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Title:
Interview with Walter Hiskett, March 26, 2008
Date:
March 26, 2008
Description:
Interview with retired chaplain Walt Hiskett.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Hiskett, Walt Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  3/15/2007 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  45 minutes

 

Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. This videotape is part of the Military Chaplains Oral History Project, sponsored by the university and the FedEx Corporation. We're recording in a suburban area-- well, I'm being a little generous with words-- in Jacksonville, Florida, the general area of Jacksonville, Florida. Our interviewee today, is retired chaplain Walt Hiskett.

Hiskett: Hiskett.

Zarbock: Hiskett.

Hiskett: That is correct.

Zarbock: Good afternoon, sir. How are you?

Hiskett: I'm just fine, thank you.

Zarbock: To start off with, I'm going to ask a question that I ask all others. What individual or series of individuals, event or series of events, led you into the ministry?

Hiskett: Well, it was while I was an enlisted Marine, serving at the Ch'osan Reservoir with Fox Company, 2nd battalion, 7th Marines with the responsibility of keeping the Toctong Pass open so that supplies and ammunition could flow through from a little airfield down at Hageru, up to Yudamni where the 5th and the 7th regiments were finally in place.

Zarbock: This videotape will be on the campus of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and maintained by them as long as the Planet Earth is capable of producing electricity. That means that years from now, when people see this videotape or read the transcription, they may have some questions. So I'm going to ask you some very obvious things. It is wintertime and you're in Korea. Am I correct?

Hiskett: It's 30 below zero in North Korea, just on the east side of the Ch'osan Reservoir along what we call an MSR, main supply route, going through a mountain pass up to the Yellow River, which delineates between Manchuria and North Korea.

Zarbock: What were your supplies and equipment like?

Hiskett: Well, supplies and equipment were fairly good. Unfortunately, the cold weather took its toll on some of the weaponry that we had. The M1 rifle didn't always work properly in that kind of cold weather. We had shoepacks that weren't really designed for extensive wear in that kind of cold weather, but we had felt inner soles that we used to exchange day-by-day. We'd keep the felt inner soles and extra socks inside our beltline to kind of keep them warm and dry, and we would change them out day-by-day. So we, as good of equipment as was available at the time.

Zarbock: What was the outer-- were you wearing an overcoat, the parka?

Hiskett: Well, we had layered clothing. Layered clothing was very popular in the Marine Corps then. You started out with the skivvies, long johns, utilities, then a sweater, and finally-- and a field jacket-- and then, finally, a parka over all of that. That was the general clothing that we had to wear.

Zarbock: A significant military event took place, sponsored by the Chinese. What happened?

Hiskett: Well, a little bit of background. You're probably aware that General McArthur was eager to go all the way north and even cross the Yellow River into Manchuria. But President Truman and he met at a place in the Pacific, and President Truman didn't share the same ideas that General McArthur did. So President Truman forbade McArthur to cross the Yellow River under any circumstances, including reconnaissance, air reconnaissance over there. And unfortunately, there was a gentleman on the-- in Britain, that was on the American desk, and I think his name was McClain, who turned out to be a spy for the Soviet Union, later. And he passed the word along, that there was this restriction that President Truman put on General McArthur that there could be no reconnaissance or anything, which gave the Chinese and opportunity to amass about 12 or 13 divisions on the north side of the Yellow River without us even knowing about it. So on the night of the 27th morning or the 28th of November, they had unleashed their forces on us. There had already been a couple of divisions down south of us, but they were able to get into place very quickly, and we were hit on the morning of the 28th of November, at what we called Fox Hill at the Toctong Pass. There were just-- we were just an individual company that was up there, with probably 225 or 30 men, to make sure we kept the Toctong Pass open.

Zarbock: Happy Thanksgiving.

Hiskett: Yes. Thanksgiving was about a week before, a little less than a week before. And we had some nice cold turkey and shrimps and so forth. But the interesting thing was, that when we were assigning that position, the company commander even considered not having us dig in that afternoon, because we were-- it was late in the day and we were pretty tired. We could see convoys of trucks going up to Yudamni, which was about seven or eight miles north of us. And we had no idea that there would be any problem there. But the company commander, Bill Barber, thought that it would be best to do what he should do and had us digging in, even against all of our protests and so forth.

