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Interview with Larry H. Ellis, March 16, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Larry H. Ellis, March 16, 2007
May 16, 2007
Interview with Navy Chaplain Retired Larry Ellis.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Ellis, Larry Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  3/16/2007 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  60 minutes

Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. This is part of the Chaplain's interview (audio glitch) that (audio glitch) Department that the University's library is conducting. We're in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Today is the 16th of March in the year 2007. Good morning, sir. Who are you?

Ellis: My name is Larry Ellis.

Zarbock: And we are where?

Ellis: We're at the Village Chaplain in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Zarbock: Do you mind if I call you Chaplain?

Ellis: You may call me that, that'd be fine.

Zarbock: Chaplain, through your youth and the origins of your life what individual or series of individuals or event or series of events led you into selecting the ministry as your professional category?

Ellis: Well, of course, your family is always really important and I was reared in a religious background and had strong religious training. And in--truth be known had a sort of fear in my heart that I one day might be a clergyman, but I didn't want to be a clergyman. Because most of the clergy I knew we went to small little country churches and my father was a pipefitter and we moved all over the South. So, it was sort of a construction family background. So, in essence, I went off to college at the University of Virginia determined to be active in my church and be a good leader, but not at all interested in serving as a minister. I was active in the Baptist student union there and I had a number of friends, who after a while said to me, you know, Larry, you might, should consider this. Well, I didn't want to. The last thing I wanted to be was to be a minister. I wanted to be rich and famous like most young people, so I decided I was going to talk to my pastor about it, who was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. His name was H. Cohen Ellis, Dr. Ellis, no relationship to me as far as I know. And I went to see him and I explained to him that I didn't want to be a minister, but I was afraid I might have to. And, of course, if God calls you to do something like that, you don't have much of an option. And he looked at me and he said, "Well, Larry, you know, we probably have more preachers than we need." He said, "It's always been my judgement that a person who never did anything as well as he might do it if he didn't want to do it. So, I suggest to you that what you ought to do is pray everyday." He said, "Now make sure I'm right, Larry, you don't want to be a preacher, right?" I said, "That's correct." He said, "Well, you pray everyday, God, you know I don't want to be a minister, but if you want me to be a minister, you give me a desire to serve you in that way. And if I-- if I decide and come to understand that I'm supposed to be-- that I want to, then I'll take that as a word from you. But if I don't want to, I'll take it as a word that has not required me." So, I thought to myself, you know, how can you lose, you get what you want anyway and I began to pray that prayer everyday. And about two years more than anything in the world I wanted to serve God as a minister. So, it was-- it was kind of an evolving thing. The key point of decision for me was my senior year in college. I was-- I was a English literature major and I was offered a job at J. Walter Thompson Company, which was an advertising company in New York City and it was a wonderful offer. But I got to thinking, you know, I can either do that or I can go to seminary and I wanted to be a minister and money was no longer as important to me as it might have once been. So, I made the decision that I would go to seminary.

Zarbock: And what year was this?

Ellis: This was 1964. So, in early 1964, I made a decision I would go to seminary and I planned to go that fall to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. That summer, though, I went to Detroit, Michigan, and worked for 10 weeks as a what they call a student evangelist, mainly physical labor and census work. I don't even know if I got to preach at all up there, but I did that that summer. And that feeds in really how I became a Chaplain. Because I had no idea what part of the ministry, I would be involved in. I was just going to go to seminary and find out what the Lord led. But that summer we worked all summer and then the last weekend that we were up in Detroit we were going to have a little meeting with all the summer workers up there, sort of a farewell party. And I was at the home of Dr. Dubose, who was the Director of Missions for Detroit at the time. I had spent the night at his home, we had had breakfast and devotions and I had about an hour and a half to kill before we went to this little meeting. There was a little booklet about 60 pages long published by the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention that detailed a variety of different ministries that were possible. And I had seen the book before, but since I had nothing else to do I just opened it up and it fell open to a picture of a paratrooper who had just hit the ground with a full battle pack. And suddenly the room was full of the presence of the Lord and I began to weep. I must have wept for 30 minutes and I knew as sure as God made little green apples that I was supposed to be a military Chaplain. So, when I went to seminary, I said my course and I went to seminary for four years. By that time Vietnam was beginning to wind down a bit, but they were still taking Chaplains in the Navy and I applied and was selected and came on active duty in the summer of 1968.

Zarbock: And how old were you then?

Ellis: I was 26. I had never had a break in schooling. I'd always gone straight through, so I was-- in fact, one of my seminary professors wanted me to stay and work on a PhD, but I was-- knew I was supposed to be a Chaplain and also knew that I had never had a break. I was ready to do something else for a while.

Zarbock: Were you married at that time?

Ellis: Yes, I got married, met my sweetheart at my last year with the University of Virginia. And there's a whole bunch of stories about that that I could tell that were fascinating. Because she, as you can tell from what I've said, I was a Baptist all my-- the woman who was to be my wife was wanting to become a Catholic Nun. So, we got together and frankly fell in love and I went out one night in January of 1964 or February and I, as we used to say, prayed through on this thing. I talked to the Lord a long time, finally told him that I wanted to marry this girl, but if it was really not his will I asked him to take her out of my life. And so the next-- and he spoke to me. He said, not in an audible voice, but very clearly, he said, "You have my permission to marry her." So, the next day we went to church and I took her down McKinnon Hall, which was the nursing dorm, she was in the nursing program at the University of Virginia. And just before I took her into the dorm, I told her what had happened and said, "You know, God has given us permission to get married." And I don't remember what she said, she turned and walked away, went into the dorm. And I didn't see her for three months. She wouldn't take my calls, she would have nothing at all to do with me. And I thought to myself, that's the clearest answer to a prayer I've ever had, but, you know, that's the way it was. And then just before I graduated that spring I worked in the bowling alley there as a way of making some money, the student union bowling alley. And she came down and we sort of re-ignited our relationship. I saw her briefly at the end of the summer when I came back from Detroit. She went to California with her family and I sent her a ring in the mail for her birthday. She came back, we got married in April, April 4th of 1965 while I was in my first year of seminary. And by the time I went to the Chaplaincy we had-- both of my sons had been born and, in fact, we did not go as early as we could. We could have gone in the April class to the Chaplain School, but my wife was pregnant and so we waited until July because Matthew was born the 13th of May 1968.

Zarbock: Does your wife-- is she still Catholic?

Ellis: Oh, no she's not Catholic. We-- the real struggle she had was trying to figure out whether or not God would allow her to serve him as my wife. And she spent those three months working her way through that without my input. But essentially, we have been unified in the faith and one of the beauties-- one of the beauties of the Chaplaincy that you discover that there great Christians in every orthodox Christian group and there are not so great Christians in every group. And the truth is that the harder the faith, which is expressed by the Nicene and the Apostles Creed is something we all hold in common. And the difference is that separate us are generally cultural and they're related to preferences of styles of worship and historical things, which have less and less meaning to us nowadays. That's why denominationalism is-- it has its strengths. It does provide institutions and resources and what have you. But it is waning in influence because it also carries with it great historical baggage, which people no longer understand or appreciate the need for. This church, by the way that I am presently serving, is an interdenominational church about 25 percent of our people are from Methodist roots, 22 percent from Presbyterian roots, 18 percent from Episcopal roots, 12 percent Baptist, 8 percent Lutheran. And then a scattering of all other kinds and we get along beautifully. In fact, it runs sort of like a military chapel. I've been here now six years and I've enjoyed every minute of it, it's a great place to minister.

Zarbock: Well, you've commissioned in the Navy. Where were you assigned?

Ellis: I was assigned first-- it's interesting, I was in Chaplain School and I had-- I requested the Marines because I wanted to go to Vietnam. But-- and I did have orders in the Second Reign Division, which would be just a short hop and a jump down to Lejeune then I would go overseas. But they changed my orders two or three times the last week I was there and I wound up going to Destroyer Division 52 out of San Diego, California. I had five ships that I served and around two deployments to Vietnam, these were six-month deployments. What we did mainly was gunfire support up and down the coast and rescue up in the Tonkin Gulf and following the ships with plane guard. It was my first tour in the Navy, and as I said, I was 26 years old, very wet behind the ears. And by the time, I finished that tour, I knew what I should have done when I started it. (laughter) But it was a good tour and I enjoyed it. I came back from there and I was ordered to the Naval Air Station in Memphis. And I went there because that was my-- Tennessee was my home of record. I was born in Cleveland, Tennessee on the other side of the state because that was the only Naval facility in Memphis. So, I went there and served for two years. It was a training command, huge numbers of young men coming through and some few women coming through-- most of whom would be going to Vietnam in a short time. And we did a good bit of death notification and I could tell lots of stories. Now, that was a good tour as well, I stayed there for two years. And then I was ordered to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and went down there, my family came, we had 30 months of endless family activity, endless summer. It's a wonderful place. It wasn't a prison in those days, it was a fleet training center and it was just a delightful tour. And one of my, my last child, my daughter Charity, was born there and my daughter Mandy was born while we were at NAS Memphis. And then after Cuba, 30 months there, I was ordered to NAS Atlanta, which is a reserve base.

