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Interview with George W. Evans, April 26, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with George W. Evans, April 26, 2003
April 26, 2003
Interview with retired Chaplain George W. Evans, Jr.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Evans, George W. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  4/18/2003 Series:  Military Chaplain Length  114 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. Today is April 26, 2003. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Randall Library. We’re at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in McLean, Virginia. This is a continuation of the military chaplains project. Our interviewee is the pastor of the church and retired military chaplain, George W. Evans, Jr.

Zarbock: Good afternoon sir and how are you?

Evans: Good afternoon, fine thank you.

Zarbock: I’m going to start off by asking you what series of events or what conditions existed that led you into entering the ministry and what year was it? Set me a little time period here.

Evans: Well I think I was very fortunate. I grew up in a family that took their faith seriously. My grandfather set a high tone for us all, but then I had an excellent pastor when I was a young person who figured in my life, baptized all of my children, married my wife and I and certainly was inspirational in causing me to think of the ministry.

When I was in 8th Grade we were asked to consider an elective, whether we wished to go into science or engineering. Therefore the following year you would take Algebra or whether we were interested in a career other than that and going to college, in that case take General Math. I wasn’t eager to take Algebra in the first place, but when I thought then at that point what I might do, I thought of being a pastor. I called up the minister with my parents’ encouragement and asked him this question – did I need Algebra or General Math if I wanted to be a minister and he said General Math would do.

So from the time, I know vividly, I remember the night, when I called and asked that question. Over those years, I frankly regretted making the decision a number of times. I kind of got a label early on of being four-eyed Jesus and those sorts of things among my friends and people that knew about it. It wasn’t always simple. Then I always wasn’t certain that I wanted to have this kind of profession either. There were other things that I thought I’d like to do, but it stuck.

I’m about to go to my 45th Anniversary of Seminary Graduation and I’m very thrilled, delighted and would not have changed a bit of it. But that’s when it started.

Zarbock: When you left high school, off you went to College, is that correct?

Evans: Yes.

Zarbock: What year did you enter College and what College did you attend?

Evans: 1951 and Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. That’s also part of the story for me anyway. Again I was the first person in the family to go to College on either side of the house. It was a big event. We saved money. The church, the synod of our church would give you some kind of a scholarship after you completed the first year, but they expected you to make it the first year on your own.

I worked routinely as much as I could and by the end of the summer or the middle of the summer, I had about $150 and my father said well, he had $150 and believe it or not, the cost for a year was $1200. I said "I didn't have that money, how were we going to do this and I didn't know how to get that money, I couldn’t go". He said “don’t worry,” that he would mortgage the house.

I knew what that meant to my father and my father, his esteem from that day on in my mind and heart just soared and never stopped. That was his spirit. He was not a huggy father. He didn't go to all my athletic events which weren’t that many and he didn't attend everything that I did. He always had a couple of jobs, but I knew how profoundly and concerned and interested when he said “we’ll mortgage the house.”

My grandfather learning of this, who didn't have that much money anyway, called me. He didn't have a telephone, but he saw me somewhere and said “I want to talk with you”. I went to see him. He said, “Some day you’ll inherit something I think. I want to give it to you now”. So he had set up a bank account on his own, required two signatures. He didn't trust me with all that money. He required my father’s signature and my signature in the bank account and he deposited $900 in the bank account so I could go to College. That’s how I made it. I cherish those stories, they’re very important to me.

Zarbock: So you finished your Undergraduate work at Gettysburg?

Evans: At Gettysburg Seminary and I married at the end of my senior year. My wife is a graduate of Penn State. She studied Nutrition and was not able to find a position in the town of Gettysburg. They offered her a job of being the hostess at the Hotel Gettysburg which later on became a very famous place. When Eisenhower was ill, that was the location of the Gettysburg White House. But she would have been there before that, nonetheless to be the hostess.

We didn't think that was too good so I looked around and learned from a fraternity brother who had gone on ahead to seminary, that I really ought to look at Philadelphia. I went down there and looked at it, liked it, liked what I heard about it and she was able to get a job outside of Philadelphia so we went there.

Zarbock: What year was that, sir?

Evans: That was in ’55 and graduated in ’58. I was ordained in 1958.

Zarbock: What was your career ambition at that time?

Evans: Well when I was in seminary, the military through the National Lutheran Council sent military chaplains around to various seminaries and they made a presentation on this ministry. I had always felt uneasy because actually before I went to college, I had been approved for a deferment. As soon as I reached 18, I filed the papers. In order to be approved for that deferment, you had to be pre-registered in seminary.

It was a deferment in those days for Theological students and people who were mentally deficient. We had the same deferment, the same number. I forget, I think it was 4D or something like that. I was deferred. Actually before I went to College when I was a senior in high school, Pastor Gaver who was really quite an inspiration to me, had taken me to Gettysburg and had me interviewed by the appropriate people.

I met the President of the Seminary and they asked me some questions such as “if I were in the artillery, would I pull the lanyard on a gun if I knew it was going to shoot somebody or hit somebody?” Would I be able to do that? They were very concerned in those days that the Seminary would not become a shelter for Conscientious Objectors or for people who were not willing to face the issues of conscience.

I suspect that they had suffered some accusations of that sort. So I had to answer those kinds of questions. When I satisfied them that I would have…everything else being equal, I would be a soldier, they admitted me with a Preliminary Admission to the Seminary pending my graduation from college with a satisfactory record so that I could get that deferment.

That always rankled me a bit. When I was very young, my uncle, who was 10 years older than I, had been killed in World War II as a Chief Armor Gunner on a B-17. I was with my grandmother when the telegram was delivered and I knew my uncle well. As a youngster, we had mumps together and we had either measles or chicken pox together. One or the other, I would either go to their house or he would come to our house when we had these diseases together. I knew him quite well, had liked him very much.

So his death meant much to me and I know something of what it meant to my grandfather and my grandmother who were again very close to me. It always seemed like I was shirking with a deferment, so I was kind of set up for the chaplancy. If I couldn’t go or wouldn’t go as a soldier, perhaps I could do something as a chaplain. When they came by, I began to put things in motion.

Floyd Drieth was the Fleet Chaplain of the Atlantic fleet. He later became Chief of Chaplains. A very impressive man and he was one of those that visited our Seminary. I was impressed. I really didn't like the idea of being in the Army and walking and living in the mud. So what I heard from Floyd in this sharp Navy uniform and I’ve always liked the water and always liked boating, it seemed that was the way to go and I applied and was accepted in December 1957 as a Theological Student in the Theological Student Program that the Navy had at that time.

Zarbock: And the Seminary is in Philadelphia?

Evans: Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, yes.

Zarbock: Are you officially in the Navy now?

Evans: I’m retired.

Zarbock: No, no, no, at that time?

Evans: Yes.

Zarbock: You were sworn in?

Evans: Yes as an Ensign Probationer, sworn in, conditioned upon graduation. Upon graduation and being ordained, then offered a superceding commission as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the Navy Reserve and in the Chaplain Corps. But on probation, it was a Probationary Commission. These are Direct Commissions based not upon boot camp or OCS, but based upon achieving this professional degree and professional credential of Ordination.

Zarbock: Well there you are a Lieutenant JG and you’ve got the Navy uniform.

Evans: Well no, it wasn’t exactly that because after joining, I was never able, didn't have the money to afford to go away to any kind of summer program that they wanted me to attend at the Chaplain School. So I never did any of that. I had to work.

Zarbock: And work was pasturing the congregation?

Evans: No, no, no, work was with the Sealtest Dairy or the Kohler and Fretz Bakery. Work was something that had to bring in cash. My wife did very well, but I had to bring home money. It was real. Going off to Newport, Rhode Island for a very modest salary and then losing the rest of the weeks of the summer or finding it difficult to get work, that just didn't fit into the plan (laughter).

Zarbock: But upon…

Evans: Upon completion and Ordination, I went to Philadelphia and was commissioned as Lieutenant Junior Grade, 13 South 13 Street, very famous office known by many Navy people who came into the officer corps, it was an Officer Procurement Center in downtown Philadelphia, many, many Navy people are familiar with 13 South 13 Street.

I recall when I was asked why I wanted to join the Navy because the only military people I knew actually had been in the Army. My uncle was in the Army Air Corps and a close friend of my father’s was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves, the National Guard. They were the only military people I really knew with any closeness. My answer was a very simple one. I just didn't want to live the way I thought the Army lived. The Navy Commander who interviewed me laughed and approved me. That was the start.

