pastors in the military and some military courses that you have to take, do PT every day. But basically they want to integrate you into the military and teach you how to wear uniforms, salute, march, believe it or not. Believe it or not we marched-- Frank Sampson [ph?] was the chief of chaplains when I entered the service. And Frank Sampson, of course, if I'm not mistaken, I know he's mentioned in the Band of Brothers series, or in the book anyway he is. If you read the book he was the chaplain for some of those units. And...

Zarbock: What was his name again?

Cottingham: Frank Sampson. So when I served in '70, Frank Sampson was retiring. And he came to speak at the basic course. And I know my mother and my aunt came up for that graduation, of course my wife, et cetera. But he gave a real stern talk about being straight, being a soldier, "You didn't do right, we'd get rid of you," so it was definitely not-- but, and I guess that was kind of his-- I mean he retired after that and Will Hyde [ph?] became the chief chaplain after that. He was the deputy at the time. So in 1970 I did the basic course, and from there went to Fort Knox, Kentucky and served nine months there. I got there in September, reported to Vietnam in June of '71.

Zarbock: To whom were you assigned?

Cottingham: In Vietnam I arrived in late June of '71. In fact I got only two or three days in for the month of June that counts, it was a month. And of course in '71 we were beginning to draw down. But I was assigned-- I actually served two units, but I went-- at one location. But I was assigned initially to the 36th Engineer Combat Construction Battalion in Vinh Long, South Vietnam, which is in the delta, right on the Mekong. So I was down on the delta. And the mission of that unit which I served with from June to about December, late November, and they drew down and just kind of stood down. But the mission of that unit was to build-- they were building a highway. I think it was called Highway 7, from Vinh Long to Tra Vinh, which I guess is at the mouth of the Mekong where it dumps into the South China Sea, and it's about probably about 90 kilometers or so. But it was tough building roads through that stuff.

Zarbock: Was there any action going on?

Cottingham: Oh, yes. The Mekong, had lots of infiltration in the Mekong. We were never attacked, our units. We had units, you know, the base was at Vinh Long. We had a company about halfway down, and then we had some elements on down at the end of the road. We were not directly attacked, no, during that time.

Zarbock: But, Chaplain, you were relatively new into the chaplain corps. You'd never been in Vietnam.

Cottingham: Oh, absolutely not.

Zarbock: And here you are with all of this new, it's new, it's new, it's new.

Cottingham: Absolutely. It was, no doubt about it. Well, I look at that experience, it's hard to say you cherish something like that, but you do. It's very significant in who you are, even though you don't talk about it. I mean, I've never really talked about my experience in Vietnam and stuff. And I hardly remember. I mean, I remember some of the guys, but not really, you know. That's a long time ago. People I've bumped into again, every day, you know. But I remember on Sunday, it was really a great experience. Of course were able to keep Sunday basically for worship services. And I had the commander's helicopter on Sunday. I mean, it was mine as long as-- you know, and they would fly me, I'd go by road, lots of times during the week-- I'd go down the road at least once a week, and back and spend the night at B Company down at the location, and come back. And that's a two-day deal. Get a little devotion or something during that time, visit the soldiers. But Sundays I would do my service Vinh Long, and be out of there about noon. And as long as the rain wasn't coming we could fly in and stop there at B Company, the other service, then fly on down to Tra Vinh and get a little service in. The interesting thing at Tra Vinh, we had some Seabees. They were rough guys. These are Navy guys, you know, Seabees, you know. A couple of them would kind of come over to the service once in a while. But it was quite an experience. But I mentioned I was with the 36th Engineers at this time when I initially went in there. When I arrived they were changing commanders out in about two weeks. And I got a wonderful commander in, a gentleman by the name of George Roberson [ph?]. He went home to be a lieutenant general, I think. I saw him on one occasion in D.C., just a wonderful man who supported the chaplain and the chaplain program. In fact I remember Christmas Eve the unit was standing down, but they were, you know, kind of going into kind of a group. But they went and had me as a chaplain, assigned to them. But on Christmas Eve he says, "Okay guys, we're...," anyway, he came-- he sang in the choir back at church. He says, "We're going to have a little choir." And he helped get a little choir up to sing at Christmas Eve. And it was at Christmas Eve service, it was quite memorable. And he had a great deal to with that, and he had a great deal to do with my-- he had told me that he wanted to support me remaining in the service, that he appreciated my ministry and thought I'd be a wonderful chaplain and make a contribution. I remember he wrote a magnificent letter to the chief's office or whatever at some point. I do happen to have a copy of it somewhere. But...

