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Interview with David DeDonato, February 28, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with David DeDonato, February 28, 2008
February 28, 2008
Interview with retired military chaplain Dave DeDonato
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  DeDonato, Dave C Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  2/28/2008 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  60 minutes


Zarbock: My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina, Wilmington's Randall Library. This videotape is part of the Military Chaplains Oral History Project. Today is the 28th of February, in the Year 2008, and I'm in the small town of Lugoff, l-u-g-o-f-f, South Carolina. Good afternoon chaplain.

DeDonato: Good afternoon Paul.

Zarbock: What is your name sir?

DeDonato: My name is Dave DeDonato.

Zarbock: And you are a retired military chaplain?

DeDonato: I am a retired military chaplain, yes sir.

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

DeDonato: Well I was a-- in 1969 I graduated from the Citadel, which is a military college here in Charleston, South Carolina. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science-- that means I could write my name in 25 words or more-- and I was a distinguished military graduate. And I always wanted to be an army officer, and I guess that's because my dad had a history of being-- my grandfather was in the American Expeditionary Force in World War One. My dad was in the artillery as a forward observer in the Second World War and fought in the Battle of Bastone. And so I just always had that as a part of my life. And so I went to a military college, the Citadel, with the purpose of becoming a career army officer, and I was able to do that, graduating on the 31st of May of 1969, and then received a commission as a regular army field artillery officer on the 31st of May as well, and went on active duty ten days later. I reported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The interesting thing is I had, prior to graduating from the Citadel, I grew up as a Roman Catholic, and the reason I became a Methodist I guess it would be hormones. I dated a student nurse, and the only way that I could see her on Sundays, because she had to study, was-- after I had went to Mass at the Citadel Chapel at 7:30 in the morning and then ate in the Mess Hall-- I walked a mile and a half to Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church on Rutledge Avenue, and I went to Sunday School with her and then to service, and after a year and a half I thought I could become a pretty good Methodist. So I was actually a new Christian. So I went from there to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and I got interested in the Chapel Program. A couple of the chaplains that were there-- one gentleman by the name of Austin Daleman [ph?]; Austin was his first name and then he went by Dale. Dale got me interested in the Youth Group and I taught Sunday School, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I sang in the choir, and then I met a young major by the name of Major Joe Porter who was on the faculty of the Army Artillery School and we kind of got interested and talking and everything. And I guess the Lord works in mysterious ways; in my case he works in mischievous ways. Although some of us got an idea-- Dale one day, after oh a couple of months later and I was about ready to go- to leave and go to Ranger School, Dale and I had a lunch and he said, "You know, you ever thought about-- I've watched you," and he said, "You ever thought about going into the ministry?" And I said, "No. Here I am a hard charging field artillery officer and that's the last thing I would want to do." He says, "Well, you know, you might want to consider that." So I did, and then as I move on, Ranger School and then went to Germany. And I got married. Carolyn-- who was the young lady that I fell in love with when she was a student nurse-- and I got married in June of '70. And then we-- she moved to Germany, after I'd been there for a year, and then that, in November of 1970 we went on a retreat to Bertesgaden. Bertesgaden is, it's just one of my favorite places. It's in the Bavarian Alps down near the Austrian border. And we had been talking about this, about going into the ministry. Now and at that particular point it wasn't necessarily the army chaplaincy but it was-- it always seemed like that now was a place that I would certainly want to go since I really wanted to continue as a- in the Army on Active Duty. And it was one Sunday, after we had gone to chapel at the Alpine Inn, which was the retreat center, Caroline and I were walking along this walkway, this path that went up into the mountains, into the Alps, overlooking Bertesgaden. It was just a beautiful-- it had- it was snowing and everything. And finally I got to this one place and I said, "Caroline, I think the Lord's winning out here. I think I'm going to go ahead and go into the ministry. I really would like it to be the Army Chaplain but wherever he would lead me." And she kind of looked up-- I'm facing out-- and she kind of turns around and looks behind me, and then she says, "Dave, you're not gonna believe this, turn around." And unbeknownst to me we had been passing large, life-size, wooden figures of the Stations of the Cross, and at that particular point where I made my decision was the final station-- well no, not the final station, I think the third one at the end which was Christ on the cross with the two thieves on either side. And you want to talk about a sign, that was so very, very powerful. So I guess it was kind of like Jonah and the whale. I think for about a year and a half I kind of just said, "Ah, I'm not gonna do it, I'm gonna run away." But he found me. So that was- it was a true calling, it was a true calling. Going into the ministry isn't something that you just wake up and say, "Oh good, I want to make a lot of money, let me go into the ministry," because as you all know ministers aren't paid very, very much, plus you need- you have to have a calling. There's a lot of different callings in this world and certainly the ministry is probably one of the most profound. So that's how it got started.

Zarbock: Let me take you back for just a minute. Going from artillery officer to Ranger School, was that rather unusual?

DeDonato: Oh no, at that particular time, being a regular Army officer, after you did your Officer Basic course you were required to either to go to Airborne School or to Ranger School, and since I had a deathly fear of flying I decided rather than jumping out of perfectly good airplanes I would slog along in the muck and the mire and everything. Unfortunately, because of a previous injury that I had sustained, I got washed out of Ranger School. So I never did get a chance to go to Ranger School. Now if I had it to do all over again I probably would've gone to Airborne School because back then you were there for two weeks and you could stay in apartments off post and everything, whereas Ranger School was like eight weeks and you had to live in barracks and go all over the place, from the sand of Fort Benning and then to the Hills of Dahlonega and down to the swaps of Eglin Air Force Base. So I made a wrong decision there. But it worked out, it worked out. I'm going to say that my artillery background though did serve me well in the Army Chaplaincy because I was assigned to a field artillery brigade in Germany and so I had instant credibility with them.

Zarbock: But you're in the military and all of a sudden you say, "Well I'm going to be a chaplain." Now did you decide to be a military chaplain or just go into the--?

DeDonato: Oh yeah, the ministry.

Zarbock: The ministry.