Little did I know that I would end up spending most of my time, and loving it, with the Marine Corps. As a matter of fact, I didn't at that time comprehend or hadn’t put the pieces together that the Marine Corps had anything to do with the Navy. The connection just never sank in.

Zarbock: Well that’s a statement of naivety.

Evans: Yes (laughter).

Zarbock: What was your first assignment as a Lieutenant JG?

Evans: Well I actually became very busy in the parish. I’ve always loved the parish. Just as I do here, I did then. We were in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania which is in the middle of North Central Pennsylvania near Williamsport, three little churches. No time really to go to a drill or anything of that sort. I just got involved in the parish.

Shortly after arriving there, the Synod President through the urging of my mentor, Bradley Gaver, my early pastor, still a friend, very much a friend until the time he died, I believe he told the Synod President that we ought to move to a better place, that we could do more parish work or whatever. Nonetheless they were having difficulty filling a post in Lancaster, the City of Lancaster because it was right next to a marvelous pastor who was dynamic, able and extremely popular, Wally Fisher.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Wallace Fisher, but just a marvelous pastor, a dozen books or so. One of those people, the President of the Lutheran church at that time, Franklin Clark Fry, said Wally Fisher could draw a crowd in the middle of the Sahara Desert. This church that was vacant was right beside that church, a block and a half away. There were many older pastors and wiser pastors that weren’t about to go there and serve in Wally Fisher’s shadow.

My wife concurred in the move. It was our home base and I thought it was a tremendous opportunity. There wasn’t anything that I thought Wally Fisher could do to me. I was too young to be worried about such stuff. So very shortly after I was in Jersey Shore, I think 14 months, we were in Lancaster. It was a marvelous time. Wally Fisher became a lifelong friend.

I learned from him and anytime I had a question or problem, I would go. He was never easy on me. He was very hard, very demanding, very rough and at the same time always had time for me and always listened and always supported me and we became lifelong friends from that time on. So I counted that as one of the great things that happened.

While I was there a member of the church was a Commanding Officer of a Marine Reserve Unit. He had been one of Carlson’s Raiders in World War II. He’d been on Guadalcanal as a Raider He was the county prison warden and was a member of our church. I was there a short time and he came to me and said we saw your name on a roster of people who are chaplains in the 4th Naval District and you’re close to Columbia where we have the Reserve Unit. Would I consider being their chaplain?

At that point I thought well I’ve had this commission for a long time. I have an obligation. I went up to see what a Marine Reserve Unit was like and liked what I saw and I served seven years there as the Chaplain in the Marine Reserve unit and loved every bit of it.

Zarbock: What were your duties and obligations?

Evans: They were very kind to me because they understood that I had a church so they excused me from Sunday morning drills. They expected me to be available as a presence, to teach a course that was instituted under the sponsorship of Harry Truman actually, President Truman, on Moral Guidance.

There were certain pieces of literature. As a Lutheran I thought I had to be very careful of some of this because it was very clearly caught up in natural theology and I had to find my way around that as a Lutheran, but it was something that I was able to do. That is, find anyway teaching the subject apart from natural law theology.

Zarbock: For the record, tell me what you mean by Natural Theology.

Evans: Natural Theology is really the theology that you find as orthodox theology in the Roman Catholic Church and it views things from a “natural” point of view which means from my understanding that everything has a purpose or an intention, a potential. You can catch the roots of this in Aristotle, major pieces pass to of it through Thomas Aquinas.

That means it’s a current issue right now that Senator Santorum (Pa. R.) has put his foot in because he’s expressing natural theology in what he’s said about gay people, but it’s everything. It means that everything must achieve a creative purpose. From my perspective where it fails evangelically is it that does not understand that everything is involved in sin so it does not take seriously the profound impact of sin and that all are sinners. All are sinners.

As Paul says, “The whole creation groans in travail”. Natural Theology does not allow for much groaning. It expects everyone is going to achieve their potential. You’re able to teach Natural Law Theology with moral categories that give people very little room. You either achieve this or you are by nature immoral even though the Biblical testimony is that we’ve all sinned. That is reality. We have all sinned.

So it’s a conflict with classic Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Theology. But I taught the subject matter. I taught Moral Guidance and then on Sunday afternoon as soon as I finished my morning church services on a drill weekend, we had church services for the Marines. It was an education all my itself. We had a marvelous Gunnery Sergeant who was a mailman in his civilian life, a postal worker, but a real hard charging Gunnery Sergeant that fit the character of a Marine Gunnery Sergeant.

He lived that role in his heart. He was a Marine Gunnery Sergeant from his soles of his feet to the top of his head. Shortly after I was doing these Sunday services, one of the men came and said, “I don’t think it’s right what the Gunny is doing to us”. I said “What’s he doing?” He said he wanted me to listen to something. I had always been on the second floor putting my things in order and preparing for the church service, while the Gunny called away “Devine services!”

This Marine had me come down and stand in the stairway and listen to the Gunnery Sergeant who after lunch , assembled the company and said, “Alright, I’m a Catholic and I will lead the Catholics in the rosary and I’ll be over in that corner and all Catholics assemble with me. Chaplain Evans is Protestant. He’s having church on the second deck. All Protestants go up the ladder there and assemble with Chaplain Evans. All the rest of you man the brooms” (laughter).

So I learned a little bit about the Marine Corps at that point. I also had the Commanding Officer playing the organ for our services. We had an old field pump organ that would certainly be a relic if anybody could even find one today. It could be assembled and folded into a box. He played the hymns. We just had a grand time. I loved that group of men.

We went to the field together. They didn't know what always to do with me in the field, so when they’d have a field exercise, they delegated me to be one of the enemy. So they let me play Marine and run around in the woods and be the enemy. They always needed aggressors so I was one of the chosen aggressors.

Zarbock: But you were not armed, were you?

Evans: No, really I wasn’t. For that playing with blanks, then I would, but only with blanks and rarely. I really was not armed, but I would be one of the aggressors. That was play for me.

Zarbock: So these are field exercises.

Evans: Field exercises, it was like play in my mind with this unit. They would set up a camp and they would have aggressors that would try to infiltrate. I was a pretty good infiltrator. So I had a lot of fun. It meant sometimes I’d be out Saturday night crawling around in the woods and come home early in the morning and have to get on to church.

Did a lot with them, learned a lot of from them. They taught me how to wear the uniform. I had never been to Chaplain School. The first time I knew I had to wear a uniform I had to buy one. You had to drill so often and accomplish various things and go to a two week summer camp before you could get a uniform allowance. I had to scrape together money to buy the uniform.

Then I went to Philadelphia and met with the 4th District Chaplain, a Catholic Priest at the time. I don’t know what he thought I was meeting him for, but I asked to meet him so I could look him up and down and see how he wore his uniform and figure where all these buttons and pins went. That’s how I did that.

It was a great time with those Marine Reserves. They took care of me. They really, really took care of me. I was theirs. It was a marvelous experience.

Zarbock: I have never interviewed a Navy Chaplain who was associated with the Marines who didn't exactly use that phrase, “they took care of me.” Would you operationalize that remark? How did they take care of you, in what way?

Evans: Well first of all you belong. There’s no mystery about it. Marines know that you would not be there, if somewhere the Commandant had not decided that they needed to have a Chaplain. Secondly they understand that they are about life and death. Frankly as a Navy Chaplain, there are times when people in the Navy, don’t see that as sharply and as distinctly.

For obvious reasons unless you’re an aviator or perhaps a Seal which is certainly a small group of people or in the submarines, the Navy has not taken casualties in those numbers and they don’t put people routinely under fire. When you join the Marine Corps, you assume you’re going to be under fire and so you take issues very seriously and issues of life and death.

I’ve had any number of times when staff NCO’s, officers have said alright, we’ve been doing this long enough. It’s time we had some church. And I can give you story after story of that kind of experience.

Zarbock: Give me one.

Evans: At Montford Point which is part of Camp Lejeune, they have a training area. It’s a place where they trained medical corpsmen in field operations. So, we had field exercises there. We all were under fire, blanks and smoke and explosives but still under fire. People who were dressed as casualties, I remember the first time I saw one of these plastic casualty pieces that covers a man and turns him into a casualty.

I remember going to minister to somebody and suddenly I see this…there’s this face and head torn up and blood and grisly. It just caught me and I thought this is plastic, but it was vivid. Well I remember doing that exercise with a fellow who was going onto become the physician, Medical Officer of the 3rd Marine Division at Okinawa. He hadn’t been in the field with Marines. The training was for physicians and corpsmen, who had not been in the field with Marines.