Zarbock: Wasn't the ground frozen?

Hiskett: The ground was frozen. We had entrenching tools and you could hear clanking entrenching tools pretty much into the night. But the other thing that he did-- normally in the combat situation in defensive positions, you have 50 percent of the people on watch at all times. You have a two-man foxhole, and one guy is awake while the other guy gets a couple hours sleep, and vice-versa throughout the night. Well, the captain agreed to set it back to 30 percent instead of 50 percent, so that we could have two guys sleeping while one guy was awake. And since I was a squad leader, I took on-- took the early watch, so that I could have a fairly uninterrupted night's sleep. And the foxhole wasn't big enough for all three of us. We'd dug the foxhole just for two at that time. And I had a sleeping bag back behind the foxhole lines, and I was able to get in-- never pulled the sleeping bag all the way up, because that's dangerous, so I covered it to my waist, and was able to catch a little bit of sleep that night.

And then about two or three o'clock in the morning, the first thing that I heard that awoke-- awakened me, was the sound of bugles. And I thought, "My gosh, what field music bugler is practicing at this hour of the morning?" And then the next thing I heard was some rifle fire and automatic weapons fire, and I thought-- "Well, we have just gotten some new replacements in down at Hageru about three days before, and these guys are shooting at shadows. They're just not used to being in combat," etc., etc. And then of course, the next thing I heard, was, "Here they come!" And so we were outnumbered, about ten to one. They came in hordes. The Chinese used the three groupings routine of the first group would come in-- they were grenadiers. They would throw hand grenades. The next group had automatic weapons and would spray with automatic weapons. The third group had no weapons at all, but they were assigned to pick up the weapons from the dead guys in front of them and then continue on with the charge. And we had a pretty tough night. I was hit the first morning there. I wasn't able to fit into--

Zarbock: When you say "hit," you mean you were wounded?

Hiskett: I was wounded with a Thompson submachine gun, which the United States had given to the Chinese during World War II in the lend-lease program. And the holes weren't big enough for three of us, so I had to position myself behind our foxhole. I was able to-- there were some scrub pine trees off to the side, and I was able to try to get a little bit of cover so my silhouette wouldn't be clarified. And I had to remain standing up so that I could shoot over the heads of the guys in front of me.

Zarbock: And you're firing an M1?

Hiskett: M1, which occasionally did not fire semi-automatically. But I was hit in the shoulder and knocked down. The force of a submachine gun is a 45 caliber, and as you may or may not know, the pattern from a submachine gun kind of rises up and to the right because of the riflings. And fortunately, I was hit with the first round, and the rest of it went by, but it really knocked me to the ground and kind of-- my ears were ringing and I didn't know whether I'd been hit in the face or whatever. So I took my hand and rubbed the side of my face and looked at it, and it didn't have any blood on it. So I was thankful for that. But--

Zarbock: And it's pitch black, isn't it?

Hiskett: It was dark. It was dark, that first night. It was overcast and cloudy; it didn't really get bright, until next night. Then we were able to-- we had the moonlight, then, but that night was very dark. But you could see where the Chinese were, because you could see the slugs coming from the muzzle of their weapon. So you could see a little bit of light flickering here and there. And you knew which direction to fire at.

Zarbock: How old were you, Chaplain?

Hiskett: I was 20 years old, 20 years old. I enlisted in the Marine Corps five days after I was 17 years old. And this was three years later.

Zarbock: But your rank is corporal?

Hiskett: I was corporal at the reservoir, later became promoted to sergeant, but I was corporal there. Yes. And eventually we were able to hold our lines, and as soon as dawn appeared, of course, the Chinese withdrew. They didn't like fighting during the daytime there. So they withdrew, and that's when I thought I was probably the luckiest man alive, because first of all, I was still alive. Secondly, I thought, "I am going to be sleeping on clean sheets, tonight. I'm going to be eating hot food. I will be able to bathe for the first time in six weeks." And I was kind of ecstatic about that-- suffering some pain, but that was secondary-- until we found out that none of the wounded would be evacuated because we were surrounded. And the Chinese had surrounded the 5th and the 7th regiments at Yudamni; they were able to surround us at the Toctong Pass, and they were able to surround the division headquarters and one battalion from the first regiment down at Hageru. And they were able to surround Chesty Puller and the rest of the first regiment down at-- I've got a mental block.