Zarbock: That's Naval Air Station.

Ellis: Naval Air Station, Atlanta. And it also serves the Air Force field is there. It's a small, single chaplain operation basically a weekend deal, but people who are reservists come in and train.

Zarbock: What were your duties there?

Ellis: Well, I was a-- I coordinated the reserve Chaplains. We had about 12 or 14 reserve Chaplains who came in and did various things. We conducted three services every Sunday. Dobbins Air Force Base was the Air Force field, we did an 11:00 o'clock service at their chapel. We did a 9:30 service at NAS Chapel. And then I also did a service for the fire detachment in the firehouse. They had 30 or 40 people who watched the runways and were on duty all the time, so every Sunday morning we did the service there. I conducted Bible studies during the week. I was the library officer in charge of this little library. I visited the sick in the hospitals around there and essentially just tried to be a source of guidance where it was appropriate to the Commanding Officer. And-- and it was-- it was a good tour. It was only two years, I was short toured there. I was supposed to be there three years, but I was short toured because I went to the Chief of Chaplains Office, which was a-- a great blessing for me. I learned a lot at-- at Atlanta. In fact, one of the things that I did was I-- I worked out an arrangement to become an adjunct on faculty member at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and that sort of a pilot a project and one of my reserves at the time, called theological student program officers, spent oh 30 hours a week with me for about six months. And we had this approved, I mean, that's sort of how I came to the attention of the hire ups in the Corps. And that program went very well. They called me up-- this is a funny story. They called me up and my wife. I had a wonderful wife. She's just a-- a beauty in her spirit and in her person. But we went to Washington and we were interviewed, both of us, and they executed orders for me to come up to D.C. So, when-- they had a little farewell party for me at the Naval Air Station Atlanta, my Chaplains that I had been working with and some of the staff. One of them got up and he said, well, we all know what happened in Washington. They interviewed Larry and Jan and then they had this big meeting and they said to one another, we all know who we want to bring to Washington. Now, what job can we give her husband? Which-- which may be more truth than fiction in that. But, anyway, that was that. And then after NAS Atlanta we went to D.C. Now, when I was in D.C. one of the toughest tours I ever had we worked all the time, long, long days. John O'Connor was the Chief Chaplain at the time and he was a wonderful man, but a man who drove his staff pretty hard. We-- I was the head of personnel plans and policy for the Chaplain Corps, which meant I basically was the interface between the-- the legal people. I did all the background checks and reviewing and bringing in people to the Corps and brief the Accessions Board to bring in new chaplains for those three years. I did make a couple of contributions, which caused me untold work. I was able to figure out that the Chief of Chaplains had the ability to set his own policy as regards people who were augmented to the regular Navy. Now, that won't mean a lot to most folks, but the truth is that the old Law the old 1954 Law, Officer Personnel Act, I forget the-- all the words in it. Essentially had been used as a way to keep many of the people from being regular officers so that they could be released as soon as the Navy had no longer, or any of the Armed Forces had no need for them. So, the consequence was that when the draw down from Vietnam occurred, hundreds of chaplains were just summarily released and there was a lot of angst and bitterness and unhappiness about that in the Corps because most chaplains come in with career objectives. We were all volunteers and we were all focused on what we're doing. And so the way you prevent that or protect yourself from being released is to become a regular officer. But it became extremely difficult because we were trying to hold that number down. Well, I was able to figure out that the Chief could change that number. And so, John O'Connor, did that. He opened all the doors and for two years, we were so busy trying to get people on board and make all these policy changes. That was a wonderful time. I left there to go to--

Zarbock: You're living in Washington D.C. You have a wife and how many children?

Ellis: Four children, two sons and two daughters.

Zarbock: Where did you live in D.C.?

Ellis: Well, I lived-- first we lived in Falls Church, a little place called Shrevewood, which is a small little subdivision there. And then we moved over on Fairgood lane (ph?) we had two homes while we were there. And the kids-- we-- we had a wonderful-- housing in D.C. is expensive and it was hard for us. But we did-- we did-- we were able to do it. My wife got her brokers license in real estate and supplemented the income by-- by selling some properties and that sort of thing, so we were able to make it.

Zarbock: What was your rank at that time?

Ellis: At that time I was a Lieutenant Commander and when I went there I became a Commander while I was on staff at the-- the Chief of Chaplains Office. And so I left there as a Commander and went to Okinawa for a 12-month deployment, unaccompanied deployment. And the reason I did that was I could have taken my family there, but I had been verbally promised follow on orders to the Naval Academy and I very much wanted that tour of duty. So, we did that and I'll never forget the day we left. I was at the airport with my family. My kids are upset, my wife is trying to be brave, and I'm determined to do my duty, but I'm very unhappy. And before I go to the plane, I've bought a little book by A.W. Tozer, it's a classic work entitled, "The Pursuit of God." And that whole long, long flight to Okinawa was one that was bathed in tears in which the Lord was very real to me and comforted me and-- with his presence. And the year in Okinawa was a wonderful year, I had a fourth Marine regiment, Camp Schwab, with about 5,000 men. And I had three or four other chaplains working with me. We did winter training in Korea and we didn't-- did some operation tangent flash and others down in the Philippines, so it was a good-- it was a good time. A wonderful ministry time and it was soon over. My wife did come and visit me for two weeks in the middle of it. Interesting little thing, I have a very pretty wife. And then we had a few of the wives come over and, of course, Camp Schwab there were almost no women at all. And we had these little barracks we lived in and the Commanding Officer would allow the officers and others to bring their wives over for a short period of time and sort of stay in-- in these quarters. So, anyway, my wife came over and the one time at lunch or in the evening I forget which, she makes the comment that there are certainly a lot of helicopters here. And she was sunbathing in the backyard and she didn't understand why these helicopters kept circulating around. (laughter) Now, anyway, that year was soon over and came back to the Naval Academy, which is probably the Cathedral of the Navy. It's a wonderful place to preach. The main chapel seats about 2,500 people, magnificent organ. The young men and women you deal with are very cream of the crop. They're under tremendous pressure, it's a-- it's a hectic environment that sang (ph?) Everybody works for John Paul Jones, and that's because he's buried in the crypt. But it's just a tough environment. We had 38 months there as a Senior Protestant Chaplain and a wonderful, wonderful experience.

Zarbock: What were your duties and obligations at the academy?