I was sent there because I had not had enough field experience with Marines. This was real formal training. I remember participating in all of it. We had evening chow and the Master Sergeant who had charge of the whole operation, he stepped up after we finished eating and said, “Alright now, Chaplain’s been playing Marine, it’s time we played his game and showed that we have faith. We’re going to give the Chaplain some time. Those of you who wish to worship with Chaplain Evans, we’re going to put everything together for services over here”.

Marines are always that way. When I was in Vietnam twice under two Commanding Officers in a row, Regimental Commanders, the 11th Marine Regiment, one Curly Reed, the other Colonel Rudzis, two of them in a row, Reed had been a POW in Korea. He had been in World War II. Rudzis was a warrior to the bottom of his soul. Brilliant man. He actually taught chemistry in addition to being a Marine artillery officer, he was capable of teaching chemistry at the Graduate School in Monterey.

Both of them when they were challenged by the 1st Marine Air Wing as to the number of flights the chaplains were taking from the 11th Marines, and did we really need to transport all these chaplains, both of them separately said to the Operations Officer of the Air Wing, in this Regiment the priorities are bullets, food and chaplains. Everyone else flies after those three. Bullets, food and chaplains, I’ve never forgotten that. That’s the way it was. In this Regiment, the priorities for transportation are bullets, food and chaplains.

I flew, we flew, our chaplains flew in the 11th Marines. We covered the whole Division. As a consequence of that, the Division Chaplain assigned a number of priests into our regiment because we saw that they got around. Priests were scarce and we were able to provide them their masses and their presence across the Division.

Zarbock: Let’s return to the point, you’re the Chaplain of this Reserve Unit. You’re also the Pastor of a church?

Evans: St. Stephens Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and then I was Associate Pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in York at the end of that Reserve Service, yes.

Zarbock: What was the next ratchet?

Evans: Well at that point we moved from Lancaster, after six years we moved from Lancaster to York and I was in York a year and a half. Vietnam was going, had started. I went to York in ’64. I had a fine position with a dear friend of mine. We’re very close friends to this day, Franklin D. Fry, Franklin Clark Fry’s son. We’re still very close friends today. He was President of the Lutheran Church in America, a truly great 20th Century Protestant leader.

While there I was active in the Reserves and needed a two week tour of training duty. I’d never been to sea. I had never been on a ship. The District Chaplain recommended or somehow or other I requested an MSTS ship. Military Sea Transport Service ships are civilian manned Navy owned ships, government owned ships, civilian manned with a military personnel on board. Military personnel aboard that take care of the embarked passengers. They are the military piece of it. There was a Lieutenant Commander or a Commander and there’s a chaplain, physicians nurses and corpsmen as part of that a float detachment. You carried Army and Air Force people and others to Europe and their families.

So the suggestion was that I go on one of those cruises to Europe in February, which I did. It was a marvelous experience for me. It was almost three weeks round trip to Portsmouth, England, Bremerhaven, Germany and back to New York. The North Atlantic lived up to its reputation. I had a good chance to get sea legs and see something about the sea being at its worse while dealing with the passengers who were Army soldiers going overseas and a number of their families.

From a family point of view, it was sort of a military version of a cruise ship with troop compartments. There was an active duty chaplain aboard, and we conducted worship and religious programs. Worked with the children, had charge of the children’s play area, provided training and teaching of all kinds, counseled, interviewed, and visited regularly among the troops. It was a full period of time.

Zarbock: What year was this chaplain?

Evans: That would have been in the winter of ’66. I came back from there convinced that I really should go on active duty. As a Reserve Chaplain with a Reserve Unit in Columbia, there were a number of Marines who had volunteered. The idea that I had this commission, I always felt that I had an obligation. I think frankly it may sound a little dramatic, but I honestly think that came from my views of my uncle who lost his life.

I recall sitting at the dinner table when my aunt who certainly loved her brother but was a sibling and made some sibling like comment about her brother. I remember my grandfather just stopping and looking at all of us and saying, “We must remember when we speak of Richard, he gave his life for his country and in this family we will always treat him as one who gave his life for his country. No one can do more”. I always thought to myself “I’m not doing very much.” So I was set up at that point.

Zarbock: And you were a married man, children?

Evans: Yes, yes, two children.

Zarbock: My wife obviously knew I had this interest. She always had to deal with that and did very well. The real clincher had come the previous November when that Gunnery Sergeant that I told you about, Gunney Shucker, had in the summer before gotten some brilliant idea that we very Marine Unit celebrates the Marine Corps Birthday, November 10. It’s also Martin Luther’s birthday, but November 10 is the Marine Corps Birthday. Wherever you are, Marines stop and celebrates that and we did in that Reserve Unit. It was not always a very uplifting occasion, but we did.

Gunny Schucker decided we needed to do something better than we’d ever done before. On his own he got this inspiration, put his wife and son in the car and drove down to Tidewater , Virginia and went to see Chesty Puller. Chesty in his typical fashion if you’ve ever read his biography, took the family out to lunch. The Gunnery Sergeant asked “would you consider, I know you’re probably going to Washington or New York or somewhere for the Marine Corps birthday.”

“Would you consider being our guest and being the guest of honor at our celebration?” Chesty Puller as I recall it being repeated said, “Oh, those people up there, they never worry about me anymore! They’ve forgotten all about me. I’d consider that”.

Zarbock: For the record, who was Chesty Puller?

Evans: Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller is the model of the ideal aggressive Marine. Marines still revere Chesty Puller and will forever. If we were in the Greek world, ancient Greece, we would have statues about Chesty Puller and burn incense or something in front of him. He earned five Navy Crosses, a distinguished combat veteran. He’s a true model of a combat Marine.

Marines today still talk about Chesty and use all kinds of descriptions, but always with great admiration. He is the model of an aggressive combat Marine. So that retired general came to our Marine Corps birthday celebration. That made the Commanding Officer and the Inspector Instructor, a Regular Marine assigned to us and the District Director of the Marines from Philadelphia, a Colonel, and everyone else be on their toes cause now you’re hosting this fellow, Chesty Puller. He was known to talk frankly to the press and everybody else.

As soon as you announce that Chesty Puller is coming, you knew everybody was interested. Well that was our birthday celebration. I’ll never forget it. We went to a major hotel. Around the walls they had models of each of his ribbons about 6” high perhaps and 12 or more inches long in the correct colors. You sat there and you looked around the wall at the ribbons this fellow had earned from Haiti, Nicaragua, he was at Guadalcanal, Pelelieu. They were in Korea at the Chosen Reservoir. He’s the fellow that said, when they were told that they were surrounded, he said something like, “We have been looking for the enemy for several days now. We finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of finding those people and killing them” At the conclusion of the Chosen Reservoir, Chesty told reporters. “Remember, whatever you write, this was no retreat. All that happened was we found more Chinese behind us than in front of us. So we about faced and attacked.”

Chesty Puller came and spoke to Marines Reserves, but committed Marines. Vietnam was stumbling along at that point. Our Congressman was there as well the Mayor and many others, the Congressman, all kinds of people came. I remember his saying to the Congressman, “If you can get me back on active duty, I think I can help them over there”.

He was a gentleman. He was not crude or rude in any way. He roused the Marines and he also roused my wife by his concern for women, his obvious devotion to his wife, who was not there. He spoke with devotion about his wife. He spoke of how valuable she was in his life and of his great concern for his wife and his children and spoke with such earnestness and seriousness that I remember Jean leaning over and saying, “Well, if Marine people are like that then I think we could live among them”. She gave me permission. She stood in line and got his autograph.

As I’ve told people, I went on active duty because Chesty Puller charmed my wife. That’s exactly what happened. So in ’66, in the summer of ’66 after that trip to Europe, in the winter I applied, was accepted to go to Chaplain School. I didn't realize it but I was then under consideration for promotion to Lieutenant Commander and if I was selected, they would take me on active duty because they needed chaplains.

If I was not selected, they would not take anyone on active duty who failed selection. So, I didn't realize I was before a Selection Board, but I was. We went through a period of time waiting for the Selection Board to decide and then waiting for that to be published. The long and short of it was I was selected. I had the unusual experience then of going to Newport, Rhode Island as a Lieutenant Commander, O4, who had never been to Chaplain School. I had had a lot of fun in the Reserves and was very much committed to the Marine Corps.

Zarbock: Well how did you get to Vietnam?

Evans: Well at Chaplain School, I had volunteered to go with the 5th Marine Division, they were forming at the time. My orders when I got to Chaplain School were for the USS AJAX and Service Group 3. The AJAX (AR-6) was a Tender Repair Ship home-ported in Sasebo, Japan, Service Group 3 handled the logistical support and repairs and maintenance for the 7th fleet.