Zarbock: Okay, for historical accuracy, who is Chesty Puller?

Hiskett: Oh. Chesty Puller was-- he was a legend in the Marine Corps. He fought in every battle since the Haitian battles, and it seemed like every time he fought in a battle, he did something to which he was awarded a Navy Cross. He had five Navy Crosses and was really a legend in the Marine Corps-- later retired as a Lieutenant General. He was a Major General on active duty, and when they retired they gave him an additional retirement star.

Zarbock: Why was he called "Chesty?"

Hiskett: Well, he had a big barrel chest. And he was a relatively short man. I don't think Chesty was over 5'6" or 5'7"-- but he had this big barrel chest, and--

Zarbock: And he was a leader?

Hiskett: He was a leader. He was a leader par excellence, yeah. And so, what had happened was that our company commander asked-- he got most of the wounded together, and especially the walking wounded, and said, "If you can go back up on the lines again, tonight, we really need you up there." So I thought that-- and we were-- they brought in-- they dropped supplies by air to us. We were almost completely out of ammunition at the end of that morning, but they dropped ammunition and some C-rations that weren't very useful, because they were all frozen solid in 30 below zero weather. But I thought that if I could go back up on the lines, I could get a couple of cases of grenades in front of me and with my left hand, although I couldn't raise a rifle or hold a rifle up-- what I could do was I could hold the ring of the hand grenade in my left and pull the grenade from my right hand and throw grenades.

Zarbock: It was your left shoulder that was--

Hiskett: Left shoulder that was hit, yes. So we did that, but unfortunately, a hospital corpsman kept feeding me with morphine. But were able to get through that night again, and--

Zarbock: There was an attack the second night?

Hiskett: Attacked the second night and took on more casualties, more dead and more wounded. But by the time we got through that night and we hit the next morning, I was pretty doped up on morphine, and both the platoon leader and the corpsman just didn't think it was safe for me to be on the line anymore. So I was relegated to a first-aid tent. We'd set up two CP tents to become aid tents so that there would be a little bit of cover from the weather for the wounded. Although, some of the wounded had to be lying on stretchers, litters, outside the tent. But that next night inside-- when we were in the aid tent, we had gotten the word that the Chinese had broken through the 3rd platoon. And we could hear the voices of the Chinese issuing orders and so forth, getting closer and closer to the tent. And Lieutenant Schmidt, Larry Schmidt, who was our weapons platoon officer got the attention of all of us in the tent, and he said, "Now look, you Catholic guys know your Rosary. Start saying it. And the rest of you guys just start praying and keep on praying until we get through this thing." And he said, "If they stick their head in the flap of the tent, just stare them in the eyes and show them you're Marines."

I was relatively un-churched at that point in time. However, a 7th grade teacher in grammar school required that we memorize the 23rd Psalm, which couldn't be done today. And in our neighborhood we had a janitor that used to go around stoking furnaces in the morning. On Wednesday afternoons, he had a little Bible study for the kids in the neighborhood.

Zarbock: Where was this?

Hiskett: This was in Chicago, on the north side of Chicago. And the big draw was the little piece of candy that we got if we stayed for the whole session. But we always ended with the Lord's Prayer. So I knew 23rd Psalm and I knew the Lord's prayer, which I repeated over and over and over again, interspersed with a little bit of bargaining. I let God know that if I was able to get through this thing, that I would serve Him any way I could. I didn't know what that meant at the time, but that was the promise and the commitment that I made. And so we kept on through the night, until finally we could see the sunlight filtering through the bullet holes in the tent and discovered that the 3rd Platoon was able to stop them and push them back. In the meantime, we had decimated the two regiments that were attacking us at Fox Hill. As a matter of fact, we used dead Chinese bodies to stack up in front of our foxholes to provide some protection. And the next night, which is the fourth night, they sent a delegation down the road, and the Chinese, probably an officer, who spoke English, encouraged us to surrender. He said-- he told us that, "We know that we have just about wiped you out, and you have a lot of wounded. And we will take care of your wounded and give you hot food and blah, blah, blah." Well, to that, our machine gunner let go with several bursts down in that area, and either they fled or they were hit, but we hadn't heard from them after that.