Ellis: Well, we conducted Beaucoup services. We did a lot of counseling. Each week we would-- I conducted daily communion services and we had services on Sunday at early morning and then the main protestant service. And then we had funerals and every Saturday we would have four to six weddings. We did preparation-- we didn't just run them through, you get the idea sort of a wedding mill, but it really isn't. People would plan ahead six months to a year for their wedding and we had premarital conferences and we had counseling for them. And worked with them so that-- but when it came time for the ceremonies because the-- there was such demand we were always a full schedule. And so we had volunteer ladies from the congregation who served as pushers, get them going, and we were very prompt to start them at the correct time. And during a week when we had a graduation week at the-- when they-- many of-- they aren't allowed to be married at the Naval Academy unless they're graduates. So, when they get ready to graduate there's a huge backlog of these young men and women who want to get married, so we'd have maybe 100 weddings, 120 weddings in about three or four days. They'd go from the early morning until late night, very interesting times, wonderful times. In fact, I'll tell you quick story. I had-- one of the young men who was Tecumseh and Tecumseh is sort of the mascot of the Naval Academy's kind of a super cheerleader. He's always a very handsome athletic young man who plays the role of Tecumseh and comes to the football games. Well, he-- he was an active member of our chapel program and became a-- someone that I cared about. And he wanted to get married and so we went to through the procedure with he and his bride to be. And so he asked me, can my wife to be, my fiancee, come and spend a couple of weeks up here just before our wedding and stay in your home? "So," I said, "Sure." Now, at the academy you have Class A quarters, very nice quarters, but the understanding is that you will entertain and that you will have the midshipmen in and out of your home all the time. So, anyway, she came, stayed with us two or three weeks. And so we do this wedding, it was a beautiful wedding, late in the evening and we were at the reception and-- and it gets late and he comes up to me and he says, "You know, Chaplain, it's awful late, would you mind if my wife and I spent our wedding night in your home?" So, I said, "Service to the fleet." (laughter) and they did, kind of a neat, neat, neat experience. So, we had those-- we worked so hard and I was exhausted at the end of that tour. In fact, my little daughter, Mandy, who was, at the time, maybe 12 or 13 while we were at the academy, went to my next tour. My next tour was on the John F. Kennedy out in Norfolk and those were demanding tours as well, and I kept a record there. And I slept in my own bed in Norfolk-- in Virginia Beach, 19 out of every 100 days for that tour, so I was gone 81 percent of the time. I say that to highlight what I'm going to say now. My daughter, Mandy, after we had been in Norfolk for about a year and a half came to me and she said, "You know, Daddy, I don't like you being away so much on sea at ship, but I like this tour better than the Naval Academy." And I said, "Well, why is that, sweetie?" She said, "Well you were there with us, but I never remember a single evening when you were home." And what happens at the Naval Academy is the Superintendent, the Commandant, used the staff to help entertain the guests. And they entertain 25,000 or 30,000 guests a year. And so we were constantly going to this function or that function. A wonderful time, loved it. My wife was a tour guide, she was a pusher, she was in the Garden Club. She just did all sorts of great things. And then we went to the Kennedy and my wife was president of the, I think it was the Officers Wives Club, but maybe it was the enlisted-- it couldn't have been the enlisted wives, it had to be the Officers Wives Club. I had one-- I had one tour to-- one six month deployment while I was there to the Mediterranean and the men dubbed that cruise, the cruise of the cross because we had-- I guess to use the Baptist term, we had a revival. And I could tell you some stories that'll curl your hair on this one. We would have 56 services a week on board the ship. There were three chaplains, a Catholic priest, Ron Lablovitch, myself, and Rafael Achilous, who was the Protestant Chaplain. We would conduct about 18 of those each week. And the others were already read for the very small groups. But we had to coordinate and make sure that what was happening was, according to Hoyle. We had the guys working, we had the Kings Kids who prayed every night for three or four hours in our chapel. We had-- we started a Toast Master's Club to teach people how to do public speaking. We had 1,500 American Red Cross emergency messages that we had to process and answer during that cruise. But what happened was that-- and we had a black sailor, who was just a gifted keyboardist, couldn't read a note of music, but he could play anything. And so we got a-- a gospel choir going, made up of black men and Filipinos there was a scattering of whites, about 30 men, and they were great, they could sing. So, when we had our Sunday morning services, they were pretty normally attended. But when we had our evening services, which ran from about 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 at night, the place was just packed and down in the-- we had-- and below the after mess decks we had a chaplain's space, which was a library and chapel and then this big crew's lounge. So, anyway they would sing and pray and-- and we just had a wonderful time until, one quick story.

The Master Chief Petty Officer-- Chief Master at Arms of the ship was a Master Chief Petty Officer by the name of Grievas (ph?) and he was about a 6'5", 250 pound black man, who had a son who played in the NFL and he was tough as nails. I mean, nobody messed with Master Chief Grievas. He was an important man on the ship, he was sort of our sheriff. Well, he liked gospel music, so he came down and started listening to this, joined the choir. So, he's in the choir and in about three weeks he gets converted. I mean, he comes to the know the Lord. And he starts witnessing to his fellow Chief Petty Officers and other people around the ship and pretty soon we've got, you know, a buzz going on. Well, one Sunday night we're in there, we had been singing and praying and having testimonies and-- about an hour. And one of the guys who's there he's a Senior Chief White. Now, Senior Chief White was also black, but he was the Senior Chief who ran the after mess decks he was a good friend of Chief Grievas. And, in fact, Chief Grievas had brought him down there. So, he runs up to the front, grabs the microphone, turns and faces the people, and he said, "Men, what you're doing here moves me, but I'm not ready yet." and he threw the mic apart and ran out the room. Well, fine and we just keep going with the service. About three weeks later we're having the same service going, the same kind of thing going on, and about half way through it a one of the men stands up and says, "The Lord has ordered my heart to pray for Senior Chief White." So, we just stopped the service and we started having a spontaneous prayer for Senior Chief White and as the prayer began to kind of die down about that time and I have no idea except through the mercy and miracle of God that Senior Chief White bursts through the door in the back and ran to the front sliding on his knees into the front there and asking God to come into his life. It was a-- it was an explosive time, the whole room erupted. So, we had about-- we had 40 or 50 men who were confirmed as Catholics by an Arch Bishop in Naples. And we had about 100 some odd who had never had profession of faith who came to faith. And we had another 300 or 400 who rededicated their lives and we had 17 men who surrendered to preach. So, we had-- over 10 percent of our total crew had a significant religious experience during the six month period. In fact, every Saturday night we had junior preacher's night. We would have-- we would line up three of them and they could-- they'd sing a while, one would preach and they would practice their gifts, test their gifts. Some of them were really very good. So, we-- we did that, a wonderful time, wonderful time. And when that ended I went from the John F. Kennedy by the-- by the way, I was selected for Captain while I was aboard Kennedy, did not put it on until I got off. But I left there in December of 1987 to go serve on the staff of the Chief of Naval Technical Training in Memphis, Tennessee, which coordinated the training for all the Naval training commands, Great Lakes, San Diego, Orlando at the time, and others. And my job there was to oversee the curriculum development for the religious program specialists who were being trained down in Meridian. And also to give oversight to the chaplains programs in the various commands that we were responsible for. So, I traveled a good bit and did inspections and did all that sort of thing. Following that, I was ordered to Fleet Marine Forces Pacific and Camp Smith Hawaii. I went out there and the Gulf War was on, so I was involved in the support of our-- but I'm in Hawaii. I don't really go to the Gulf, but I'm trying to support those people. I'm only there 16 months when I'm ordered back to Washington to be the Chaplain of the Marine Corps for four years from 1991 to 1995.

Zarbock: So you were the Chaplain?

Ellis: I was the-- yes, I was the Commandant's Chaplain, which meant I was his primary advisor in matters of moral and religion and welfare. And I supervised-- there were about 275 active duty chaplains, but it was a supervision at a distance. I mean-- but I had general oversight and policy direction for the Marine Corps in matters of religion for the 273 chaplains and about 150 or so reserved chaplains as well.

Zarbock: I was told by another chaplain that the Commandant of the Marine Corps is called The Commandant and the Chief Chaplain is called The Chaplain.

Ellis: That's exactly right. They--

Zarbock: And those are the only two roles that are proceeded by the word The.

Ellis: Right.

Zarbock: There's almost an imperial cast in.

Ellis: It-- there is a little bit, but that's just the way it is. So, I served there until '95 and General Mundy, who was the Commandant while I was there is a fine gentleman. He's from North Carolina, I think he was reared in like Junaluska over in Western North Carolina from Methodist roots and I had great respect for him. And, in fact, for the Marines in general, Marines are-- are, in my judgement, the purest military ethos that we have. So, you either like them or you don't. And they either like you or they don't. And pretty soon you figure that out and so if you-- if you enjoy the Marine Corps and they enjoy you, everything is great and, but--

Zarbock: Let me a probe a little bit.

Ellis: Sure.

Zarbock: Give me some analysis. When you say you either like them or you don't, what is there that you liked about them?

Ellis: The Marines?

Zarbock: Yes.

Ellis: Marines are-- they're a service of sacrifice. They understand sacrifice. They understand submitting yourself for the greater good. They understand dying for your buddy. It's not that the Navy doesn't have that too, but when you have a battle aboard a ship, you're going to probably have a lot of people killed, but it's not quite the same, it's more technological. But with Marines it's, you know, it's your friend right next to you. They also have a tremendous emphasis on leadership more so than the Navy. It's-- and their officers tend to come from a background that is stronger in the humanities. And what that does for them is give them greater sensitivity to human nature and needs and proclivities. If you have a technological background you may be able to do a calculus problem, but that doesn't help you very much in understanding, you know, the gut movements of people. So, you'll find that many of the officers in the Marine Corps have history or literature or whatever backgrounds and they're very bright and they're dedicated. They have a-- they put their men first when you're in the field. I remember being in Nightmare range in Korea we had bitter, bitter cold 20 degrees below 0 every night. And we were up there, for it seemed like forever, two or three months and on one occasion I was out at Nightmare Range out with the troops when they were going to a-- a combined arms exercise. And they flew out in helicopters, some hot food because all we had was cold food. And I did what the Marine officers do, which is they make sure the troops eat first. And what that means is that Marine officers eat cold food, at least at Nightmare Range in Korea in the middle of the winter. So, they just had this tremendous care for their troops. Now, that-- it's a tough love and my Colonel when I served with the Fourth Marines, Colonel Roger Napper, was a fine man. He said, "You know, Chaplain," he said, "The role of commanding officer is to give his men a pat on the back everyday. How high or how low depends on their performance." (laughter) So, I thought that was good, but it's sort of an intense involvement and they do love one another and they are willing to sacrifice themselves, so. Also--

Zarbock: A Navy Chaplain once told me that his first day on board for the Marines he, under the Commanding Officers Office, and the commanding officer stood up and said, the next time I see you, get your hair cut and shine your shoes. And the Chaplain said, "You know what, that's one of the big differences between me and the Marines. A Marine will tell you direct, this is it."