The Group Admiral had his Flag aboard the AJAX. I didn't know AJAX other than as a cleanser from the man in the moon. I was very disappointed when I got those orders because I expected to go with the 5th Marine Division. That’s what I put down. I went to see the Head of the Chaplain School and told him I was disappointed. He said, “Do you know what these orders are?” I said” No, but I had volunteered to go with the Marine Corps.”

I understood that the law said if a Reserve volunteers for a particular assignment and you accept him, there is a commitment to the Reserve to do that for which he volunteered. The Head of the School said, “That’s true, but I don’t think it’s necessarily smart. You need to look at this again and think about this a little bit before you make a final decision”. I asked what it was.?

He said he didn't know how I got those orders. He said it’s unusual to get orders like that out of Chaplain School. He said that was an excellent ship, homeported in Sasebo, Japan, I could take my family to Japan. I would be visiting the Far East on that ship. There was an Admiral on the ship. I was going to be the Chaplain for a 1000 people plus being involved with the logistical ships that somehow or other are related to Service Group 3 and I’d have my family with me.

He said if I went to Vietnam, I’d be a year without my family and that I might want to think about what that means to my family. So I asked, I as I always do, I called my wife and said now we have a choice. She had told me early on that she was a girl that remembered World War II movies. The Japanese people were always portrayed as rather sneaky.

She had told me when we signed up that she would go anywhere except she didn't want to go to Japan. So I said ”We had a choice. We could go to Japan as a family and be together for this period of time or, most of the time together or, I could , probably get orders to go to Vietnam”. She said ” I’ll take Japan.” I went back and said” We’d take the orders.” So we began to put everything in motion and I ended up in Japan.

My wife fell in love with Japan, loved the people. She saw more in Japan in some respects than I did. She became very comfortable. When we arrived in Japan, it was a shocking experience because the ship was ready to go to sea. We had a home. We had sent some money ahead and somebody had found a place for us to live after a long, exhausting trip which is another story. We went to look at this place.

It was beside an open “benjo ditch” which is an open sewer. We traveled enough in the Far East, you began to be grateful that there were sewers. I mean it’s another side of life, but we weren’t used to it. The house was on the second floor. As we went up the steps, you stepped beside bags of onions and bags of rice and bags of whatever.

She said, “You mean I’m going to live here, in this and our kids play there? Not me!”. So I went back and told the Naval Officer who had found that place for us, that we weren’t going to take it. We were living then in the Bachelor’s Officers Quarters which were part of the Officer’s Club or the Guest Officer’s Quarters. We had two rooms there.

My wife wasn’t about to leave these quarters with two children. That Officer’s Quarters were interesting. In World War II, much of the surface fleet for the Japanese Navy was homeported, the destroyers for example out of Sasebo. This was their Officer’s Club and still had reminders of the Japanese Navy there in1966.

Then the ship goes to sea. I had not been successful in finding a house. I had some leads, but I had not found one. The Navy wanted my wife out of that Club and she wouldn’t move. I wrote a letter to her father and mother saying I’m sorry but it would not surprise me if Jean came home. She said she just couldn’t deal with this housing problem and I was very sorry I put her in this position. So I wrote a letter of apology trying to get them to understand, if she decided to leave.

But in the meantime, she dug in and she followed up on the one lead we had found. She waited it out. The ship received messages to have Chaplain Evans have his wife move out and I said I wasn’t going to do it. They said “tell him if he doesn’t do that, we’ll stop his BAQ,” that was the second threat. I said” They’d just have to stop my BAQ because my wife wasn’t moving until she was happy.”

Zarbock: BAQ stands for?

Evans: It’s a Quarters Allowance so you’re able to buy housing, afford housing. So they did stop my Quarters Allowance because of where she was living. Of course the beauty of that is she bought their meals there and could sit with our two kids by the swimming pool, but she was hunting. She was diligent.

I came back two months later, had a fine deployment with a new Commanding Officer had come aboard the ship, really a marvelous man, a lifelong friend. He’s now deceased, but a friend the rest of his life to me. How often you are able to succeed because of the quality of the people around you. That I remember.

The ship had had a very strange Commanding Officer. When I was introduced to him, he was drinking a cup of coffee, had his head down almost on the table looking at me and sort of talking to me out of the corner of his mouth and I thought, “Oh my heavens!” The Executive Officer was a strange duck. Everybody was afraid of the Executive Officer on the ship. Everybody was afraid of him. I thought ”What have I gotten into here?”

Housing, and now this! Well, we got a new Commanding Officer within two days or so of my coming on the ship. He reported in and the ship’s officers, the first night he was there, had a reception for him in the Officer’s Club. I went with my wife. Didn't know the Ship’s Officers. I was new, he was new. He came over to see me, sought me out.

He said, “You’re the chaplain?”. I said “yes.” He said he understood I was Lutheran. I said “yes.” He said, “My name is Langar. For the time we’re together, I’m a Lutheran. Really, I’m a Methodist, but for the times we’re together, I’m a Lutheran”. From that time on, he took this ignorant chaplain, ignorant of a lot and he became as fine a Commanding Officer as you would ever want. Thank God I really didn't serve with that first guy (laughter).

I recall getting a note from him about something or other. I couldn’t read it. I couldn”t decipher it. I sat there pondering what does he want, what is this about. I thought he was going to leave the ship the next day and maybe if I just don’t do anything, he’ll go and I won’t know anything about it. I thought” I can’t ask the Executive Officer because everybody on the ship was afraid of him”. So I sat there with this note and I didn't do anything. If this is really serious, I said to myself,” somebody is going to come and get me “ nobody came and got me, nobody said anything to me. I still don’t know what that note meant (laughter).

Zarbock: Was the Executive Officer transferred?

Evans: No, the Executive Officer was always stern and a tough person, but once that old Captain left, the Executive Officer’s personality changed. He was still tough, but he became a friend. I’ve always been blessed with that. When he did leave, the new XO came aboard became a lifelong friend again.

His successor, Chuck McCall, arrived staying in that same Officers’ Club. He just checked into Officers’ Club with a wife and six children I think. A very large family, they shouldn’t have sent him out of the country actually because of the size of his family. He was there, but nobody had met him. We knew he had arrived when a message was received that his mother died. .

I was given the message to take to him. I didn't know him I was still green. I knocked on his door. That was my introduction to him, to tell him that his mother had died. He was from Johnson City, Tennessee, as fine a man as you’d ever want to know.

That tour on the AJAX, nevertheless turned out to be a marvelous piece of our lives. I went in the Navy for three years. The time on the AJAX made me think maybe I ought to look at it longer. I came off the ship and went to Camp Lejeune, a place which was really very much in my heart. The only duty I ever really requested was duty with the Marines.

Zarbock: Well, let’s stop, you have returned to the United States from Sasebo?

Evans: Yes, well you asked me about the first time I’d been to Vietnam. The first time I was in Vietnam, I went with the AJAX, but I was on ship and I volunteered to ride circuit which meant the oilers and ammunition ships and various supply ships. When the AJAX tied up, I often had other chaplains from Service Group 3 cover the AJAX so I could ride circuit.

I rode circuit twice on oilers which left from Subic Bay and went over to Vietnam. They started in the southern part of Vietnam and made their way on what was then called Market-Time. They were servicing the small ships, patrol craft, Coast Guard cutters, destroyers and made it up Yankee Station which was where the aircraft carriers were with their destroyers. They were circulating in an area of the China Sea calledYankee Station. You provided fuel oil for all those ships and then made your way back to Subic Bay, Philippine Islands..

Zarbock: The year then was what, sir?

Evans: 1967, ’68. We were caught up in everything that occurred in some respects, The PUEBLO, for exmple. We were in Subic Bay. The PUEBLO administratively belonged to Service Group 3. As a consequence of that event, we ended up staying 12 weeks at Subic Bay., PI.

The PUEBLO was captured by North Korea and became a major international incident. In our Ops Room, Service Group 3. We always had the PUEBLO on the board. We did not control the PUEBLO. It was an intelligence operations everybody knows, but administratively they belonged to us. Part of the fascination I’ve had with the Navy and the Marine Corps is just always being on the edge of what’s happening.

As I came to learn, the chaplain doesn’t run the ship or direct the command, but you have probably the best seat in the house. You’re part and parcel of the command and everything is open to you. On AJAX we routinely spent time in Japan, in Sasebo and then occasionally Yokaska and then we went to Kaoshiung, Taiwan, Subic Bay, Hong Kong and back.