Zarbock: What was your rank at that time?

Cottingham: At that time I was a captain. Chaplains enter the Army as captains. When I entered the Army it was a direct appointment. So I might have been a captain, but I didn't have the seven or eight years experience that captains have in the infantry, et cetera, branches of service. But we had a number of deaths, but they were basically due to accidents. And doing memorial services were a thing of-- pretty routine. I probably had one almost every week at least. It's hard to believe that you would have that many accidents, but you do.

Zarbock: When you say accident, automobile accident, gunshot wounds?

Cottingham: Well, drownings. We were putting bridges, lots of things were going on. But also as I mentioned, I was a Protestant chaplain at Vinh Long, and there was an aviation unit assigned there, the 7th the 1st Air Cav Squadron. So it's the 7th Cav Squadron of the 1st Aviation Brigade. And so I was the Protestant chaplain. And then when the engineers stood down I became-- I was assigned then to the Aviation Brigade. And yes, we had helicopter shot down, crashes. In fact, I remember distinctly one young-- a newly-assigned aviator who came to Bible study Wednesday night, and the next day on his mission he was killed. And he had just arrived in country. And I really didn't know that until a gentleman by the name of, Roger Elliot [ph?] was his name, another aviation who was a chaplain at Tan Dur [ph?] and he had told me about it, told me that there was a guy just arrived the week before, first mission, was killed.

Zarbock: Chaplain, who comforts the comforter?

Cottingham: We did have a priest, there was another chaplain, and of course we had chaplain assistants. But I guess in those situations as chaplains we have to suck it up. And I think we found our comfort in our own prayer life, our own spiritual life in the combat situations. Fortunately I think I was able to handle things.

Zarbock: But it isn't easy.

Cottingham: That's true, it's not. It's not easy. But the Lord's good. I mean I'm just amazed at how I've been blessed in my love of God. But my Vietnam experience I did tell the story, or not, it's a personal thing. And it's something I haven't really talked about. I did receive a Bronze Star for valor. And I was with the 7th the 1st Air Cav Squadron and they always want you to come fly with them. I know that's not in my job, but you do it, so you get a watch with them. And I went out on a last-light mission with the guys. And of course when we did first-light last-light missions in Vietnam we would-- your command ship is the Kiwi helicopter. You've got two Cobras up above you, you've got two Scouts down below. They flew those little 58-- I guess they were called OH-56s. It was kind of a round bubble. It's very survivable because when they crash they would roll rather than crash all apart. And you have the Scouts down there who are looking along ground level, command ships here giving directions, et cetera, and your Cobras ready to come in and fire. Well, you go out looking enough, you're going to find them. These guys found them and they got shot down. So we lost one of our Scouts and unbeknownst to me, the command ships goes into get them. And of course you've got door gunners blazing away and I'm the guy there, so I exited the door. Could remember that coming out of that door, it was like, I felt like I was ten feet off the ground before I left the ground. But my mind said, run around the front. Run around front. That's something you learn, because that tale's got that rotor going. So came around the front of that and I went-- one of the pilot, the pilot was out of the chopper, helicopter, signaling to us and I rant and helped him about halfway back, and he was him able to go himself. And I turned to go back to get the other guy who was-- who had been shot through the jaw and he was still hooked in. I'd unhook him and basically, I don't know how I got him back. Got him back to the helicopter, administered some first aid and took off to, you know, Tra Vinh where the hospital was. And of course the Cobras came in overhead after we were gone. But it was all stop motion. It was just an incredible high. Your adrenalin was going so-- and I certainly, well, I thank God. I know when I got back, I really had the shakes when I got back to my hooch.