Ellis: Yeah.

Zarbock: And it is-- it's the understanding of giving commands and following through on the command.

Ellis: Yeah.

Zarbock: As opposed to what may be a sort of a elliptical way of suggesting that you consider the possibility of--

Ellis: Well, I've had Navy Commanders who could be direct too. But the Marines will tend to be more direct. And when I went to Okinawa I had to have three haircuts before I passed inspection. I mean, I got it cut and I got it cut and finally I realized they wanted it all cut off, so it's easy. And, by the way, it's easier just to have it all cut off. That way-- so I always got it buzzed every time, I didn't worry about it.

Zarbock: One of the questions I've asked of other chaplains and I'm going to ask you, was there any time during your military career that a superior officer, chaplain or non-chaplain, suggested, ordered, or in some way convey to you the message that he or she wanted something done that you really didn't think was particularly ethical? Were you ever asked to go against your conscious, I guess, is a short way of asking you.

Ellis: Well, no and yes. There have been-- there were a couple of times when the-- I'll give you an example. When I was in Cuba they had a thing each year where they would have this certain little carnival and they would have games of chance. Well, as they were trying to do it this year nobody was volunteering to run the games of chance. And the commanding officer in his staff meeting one Sunday-- one morning said, well, I'll just order people to do it. And for some people it was a matter of conscious they didn't want to be involved. But when he did all around the room everyone sat up and he looked at us and he said, no I guess I shouldn't do that and he backed off. I think he really wasn't wanting to be unethical he just sort of got carried away. And he was quickly corrected not by verbal, but by non-verbal means. With that exception, no, I never had an example when a commanding officer asked me to do something that was unethical or immoral or what have you. There were a couple of times I had commanding officers who got angry at me because I did something that I thought was right and they may not have wanted me to do quite that thing.

Zarbock: Would you give me an example?

Ellis: Oh, sure. I was at the Naval Academy I preached a sermon on "Sweet Surrender" was the title of the sermon, and it was basically an evangelical sermon. And it was a powerful sermon, if I do say so myself. So, Monday morning the Commandant of Midshipmen, Admiral Ednee then a Commandant, Commodore Ednee, but later full Admiral Ednee, called me in. He said, "Chaplain, you missed a great opportunity to tell these men to fight to the end. We never want to introduce surrender into their vocabulary." And he started talking I didn't say very much to him, but he kept talking. And he looks at me and he says, "You know, Chaplain, there may have been three or four or five men whose lives were changed by your sermon." And I said, "That's not a bad mornings work is it, sir?" He said, "No it isn't, that's all Chaplain." (laughter) And so I left. He probably doesn't remember that exchange, but, of course, I would. So, I-- that's one example. And one other example I could tell I recently was in contact with a son of a former commanding officer who just died. And we were close, he was a good man, it's while I was at NAS Atlanta. But I learned a great lesson, not just from him, but in the situation. There was a young submariner, sailor from Groton, Connecticut who was down on emergency leave because his wife was essentially unable to tolerate his absence. She was a basket case. And he was waiting a humanitarian discharge. But the paperwork dragged on and on and the commanding officer decided that he would send him back to Groton. So, I go into the commanding officer and I say to him, "You know, that's the wrong thing to do because his-- his wife is going to be just a basket case." "Well," the commanding officer said, "No that's what we're going to do." And we got into a yelling contest with one another. We were both red faced and he threatens to relieve me for cause, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, we-- but we calmed it down and I leave. And he does what he said he was going to do, he sends the guy back to Groton, Connecticut. Well, I'm furious about this and later that week a guy named Bill Rosenberger, who was one of my reserve chaplains, he was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Anderson, South Carolina. He came in to-- and we were talking and I told him all about this and I was venting how unhappy I was. And he says to me he said, "Well, now, Larry," he said, "Let me ask you, is what the commanding officer did within his authority?" I said, "Certainly it is." He said, "Is it immoral?" I said, "Well, no, it's not immoral, but I don't think it was the right decision." He says, "Was it in any way unethical?" And I said, "Well, no, no, it was just-- it was just the wrong decision," but it wasn't any of those things. He said, "Well, you know, that's his job, he has the authority to do that and you have to submit to it." And he says, "If you don't submit to it graciously, it will poison your relationship with the man and you will never be able to function here effectively." So, I prayed for three days until I got my heart pure in this regard and asked God and I-- he had a sweet spirit, we never mentioned it again, my commanding officer and I became very close to his son who's now a surgeon up in Roanoke, Virginia, and we were close as well. From that time on the commanding officer gave me complete carte blanche. Anything I ever recommended he didn't even question. And he even gave me his personal staff car to use 90 percent of the time, so we had a wonderful relationship.

Zarbock: A lot of that was the result of you?

Ellis: Well, you know, we were interacting. Over the years, I have tried to be, you know, and I am, pretty straightforward. And I do not try to have guile. I mean, I try to be without guile. So what you see is what you get. And I also try to have the right spirit about things and when I may not have, I go pray until God gets me straight so.

Zarbock: You know one of the things that's always confused me in my interviewing with the chaplains is the matter of military rank versus your professional role. As a Navy Captain, you're a very, very high ranking officer and entitled and legally permitted to give orders in the biblical sense and get the (inaudible).

Ellis: Well, we're-- we're staff officers, so we're not line officers and there's a very clear distinction there. Now, I could give orders to my religious program specialists and what have you who were-- who were fulfilling the function that I was responsible for. But it would have been entirely inappropriate for me to try and give orders. Although I will tell you there are a few times I qualified as junior officer of the deck and did some under regular replenishment conning the ship with commanding officer's permission and guidance and I did a few things like that. Those are line functions, but he let me do them. But--

Zarbock: Did you want to do them?

Ellis: Oh, I wanted to. I volunteered for all kinds of things. I was the kind of person who volunteered to write instructions. I mean, I just-- I invested myself. But in any way the rank thing in the Navy is a way to allow you entree to the various levels of command. When I was on under a Commandant in the Marine Corps' staff I had to be a back bencher. I could only sit around the edge of the room because only General Officers sat at the table and I wasn't a General Officer. But I still say-- and speak up and say my piece, but had I not been an 06, I wouldn't even have gotten in the room. So, what it does is the rank basically shows experience, it shows something about competency, and it gives you entree to be an advisor to command to line about issues in which you're involved all the way up and down the chain. So, that's what the rank is. I never really had a lot of conflict about that. The main importance for chaplains is that it's worth tying your longevity and your pay and performance together so you do get a better remuneration as you increase in rank. But, it's good.

Zarbock: Do any of the events around Christmas come to your mind during your service in the military?

Ellis: Yes. Oh, I have stories, I have all kinds of stories about Christmas. When we were on the Kennedy in the Mediterranean we were at Pomme de Yorka over Christmas Eve. And so we were going to have Christmas Eve services on board the ship. And we go down in the hanger bay and ...

(audio ends abruptly) (Tape Change)

Zarbock: Let's see-due to a malfunction in equipment this is Tape No. 2 of Chaplain Ellis. Today is the 20th of June in the year 2007. I'm Paul Zarbock. We're in Pinehurst, North Carolina and, chaplain, how are you sir?

Ellis: I'm fine, great.

Zarbock: Well when last seen in Tape No. 1, you were talking about Christmas and you were on an aircraft carrier.