We at one point went to Vung Tau near the end of my time on AJAX and we were in the harbor at the mouth of the Mekong River and there provided support, repairs and technical maintenance support for all kinds of small boats and vessels that were in those rivers. They came by the droves for the technical support that we could provide.

Hanoi Hannah threatened that AJAX would be blown up. That kept all the youngsters up anyway. Of course it never happened. They were my early visits to Vietnam. The family was getting acclimate to Navy life. We raised our children in Japan. It was a delightful experience for them and for my wife.

I, of course, still had this fascination with the Marine Corps from my Reserve days so when the time came to put in a selection, I had been with the Reserves to Camp Lejeune and put in my number one selection was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I learned that not everybody requests Camp Lejeune, but I certainly did. We went there.

I’ve never regretted the time on the AJAX. Marvelous command, marvelous…the admirals, the flag officers, great support, great opportunities. I learned that the role of a chaplain was to be with the people. That meant at night to be able to get out and about down Down into the boiler room wherever people were standing watches, up on the bridge, wherever they were spending the night, standing through the long night. That’s what I did.

The First Lieutenant on the ship became a friend for the rest of his life. He was a salty old character named Bob Martin who called himself BPH, - Before Pearl Harbor - and had been a coxswain on the battleship NEVADA at Pearl Harbor. No one could ever figure out why that salty old Boswain’s Mate who was now a Mustang, the First Lieutenant and the Chaplain went ashore together. But, we became bosom buddies and friends and stayed so until Bob died.

Jean and I and our daughter Karen, and son Brian, went from there to Camp Lejeune. Again I was fortunate. There was some problem or circumstance as to how they would provide a ministry at the 1st Infantry Training Regiment. The Infantry Training Regiment was training Marines to go to Vietnam. They became Marines at Parris Island. Parris Island would literally equip them, fatten them up actually and get them ready to be Marines, take care of their basic problems, dental and physical, whatever that might be.

Then, they would come to Camp Lejeune and that’s where they learned how to function as a field Marine. The Infantry Training Regiment. I was assigned to that by Frank Morton, again, a Senior Chaplain who took me under his wing and thought that I’d be good for the Infantry Training Regiment. I spent my time in the Infantry Training Regiment and I learned and I learned.

In order to be a chaplain at the Infantry Training Regiment, you had to go into the field. Going into the field, you were in the field as the Marines learned how to be basic O3’s or riflemen in the field, machine gunners, mortar men. You followed them around and you served them.

Zarbock: You’re sleeping under the canvas?

Evans: No, I didn't. That was one of the privileges of course. This was training camp. They slept under canvas. I visited around and among them, but I didn't have to sleep under canvas. I went home at night, but I was out there through all of the exercises. More than that, I also had the opportunity I didn't realize its full impact at the time and I regret that, of speaking to every Unit, every group that came to the Infantry Training Regiment.

These are people that had not been home. They had gone through Parris Island. They were bussed from MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and placed immediately into training. That training lasted from 30 to 60 days normally. There were some that were given a light piece of training and they went off to aviation or to some other technical school, supply school or something of that order.

The basic infantrymen, everyone needed so much, received various amounts of infantry training. The basic infantrymen and the various skills and disciplines of infantry were trained there for example in the use of machine guns, mortars and hand held rockets. I had two years of that. We were because of the need. This was Vietnam, we literally were training people who were going to be in combat.

I had a marvelous Commanding Officer, Colonel Sims a tough old fellow who was retained on active duty because of his value to the Marine Corps. He’d been passed over for general a number of times. One of the great burdens on his heart, they - called him” preacher” actually, and he should have been a preacher perhaps, but he was a fine Marine, - a marvelous Marine, a burden on his heart was the fact that this was the third time in his Marine Corps career where he trained men for combat.

He was ever so concerned with their diet, with their uniforms, with the details of every, every, every piece of their livery. He hounded the Lieutenant Colonels who led the battalions. He hounded everybody under him, but he was very appreciative of what we did. As a consequence, I had the largest congregation of young adults on the East Coast Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Perhaps the largest young all male congregation in the U.S., although that may be stretching it a bit.

We would fill the chapel and I mean fill it! Fill every bit of the chapel ‘til I would stand and have Marines sitting all around me in a small circle and the rest of the chapel filled. All the pews, standing along the walls, sitting on the floor. I had enough room to teach and preach and enough room for the Holy Communion. Then they would come and receive it. Nine hundred young male Marines on a Sunday, men coming forward one at a time.

It wasn’t everybody but it was most of them. The Colonel would attend periodically. Often when he came, he would send a note to me. He would have a young Marine bring me a note and the note would say, “Chaplain, if you do not mind, would it be alright if I said a few words to these men after you’re finished?”

By that he meant after I said the benediction, if I would allow him. if I would allow him? that’s the Marine Colonel, the Regimental Commander, asking to say a few words in the chapel – his chapel – to his Marines. So, I would give the benediction, before the last hymn. Then I would stand say, “Men, Colonel Sims, our Regimental Commander, would like to talk with you”.

He would speak from his heart to those young men. They were going to Vietnam. We had people who were temporarily assigned to us to help us with the management of the chapel who later on, lost their lives in Vietnam. We had people who were decorated. It was an amazing experience to be that close to it and yet not to be in Vietnam.

It was a very logical thing for me then, as time went on, to volunteer to go to Vietnam. I had not been to Vietnam other than as a Naval Officer on a Navy ship. The experience is quite different. But, I had the privilege of participating, spiritually participating in the training of those young men who were off to Vietnam. We would have from about 3500 thereabouts to 7000 Marines in the Infantry Training Regiment at any given time.

I had some help given to me from the 2nd Marine Division. The chaplains were all in Vietnam. It took 100 chaplains in those days to maintain the pipeline of chaplains going and coming and the chaplains serving in Vietnam. So, you had to have 100 chaplains moving around in some way, shape or form, to keep the Vietnam situation served with the Marine Corps. That was only the Marine Corps.

We didn't have as many chaplains at Camp Lejeune as they typically do now or as they should have had then. But they provided chaplains from the Division and I was assigned an additional chaplain. We were busy. We were absolutely busy. The chapel was a center and part of the life at Camp Lejeune. Camp Geiger was originally known as Tent City because tent city is where the Marines trained who fought on Guadalcanal. That was its roots, its early origins, in Onslow County.

The Marines were still living, in those days, in wooden barracks. It was an exciting time. In the winter, when the training was intense, particularly as we prepared these men because we wanted to send them home for Christmas so they’d have some time home. They hadn’t been home in months because of there training cycle. We sent them home and then they would go to Vietnam.

We broke training at Christmas allowing them to be home for Christmas and then come back and then go directly from Camp Lejeune to Vietnam. It was quite a piece of pressure. There were times, I remember Milt Travwick, a Baptist Chaplain who came to assist on a Sunday giving Communion, a Southern Baptist Chaplain giving Communion in the field in a snow storm at Camp Lejeune, standing there with his fingers frozen. That’s 2000 Marines lined up and coming for Holy Communion.

There were many, many precious moments there. The chapel was such an eyepiece, this old World War II building, a framed structure that was thrown up quickly in World War II and it’s still that in 1969. The Marines took such pride in it. We shined and polished that chapel that when the IG came, this is the first time I was inspected by the Marine Corps IG, John Craven, a legendary Marine Chaplain, who is deceased, he probably is as deserving as anybody to have his oral history taken, but unfortunately he’s deceased.

John Craven was The Chaplain of the Marine Corps and he inspected us for the Marine Corps Inspector General. I was subsequently inspected by him on four occasions which is kind of a record I guess. John gave us an outstanding and that meant an enormous amount. I didn't realize what it meant. We were mentioned in the Official Report and to have a chapel mentioned in an Official Report from the Infantry Training Regiment put us right up on the top rung. We were pulling our own, making the right kind of difference,

I remember the Colonel telling the people at the Medical Department they had a lot to do taking care of all that many Marines. They thought they were too busy to do some of the other things that the Marines appreciate, keeping their place spotless and shiny. I, for one, remember him telling the Chief over there and the Senior Medical Officer that they should come visit the chapel and learn how to maintain a facility. Well they didn't appreciate that, but it was a marvelous experience as a young chaplain to know we were connecting and being accepted by the Marines.

It was constant counseling. We were either in the field having services or following people in their training or doing something in the field, eating in the field, being with the Marines in the field or counseling. You would look out the door and the hallway would be filled with Marines with one set of circumstances after another.

I learned a lot about people, a lot about different parts of the country as you interviewed and counseled with young men from all over the Eastern part of the United States. I learned that young men from Northern Maine and young men from West Virginia, and parts of Upstate New York, had certain similar characteristics about them. Others were different. You learned all of this about people. It was just an amazing time.