By the fifth day, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis, who later became a full general and assistant commandant-- but at that time, he was the battalion commander of the first battalion 7th Marines-- he was able to get a group about the size of a company together, to try and break through to us and give us some--

Zarbock: A company would've had how many, about 200?

Hiskett: A company usually had 225, between 225 and 250. And on the 5th day, they finally made it to, made it through the Chinese lines, and--

Zarbock: Fought their way through.

Hiskett: Fought their way through the Chinese lines, and made it to the base of our hill. And he was-- Ray Davis was on radio communication with our company commander, Bill Barber. And so, Bill Barber talked him up the hill, and they were able to break through to us. And they had a medical doctor with them. Unfortunately, there were some snipers on the hills across the road, and on a little bit of a high ground above us across the road, and wounded for the second time, one of the wounded that was lying on a stretcher outside the tent. And the doctor rushed over to him and the same sniper, probably, got the doctor, and killed him. So at any rate-- and Bill Barber and Ray Davis had a difference of opinion of how the situation was. Ray Davis claimed that he rescued Fox Company. Bill Barber, the company commander, said, "Oh no, you've got that all wrong. We provided safe haven for the 1st battalion 7th Marines." So-- but at any rate, for all practical purposes, the combat, at that point, ended, and we were able start getting troops down the hill and carry our wounded, those who couldn't walk and the dead, down, and loaded them onto trucks to get into the column going south to Hageru, which was about seven or eight miles south of us, and where the Marine engineers were able to scrap out a little air runway there, so that they could fly supplies in and fly wounded out.

And after about two or three days down there, I was finally able to get on a plane on the 7th of December and be evacuated to a hospital in Japan. So the other thing is that when I was able to get up and make it to a chapel service, the chaplain, a guy by the name of Jim Reeves who I was able to meet later after I became a chaplain, he-- the content of his homily was pretty much, "You know, you guys, when the chips are down and the going is rough and everything looks like it's pretty bleak," he said, "you have a tendency to make a lot of promises to God." He says, "You get back here and you're on clean sheets, eating hot food, your wounds are healing-- you have a tendency to forget those promises."

So that kind of set the hook in me, so that after I was discharged from the Marine Corps the following year, and got back home, I worked in construction. But fortunately I went to a church where the pastor had been a Navy chaplain with Marines during World War II and fought, and was with troops at Iwa Jima. And we became very, very good friends. And he guided and directed me through getting my high school diploma, learning how to study again, going to college and seminary and then--

Zarbock: Where did you go to college?

Hiskett: I went to college at-- in Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg College-- now Wittenberg University.

Zarbock: And your seminary work?

Hiskett: Seminary was Chicago Lutheran Seminary, which, at that time, was located in a western suburb called Maywood, Illinois. The seminary is located now, down on the University of Chicago campus. And then I served only one year in the parish, civilian parish, before I was able to come on to active duty. And my intent was to come on to active duty and serve Marines as I had been served. So that's the story of my becoming ordained and becoming a Navy chaplain, serving both the Navy and the Marines. And then, 15 years later from the Ch'osan Reservoir campaign, I became the chaplain of my old battalion, the 2nd battalion 7th Marines in Vietnam. So I had a--

Zarbock: You're back in combat again.

Hiskett: I'm back in combat. Yeah. Yeah. And an interesting little story, is that we had a reunion of the battalion a couple of years ago, and one of the guys came up to me and said, "Chaplain, you may not remember me, but you landed in Vietnam with Fox Company." My old company. And he said, "My fire team was assigned an outpost in front of our lines as a listening post," and he said, "you decided to come and spend the night with our fire team out there on the listening post," he said, "because you'd had some combat experience and none of them had." So that was kind of nice that he remembered after all those years that I was up there with the troops.