Ellis: Right. Okay I'll do that. Actually and one other too as a matter of fact as I got thinking about this. I was on the SS John F. Kennedy. I was command chaplain and we were on a Mediterranean cruise, what we dubbed the Cruise of the Cross. It was a wonderful time. It was Christmas, 1986, and we were in Pomme de York for Christmas Eve. Well as is normal you will have services on Christmas Eve for both Protestants and Catholics and the Catholics often have a midnight mass, so we Protestants decided we would do ours a little bit earlier. So it's about eleven o'clock and we're in the hangar bay. The hangar bay is below the flight deck of an aircraft carrier but there are large, open spaces where they repair aircraft and take them for flight and that sort of thing. Well on this particular occasion we set up our own platform, set up our altar. We were ready to have our service and we were conducting the service starting at about eleven o'clock and I had maybe 300 or 400 men which really wasn't a bad attendance at all for Christmas Eve, although there are 5,000 people on an aircraft carrier. But most of the men were on liberty out in town and so we expected that. Well what we didn't expect though was in the middle of my service, the liberty billets would start returning to the ship and so these guys would come onboard into the hangar bay and as soon as they got near where we were they understood what we were doing. By this time we were already distributing communion and many of these young men had perhaps had a little too much to drink. They were full of the spirit already but when they saw what happened and they remembered what time it was of the year they went and got in line and I gave out 12,000 host to these men. It was just one of those things where they kept getting in line. It was just a wonderful evening. And then we had a large attendance for our midnight mass as well so it was a wonderful night. I thought about that. And then the one other Christmas experience that I had I think is worth sharing. Remember I'm from a the church tradition so I'm not a sacramentalist and I'm certainly not someone who would normally bless medals or something like that. But I was in Korea with the 4th Marine Regiment in 1980-- Christmas of '81 and we were in cold weather training. It was bitterly cold. We were living in tents up in the Charwan valley near nightmare range and there were about 5,000 men there and so Christmas Eve many of them had gone down to Seoul to the park but there's one young man who seeks me out and he tells me that he wants me to bless the St. Christopher's medal that he's gotten somewhere so he can send it to his mother. So I said to him I said, "Well, I'd be happy to do that." He said, "I'm not a Roman Catholic, and what you really need is a priest so let me try and find a priest for you to bless the medal." He said, "No, you don't understand chaplain. You're my chaplain. I don't want a priest to bless it. I want you to bless it." So we talked for a little bit about it and I said, "Well why do you want this medal to be blessed?" He said, "Well I want to send it to my mother and I want it to protect her and take care of her" and all that. So we talked a little bit. I said, "Well, I've never done this but why don't we do this, why don't we pray together over this and I ask that the purposes in your heart for this gift to your mother would be accomplished and that God would honor our prayer." So we did that and we had a bright and shining moment and I learned that a chaplain from the Free Church tradition is quite able to bless a religious medal. It was a wonderful experience. It really was. So those are two things that just popped at me. And the third, see I can keep going with the story, this one's kind of a sad story really. I was a senior crossing chaplain at the United States Naval Academy from 1982 to '85 and in Christmas of 1984, I believe, it could have been '83 but it probably was '84, our commandant, a midshipman was a man by the name of Les Palmer. He was 47 years old, trim, physically fit, lived a very clean life. I had worked out with him. He was the kind of guy who ran avidly and was in great physical condition and I had gotten to be sort of close with him. He had come down and talked to me on a number of occasions. We had helped he and his wife re-dedicate their marriage, reaffirm their vows. But on Christmas Eve that year he ran four miles, came home with his son, did 80 sit-ups and keeled over. By the time they called me and I got to the hospital and by the time I got there he was...he was dead. His daughter and his son was there and his wife. I knew all of them. We had another service going on in the chapel. And then that night we had a service of carols and singing and a communion service late that evening, nine o'clock I believe it started.

Zarbock: Christmas Eve?

Ellis: Christmas Eve, so we were there and we did the service and the thing I remember about it was no one knew at this point that the commandant was dead. A couple people did. There was a captain who had been his roommate at the naval academy. They had been friends across many years who knew about the death of the commandant. I remember he sat down just to my right as I looked down at the congregation and he wept through the whole service, just copious tears. It was a difficult night but it was good in the sense that Les Palmer had recommitted himself to the Lord and I think he had some sort of premonition that something was going on and he got together and sort of tied up his life, made sure that he had done everything as well as he could do it but it was a very poignant time.

Zarbock: Did you conduct the funeral?

Ellis: I did.

Zarbock: That was hard on you.

Ellis: It was but you see funerals are an opportunity to affirm the heart of the faith. You remember when Jesus is talking to Martha and he says to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall never die" and after he says all that to her he says, "Do you believe this?" Well that's the key question. The promise of the faith is that God grants us through Christ eternal life. The question to each of us is do you believe that? And if you believe that, then a funeral is a time to rejoice in the promise of God and that's sort of what we tried to do at Les' funeral. It was really a very moving time. His wife, by the way, chose to wear white to his funeral.

Zarbock: On what basis?

Ellis: Resurrection, white for resurrection. Black is sometimes traditional but now in many circles white has come to replace that and I don't know if she did that out of deep liturgical sense, more just because she was affirming that she believed that he was still alive.

Zarbock: This is a question born of complete naivety. How would you oppose civilian funerals vis-a-vis a military funeral as the officiator of both services?

Ellis: Well in one way they're not different at all in the sense that all of us partake of the human character. In another sense they are somewhat different particularly if you're talking about a military funeral of someone who has died on active duty or in the line of duty or as a combatant. In those instances, the military has a much keener sense of the value and the virtue, the power of sacrifice. Civilians do not understand often or some do not that all celebration begins in sacrifice. If you hear a great organist play the organ he sacrificed untold hours to learn how to do it. If you see a child going down the aisle of the church, there's a mother who went through the valley of the shadow of death for that child. If you see anyone who has done any great thing, there's been a price to pay for that so in that sense when a military man is willing to risk his life or to give his life he is acting out something that is the basis for great celebration just as Christ himself sacrificed himself and is our example.

Zarbock: Oh what a moving life you've had. I've asked other chaplains. I may have asked you in Tape No. 1 who was your pastor?

Ellis: My pastor?

Zarbock: Yes.

Ellis: I've had many pastors but what do you mean mentor or do you mean pastor?

Zarbock: Well while you were in the military service and people would come to you and deliver unto you their griefs and sorrows and frights and terrors and what have you well after a while that's a full cargo.

Ellis: And you need to pass that on to other people.

Zarbock: Yes.

Ellis: Well I've had the collegial and mentoring relationship with many chaplains over the years and it's not just been one or two. In fact, I have been blessed in that most of the senior chaplains I have served under have made contributions to me in that regard. They have been people who have blessed me with their wisdom and their knowledge and their compassion. The first one that stuck in my mind very strongly was Willis Moore. Willis Moore retired as the deputy chief of chaplains, a rear admiral, but he was my command chaplain when I was at NAS Memphis my second tour of duty in the navy and it was a strong influence on me in a number of ways. I think he believed in me in the sense that he believed God anointed my life and he valued that. He thought I was a good preacher and he took it upon himself to try and make me better. I will remember one day he assigned me a letter to write for him because he was trying to teach me that junior officers prepare documents for senior officers and they send them out so he said "Go write the letters." Well I had never done that and I fiddled around with it a little bit but later that afternoon he calls me and he says, "Where's the letter?" I said, "Well I haven't written it yet." He said, "If I wanted it written tomorrow I'd have given it to you tomorrow. You get out there and write that letter now." So I did but I learned something. Another thing he did was he found out that the commanding officer was going to give a speech to the Spanish American War veterans. This is back in 1970 or '71 and so he comes to me and he says "Larry, one of the things chaplains can do because we're skilled with words we can write generally." And he says, "The Commanding officer is going to give a speech and what I want you to do is I want you to write a speech ten, 15 minutes, whatever it was for the commanding officer to the Spanish American veterans." And he said, "What I'll do is I will just sort of take it to him and say I had mentioned in one of my staff meetings that you were going to do this and Chaplain Ellis generated this for your consideration." But it was his way of lifting me to the attention of the command and also teaching me one way to begin to do that. And then also I will say to you that, I don't know if I told you this or not, but one of my daughters was born in NAS Memphis about this time. When she was just a child, I mean just a babe in arms, she was ill and my wife took her to the doctor. The doctor thought that she had spinal meningitis that was going around at the time and, of course, it was very, very deadly for a small child. And when my wife they did a spinal tap and it was cloudy and my wife saw that and she had been in nurse's training and so they told her to wait while they did something. Well she didn't wait. She just picked up the child and got in the car and drove over to my office. We were in my little office and she's crying and I've got Mindy, my daughter, who by the way is a missionary in Spain and so we take her and put her on the couch and we kneel down there and we pray and ask God to preserve her life. And then we get up and we're going to take her back down to the doctor's and as we step out of my office, Willis Moore had seen my wife come in and knew that she was upset, so he was waiting out there and he said, "Well what's happened?" So we told him and he said, "Just a minute. You stay right here. Don't move." He went into his office, closed the door and then in about 90 seconds or two minutes he came back out. He said, "It's all right. I've talked to the Lord. Your baby is going to be fine." I thought now that speaks a tremendous willingness to address the Lord about something that's very iffy and he had the courage to speak about that and to claim that in the name of the Lord. And, as it turned out, my daughter was fine. And when they took her back and did another spinal tap she had clear spinal fluid. They could never find anything wrong with her.