Zarbock: As a generalization, what sort of problems were presented to you for counseling?

Evans: Well because Parris Island was so intense, to give you an illustration, I became the Principal Interviewer for people who were Conscientious Objectors or thought they might be. Now you must remember this isn’t like the Army. While Marines at that time did take draftees, even most of the draftees volunteered. They would be drafted and at the assembly place, somebody would ask “Who wants to go into the Marine Corps?” So other than that, all Marines are volunteers.

It’s not as if somebody was swept up. These are people that in the midst of this intense training had qualms or thought they did or thought maybe this is a way to get out what they no longer wanted to do. They had to be interviewed by a chaplain. So on the East Coast, I was the one who interviewed all Conscientious Objectors in the Marine Corps who came through the normal training program for enlisted Marines.

There may be some exceptions, but I doubt that there were. They would not do that interviewing at Parris Island. They didn't have time for it so, I did it. I remember having to learn and take seriously who was a conscientious objector and who was not. I found that a number who applied, were, but were not.

Zarbock: If you affirmed that they were, what would happen then?

Evans: Well my interview was simply one of a string of interviews. They had to build their case and while they did that, they were put in a Casual Company where they did routine work around Camp Geiger. There were only a few. There were not many. I don’t want to imply that there were many, there were not. Most of them were people who were thinking their way through, where they now found themselves Quite often my job was to help them think their way through.

One that was quite genuine for example reminded me of the story of Sergeant York. He came out of the hill country and he was a hill guy. His pastor was a woman, a Holiness woman pastor, who in mail from her he had grown up under her. Very much like Sergeant York was told “ You shall not take a life.” This was daunting for him. We had to get a statement.

Well if you’re a Presbyterian or something, you get a statement from the Presbyterian Church. We had to get a statement from this woman pastor as to what she had taught this young man and she provided it, handwritten, you know, a handwritten statement. I had interviewed him and read this. I was quite certain this was authentic. The Marines honored that. It took a while, it wasn’t fast, but the Marines honored that.

I also had a Mennonite from Lancaster County, Pennslyvania. I know Lancaster County. He was from a Mennonite Church in Lancaster County that I knew. He had growing up as a Mennonite; decided he wanted to stretch out. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to Parris Island

I remember asking him, “ What was boot camp like?” He said “It was easy.” They let us sleep until five”. He had grown up on a Mennonite farm and he could now sleep in until 5:00. He was getting mail from the Mennonite Church, members of his congregation . This caused him to genuinely question. In his case, he questioned, he thought it through and I felt privileged to sit with him as he was working his way through.

He decided to stay in the Marine Corps, that he was not a Conscientious Objector and did not agree with the Mennonite Church at that point. That was his judgment and I felt quite privileged to be able to sit and to avoid imposing my views, but to be someone against which this young man could bounce off his views.

A lot of problems for young Marines of course, with their girls, somebody’s pregnant and how do we get married and all of these issues that come with young people. But it was a great privilege. From there I had requested again to go to Vietnam and finally got there, was sent in 1970 to the 1st Marine Division.

Zarbock: By troop ship?

Evans: No, no, you assembled in Camp Pendleton California where they had a small training school for Chaplains, given by chaplains who had been in combat. One of the oddities of that is that every chaplain thinks their experience is the definitive one and they had all been there at other times. Vietnam changed every six months in some way or other. Also if you were there in the North where it’s rocky, there are actions that you’d take that you would not do further South where it’s mucky and swampy.

I remember they taught us at Pendelton that the first thing we should do is dig a hole so we had a place to go, a fighting hole, in our case a place to hide, a place to get your head down below the ground. You could see from the photos that have come back from Iraq how the Marines in order to sleep at night have a hole. That’s routine.

The problem is if you do that in a marshy area, it fills up with water. I remember one of my friends, the first thing he did in Vietnam was dig a deep hole: a large deep hole. You could baptize people there (laughter), but he certainly wasn’t going to lay down in it.

Zarbock: He built a pond.

Evans: From there we went by air to Vietnam. I was assigned to the 11th Marine Regiment and spent my time in Vietnam with them. That’s the artillery regiment, at one point I really wanted to be with the Infantry. Then, I learned that I was able to do so much more with the artillery that I became very much at peace serving with the artillery. I was the Regimental Chaplain. I was given as many chaplains as the Division Chaplain could because of our ability to get the chaplains around.

By its nature, every Artillery Battery is attached to an infantry battalion. So the first Battalion 11th Marines provides artillery batteries for each of the Battalions of the 1st Marines. That meant that we had a battery of artillery with every Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment. The same thing was true with the 5th Marines and the 7th Marines.

So wherever we had a battery, I was able to go, and not only to go. I had a responsibility to go! I developed a chart that I’ve since shared with other chaplains and I think some have used it. It’s a simple thing. I used the idea later on the aircraft carrier where I drew a chart that listed every, like a spreadsheet, listed every unit down even to the sub-units that would go off on their own for some special purpose or other. I had that listed and then checked off when a chaplain saw them. I knew when I saw them or when was the last time they had exposure to a chaplain. So we were able to cover that Regiment and helps

a fair piece of the 1st Marine Division, like a blanket. We could get to places that Battalion Chaplains couldn’t always go, if any artillery element was there including some of the Civic Action Patrols. We were able to go there as well. First time I was shot at, I was conducting services with a squad of Marines at a Civil Action Patrol where we had to get in a row boat and, in that, cross a little river or creek We covered that squad of Marines.

We covered all those units. I was not in Vietnam at a time when there was routinely violent action. I was there at a time when you were worried about mines and constantly on the lookout for somebody trying to blow up something or other, something done on the sneak and sly. We were very secure and we were very able. We got around everywhere.

Zarbock: Am I correct in assuming that essentially you were living in the field?

Evans: No, because of helicopters. I spent a lot of time in the field actually. We had an Integrated Observation Device it’s called IQD. The early use of lasers. The use of a preset location and the ability to triangulate a position and measure distances by laser. Then a ship’s binoculars, a large ship’s binoculars all mounted on the same device that allowed, with a night vision device, an Observation Post to spot something, bounce it with a laser, tell the position precisely and call in artillery.

Well we had several of them round the divisions operating area. We had maybe four or five. Some of them were more permanent than others, but all of them were out in the bush. They used to call part of it the “Arizona territory” which is a wild territory.

I would visit them and spend the night. I found that your credibility as a chaplain is not to be a visitor. You’re not a visitor. There are a lot of people that visit the field, but visit and then get out of it. If you’re going to have credibility with the men you have to share some of their life. You can’t simply be a drop-in artist.

The same thing as carrying a camera. There are many that carry cameras. I carried a camera, but I found that carrying a little Minolta that I could put in my pocket was ok. It was very small and I wouldn’t use it all the time. I’d have people say you ought to get a picture of this or that. I’m not a tourist and they knew it. I didn’t always use it.

I wasn’t a tourist and you had to be very careful that you didn't come off as a tourist. You were part of the unit. The men knew that. The men knew you would eat their food. The men knew you would sleep with them. The men knew you would get dirty with them. Not that I was in combat or anything of the sort that I needed…I never carried a weapon.

Very zealous about that with one exception. When my driver, you would get very close with your clerk or your driver, your assistant, the Chaplain’s Assistant. My driver when he was driving, I would hold his weapon on my lap. And, quite frankly, I’m convinced I would have used it if need be to protect him. I was his protector at that point. He was my protector all the rest of the time.

It can be dangerous. We went through a little town, one of most scary episodes of my life actually. We went through a little village routinely to a Fire Support Base called Ross, as far as out as you could go in the Marine operating area to a base, a full base. It was in the Southwestern part of the Marine’s area. This village was on the edge of that base. The road went right between the houses.

We would get there from Camp Baldy, maybe spend the night at Baldy and then leave first thing in the morning. Baldy was another base, a larger base. We would ride out right behind the sweeps. They were sweeping for mines. It was not unusual to go in one end of the village while the Viet Cong were running out the other end of the village. They had spent the night there, or would be there rousting the people. I’ve seen people crying as we came in their village after a night with the VC..

The Viet Cong were not nice people to their own people. A lot of Americans, I think, never got that picture. I recall our driving down this little road, dirt road through the village. A youngster, a little child, came out with a pistol and pointed it at me. He was about 3 feet away from me. Very close! The road isn’t wide. Very close! I almost shot him. I was as close, as I could be to shooting him. Then, I saw it was plastic and then I saw it was a child.