DeDonato: Yeah, go into the ministry. Now what happened is I went from, after I made the decision to go into the ministry, then I had a couple of months there and then I got orders to Vietnam, which completely changed a lot of things. But in the meantime I went ahead and was applying for seminaries. And the Army had a program back then, it was called the Chaplain Excess Leave Program whereas you could remain on Active Duty, retain your regular Army rank-- I don't think you received any pay-- but you could go ahead and go to seminary and qualify as a chaplain and come back on Active Duty. When I made the inquiry there in the spring of 1971, they had done away with the program. So I said, "Okay, well I'm just going to go ahead and just go into the ministry." So then I went to Vietnam and--.

Zarbock: How long were you there?

DeDonato: I was only there for six months. I was one of the first units to come back from Vietnam early; and that was a kind of the hand of God working in there. I was- had applied to several seminaries, and before I went to Vietnam Caroline and I went to a couple of seminaries. We went to Duke and we went to Emory. The one that I wanted to go to, Asbury, was not-- well I didn't know about Asbury at that time. I'm getting ahead of myself, I didn't know about Asbury then. But it wasn't until as I was ready to graduate from the field artillery, a Vietnam Orientation course, that some friends of ours-- again Joe Porter who was that Major again, now Lieutenant-Colonel; John Toole who was a professor at Oral Roberts University-- started talking to me about what did I want to get out of seminary. And one made the observation is that if Satan was going to put anything in your path, where would he do it? And it would be seminary. And so it was very important-- they impressed upon me that it was very important to choose the seminary. And so I heard of Asbury, and so I went ahead and I sent letters and talked to them on the telephone and everything, and then I went to Vietnam.

Zarbock: For the purposes of this recording, where is Asbury?

DeDonato: Asbury is in Wilmore, Kentucky. At that time they only had one campus and it was in Wilmore, Kentucky. Even though a lot- a majority of the students there are Methodist, it is not a Methodist supported seminary. It is a seminary that is in the Wesleyan tradition, from- which is the father of Methodism, of course, which is John Wesley, and Francis Asbury of course. And it's a very conservative and a very biblically based, scripturally centered teaching institution in Wilmore, Kentucky, which is just south of Lexington, Kentucky. And so that was one that was highly recommended by them.

Zarbock: How close is that to Berea, Kentucky?

DeDonato: Hum, I can't remember. I don't remember my Kentucky geography so I don't really know.

Zarbock: Well let me take you to Vietnam. What was that like?

DeDonato: Vietnam was-- finally we got to a point where we could actually use all of the training that we had. I think some of the best training I ever had was at the artillery school. It was both rewarding and it was frustrating. It was rewarding in the fact that I was finally doing my job, what I had been trained to do. The frustration is we had so many restrictions placed upon us by the Vietnamese. We had these no-fire zones, that the enemy seemed to know where they were, so they would always hide in those no-fire zones and you couldn't get to them. There was a different view, cultural view of human life. I remember I was a artillery liaison officer for the 1st ARVN Division for part of the time that I was there.

Zarbock: Again ARVN is?

DeDonato: ARVN, Army Republic of Vietnam, and I was like an American advisor to them. And I remember that our battalion was- it was in support of their operations-- insertions, extractions, things like that. It was my responsibility to call in artillery fire so that I could ensure the safety of the troops when they were inserted in and they were removed. And these were, of course, Vietnamese because that was part of President Nixon's Vietnamization Program. I remember one time when they were over the radio, we could hear that they were- one of the units was in a firefight, a Vietnamese unit was in a firefight. And I could hear the American advisors that were with them wanting to call in Medovac and everything, and I had my Vietnamese team with me, and they were jabbering back and forth in Vietnamese and stuff like this, and I noticed that after a few minutes the guy went back to sleep. He was waking up, chattering on the radio, and came back, got back to sleep. And so the advisor, about 10, 15 minutes later says, "Where's the Medovac helicopters?" So I punched the guy, woke him up and I says, "Where's the Medovac helicopters?" "Oh I couldn't get in touch with them." So needless to say it was just like they didn't really care. They didn't place as much value on helping their troops. So I kind of developed a sense like you know what? Maybe we shouldn't have been there. So it was both sides of the coin, rewarding on one hand and frustrating on the other.

Zarbock: You were living in the field?

DeDonato: Oh yeah; well no, I would go, I would-- this is the funny thing about Vietnam. You could go from a position of relative safety, where I was, go in and actually literally commute to battle, and then commute away, out of battle and come back. So what would happen is whenever I was riding the helicopters naturally we would insert the Vietnamese troops at the crack of dawn. So I would get up about three in the morning, I would go ahead and get my maps and get all my call signs together and find out what naval, air force, field artillery was available to me, set up my missions and everything, and then fly up in the helicopter with the commanding general of the 1st ARVN Division, go in, prep the area. They would send in the troops, we would go back and I'd go back, catch some sleep, eat and everything, and then in the evening when we were ready to extract them, get back up in the helicopter, go back and extract them; and that was it. So it was kind of like a commuter war. That was strange, that was surreal. If you want to talk about absurdity, that was an absurdity right there.

Zarbock: Dancing into a combat zone and tap-dancing out certainly must have had hazards. Were people shooting at you?

DeDonato: Absolutely, yeah. There's nothing beautiful than watching the tracer rounds come up lazily at you and they're coming up, oh those things look beautiful. But the problem is, is between each one of those are at least two to three rounds that could kill you. And it was a thing that you got to the point that you didn't think about it, you didn't think about it. The scardest I was, was when I first got there, and the scardest I was, was my last week there, but in between you never thought about it.

Zarbock: What happened the last week? Was it because it's the last week?