Zarbock: And no residual to this day?

Ellis: No residual. My daughter, Mindy, I'm very proud of her she has an IQ of 150-something. She's always been gifted. She's a natural linguist, brilliant student, just a sweet, wonderful girl, no problems at all there. So this was my first but I had others. Max Eller when I was in Cuba was sort of a mentor to me in some ways. I learned a good bit from him. George Evans when I was the chief of the chaplain's office was my boss but I admired him as a man of force and integrity. John O'Connor was an example of someone who was brilliant and zealous for the Lord.

Zarbock: And demanding.

Ellis: And very demanding, very demanding. He would use a hammer on a fly. I mean he was a tough man but I still admired him and respected him. Over the years I've had relationships with a lot of people.

Zarbock: Well I really do enjoy and warn myself listening to your recounting of incidents that had taken place so if I may, even if I may not I'm going to do it anyway, would you tell me more incidents? They're marvelous.

Ellis: Sure. Tell you what?

Zarbock: More incidents that have taken place in your life.

Ellis: Oh, things that just were important?

Zarbock: Yes.

Ellis: Okay.

Zarbock: Including the absurdities. I may have mentioned that. Anybody that's been in the military more than one day has seen baffling absurdities and that's not a blanket indictment of the military, I mean orders get mixed up. People misinterpret. The order comes along at the wrong time for it to be implemented but, by gosh, an order is an order so curious things do take place.

Ellis: They do. I could just tell you hundreds of stories. I might tell you, going back to the early days, did I mention to you my first helicopter ride in the navy?

Zarbock: No.

Ellis: Okay, well I'm on Destroyer Division 52. I've got five destroyers and we're off the coast of Vietnam and every Sunday if you're a chaplain small boy they normally would have what they call a holy helo and the holy helo basically they deliver mail or whatever but they fly around from the ship. There's a chaplain on it. They'll lower a hoist because the ships are not big enough to land on it, at least they weren't in my day, and you go over to the hoist collar into this helicopter and they take you over and they lower you on another ship and you maybe four or five services a Sunday from ship to ship because the ships were too small to have their own chaplain. Well this particular instance, my first time on the helicopter, I'm out there in the middle of the ocean and I guess we're off the coast and it's Sunday and I know what the drill is, so the helicopter comes and hovers over the fantail and they drop the thing down and I get in it and they pull me up and then they pull me into the helicopter. Well you're supposed to be wearing a Mae West, which is an inflatable but I had on a capod jacket because I didn't know the difference and they're really noisy helicopters. You can't hear a thing. Do you want us to have them be quiet? Can we pause for just a second?


Ellis: Are we ready? Okay, so anyway the helicopter is very noisy. You can't hear anything and I'm not hooked up to the electronic system where they talk with one another so I don't know what's going on. I look around and there's this webbed seat across the side of the helicopter down one side so I go over and sit on that. Meanwhile they're bringing up mail from the ship and the whole side of the helicopter is gone. I mean it's not there. The other side opposite me because it normally would be a gun placement but they had taken the machine gun out so you just have this big open area. Nobody pays any attention to me and I don't know what to do so I'm just sitting there and so they get the mail off and then the helicopter begins to go up, it begins to ascend, and something, I think the Lord, said to me, "You better hold on" because they didn't have a seat belt. I couldn't find any seat belts. I didn't know where they were, so I reached down between my legs and I grabbed this bar and just as I got a good grip on it at about 400 feet elevation the helicopter went just like that. The only thing holding me in was that grip I had right there. If I had not had that very firmly in hand I would have pitched out and at that height hitting the water is like hitting concrete. It would have ripped me to pieces. So the Lord preserves you and I think the Lord preserved me lots of times over the years and that was one of those times. I did not even know how. I didn't even feel scared at the time but a little bit later when I reflected on it, it terrified me so that was a neat experience. And then, I guess--

Zarbock: If there was a flotilla of very small ships, I made up not only the word for me but also the number of ships, you would descend four different times?

Ellis: Yes.

Zarbock: And then ascend I would hope.

Ellis: Normally the carrier in the group will have small boys around them to be a guard and to be a screen for them and there will usually be chaplains either on the carrier or perhaps a chaplain will be in one of the small boys and the carrier chaplain will coordinate the services so that on Sunday every ship will have usually a Catholic and a Protestant service and the way they get back and forth is anything from a helicopter, which is most common, or I have done it on those where the captain's gig would take me over to another ship and I've even been high lined. Have you ever been high lined?

Zarbock: No. I know what you mean but again for the purpose of--

Ellis: High line is when they rig up pulleys on two different ships and they have a little kind of a chair you sit in and they pull you from one ship to the other. Now this is while the ships are moving. They're side-by-side and they're going up and down and usually they're not going real fast, maybe 15 knots but depending on how rough the water is and how the ships move back and forth the high line wire will go tight and loose. It's sort of like having a button on a string. So when you go out there and you're going across you'll get down and you'll get your feet wet and you'll pop up and if it's a really bad ride you may spin around. It can be very scary. In fact, I had a friend of mine who punched out a F4. He was a pilot. He said he'd much rather punch out of a plane in the ocean than do a high line, the scariest thing he'd ever done he said. But anyway the point of this was the first time I ever did that I'm on the ship and we're changing movies first on this high line and I'm waiting for my chance to get to go on and go over and do a service. The rig breaks and we lose all the movies. They're gone and the guy turns to me and says, "Don't worry, chaplain, we have another rig." So they lined them up and I popped up and across we went so that was a neat experience. Every Sunday at sea you work hard to make sure everyone has an opportunity to worship. They don't always have opportunities but many times they do.

Zarbock: I never thought of that, the button and the string, as it tightened you could turn.

Ellis: You could, yes you could.

Zarbock: So your life is into this chair.

Ellis: You're into this chair and there are men on these pulleys. I mean they try to make it as safe as they can and truly it's not that dangerous. I mean I'm sure a lot of people were in a lot more danger than I was but it is kind of scary because you're out there and the chair is just mainly a little frame and you feel very, very vulnerable particularly when you go down in the water and stuff. In those days (inaudible) in those days we had these Wollensak recorders, reel-to-reel tape things that we carried around. They had a little music. They were heavy.

Zarbock: Not the micro miniaturized stuff.

Ellis: No these were 40 pounds but I have many fond memories of all that and enjoyed it greatly. And I learned some things about the kind of camaraderie and loyalty you develop too. I'll give you one example. I'm out there. It's my second tour of duty in Vietnam so I've been in destroyers for some time now. We're about four months into the cruise and I get an invitation via message traffic to fly to Australia and to participate in a dedication service for some World War II battle whose anniversary was coming up. It meant that I would leave my ships and I would go to Australia and have a chance to see Australia and have a wonderful time down there for a couple weeks and then I would fly back home early. I mean it was the dream to get to do something like that. So I'm all excited about this. I want to do this. I'm on the bridge that night with Kerry Kirk who's a lieutenant. He was a Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma, big guy, and we were talking about it and I was excited and I said, "What did you think about that Kerry?" He said, "Well to tell you the truth, chaplain, I sort of think you'd be abandoning us." So I thought about that and I desperately wanted to go and I decided I couldn't do that so I sent a message back to my commodore respectfully declining so that I could stay with the troops and it was the right thing to do. I've never gotten to Australia though as a consequence of that but it's a good thing. I learned some things about loyalty there and it made a difference to the men on that ship and also to my commodore that I made that choice.

Zarbock: Yeah that's bravery.

Ellis: Well I don't know if it's bravery but it was the right thing to do. All it meant was just two months more of the normal routine rather than having a chance to do some of that other stuff.

Zarbock: A definition of cowardice is knowing what the right thing is and you don't do it.