Zarbock: You're one of the few chaplains known to me who was under fire and ended up being awarded the Bronze Star. Have there been other chaplains that have been decorated?

Cottingham: Yes, many chaplains have received Bronze Stars for valor, and Silver Stars. And then you have a few with the Medal of Honor. Anyway, it was only a couple of weeks after that I took R&R and met my wife in Hawaii. And went a couple of weeks, came back for about a month, and they announced more stand down and I was home for Palm Sunday, back here in ___________.

Zarbock: Let me catapult you ahead in your professional life. You ended up serving as a chaplain in Arlington Cemetery. Is that correct?

Cottingham: I did.

Zarbock: During your service at the cemetery, did any of your Vietnam experiences or any other experiences of a traumatic nature reappear or resurrect? Did they influence you in your ministry?

Cottingham: Well, I think you carry that-- your Vietnam-- your combat experiences with you, of course. But I've been very fortunate. I have not had flashbacks, I have not had any sort of stress-related problems because of the experience in combat. As a chaplain, yes, I mean we experience a lot, especially if there's-- but often we're not experiencing like the infantryman's engaged in a firefight, necessary, although chaplains get involved in-- get trapped in those, too, when they're with units. So we're not out in the field quite so much, you know, out on the front line. We're back. I mean coming up and as we move, but-- and I was also in Desert Storm, but we can talk about that a little later. It's part of this, and all.

Zarbock: Well, let's do it now.

Cottingham: Well, we were going to start on Arlington Cemetery.

Zarbock: Okay, if you want to go there.

Cottingham: Sure. In '85, so this was-- I came back from Vietnam in '72, of course had a number of assignments, progressed fortunately. And I was assigned to Arlington National Cemetery as the army's chaplain in Arlington Cemetery. Wonderful, wonderful experience, wonderful assignment. And it's a unique ministry. It's a tri-service ministry. In the Arlington when I was there, of course this was 20 years ago now when I initially went there, in the basement of the administration building are the chaplain's offices. And you have a Navy chaplain and you have an Air Force chaplain, and you have an Army chaplain. And so the Army chaplain is responsible for coordinating the Army funerals services and the religious service portion. And you will get the list about 3:00 one afternoon for the services for the next day. So you may have 12 Army services to get covered. And you're the only chaplain, I guess, who's authorized by the MDW chaplain to task other chaplains to do services. So chaplains at Fort Meyer are where you would go first. First you would do all that you can do. And basically you can do six, just about. Now when we talk about a service at Arlington National Cemetery you have to remember the majority of those services are gravesite services, not chapel services and the full honors where the march down to the gravesite. But most all of them will originate with a march, oftentimes, maybe in the cemetery. But more often the gravesite services you have the pallbearers, they were guard, the pallbearers, the hearse will come up as close as it can to the gravesite, and all the splendor and dignity that our soldiers and veterans deserve. It's a wonderful assignment. And part of the thing about such a wonderful assignment, first of all you're doing your religious function. You as the chaplain are the primary person that meets the family, takes a few minutes with the family before the service to get a little bit of information. It's what scriptures they might like or whatever it might be. And then you are there to lead the casket to the gravesite to read the words of comfort after prayers. And I think what makes it such a wonderful ministry is that you-- people are so grateful. People are so grateful, and I'm the guy they're talking to. They're not talking to other people. I'm the person who makes that personal contact. And they tell me, "Thank you so much. Thank you." I mean oftentimes we just don't thank people enough, and the military's often bad about that. Yeah, they get awards and medals, but just to say thank you for something just is affirming. It's such an affirming ministry. It's one that you have to be very-- it's somewhat methodical, I mean the soldiers obviously, the pallbearers, the marchers, the riflemen, whatever, the trumpeter. But the chaplain has that personal contact and we get that thank you, and of course we pass it on to the soldiers. So that was a wonderful ministry. Washington, D.C. is a wonderful place to serve. Lots of other cultural and exciting things to do. And I've always thought it amazing that you get out of-- I've been here in the countryside. And people are so afraid to pray at school or pray somewhere. And in Washington, D.C. chaplains are tasked to pray at everything that goes on. I mean, if there's something going on at the Lincoln Memorial they're asking me to preside as a chaplain, you know. The Military District of Washington the old guard, the MDW, primary duty is the ceremonial responsibilities. We're politicians and everything, and they always want somebody to give an invocation, at some political, whatever it is. It's funny.