DeDonato: Well since you were processing out and you knew that you were going to go home and everything, and that's usually, that's where you're very superstitious. I would sleep with my 45 under my pillow. And there was one time when my roommate came back and he startled me. And so I grabbed-- "Sorry guy." He says, "No, no, no, it's me, it's me." So it was-- there was some comedy in the midst of all that. And the aftermath wasn't good. I had some post-traumatic stress disorder; not necessarily to the extent that I needed any hospitalizations or medication, it's just- I just had this one recurring nightmare. And it just happened to be that particular thing that I told you about, waking up, but I didn't have a weapon, but feeling helpless and seeing this shadow over me which was a silhouette of a Vietnamese soldier with a weapon. And I would wake up screaming at the top of my lungs. And this went on for years, this went on for years until I finally visited the Vietnam Memorial in 1988. And when I did it stopped, it stopped. But there was that one recurring nightmare.

Zarbock: I think something that has not had what I believe to be the proper emphasis is leaving a battle zone, getting onto a four-engine jet and going halfway around the globe in a handful of hours, and you're in an entirely different-- you're back in the States.

DeDonato: Back in the States, that's right.

Zarbock: And people are worried about getting a parking place at the movie and that's how you think.

DeDonato: Oh yeah, everything's relative when you're getting back.

Zarbock: That's a very discordant situation. It must've been.

DeDonato: That it is. And of course back then you got to realize we weren't received as heroes, we weren't received home as heroes at all, was not at all; we were reviled. Even whenever I went to seminary at Asbury it was- we were still looked down upon. I remember some of the comments-- I can't remember them but I remember that they were very hurtful and I thought well these are supposed to be Christian classmates. But they had their convictions and back then there were a number of folks who were Christians who felt that the war was wrong and took it out on those of us that served. All we were doing was just following our orders to go to Vietnam. Now coming back from Vietnam was a very interesting story and it was directly related to my going to seminary and people who I had met before. I remember I filled out my-- this was kind of interesting-- I filled out my-- I told you that I never thought about Asbury until right before I left for Vietnam. Well I didn't get the materials; the application and everything like that that did not catch up with me until I was in Vietnam. And so here I am-- it just so happened to be during a mortar attack and here I was, I happened to grab the catalogue and the application form and I'm sitting down in this bunker with the dust falling on you and the light bulb, going back and forth, filling out my seminary application. Now you want to talk about absurdity, that's another absurdity and everything. And I got accepted, I got accepted to seminary, but I had to be at seminary at the very beginning of September 1972. My problem was I was not scheduled-- my DROS [ph?] deployment back to the States, if you will, was not until the 23rd of September of '72. So I remember getting a letter from the dean of the college, Dean Traina, telling me well we'll just go ahead and put you in, start you in on the winter cycle in February of the next year. Well about that time I met another chaplain by the name of Dewey Journia [ph?]. Dewey worked up at the U.S. Army Vietnam Headquarters. Also I learned that-- and I can't remember who it was-- there was a-- well it was General McCaffrey; now not the Barry McCaffrey that was the recent McCaffrey, this was his father. And his father had some dealings with the Citadel and was very fond of Citadel graduates. And so I explained, I said to Dewey, "This is what my situation." This was at a barbecue again and this was on the weekend, no war going on. We had our weekends off. We didn't insert any troops on the weekend; just like a Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 job-- how absurd it was. Got to remember this was '72, we were disengaging. And I told him at a barbecue where there were other chaplains that were there, that this was my situation. He says, "Well let me look into it." And I got a call from- a couple of weeks later I got a call from his aide, General McCaffrey's aide, saying that he needed some additional information. And I told him and everything like that, and then I got a call one night, and I remember I was sitting in the Tactical Operations Center on call, and I got a call from the aide and he said, "General McCaffrey is going to look in on this and everything. And Chaplain Gerrigan [ph?] recommends you highly, so we just wanted to let you know." So I got a card two weeks later from the Field Artillery Branch in which they said, "Congratulations, we are going to give you an early out." And so what happened was-- it happened to be coincidental with my unit that was standing down in March. And so on the 23rd of March of 1972 I was mustered out of Active Duty and took a reserve commission as a reserve field artillery officer and left Active Duty, and then I was able to actually get up to Wilmore. During the summer I could take my summer Greek as the only class and then get started on time, in September like Dean Traina had told me. So again, the hand of God yes. And it was through the relationship with a chaplain, a general who loved Citadel graduates, and the rest as they say is history.

Zarbock: True. Meanwhile, describe and define what was going on with your wife. By this time did you have any children, was she working?

DeDonato: No we did not, and it was a good thing. My wife did not take my going to Vietnam very well. She was not a very mature person. She was convinced I was going to come back-- I was going to die. So she didn't particularly handle it so well. And we almost split up once I got back from Vietnam, but decided to do what we could, and went to seminary. And then in my last inter-term break, in my last semester she left me. And so we were divorced in June of '75. And she stayed up there and I came here, to South Carolina. So we did not have any children, no.

Zarbock: You remarried?

DeDonato: Oh yes, that goes in with I was-- coming out of seminary I was an associate pastor at Carteret Street United Methodist Church in Beaufort, South Carolina for a year and then they gave me a station church in a little place called Olanta, South Carolina-- not to be confused with Atlanta, George. Olanta was a little town of 635, if you counted all the geese, the dogs, the cats, the livestock and the men and women and children that lived there.

Zarbock: Methodist population was--?

DeDonato: Well it was a station church and we maybe had 110.

Zarbock: What is a station church?

DeDonato: A station church is a single church. In the Methodist it's possible to have more than one church, be a pastor of a two-point charge, meaning two churches; three-point charge being three churches. And as just coming out of seminary, even though I was a year past seminary, I almost thought that I was going to get a two or three point charge. But they gave me a station church which kind of surprised me. And then when I got to Olanta and everything like that I said, "You know, it's not the end of the world," but you could sure see it from there. It was just a real small town, right above Florence. It's just down the interstate here a little bit.

Zarbock: And it is spelled?