Ellis: Well I guess that's true. And to be frank with you at the bottom line they say courage is the cardinal virtue because without courage none of the others are effective. They don't work. In a sense the military does kind of understand that as well and they will expect you to be courageous. Want me to tell you one more story? Okay. I was on the Kennedy and we had a Martin Luther King service coming up and if you know anything about Martin Luther King services you know that they are important to the black community, but less important to the white community. But I had a very talented black musician who played in our services as a keyboardist, didn't know any music but he was great, very talented and I had a choir that wanted to sing and so they worked so hard, even wrote original music for their own Martin Luther King service. I mean they really worked hard. It was a big deal to them and we had a large number of blacks on our ship. So knowing how hard they were working when we sat in department head meetings I had mentioned to the department heads day after day, we had these meetings every day pretty much and I would say to them, "Now here's what's going on. I want you department heads to support this because it's important." Well on the day the Martin Luther King service came we had a pretty good attendance from the crew but only the executive officer out of 17 commanders showed up. So at the next department head meeting I told them that I didn't respect their lack of leadership. I said, "You knew this was important and these men expected it, needed it, and you wouldn't do it." And I said, "That's a failure of leadership." And the gun boss, senior ordinance man, took offense and I said, "You know a big dog barks or he yelps, whatever." We had some tough-they didn't like it but I told them straight out. And that's one of the other things about being a chaplain. When you go to a ship you are somewhere between a eunuch or something else. You're in a different category so you have to earn your own spurs and you have to do that by being to some extent a man's man who has the courage to confront issues head on and do so in a way that forces people to deal with you. So I was willing to do that and I did it on numerous occasions and although there was some heartburn for a couple, three weeks about what had happened finally the men, the department heads, respected me more for that than if I had done nothing and, in fact, the gun boss when he retired tried his best to get me to come 1,000 miles to be at his retirement ceremony. I wasn't able to do it but he wanted very much for me to be there.

Zarbock: It seems to me that situation typifies the swirl and conflict in military roles. First of all there's the nature of rank. Number two is the notion of rightness, correctness. Then there's your clerical obligation. Then there's your own private morality and ethnic. What was your rank at the time?

Ellis: At the time this happened I was a commander. I was equal. All of us were commanders in the room pretty much so we were all peers. I will tell you two more stories out of this whole thing to give you an example of that. The first one was I was down and we were doing pressure training in Cuba and if I've told you this I've forgotten so bear with me but we were doing refresher training in Cuba and refresher training is very hard on an aircraft carrier and they just work you to death. The men were exhausted. They were going from one drill to the other and they were learning to fight the ship and how to put out fires and all kinds of stuff. Well the first Sunday we're down there I don't think anybody showed up to my services, two or three people, and I had normally been running pretty good attendance. So I said, "Well what's going on?" And I found out that the guy who was running, the captain on board who was running the refresher training was scheduling drills and stuff so that they didn't have an opportunity to go to church. So I went to the executive officer and I said, "That's not right. They ought to have an opportunity to express their faith once a week." He said, "Yeah you're right chaplain they should" but nothing happened. So that went on for two more weeks and I had talked to everybody I knew to talk to. So I got up on Sunday night, the third weekend of this, and I prayed a prayer which basically-- I even have the prayer. I could find it and read it. I don't know if I have it right here. But when I prayed the prayer a cheer went up through the ship.

Zarbock: By the way, if you can find that prayer would you send me a copy of it?

Ellis: Yeah.

Zarbock: I'd like to include it in with your materials.

Ellis: Okay, sure. Well I will do that. I prayed this prayer. A cheer went up. I left the bridge. It was the evening prayer about ten o'clock at night and I hadn't gone 30 steps until I got a thing, the executive officer's stateroom. So I went down there and, of course, he was furious and chewed me out big time for all this stuff. It could have been kind of a career-ruiner but my captain understood.

Zarbock: The ship's captain?

Ellis: The ship's captain understood and he, the executive officer, wrote a terrible report on him. He's about to detach and a new guy is coming in. Here's what I wanted to tell. So anyway we're in Cuba and my commanding officer is going to protect me. I didn't know that at the time. I could have had a career ender there but I didn't. But in any event, we go over to the O club at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the new department head and all these men who were my peers, the 17 department heads, were having a department head dinner and we're there altogether having this dinner when the captain, who had been running the fleet training group, exercises and the one who was most furious at my prayer came up and just launched into me verbally. When he did that every commander basically told him to stuff it and drove him out of the room. It was my finest day almost in the navy. It was just wonderful. I remember my Catholic chaplain saying to me he said, "Larry, I think you ought to have known if you fall into a snake pit they'll all bite you." Anyways, that was, the other little story that I was going to tell was still off the Kennedy. The air boss and the navigator and I and five or six other officers were in the wardroom one day and I'm not sure why he did it. The navigator was not a person of faith and for some reason he made a sacrilegious disparaging remark to me, not so much against me but just kind of flaunting his disbelief. I mean when he does that thing how should I respond to this? But a guy named Suloff (ph?) who was our air boss was a devout Catholic took the ball and as I say a word Suloff cussed him out like you never heard anybody cussed out and told him to keep his sacrilegious thoughts to himself. So it was interesting. The Lord provided a defense to that and I just watched it all happen so neat things, lots of stories. One other quick story off the Kennedy we had an anchor pull, night pull is when they'll essentially have a lottery and who can guess the closest to the minute that the anchor is dropped when you're going to go into port and nobody knows exactly when that's going to happen and so you fill out pieces of stuff, chances on this grid of possible times it could be. Well I didn't normally do that because I was not really a gambler. I don't normally do that but a guy corners me in the wardroom. He said, "Hello, chaplain. We got one spot left. We need to have this. Come on." So I ponied up and bought it and, of course, I won the anchor pool and they announced it over the one-end the chaplain had won. I don't know if it did very good for my image but that was another little interesting experience. Another thing we did too on the Kennedy was we were able to get the commanding officer to clean up our ship's store so that we got rid of all the pornography, books that were truly questionable. We're not talking about normal novels. We're talking about books that are written with the express purpose of creating lascivious desire and those things. We basically got the commanding officer just to be consistent. We had to sell that stuff. We couldn't keep everybody from not buying when they were in port and bringing it aboard but we could at least not promote it by selling it ourselves.

Zarbock: I'm surprised you didn't get any difficult with freedom of speech or censorship.

Ellis: Or censorship. Well you got to remember that the commanding officer has great authority particularly at sea to determine what is appropriate or inappropriate and he can determine what he wants to sell in his ship's store if he chooses to do so. He doesn't even have to give a reason.

Zarbock: And if something bad happens it's his fault.

Zarbock: Yeah it's his fault so in a sense the commanding officer is risking himself but I thought that was something important. I think it's bad for morale and for individuals to engage their interest. It stimulates them to do things that are improper and sailors have enough temptations as it is. You don't want to stir up any more of that than you have to. You really don't.

Zarbock: Well how about the ludicrous?

Ellis: The ludicrous, I'm trying to think, do you mean just funny?

Zarbock: Funny is fine.

Ellis: Okay, ludicrous. I don't know my wife says I'm about as funny as a heart attack so maybe I don't pick up on that sort of stuff. I will tell you one thing that might be funny to some people. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba change of command for our vigilante squadron and it's out on the delta point. It's right at the point of the delta area and we had a full band out there playing and I was in the audience. I think I was doing a prayer or something. They had speakers. This guy was retiring. Well they did a fly over but the squadron was about to be decommissioned anyway. They were old aircraft. And the fly over was so low that the back blast from the jets knocked over the flags. The band stopped playing. Almost everyone who had been in Vietnam hit the deck. I mean it was truly terrifying. Why would they do something stupid like that? It was kind of funny at the time.

Zarbock: Talk about raining on your parade that was the height of raining on your parade.

Ellis: One other time talking about timing, Cuba, you talk about these various tours of duty thing, Cuba had a sunrise service. Most sunrise services are freezing cold. That's been my experience. Easter sunrise is almost always cold. But in Cuba it wasn't. But anyway I had set my clock and laid out my uniform the night before to get up and go but I really hadn't thought about the fact that in Cuba we all the time had power outages. I had an electric clock and there was a power outage in the middle of the night so it didn't wake me up in time and when I woke up I had about ten or 12 minutes with a seven minute drive to get where I was going so I didn't even shave or anything. I just threw on my uniform, roared down to the sunrise service, got there just as it was getting on. I had the opening prayer. They had this little prayer going on. I was able to get there, walk up and step to the podium and give my prayer but it was just one of those barely I made it things and that was good, very good. So any other questions Paul?

Zarbock: Just keep the stories coming. They're wonderful.

Ellis: Okay.

Zarbock: What you are doing is really informing future generations. What do chaplains experience and what do chaplains do?