My reaction to this pistol being shoved at me, I saw that it was plastic and I saw that it was a child. I didn't shoot and I’ll be forever grateful all of my life. But, here again, I was in my late 30’s. I had some wisdom, some sense. Put an 18 year old in that predicament and see what things would happen. That was my ministry, going from place to place.

As a consequence of being in the 11th Marines, we took over and helped the Mormons get established. There was one Mormon Chaplain. People were concerned whether Mormons could work in the military or work in the Marine Corps. We had a Mormon Chaplain assigned to Ross. He became a good friend. As a matter of fact, as a civilian he came to see me a few times later on.

The chaplaincy is different than the regular ministry because you have to be concerned for everybody. Here I am, this pastor of this church, Redeemer Lutheran Church ,and there are churches up the street and around our community. I know something about them, but I don’t really spend a lot of time worrying about them or thinking about them. But I had to worry about the Mormons with the 1st Marine Division and this Mormon Chaplain who was trying.

Many Protestants would not accept his ministry. It was simply just the way of it. There were things that he could not do. Communion becomes extremely vital to people in combat. I don’t know that I ever had a service of worship, certainly not in the field in Vietnam that I did not have Communion. Every Baptist Chaplain I know of, some of them consists of a brand of Baptists that can only have Communion in their own congregation. As you know there’s 101 brands of Baptisms, but every chaplain soon came to give Communion because it was sought and it was so genuine. But he couldn’t give Communion. A Mormon could not give communion to a non-Mormon. And now, non-Mormons are not likely to receive Communion from a Mormon. Many were concerned about what he would teach. He really was careful, but his services were brief moral talks. To be at all effective, he needed help.

What they do, I believe in Communion is use bread and water. So, we provided for that and said you can’t give Communion, but we’ll give Communion. What you can’t do, we’ll do. We will provide services and we did. We provided Catholic Priests, dealt with the Catholics. The 11th Marines Regiment Chaplains really had a marvelous hour because of the transportation we were given by outstanding Commanding Officers and we were able to spread out across that Regiment into the whole of the 1st Marine Division.

Zarbock: At this point, I’m going to interrupt and ask a question I’ve asked all other chaplains. In your military career, was there ever an incident or incidences in which you were ordered or in which it was strongly suggested or which through some means communicated to you an order that would have done violence to your personal and spiritual ethic and belief system?

Evans: Absolutely not! I’ve had that suggested by Senior Chaplains. The danger there is the Chaplain Corps. The danger is not the military. I suspect there are people who have done that because I know some military leaders, I don’t think they go too far, but for a time may pretend to something that is wrong and compromising to the chaplains. I’ve been spared that. I think part of it is, well, I’ve been spared it for whatever reason. It’s never been attempted on me.

Zarbock: Universally all chaplains have said I never one time received an order for even an elliptical reference to something with one exception. It happened to be, I won’t mention the branch of Service or anything else, a chaplain’s wife was teaching Sunday school at a very large base. The Commanding Officer’s wife was also teaching Sunday School but was doing it, she thought, much better than the Chaplain’s wife.

She told the Chaplain that she, the wife of the Commanding Officer of the Base, was going to have the Commanding Officer call the Chaplain and make arrangements. The Commanding General called the Chaplain and apologized and said this is absolutely beyond anything that could be expected.

Evans: No, at a certain level I could see perhaps something of this sort might happen, but I have never experienced it. Frankly I cannot go out and identify a chaplain who has either. I cannot. I have seen Senior Chaplains who have thought that in order to lead worship you had to do this, that or the other thing or this person can’t do worship because they do it in a different way or something.

I’ve seen Senior Chaplains who have had that concern. I’ve seen Senior Chaplains who are concerned about the chaplain as a Staff Officer who believed that the chaplain must conform to something or other. Now, that I have seen! I’ve always resisted it and they’ve never succeeded. This is for a chaplain our greatest danger in that sort comes from other chaplains not from the military itself.

Later, I had requested Camp Lejeune again because I didn't know where else to go in the Navy, and Lejeune was home for our family and such. At that point, I was only beginning to think seriously of a Navy career. I still thought I’d return to the civilian parish. My long term Navy vision was limited. Our children, our two older children, that’s where they were educated in their early education. It was a marvelous place and I loved the Marines.

I went back to Camp Lejeune and in time was made the Chaplain of Headquarters and Support Battalion and then the Dean of the Chapel, the Commanding General called me, The Dean, and that in his view he was to be the principal preacher and the leader of the Protestant chapel, which is quite an edifice all of itself. It’s quite an honor.

Zarbock: At Lejeune?

Evans: At Lejeune. This is during Vietnam and I could speak, I don’t think I’m a radical, but I could say, express reservations and did. At least I thought I did. Never did a Marine imply anything was amiss in my doing that, never, never! One time on the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (cnn-69) I heard a senior officer say something about religious leaders needing to be careful of what they were saying or something like that. Nothing of any consequence.

I am sure there are people, for as you know, a chaplain can be a wild hair. I mean you can be the loose cannon on the deck. So you’re given quite a trust. It’s an enormous trust you know. You go there and simply try to be faithful to your Faith. That’s all they’re after. Be faithful to your Faith. When chaplains are roundly criticized, more often than not it’s because they for some reason or other are not relating to the men or they’re judged to be lazy or something of that sort.

It’s a marvelous job and a calling. They have a place for you when you are with Marines.. They know it, you know it. To be able to preach at Camp Lejeune, as I was privileged to do when I came back from Vietnam was just a tremendous thing, the support from the General Officers on down to the troops.

Zarbock: And this is a guy who didn't want to go in the Army?

Evans: Yes (laughter). I didn't like that life. I thought I wouldn’t like that life.

Zarbock: “ The Lord moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”

Evans: While I was there I was selected to be the Chaplain of the Year, 1972, by the Reserve Officers Association. They give two Awards to somebody that has contributed to the defense of the country and to the Chaplain of the Year. I was given that award.

Zarbock: What year was that sir?

Evans: That was ’72, but then I subsequently was suggested for nomination two other times. I had had it once, I withdrew and suggested they reconsider. That was right, I should not have been there. But I had that privilege at one point. That came out of our time in Vietnam and what we were developing at Camp Lejeune.

Vietnam we had developed a drug program. Drugs were a real issue. We were able to address the drug problem in a very constructive way. This gives you an idea of how you’re supported. We put a team together of doctors and chaplains. Well the Marines knew the chaplains had privileged communication. They would not inquire of us.

But the doctor was part of the team. We wanted the chaplain and the doctor out with the units at night, wherever men were at night. We sat with them at night in the dark. We talked about drugs. The doctor gave the pharmacology, the data. It was an issue of we’ve got to tell the truth here. What’s the truth? Ask the doctor, he’s the only expert we really have here.

So the doctor told the truth. The chaplain dealt with the spiritual side of it, the meaning for your life in using drugs. Drugs were plentiful. They were just easy to get. They would throw marijuana cigarettes into our jeep when we went around a corner. You had to stop the jeep at times and clean it out. We never wanted to be caught carrying marijuana and they would throw it at you. It was just so easy to get.

Well we would do our drug work at night. Our Regimental Commanding Officer very much appreciated it, valued it. His view was we were making quite a difference in our Regiment. He was told that the doctor did not have privilege communication therefore what the doctor hears, we may require the doctor to repeat it. He got me in his office and he said I want you and the doctor to know that whatever the regulations are regarding a medical officer or a chaplain, I will never ask the question. You have my vow, so go about your work.

Zarbock: That’s called being an officer and a gentleman.

Evans: Yes, you have my word. Don’t fear, I will never ask the question. No, Vietnam was filled with one experience after another like that. Marvelous priests, I got to know priests like brothers. The priests were scarce so they assigned them to us because of the transportation that we had to get them about. Just a marvelous experience. Sadly, there were people hurt, killed and you never forget it.

From there to Camp Lejeune, with my family back at Camp Lejeune. Privilege of being the preacher of the Protestant Chapel and serving the Headquarters Battalion. I had an opportunity to do a lot there. I was the Administrative Chaplain. We began to put budgets together while there. The Navy was way behind the Army and the Air Force in matters for chaplains

We did not have a budget line particularly in the Basic Budgeting System of the Navy Department. That opening was achieved by a marvelous Navy chaplain named Jim Ammons who staffed that through the Navy Department. We immediately took advantage of it at Camp Lejeune. Things began to happen for us in terms of equipment and resources and the kind of support we received from the Commanding Generals.