DeDonato: o-l-a-n-t-a. And the church that I was pastor of was Nazareth United Methodist Church. Well to get back to my story, while I was there the Baptist minister was going on vacation and so he asked me to look in on anybody that was sick or anybody that was in the hospital and stuff like that. Well I got the call that this one gentleman, who was a member of his congregation, was having emergency surgery. And while I was sitting in the waiting room the gentleman's daughter-in-law, Kay, asked me if I was dating anybody, and I said, "No, I'm not dating anybody." She says, "Well I've got this sister." And I'm thinking oh my God, here we go. She said, "Would you be interested in meeting her?" And I said, "Well yeah okay, not a problem at all." You know, well might as well. Just about three-quarters of the widows in the congregation were trying to fix me up with their unmarried daughters or this, that or the other thing. So I had been down that road a few times. But anyway nobody-- it was interesting, it just didn't click. So finally I got a call in about October of-- let's see, that would've been '76. It was Kay, she says, "You remember me talking to you about my sister." I says, "Yeah." She says, "Well we're going to have a get-together the first Saturday in December with the family and we're going to go to the Compass Restaurant and eat." It's a seafood restaurant down in the neighboring town of Turbeville. And I said, "Sure, that'll be great." So I remember just putting Ann's name on a piece of paper and putting the date and the time and everything like that. I just remember just putting it like on the corner of my desk, and every once in awhile I'd look at it and everything, like I didn't think anything of it. So the night that we-- the night came and I met Ann and everything, and we hit it off very well. So we had a date. I came to Columbia, where she was working, she was living and working, and I-- with her daughter, Marty; and got to know her. And then we went out New Year's Eve with Kay and her husband, double-dated up to Florence for a New Year's Eve party and everything like that, and dancing and everything. And so finally-- I saw her more and more, and my Reserve Duty, I was in the Reserves still as a-- well it was as a chaplain, a Reserve Chaplain at that particular time. And you want to talk about absurdity. There were no chaplain slots-- now there were chaplain slots in the Kentucky Army National Guard, but I was a chaplain being- no, no, I'm sorry, I was a field artillery officer being the chaplain at the Kentucky OCS Academy. Then I got my branch transferred, I come to South Carolina and they don't have any chaplain positions. So I ended up going to an Army Reserve School and teaching basic combat engineering and then nuclear biological and chemical defense, on the weekends. And so it was-- I'm sure that whenever I would walk into an armory and say, "Hi, I'm your NBC instructor, they looked at the crosses and they said, "I bet you--."

Zarbock: All is lost.

DeDonato: A chaplain is teaching that. It was interesting. It was my second time that I had taught that because in 1970 in Vilseck, Germany I was a chemical biological and radiological officer, CBR officer, so I had all that two-week training. Then in '67 I went to the NBC school at Fort Jackson and took the course again-- a little bit different, updated everything. I was the first Army graduate. Of course that blew everybody's mind. So anyway here I am. So I would always come to Columbia because that's where the U.S. Air/Army [ph?] School. I would see Ann and Marty, we would go to Shoney's and everything like that, and that was kind of like the Monday evenings, because I'd go there every Monday evening. So what happened is that we went on a youth retreat. I took my youth. Ann and Marty came along as one of the chaperones; Ann came as a chaperone. And I at the top of the Omni Hotel-- back then there was a revolving restaurant in Atlanta, and I popped the question at the top of the Omni as the restaurant was going around. About that time there was a thunderstorm building and as soon as I took the ring off- I opened up the thing and I put the ring on, and I says, "Ann, you will marry me?" Of course she said yes, and as soon as I put the ring on her finger there was a lightening bolt. And she said, "Oh my God I hope that isn't a portend of things to come." I said, "Well life will be interesting won't it?" And I think if you asked her now, over 30 years later, she would tell you.

Zarbock: You were always getting the deistic announcements it seems.

DeDonato: Well I guess-- you know how we are, a little dramatic, us dramatic Italians. I couldn't have done that any better. So that's how I met Ann. And I became a husband again and I became a father for the first time. So it was kind of interesting. So we went ahead and I got the call in December of '68, the Methodist Endorsement Agency called and said that the Army has let us know that we have a slot for you available in June of next year--which would've been June of '79-- are you available, do you want to come in? And I said, "Let me think about it. Yes." And so my church knew when I got there in '76 that I wanted to go back into the Army chaplaincy, that I had been a Reserve chaplain, was waiting for an Active Duty call by the Army when a slot became available. So I came back on Active Duty-- remember I told you it was the 10th of June of 1969-- the 10th of June of 1979 I came back on Active Duty, 10 years later, as a captain. Because I was a captain when I left Active Duty and then maintained that rank all the way through and then came back on Active Duty. And when I came back on Active Duty I was making triple of what I made the day before as a Methodist minister. So what can you say? Plus I had 11 years date of rank on all my classmates. So I was one of the platoon leaders.

Zarbock: What was your wife's attitude?

DeDonato: She was very- she supported it, she really did.

Zarbock: Upfront and positive.

DeDonato: Upfront and positive, because I was upfront and positive with her. Whenever we met and we talked, before we decided to get married, that was part of the equation. I says, "This is what I would like to do." And she-- it was interesting, from the time of 1979 to when I retired in December of 2001 we'd moved-- we figured it out, we had moved-- that was 26 years; we had moved 13 times in 26 years. But we were fortunate in that because a lot of those moves were at the same location. Like, for instance, when I first came back in the Army to Fort Jackson, which was where Ann was located. Ann had been there before, that had been her home. Marty had lived there all her life. And so we came back on in. So we moved to an apartment and then right after that we moved on post, and then a couple of years later we moved off of post into a house. So there were three moves right there. I was very fortunate in that I had a lot of long stabilized tours. I was very, very fortunate. We were at Fort Jackson for five years; should've only been three. But at that particular time we were looking to adopt a child, since we couldn't have children ourselves. So we kept on getting extended, getting extended, getting extended. So that kept that tour. And there were subsequent tours down the line. Went to Germany for three years as a field artillery brigade chaplain. That was in Badenhausen, Germany.

Zarbock: Where is that located?

DeDonato: Badenhausen is just south of Frankfurt. Then we stayed there for three years. We went from there to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where I went to one year of clinical pastoral education residency-- this was for a hospital chaplain. I had taken two years of CPE in seminary.

Zarbock: CPE is?