Zarbock: Well, tell me about Desert Storm.

Cottingham: Okay. Well, let's see.

Zarbock: What year was it and how did you get there.

Cottingham: Sure. I was in Washington, the Arlington National Cemetery assignment in Washington, D.C., went there in '85, I left in '89. Went to Fort Riley, Kansas to be the division chaplain for the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One. And so I took responsibilities for the chaplaincy in the 1st Infantry Division in December of '89. Desert Storm, when did that kick off, '91, '90. I think the invasion took place in '90. Summer of '90 we sent the 82nd, I guess over to sit in the desert for a while, a long while. The fortunate thing about a week-- the fortunate thing about the 1st Infantry Division is we had time to prepare ourselves, to get ready to deploy, to get our equipment up. I thought it was kind of fun. We watched CNN and we find out we're going to Desert Storm before we get the orders from the commanding general. We've been notified. You know, you know you're going. That was kind of how that war was, CNN. But we started deploying over about Thanksgiving time. Railed our equipment tanks, et cetera, Bradley [ph?], find vehicles, put them on the train, railed them out to-- railed them down to Texas and-- where do they send them out of Texas there, toward there in Texas? It was out of Houston, wasn't it? Oh, but anyway, we had to ship our equipment over and start deploying soldiers over about the same time, December timeframe. I got over in January, and I was the division chaplain, the Grade One [ph?]. And we actually made the breach for the 7th corps. And I remember that night before we lit the sky up and some [inaudible]. But we went through the berm and I saw the largest tank transfer, that's what you call it. We passed the British, I don't know what division it was, but the British forces. We played the breach and passed the British tanks through. The largest tank stuff since War World II. It was kind of amazing when you first-- it was amazing when you did that, but [inaudible]. Some of the stories that came out of that, we had a-- one guy said-- I didn't witness it but came back and says, "There was this one guy in the desert when we got there, he comes out waving his hand, has ___________, says, 'I'm just a-- what took you so long?'" He was some American or I guess Saudi, but he was in the U.S. to go home to visit, he got constricted into the forces. He said, "What took you all so long?" I don't know, it was an interesting story. But we were very blessed.

Zarbock: What was morale like?

Cottingham: It was very high. It was extremely high. I mean accomplishment was so quick. Accomplish the mission, that was it, you know. President decided we've accomplish the mission, we've expelled the Saudis from Kuwait which was the mission. In our entire division...

Zarbock: I'm sorry, you said, "We expelled the Saudis."

Cottingham: I'm sorry, I apologize. I apologize. Iraqis. Iraqis. I apologize. We need to fix that. But anyway, the division, built up to 22,000-plus. We brought in 1st Armor Brigade forward from Germany, joined up with the division. And there were 25 soldiers in the entire division that lost their lives in the Desert Storm, from the 1st infantry division. Amazing. And truthfully, I think only nine were given combat deaths, and that went down in the Black Hawk, and we aren't sure that that was shot down or that was really the sort of ____________ accidents on an MPO truck accidents. Some stupidity [inaudible]. But I was a division chaplain which certainly was significant. I could get the figures exact, but, you know, you've got 45, 50 UNTs that are under your direct supervision to serve the division denied the religious coverage.

Zarbock: You are tremendously appreciated. It never ceases to amaze me how religious soldiers get prior to the war, and clearly goes after the war.

Cottingham: We make a lot of promises to the Lord that are never kept, there's no doubt about it.

Zarbock: What was your rank at that time, sir?

Cottingham: I was a lieutenant colonial when I was a division chaplain. And I was promoted May the 1st in '91 in Saudi Arabia to colonial. So after the war my number came up and I was promoted to colonial. I call it combat promotion but it wasn't really...

Zarbock: Chaplain, one of the things I'm going to ask you is a question I ask most of the interviewee. Was there ever anytime in your military career in which you were ordered, or suggested, or hinted, or a wink and a nudge to do something that you felt was an error or contrary to your beliefs?