One, our Chapel Altar Guild, for example, was led by Natalie Poillion whose husband was the Assistant Division Commander, a Brigadier General, late Major General. I remember coming into the chapel and seeing Natalie, the General’s wife, on her hands and knees cleaning up around the altar zealously, hard at work. Taking seriously, this is the church. Natalie brought the wives together. Some of those wives were enlisted wives.

I recall Natalie Poillion going to a trailer to deliver an invitation at a trailer park to a Lance Corporal’s wife because she was on the Altar Guild and inviting her because the Officers’ Club wouldn’t allow enlisted people. You had all of those kinds or restrictions. Natalie Poillion said ”well that’s very easy. The Altar Guild will meet at my house, the General’s quarters”! We had a thriving chapel program. Jake Poillion was her husband’s name.

From there I was nominated to be the Chaplain with the Naval Reserve in Washington and somehow or other was selected to come to Washington. I was a Reserve Chaplain still at that time and managed or tried to put together a Reserve Chaplain Program that was pretty well in shambles, as a matter of fact, and losing opportunity to survive. The structure was a World War II structure and that no longer applied.

I recall getting that job and you asked in your questions, “did we ever have a bad job?” Getting that job in Washington cost a lot of money. They weren’t sure. They thought the job was going to go to New Orleans, so it didn't make sense to buy a house or rent a house so my family stayed on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for a year and I worked in Washington, lived at Andrews Air Force Base in a BOQ, back and forth weekends and Wednesdays which was a tough way to live; tough on my family for sure. No one knew!

They had a program that where it was going to go. I was told by people on the Chief of Chaplains Staff, one priest said, “You know George, if I was assigned to that job, I think the Catholic Church would take me out of the Navy”. It the job didn't seem to have that much to do with the Navy ministry and being a chaplain in some respects. At least that was the initial appearance.

So, it was a matter of praying and thinking. It turned out to be one of the finest things that ever has happened to me. “You know, it often starts out that way, what seems like it isn’t going to be worth much or will be a trouble or problem. I was really saying, “ Why am I here and what is this?” The Naval Reserve was going through a total restructuring and being assaulted at every level, finances and budget.

People in the Reserves now going to Iraq or even those in the First Persian Gulf war have no idea of the period that the Reserves went through back there in the 70’s when the Naval Reserves were almost closed down. It was a fierce struggle. I didn't understand Washington or any of that kind of work. But I was assigned into it. Our offices were in the Old Yards and Docks Building at the end of the Memorial Bridge across the river from the Lincoln Memorial.

It was a World War II building that they were going to tear down and did tear down. It was unoccupied. We had birds flying through it, living in the place. My office? I had an old green desk whose drawers didn't shut. I turned around and had the greatest view in Washington. Again a fine Commanding Officer, a Flag Officer, Paul Rohrer, came and took over that Naval Reserve Personnel Unit which was trying to deal with Reserve personnel matters.

I was able with a lot of guidance to learn something about the Financial, Budgeting, Planning and Program System of the Navy, the Department and of Defense of the Congress. I learned what it took to validate a billet for a genuine Reserve that would mean something. We began to do that. I had Reserves come in and work with me. One time a dear friend of mine, John Steinbrock, as a Reserve Chaplain worked in Temporary Active Duty for a considerable period of time on those kinds of projects.

I learned to do paperwork in Washington. I believe I learned it rather well. The Reserves were my teaching school. I traveled. We had to close out useless billets that were leftovers. In World War II Navy chaplains were trained at William and Mary in Williamsburg. Well we still had that as a Reserve Unit. The Reserves had all those worthless billets. We still had them on our listing and obviously no one was going back to William and Mary for Chaplain School. So we had to close that down.

We had to find billets that made sense. Well, I knew the Marine Corps rather well at that point, and the Marine Corps billets were solid. We had to make sure all our reserve chaplain billets were solid and then we had to begin to deal with how to use Reserves and such. There were 700 Reserve Chaplains. They were a marvelous group of people. Again, I use the word marvelous, but that’s how I feel about it. Many Ph.D.’s, a couple of Bishops, Anglican Bishops, Chancellor of the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Arch diocese in Los Angeles, fine, marvelous, absolutely talented, well motivated, eager to work chaplains.

So, I did that job. It became very worthwhile, and ultimately very important. When athey were needed, the Navy and Marine Corps had Reserve Chaplains, and still do. As a consequence of that, John O’Connor later selected me to come on his staff and be the chaplain responsible for Planning, Programming (which means putting the dollars to the plan), the reality to the plan. Budgeting, (to develop a budget for the Chaplain Corps) and recruitment or Procurement of chaplains. That was an experience that in many respects changed my life.

Working with him was not an easy thing. It was a challenge and there were days when I didn't think this was going to work at all.

Zarbock: He’s been mentioned in previous interviews with other chaplains. Again for the record, who was this gentleman?

Evans: John O’Connor was a priest out of the Diocese, the Arch diocese of Philadelphia who came into the Chaplain Corps early on in his priestly career. He became involved in Character Education writing, was a principal author of the program for the Navy Department as a Lieutenant and had more “moxie” than another 10 people. He was a priest and knew he was a priest and always took himself seriously as a priest. He was well educated, well read, learned.

I came to know him personally, and to know his family personally. One of the finest men I ever knew. Begging the issue, he ultimately became the Cardinal Arch bishop of New York. But, I knew him when he was selected to be Chief of Chaplains. I had heard about him by reputation, his reputation at the Naval Academy, but I did not know him. He and I did not get along at first. Of course, when you don’t get along with the Chief of Chaplains, you’re on the losing end of that stick usually.

But he was a fair man. We were producing and he valued the ability to produce, I believe. As a consequence, I was the only member of that Staff that was there before he came and did not leave his whole time as Chief of Chaplains until he left. When he left, I was assigned to be The Chaplain of the Marine Corps. That was a selection process where, at his recommendation, I was considered. He did not nominate The Chaplain of the Marine Corps.

He gave the Marine Corps a set of records for several chaplains. They sat up in the Commandant’s Office with various aides to the Commandant. There were a couple of Lieutenant Colonels actually who went through those records and made a nomination. I was nominated by Marines to become The Chaplain of the Marine Corps.

Zarbock: Let me underscore that. You were then The chaplain?.

Evans: Yes, it’s called The Chaplain of the United States Marine Corps. I was on the Staff of the Commandant. It was John O’Connor who threw me into that mix because I was the most junior, considerably junior to anybody else in that mix. I mentioned John Craven. I was then…I believe two Chaplains of The Marine Corps, three, I was the third chaplain after John Craven.

Zarbock: Did you maintain this title until you retired?

Evans: No, I was Chaplain of the Marine Corps from 1979 to 1982. During the time of the Iranian crisis, hostage crisis, I was involved with the Iranian hostages. I was involved with, at that time, the largest peacetime disaster in the Marine Corps, the fire that occurred on Mount Fuji. I was involved with that. We filled the Brook Army Burn Center, you may have heard of the Burn Center in San Antonio? We took every bed they didn't have used with our burned Marines. It was dreadful to see the effect of burns, dreadful thing.

Involved with those hostage families. Involved with a development of a Marine Corps program to serve families, Family Service Centers in the Marine Corps. Involved with a redeployment of families to Okinawa, something that until that time was not allowed. The ablest and wisest of chaplains to work for, John O’Connor, whom, I believe along with one other chaplain who led Navy Chaplains during World War II, were hands down the finest Chiefs of Chaplains ever in the Navy. They were head and shoulders above all the rest.

John O’Connor in many respects saved the Chaplain Corps. It was being diminished more and more and more. We established a new rating. He gave me the responsibility for that. With a lot of assistance we developed the Religious Program Specialist rating in the Navy. The Navy never had such a rating. The other services did, we didn't. We then did.

Then I went from that job to the DWIGHT D EISENHOWER, the aircraft carrier. The opportunity to serve on a Navy aircraft carrier was again a piece of icing. I had the opportunity to fly. I took training, I certainly don’t want to emphasize this part of what I did there, but if you can imagine a 50 year old man being able to ride backseat in an F-14. I did that twice. I didn't have time for flying. I was so busy with my other work, that’s the more important thing I did. That was again a little piece of candy on the top of it.

I found that until I flew, I did not really have a sense of what pilots and aviators experience. I can’t say that I really comprehend it, but I had a taste of it and it was necessary to fly. Then, I ended up in Philadelphia as the Naval Base Chaplain. From there, I retired and went to Wyomissing, Pennsylvania for six years, a very fine congregation and then was called to Washington and here to McLean, Virginia. I would not give up a moment of being a Navy Chaplain. I am very, very privileged to have served as a chaplain with Marines.

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