DeDonato: Clinical pastoral education, for the Army chaplaincy, and this is to train hospital chaplains. It's not just Army but it's also-- that's all over the United States, that's the training that hospital chaplains generally undertake. If you're going to get a- want to be a hospital chaplain nowadays you're going to have at least one year of clinical pastoral education residency in order to satisfy that requirement as far as the specialized education. So we went from Germany, in '84, to Fort Sam Houston, to Brooke Army Medical Center where I took a year of training as a clinical pastoral education resident, and then they kept me there sort of on the faculty of the Academy of Health Sciences. This is where you teach the corps specific courses for people that come in. You have the Officer Basic course for the nurses and the doctors and all of the other supportive, the medical service corps and stuff like that. Then you have the Advanced course there and then you have specialty courses, your radiologists, your lab technicians, etcetera. And then there is the U.S. Army Baylor Healthcare Administration Course. This is through Baylor University, and they have one year of didactics of education and then they go into an Army medical center and Air Force and Navy medical centers, and then after that they're ready to serve as a hospital administrator for any of the services. And so I taught medical ethics there, and that opened up another career field for me-- which I can come back to later on, but I just want to continue with the progression of tours. So actually I was there for five years because back then the chief was trying to-- the Army was actually trying to extend everybody. Instead of moving everybody for three years, they'd try to keep them four years. That was the only tour that I actually only had four years at, but I had that additional school year, but it was all in the same location. We lived on post so it was really nice. And that's where we-- remember I told you at Fort Jackson that we wanted to adopt?

Zarbock: Yes.

DeDonato: Well I decided because as a hospital chaplain I was in the Intensive Care Unit, working with the Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Room and basically the dying patients and that. And I remember so many of these veterans dying, just the nurse and myself there. And I'd always wanted to have a son. And so I went home one day-- and actually it was my classmates in the- my group mates at CPE that actually--. Because I felt well we're too far along now, we're in our forties and everything. And so they said, no, no, it's still okay for you to go ahead and adopt. And so I was really nervous and everything because I wasn't sure how Ann would take it. So I talked to her and I was surprised because she said that she was ready to be a mother again, because Marty had moved off into college. She graduated in '86 and she had moved off into college, at University of South Carolina. And so she was ready to be a mom again. So we went ahead and-- this was in '87, the summer of '87-- put in our request and everything like that. And because we had had such a great background check here and they had so much in depth here, we really went to the top of the list. And so I remember one day pulling into the parking lot where Ann was working and I saw Ann down in the parking lot, and I'm going, "What's going on?" And she says, "You'll never guess." And I said, "What?" She says, "They found a boy for us." And so Sean came to live with us in- right around Christmas time of 1988, a little 4 1/2-year-old boy, and today's he's a 24-year-old young man. And so again just the Lord's been good. So we went from there-- I spent four years there then went--. This is where the medical ethics part came into it. I became the subject matter expert in medical ethics because the chaplain that is at the-- well let me backtrack. There's a position in the chaplaincy that's called a platform position, a platform assignment, and that is you're the chaplain assigned to each of the service schools. And with all the other service schools the chaplain is usually sent to get a Master's degree in Ethics, and then sent to the various schools-- the artillery school, the armored school, the air defense school-- to teach ethics as part of the- generally the career courses and stuff like that, of all of these different branch officers that come through. And there's one at Command General Staff College, etcetera, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The only school that had a different set of requirements was the Med Seminary School. The only requirement they had was you go to CPE for a year, then you go teach medical ethics. Well I'll tell you what. I pity my first couple of classes because I did not know much about medical ethics as well. But the Chief of Chaplain's Office got me real- got me tuned up real quick. I went to any number of intensive courses-- the Georgetown University, the Intensive course there; University of Washington Medical Center, the Intensive Clinical Ethics course there; a number of other areas-- Virginia, University of Virginia, etcetera. And I got to know a lot of the movers and shakers in medical ethics at that time and they were really kind of interested in that we were actually getting into that field. And so I became the subject matter expert in medical ethics for both the Army Chaplaincy and the U.S. Army Medical Department. So one day I got a call from Washington, D.C, and this is-- you want to talk about a person who was there-- a chaplain by the name of Herm Kaiser, army chaplain, head of the chaplaincy support services for the agency, which is kind of like the chaplain's board, which was responsible for funding specialized programs, etcetera. And evidently what happened was they had a situation in Germany where there were some ethical dilemmas that were coming up in one of the field hospitals there, and there was a chaplain, a colonel there that was very interested in it by the name of Sandy Dressen [ph?], and he had raised the chief's interest in medical ethics. And so I got a call from Herm Kaiser who says, "I'm coming to San Antonio. I want you and the health services command staff chaplain and I to meet together. I want to talk about a project with you." So we sat over in the Holiday Inn, near the airport, and I remember that-- talk about hotel rooms-- I remember that day. And we started to talk, and he says, "We want to put on-- the chief is wiling to sponsor a conference on medical ethics. And so we need your best thoughts." So just off the top of my head I'm thinking, gosh, that would be really something. And I said, "Well we could go in two directions on this thing." I said, "We could go with the medical ethics that they practice in all the hospitals, including military hospitals, because there's a base that's here." But we also got a battlefield medical ethics situation where we definitely turn everything on its end because we're now looking at instead of what's in the best interests of the patient, it's what's in the best interests of the mission, which is quite- it __________ things all over." And he said, "You know, I like that, let's go with it." So for that next year I put together a working group and everything. Ad in 1990, May of 1990, we put together a Medical Ethics on the Battlefield Conference, that we had about 150 Army and Air Force medical people and chaplains come, and I put it on. Then two years later we did the bigger one which was in the Army hospitals, and because at that time that I had had such an interaction with a lot of the movers of medical ethics in the United States, the faculty consisted 50% of them and 50% of the military, on the faculty. And we had a 300+ Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps healthcare professionals and chaplains.

Zarbock: What was the toughest thing about the class?

DeDonato: About?

Zarbock: About the course.