Cottingham: I really don't think so. I was always able to address the command if I-- in Vietnam there was a need to escort-- have an officer-- I guess I kind of danced over that-- that an officer had to escort convoys. You know, convoy traveling from wherever to somewhere, you know. It was suggested, well, the chaplain can do that. The chaplain can help do that. And I just, you know, that evening I went to the superior command and I said, you know, "I don't think that you would-- that it would be wise. I mean, you're the commander, I can help out, but I'm not-- I shouldn't be taking a convoy to Saigon and something happened and I'm the escort officer and you're going to tell the commander I had the chaplain doing it." But they got me a youngster, and he wasn't the one that suggested that, I mean, you know, you've got other people doing that, and...

Zarbock: But it really is. They talk about role of ambiguity.

Cottingham: Yes. Sure. Some people think chaplains ought to carry weapons. I never carried a weapon in Vietnam, never Desert Storm. Chaplains don't train with weapons. When I worked with basic trainees I did fire in the firing range. I mean, they want for me to do that. I think some people begin to frown upon that now, but back in my day I was working in basic training units and we'd go out with the troops, go out to the firing line. They love to have the chaplain come down. I was pretty good. I could hit the target. But truthfully I think I was always able to keep my roles straight, and that's because I could address the issue, I guess, if something came up. Most commanders are very level-headed. They understand what your role is.

Zarbock: Let me probe that a little bit, about commanding officers, those who have command over you. What was their attitude? Did it run the whole gamut anywhere from saying, "No, don't bother me, I won't bother you," over to seeing you as a significant spiritual partner?

Cottingham: Spiritual team leader. I've always felt I was very fortunate with my commanders. I did not have commanders who were overly religious if that's the way to put it, and tried to wreck your religious program. Well, it's the commander's religious program, of course. I'm running the religious program for him. I answer to him when something goes wrong. And so I never had a commander that was overly involved, and I always had commanders that I thought appreciated my role. And I always felt I had commanders I could go and speak to and did. In fact during the-- when I was in the 1st Infantry Division, just gotten into it, the commanding general and I, I would visit him once a week. And I also sent him a devotion, and sent him a prayer every week. I wrote a prayer and sent it to him through distribution, whatever, and I would go in and visit with him about once a week. And just a short visit, "How are your doing," kind of the end of Friday afternoons. It was kind of a standard thing. He's not an over-religious guy at all. Wonderful man. Tom Rain [ph?] was his name. I go back we have-- the Big Red One of course is a very significant unit in the history of the United States Army. And back in the first World War the Big Red One was formed up, expeditionary force that Pershing took over. And since World War I they have had an annual dinner with the officers who have served in combat with the Big Red One. And of course that has grown again that-- I go back every year, it's held in D.C., to the Big Red One reunion. And it's only officers that have served in combat. You could have been with the unit as an officer, but if you were in combat then you are invited to this. And I go back every year and, of course, reacquaint with the staff and a few of the other-- and commander general's usually there, and it's just a good evening of fellowship and fun, and it's an annual event long about late April.

Zarbock: Final question, Chaplain, that I've asked all chaplains. Given your life experience from the days in which you were playing football in college, the death of your father and the influence of your brother-- by the way is he still alive?

Cottingham: My brother's alive. Yes he is.

Zarbock: Given your marriage, the children, your overseas, twice in combat, what sort of credo have you put together for you, Chaplain? If it was to be chiseled in stone at the end of your life, you would like to say what do you believe?

Zarbock: That's an interesting question. It's not one that I haven't given some thought to at this point in my life. I believe in leading by-- that I thank God, I thank-- I don't know, credo or not, but I thank God that I've had the opportunity to serve the finest men and women in the world, the soldiers in the United States Army. And I just am so grateful for that. I guess a creed of faith and belief in God, and believe in leading by example, believe in teamwork. I'm just thankful I've had the opportunity to be a servant to men and women in the armed forces of the United States Army.

Zarbock: And if you please, I'd like to thank you. Thank you, Chaplain.

Cottingham: Thank you.

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