Ellis: Well, okay one of the things we do is we do burials at sea. Every time the Kennedy left port we had sometimes three or four of those and we did those with as much dignity and solemnity as we were able.

Zarbock: I've got to probe. Where did the bodies come from?

Ellis: The bodies were generally speaking service personnel, navy personnel, and they were usually remains. They weren't bodies. They were remains. But anyone can request the navy to bury you at sea but generally it will be military personnel. And so we would have-- there's a scene affairs officer that you can set this up with and so they would have these people all the time wanting to be buried at sea. Every ship that went out would either have one, particularly the big ships. They'd keep the carriers because we had a large staff and we could do these things. So we would go out and usually have three or four services and the chaplains would divide them up based on if it's Catholic the priest would do it. If it was Protestant one of the Protestants would do it. We had the rifle volleys. We had a band. We had a bugler. We would record, audio record records of it and make a bulletin and we do a full funeral for them and then we'd send that back to the family, copies of the order of service and the bullets from the volleys that were fired and then the flag that was used, et cetera, et cetera. Of course when you do that sometimes it doesn't go according to well. I remember I almost lost Ronald Rovich (ph?) the Catholic chaplain because he's out there and a freak wave came up. What they do is they have elevators and elevators are used out of the hangar bay to take aircraft and take them up to the flight deck but we would do the burials at sea on a lowered elevator which is still ten or 15 feet above water. But a wave came up and got him all wet. He didn't go over the side but he could have. It would have been bad. And sometimes, of course, when you try and sprinkle the ashes you'll get the wind blowing back on you that can be disconcerting but we have done a lot of those. One of the other things we do, Red Cross messages. People would send a Red Cross message either giving information about something that had happened or requesting, telling someone that someone had died and each Red Cross message took about four hours of my staff time, me and my RPs to get everything done for each one. We had 1,500 in the six month deployment so imagine the amount of man hours that went into that simple little elevation. I'll tell you another quick story about that. Destroyers in Vietnam, if this guy gets a message, a Red Cross message that says, "Sammy is dead" or something like that and this young man is just disconsolate. I mean he is weeping and weeping and weeping and we don't know what because we can't even tell who Sammy is but this guy is so distraught that we make all the arrangements. We're going to get him out of there and get him on a plane back. It's probably his brother or his daddy or somebody. Before we get him out to get him off we finally get a chance to discover that it's his dog that's died.

Zarbock: Tell me the chain or command or where does the authority lie on a ship when a Red Cross message comes in and says, "Seaman so and so, your mother died in an automobile accident" or whatever what happens and who makes it happen?

Ellis: Well what happens is that there are guidelines which talk about under what circumstances someone will be sent home. If it's the death of a mother or father or brother or sister generally they will be sent home. If it's a grandparent who functions in loco parentis as a parent they will generally be sent home. They don't have to be though. That's the commanding officer's call. If he says, "My mission is such that for me to send this man home would jeopardize my mission," he doesn't have to do it. He might get in some trouble for not doing it. On the other hand if something goes wrong and he did it he might get in trouble too so that's his call. As far as the chaplains are concerned what their task is, is to normally make death notifications. We call the young man in and tell him that his mother is dead and try and comfort him. Then we would interface with the command to get the command to cut orders for him, emergency leave orders, arrange for his transportation and all that sort of stuff. Sometimes we give him money. Usually we run the navy relief stuff as well and we do that. By the way to talk about death notifications, you do that onboard ship but you also do that when you're in shore and I've had lots of experiences with that, some of them terrible but some relatively good. I remember once I went with a marine major up in North Georgia, this is back in 1975 or so and I don't remember how it had happened but a marine had been killed. A marine major was going to tell and it's really the line officer's responsibility to tell but what happens is the chaplain goes along and generally they'll turn it over to the chaplain because they're not comfortable doing it. So when we go up there we go to this man's home. It was the father we were going to tell.

Zarbock: To be absolutely sure the decedent's father does not know that his son has died.

Ellis: No, he doesn't.

Zarbock: You are the first notifier.

Ellis: The first people to tell him so we go in and introduce ourselves. "Here, we're sorry to tell you this but your son was killed in an accident" and wherever it happened. This man looked at us and he turned around and he took a shotgun off the wall and he pointed it at us and he said, "You get out of my house or I'm going to kill you." And so we got out of his house but somehow people react in great anger. I remember another woman who screamed for it seemed just forever. She was a widow lady and it was her only son. And then I remember when the Lebanon bombing happened, the 200 some odd? I was at the naval academy at the time. We made a number of those notifications, the people who were around us. I made one over in Maryland and I remember we went over, myself and another guy, the line officer, and we go in and we tell the family and they have a catharsis. It's a little bitty town. When I say a catharsis they're all crying. And then just about the time they begin to sort of settle down and the emotion begins to subside another family member comes in. We stayed there for four or five hours with one after the other from outlying areas, cousins or whomever came in and went through that. And then we had the funeral a couple days later. I was grateful to the police because they absolutely kept the press a quarter of a mile away because if they hadn't done that there would have been somebody up there shining cameras in everybody faces to see if they're crying or not but they didn't do that and it was a tough time but here again it was something that you get to do as a chaplain. And when you do that it's sort of like walking up to someone and sucker punching him. They don't know it's coming and you haul off and you hit them. You don't, of course, but it feels like that to them. And then they go through shock and what you are trying to do is talk to them about the person, get them to break down because if you can get a catharsis where they weep and cry it really helps them in the long run to do some of that.

Zarbock: But again who takes care of the chaplain after a duty like that?

Ellis: Well the chaplains take care of each other I guess. We talk to each other about these things. And I think it's important to realize that God takes care of us. I don't think I've told you this story or might have. My mind's a little fuzzy but I can remember one occasion which I felt I was being falsely treated and if there was anything I could do about it. I was being made the scapegoat. I was disconsolate about it. I'm doing a lecture at a professional relevant seminar down in Memphis and at the time I was on the chief chaplain's office staff. So I go out that night and I'm talking and explaining it to the Lord so he'd understand it and I tell him all about it and how frustrated and upset I am. Suddenly, a tremendous peace descended over me. God comforted my heart and I knew it was going to be okay, just going to be fine. So the Lord does minister to you. And then again I have a wonderful wife and my wife loves me and prays with me and listens to me. We share with each other about all this stuff so I think that's a lot of the strength too. I might say a word about my family. One of the things we did with our family was we tried to teach our children that it wasn't just my ministry. It was our family ministry. We all were serving the Lord in the navy chaplaincy because God had called us to do that. So my children were very much a part of that too. That night. Remember I mentioned earlier how the commandant died on Christmas Eve?

Zarbock: Yeah.

Ellis: We had scheduled that evening to have a number of families, 15 or 20 parents and families at our home for not exactly a party but yeah a party sort of. What happened is at the naval academy you have certain midshipmen who would sort of become your surrogate children and you got to know their parents and there were going to be bunch of them down there so we had all this schedule up. We had the food all made. But when this death occurred, of course I was captured by the time and I couldn't do anything and so was my wife. My children, my two sons were teenagers, my daughters were like nine and eleven, they entertained and served the food and did the whole thing. Mom and daddy couldn't be there. Isn't that sweet?

Zarbock: That's wonderful.

Ellis: It is very wonderful. I'm very proud of my children.

Zarbock: Off camera I said-- the last question or the last request for a comment, not a question, a request for a comment I was going to make was viewing retrospectively your youth and development and your educational experiences and your wonderful military experiences and the people that you've met putting that all together into some sort of manifesto of your own, what would that be? What is it?

Ellis: Okay. Man proposes, God disposes. The Lord really is directing and preserving our lives and when something happens to us it may seem to be not what we would have expected. That often is because we don't have the big picture. We don't see it from God's perspective. God loves us but his goal for us is not that we be comfortable and happy. His goal for us is that we be righteous and true and holy and noble and strong and rich in faith. And the things that generate that are sometimes things that are difficult and not easy. I have learned that in the chaplaincy you get to know people from many different faith groups and one of the things you learn is that among Christian faith groups that every faith group has great saints of God and every faith group has a few scoundrels. So it's not the organization or even the doctrinal stance. It's whether or not you love the Lord, whether or not you have a prayer life, whether or not you understand forgiveness of other people and forgiving yourself. It's whether or not you're in touch with your own humanity and the faultiness of us all and whether or not you understand the glory, the grace, and the goodness and the power and the love of the Lord God for us. So all things work together for good with those who love God who are called according to his services.

Zarbock: Chaplain it's been a privilege.

Ellis: Well it's been a pleasure for me too.

Zarbock: Thank you sir.

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