DeDonato: About the course. Well when I went back to the battlefield medical ethics I had one situation- one class in which Vietnam veterans got up there and started talking. And you want to talk about a pin, hearing a pin drop. We were standing-- I'm standing out in the hallway and tears are just coming down, flowing down my face, remembering those things, and I could see the veterans that were out in the audience, theirs. It was just like a cathartic kind of moment talking about those experiences; never realized how, that that was a very defining moment there for everybody that was there. That was really something. As far as any difficulties I say wouldn't anything, that there was anything else.

Zarbock: But how do you go about-- you can't stand a person up and say, "From now on I want you to be ethical." Well I mean that's not--.

DeDonato: No you have to give practical applications, you have to-- everything is in medical ethics especially-- and granted my field is medical ethics; even to this day it's clinical ethics which is ethics at the bedside, dealing with patients. You have to use case studies. This is what the situation is, this is what the situation is, these are the elements; now let's get the garbage out of the way and let's focus on certain ethical principles. And even to this day-- I've been responsible for standing up many an ethics committee in Army, Navy and Air Force hospitals. I've written a number of articles and talked in all those areas. And even at my current assignment at Lexington Medical Center I'm the vice-chair of the Ethics Committee and helped start their Clinical Ethics Committee. And so it's always cases, case centered things. Because when you're dealing with life and death situations-- you've got the doctors, you've got- and healthcare professionals, doctors, nurses. You've got the patient. You've got the family members. You've got the needs of the insurance companies or you've got the needs of the law, the State law which governs hospital policy. Much the same in the military too we had to abide by the laws and statutes of what was happening in the State in which that hospital was located, especially as it dealt with end of life issues. So that's particularly-- and I work on the Intensive Care Unit, right on the Intensive Care Unit and in the oncology. And so I'm still working with people who are very ill and dying, and I think it's been good.

Zarbock: Chaplain, who ministered unto you? What you just described is one emotional draining event after another-- oncology, emergency room, critical care of any kind, and on and on and on. These are a series of body blows.

DeDonato: Sure.

Zarbock: How did you handle it?

DeDonato: Well at Walter Reed I was really-- well during my training in CPE naturally it was your colleagues because that was a learning situation and you're supervising. When I went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center-- because I created the position I called chaplain clinical ethicist; because remember I told you that we really weren't really trained that well to go into a- to be- to teaching medical ethics to doctors and we never- and nurses and everything, and you don't have any background except your CPE, because they valued the degree, they wanted to see the degree too. So we developed this position called chaplain clinical ethicist where you had a year of clinical pastoral education plus a Master's degree in Medical Ethics, and then you were assigned to an Army medical center where you would work with the ethics committee. You would also teach into the clinical pastor education residency program. Whenever I was there, when we first started this, chaplains who were going through CPE would receive 22 hours of medical ethics training. Today it's up to 50 plus hours. But at Walter Reed the chief, the deputy chief of surgery, Tom Beam, devoted Christian man, who was also the chair of the ethics committee, was the person that I turned to for help and support. Gale Pollock, who is a lieutenant-colonel, she was a lieutenant-colonel, chief nurse anesthetist in the training program at Walter Reed, her office was right next to me; so there was that on a daily basis. Tom's retired now. He's the head of the ethics committee at the organization of Christian physicians-- I can't remember what the organization's full name is. Gale Pollock is now a major-general and the last I heard she's the acting surgeon general of the Unites States Army. So I've had some-- been very fortunate that when we were coming up through the ranks, as they say, Tom and Gale were there, especially during those years of war, really when we were on-- I was a senior floor chaplain for seven intensive care units, operating room, neonatal intensive care unit, coronary care unit, kidney dialysis unit, organ transplantation unit.

(tape change)

Zarbock: 28 February 2008. Military chaplains oral history project. Go ahead, chaplain. How about some reminiscences on funny things, sad things?

DeDonato: The interesting thing is you talk about your children. When I was at Fort Jackson I was a captain. I came on active duty as captain. Of course, Marty was 13 now. When we had moved on post she played with all the children and stuff like this. I did not realize how rank conscious she was. She was playing with kids whose fathers were captains. There was another group of kids whose fathers were majors. They were kind of aware of things like this. Because I came back into the Army and I had been a captain for a number of years, in fact I got commissioned as a captain in June of 1971 right before I went to Vietnam. I had a lot of date of rank on me. I came into the zone for consideration to major right away. I went twice and was not selected for major simply because I did not have the requisite experience, number of officer evaluation reports, etc. While it was a blow to my ego and everything like this, I didn't realize how it played with my daughter. I guess in her own mind she was saying, "Well, I still play with the captain's kids" and stuff like that. Finally, I did make it on the third try. I had the prerequisite number of evaluation reports. I think she was very happy. I didn't really know about that until later on. It's just kind of interesting to see how things like that work with your children.

Zarbock: And her close identification with you.

DeDonato: Right. I'm going to fast forward to Shawn now. At least with Marty, I had a chapel. I had a congregation. She saw me as the pastor, if you will, even though they were military congregations. For one year and a half period I was actually the post congregation pastor at Fort Jackson, so I had a number of retirees. The head chaplain would come and all the senior chaplains who were assigned to the headquarters and everything would come to my service. So I had my own built-in board of elders. That was kind of interesting. I definitely had to watch what I said and everything like that, but it was a good time. Marty always saw me in the role of the chaplain, the pastor, because I was there. Shawn, on the other hand, came along while I was at the Academy of Health Science. I never had a pulpit assignment. Going for a few years and everything like that, I never really thought about what Shawn's thought was on this thing. I remember one Sunday we happened to be at the chapel. We were sitting there. This was the academy chapel. I wasn't preaching. We were just attending there. I remember Shawn getting into a discussion with the kids behind her. They were chaplain's kids. One of the kids said to Shawn, and Shawn was about 6. One of the kids says, "Your daddy's a chaplain, too." Shawn says, "No, he isn't. No, he isn't. He's a sergeant major." That's the only rank that Shawn knew was a sergeant major. I had to explain to him. "Shawn, I am an Army chaplain. Even though I don't go and preach every Sunday, I am an Army chaplain. You see me wear the uniform, but I'm in a teaching assignment." It's just interesting. Just the fact that I was a major and in fact, even then I think I was a lieutenant colonel. It didn't bother Shawn. I think Ann told me that I was out in the field or she just brought this up the other day as I told here that I was going to be doing this. She recalled one Sunday when I was not there. Shawn had stuck his GI Joes in his pocket. When Ann was not looking or anything, he took the rappelling GI Joe. You know, it had the rope to rappel. He threw it and it didn't fall into the first pew. It didn't fall into the second one. It was into the third one. Of course, it was during the service and it made a racket when it landed. He started pulling it back in and naturally, it started making a racket and everything. Needless to say, Ann grabbed that thing right in front of him and I think he had to sit still for the rest of the service and probably got into trouble when he got home. But kids are kids, no matter who you are.

Zarbock: What employment line did Shawn follow?

DeDonato: He's a salesman for modular homes. He's going into sales. He's selling modular homes in Augusta, Georgia, which is just 60 miles down the road from where we live.

Zarbock: So the ministry or the military--?

DeDonato: No. He was the last person to go. He says, "I will have to absolutely desperate to go into the Army or to go into the military."

Zarbock: The equivalency of getting a job in a coal mine?

DeDonato: Something like that, yes. Of course, every preacher's child goes through those times where all of a sudden their father decides they're going to use them as an example. There would be a number of times where I would get up there. I wouldn't do it a lot, but there were times like Mother's Day or Father's Day or something like this when you talk and you give an example about children. I can still see to this day my children kind of going down like this whenever I would bring up a little bit of an example from their life. I didn't do it too many times. I remember when I would get home Ann would always just say, "Now you embarrassed Marty" or "You embarrassed Shawn." Shawn didn't care, but Marty was very sensitive. I guess PK's, now they're referred to as TO's. They're not preacher's kids anymore; they're theological offspring.

Zarbock: Is that right? The new language?

DeDonato: TO's, yes. That's the new language. We've got to get into the 21st Century.

Zarbock: Thank you.

DeDonato: Some of the things when I was on active duty had to do most of the times when I was in the field. It was always during the snowy time in Germany. Needless to say, that's when we would have our deployments or that's when we would have reforager, which was return of forces to Germany. This was to meet the Soviet threat whenever they came through the forward gap, etc. I remember this one time. I think this time was when I was there my second tour, which was 1984 to 1987. This time I was with the 41st Field Artillery Brigade in Babenhausen. The first time I went I was in Giesen in Germany in 1969 to 1971 with the 42nd Field Artillery group that was Honest Johns. This time I was with the 41st Field Artillery Brigade. We went out to the field and I remember this one time where we were going along this road. I had just gotten done telling my driver, a sergeant, my chaplain assistant to be careful because we were getting close to the ditch. As soon as I did that, we could feel ourselves just going on over the ditch and then the jeep was like this. My driver got out and he was on the top side. I'm just kind of sitting there looking up like this. The next thing I know, the door opens and here's our core artillery commander, a brigadier general. He said, "Hey, chaplain, how you doing?" I said, "Well, sir, have you ever heard the term 'the rain falls on the just and the unjust'? This time it's snow." He says, "Yeah, you look like you got yourself into a little bit of a bind." Anyway, he looked the chain up to his vehicle and pulled us out. So that was kind of embarrassing. Another time it was in the winter and we went to our deployment site. This is where we would have if we had to go to our wartime positions, be in a position to at least try to slow down the Soviet advance into Western Europe. Back then we realized that most of us, seeing as how we would be overwhelmed by thousands upon thousands of Soviet troops, we were going to be a speed bump. Inflict as much damage as we could and then withdraw to the West. I happened to be doing the Protestant coverage for our lance missile battalion. Their chaplain was Catholic. I would, as a brigade chaplain, come in and do the Protestant services. I was looking for this one particular battery. I had a bet with this battery commander. I can't remember his name. He was a captain. You've got to realize at this time I was a major. I have a lot of experience with artillery and I could read a map very well. It was one of those things that even to this day serves me well. Where you deploy lance missile battalions is usually on isolated hilltops so that they can get there, fire, and move off to the rear of the crest so that they would not be targets. So here we were. It was getting kind of dark. Here we are, we're going up this mountainous pass in this Jeep. This was a different chaplain assistant. Not the one that I had before; this was a new one that came on in. We knew where his location was, but we were looking at the map. Finally, we got to this crossroads. Al Mayes, who was my sergeant and my senior chaplain's assistant says, "Chaplain Dave, we're not going to find them." I said, "Listen, turn your engine off." He turned the engine off. We got out and then we listened. I said, "Al, do you hear them?" He said, "What, sir?" I said, "Generators." I went down the road. We found his battery. Naturally, the gate guard phoned in that I was there. The company commander came on out and he said, "How in the world did you find me?" I said, "Your generators gave you away." He said, "Oh!" I won the schnitzel dinner in the das house that night. That was really a fun time. I want to tell you. Talk about coming full circle. This wasn't necessarily a humorous thing, but this was just a profound thing. When I went to Germany for the third time, we were stationed in Hanau, which was just to the east of Frankfort. We actually, in the three tours that I had were stationed all around Frankfort, Germany. In 1969 to 1971, Giesen up in the north about 45 miles to the north. In 1984 to 1987 was in Babenhausen, which was about 30 miles to the south of Frankfort. Then in 1996 to 2000 was Hanau, which was about 10 miles to the east of Frankfort. When I was assigned to-- I forgot what the name of the unit it. It was a base support battalion. My responsibility was to be responsible for the 414th Base Support Battalion. I'm getting old now. The 414th Base Support Battalion. What I was responsible for was all the chapels, the chapel programs for six chapels in five communities that comprise an area about the size of Austria. It would take me one day just to go around to all the chapels if I spent about an hour at each one. One of the them was Giesen. Remember I was in Giesen way back? I remember that my last Sunday in Giesen as a first lieutenant was the last Sunday in July of 1971. I was asked to preach there on the last Sunday in July 25 years later, but this time as the base support battalion as the lieutenant colonel. Between the time I was a field artillery first lieutenant to a chaplain lieutenant colonel. It was just the most awesome experience. Talk about just kind of like that. We also had some humorous times, both Ann and I did, because the two times that she was there. The first time that I was there in 1969 to 1971 was with Carolyn. I married Ann and we went back in the Army. The second and third time I was in Germany in Babenhausen and Hanau. The interesting thing is Ann was an executive secretary. When I met Ann in 1975, she was the secretary to the commander of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. I remember when I was getting ready to marry Ann. I asked her father for her hand, but Colonel Seaborne [sp?], who was the commander of the South Carolina Highway Patrol came on out one day and he says, "I hear you're going to be marrying my secretary." I said, "Yes, sir. Can I have her hand?" He said, "Well, let me think about this." I had to ask for his permission, too. That was kind of a cute thing. Because Ann was an executive secretary, for part of the time that we were in Washington, she was also the secretary to the Surgeon General of the United States. That's the type of position that she held. She was highly respected and did her job very well. It was no surprise that the times we went overseas Ann became the secretary to my commander. I always said to the commanders, "You can't get away with much of anything. You've got your chaplain and his wife as your secretary. We're watching out over you." I also credit Ann that maybe I got a few more points on my officer evaluation report because her boss was the commander, who was the person who usually rated me. Some other humorous experiences were also during the times I was a hospital chaplain in the Army at Brooke Army Medical Center, then Walter Reid Army Medical Center and then my final assignment was Brooke Army Medical Center. There were oftentimes where you'd go ask patients how they're doing and everything. I always tried to base my prayers on what their most immediate needs are. One of the things that in order to determine whether you were ready to go home or not is generally how your internal plumbing is doing, to include passing gas, having a bowel movement, etc. So a person would say, "You know, if I could just have a bowel movement, I would be able to get out of here and go home. I'd say, "Well, let's pray for a bowel movement." From time to time there's been a few gas-passing prayers and bowel movement prayers and a few other bodily function prayers. I'm sure the good Lord understood them. They were sure sincere. If not on my part, certainly on the part of the patient that I was praying for.

Zarbock: With the humor, the other side of that coin is the sadness.

DeDonato: Yes.

Zarbock: Given the nature of your assignments, you must have seen sadness, heaped, pressed down, and running over.

DeDonato: Oh, yes. As a unit chaplain, when we would have training accidents, when we would have soldiers die in training accidents, we would be with the families and the chaplains would be doing the memorial services. In the military, the Army memorial service is very, very moving. You usually have the brightly shined boots of the deceased soldier. You have his or her rifle, which is turned upside down and then on top of that is the helmet. It used to be called the steel pot. Now it's the Kevlar helmet. The commander would usually read about the soldier's military history and everything. Of course, the chaplain would do the eulogy. Certainly there's always Taps. At the graveside service is the volley, the 21-gun salute. That usually is very moving. Then of course, Taps. Even to this day Ann starts crying. It's just so moving. The one even more moving than that is something that the deceased service members' unit would do at the memorial service. They would all stand. The first sergeant would call the unit to attention. They would all rise and stand at attention in their pew. Let's say we were honoring Private Jones. He would go through the roll call. "Specialist Harris." "Here, first sergeant." "Specialist Smith." "Here, first sergeant." "Sergeant Green." "Here, first sergeant." "Private Jones." Silence. "Private Jones." Silence. "Private Charles G. Jones." Silence. I remember those times. Certainly in the hospitals with the passing of anybody, but certainly a soldier as they were coming in. I was at the Academy of Health Sciences in Brooke Army Medical Center during the first Gulf War and there would be casualties that would come in there. Certainly at Brooke we had the burn center. The most vivid hospital experience that I had on active duty was my first on-call at Brooke Medical Center as a clinical pastoral education resident. My first call that I got that night was to the burn unit. It was just a soldier who had gone there. He wanted to have a prayer. I'm always a toucher. Whenever I see a patient or anything I'll hold their hand, man or woman, or else I'll put my hand on their shoulder. If I'm praying for them, I'll put my hand on their head and everything. I've always done that. I had six months of clinical pastoral education residency back in 1974 and 1975 when I was at Asbury. I had experience in being a hospital chaplain. That's probably the reason why I was the first chaplain on call, because of the previous experience. I could not find on that soldier's entire body--it was charred--except one little spot that was right here on his hand. Right here where I guess he had his hand together. It was frozen like that and the burns never got to it. I put my finger on that little spot and I had a prayer with him. When I had finished, the tears just rolled down his face and he said, "Thank you, chaplain." I said, "You're very welcome." He said, "No, I mean really thank you. You were the first person that has actually touched me since I've been here that hasn't been the medics trying to peel the skin off and things like that." That has stuck with me.

Zarbock: Chaplain, with all of your educational experiences, all of your coming of age as a youth and military experiences, hospital experiences and on and on and on, what credo have you put together for yourself? At the last day, it should be said about you that--

DeDonato: There but for the grace of God go I. When I come away from the bed of a person who has just been newly diagnosed with cancer or had just died and I had committed his soul to God and had Scripture and a prayer with the family, I realize that I don't know what the Lord is going to choose for me as an exit strategy, if you will, from this life.

Zarbock: Redeployment.

DeDonato: Yes, redeployment to hopefully heavenly places. I try to treat everybody as God said that they indeed are one of God's children. I would want to do for them what maybe someday as I'm lying in that bed in a hospital or wherever a chaplain would come and visit me and give me comfort during my time or have a word of comfort for me as a family member going through a serious illness. I have an 89-year-old mother. Every time we go into the hospital, we almost lose her each time. I get that perspective. I'd say that if there was a credo, that everybody is precious in God's eyes. We need to treat them as God would treat them, even if there's something about them that I would maybe find distasteful or maybe unsettling, to remember to treat them with dignity and to treat them as God would as one of His children.

Zarbock: Thank you, chaplain.

DeDonato: Thank you.

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