Zarbock: Again, for the purpose of this-- for the purpose of future-- what is a listening post? What are the requirements?

Hiskett: Well, the requirements are that you're probably anywhere from 25 to 30 yards in front of the main defensive line, and you're out there to kind of listen for any movement or anything in case the enemy were planning to make an attack.

Zarbock: That is a prize-winning hazardous situation.

Hiskett: Yeah. That is a hazardous situation.

Zarbock: How many people would be-- how many?

Hiskett: Well, there was a fire team, four people. Four people-- they usually set up two foxholes, two two-man foxholes.

Zarbock: There would be four men and a chaplain.

Hiskett: Yeah.

Zarbock: And you're not armed.

Hiskett: No, I'm not allowed to be armed. I'm a noncombatant. By now I'm a noncombatant, according to the Geneva Convention.

Zarbock: What did you do that evening with the-- ?

Hiskett: Well, we had some prayers and we just did a little bit of reminiscing and so forth, and of course we had to keep pretty quiet, too, because in case there was somebody coming, we didn't want to give away our position. But after a while, after it got dark, we pretty much kept quiet and I took a few snoozes and I would wake up occasionally, and be with the men there.

Zarbock: Did the, didn't the company commander or the battalion commander object to you going up?

Hiskett: Well, not really, because they knew who I was. And the company commander really-- since it was my old company, liked having me around. As a matter of fact, a battalion commander had to speak to me at one point in time and says, "Walt, maybe you're spending too much time with Fox Company. You've got to get around to the others, too." Although I did get around to the others, I spent a little more time with Fox Company than I did with the others.

Zarbock: Now, the temperature in Vietnam is substantially different from 30 below zero.

Hiskett: It's substantially different. We landed in Vietnam on the 5th of 6th of July down in South Vietnam at Kwin Yang.

Zarbock: What year?

Hiskett: And this was 1965. That's when the 7th Marine regiment was deployed from Camp Pendleton to Vietnam. And the reason why I was able to be assigned to 2nd battalion 7th Marines, was that when I was at the Naval training center in San Diego, a chaplain that was my boss, there, had been promoted to captain and was sent to Camp Pendleton to be the division chaplain. And one Sunday afternoon when he was having a group of chaplains up there because he had just been promoted to captain, he got ahold of me and said, "Walt, do you still want to come with the Marines?" And I said, "Oh, yeah." And John Wissing was his name. And I said, "I would love to be back with the Marines." He said, "Well, there's only one catch." He said, "We need chaplains in the 7th Marine regiment and they're getting ready to deploy." And I said, "Well, I understand that." And he said, "But pretty soon." He said, "You better talk to Marilyn," who was my wife, "and talk it over with her." So I talked it over with Marilyn, and Marilyn said, "Hey. You're going to go sooner or later, anyway. Why not go now and get it over?" And so I told him, "Yes," I would be more than pleased to go with the 7th Marine regiment. And he said, "Well--" That was a Sunday afternoon, he said, "Well, I'll talk to the chief of chaplains and the detailer tomorrow morning." Monday morning. He said, "Tuesday you will receive dispatch orders, which requires one to detach and report within a 24-hour period."

And so, Tuesday morning I got the dispatch orders. I detached that afternoon, reported to Camp Pendleton on Wednesday morning, and he said, "Do you have any preference as to what battalion you want?" And I said, "Well, is two-seven open?" He said, "Yes." And I said, "That's my old battalion. I would like to be the chaplain of two-seven." So he said, "You've got it." I reported in to two-seven Wednesday about Noon, and the acting battalion commander was the battalion executive officer, crusty old guy, and he said, "Well, chaplain," he said, "you go over and check out your 782 gear," which was your pack and all your, you know, combat equipment less a weapon, "and make sure your God box is all full. And then you can take off and you've got tomorrow off to take care of doing your will and all, getting power of attorney for your wife and all that kind of stuff. And report back here on Friday morning."

And Friday morning, we had a pre-deployment service at the chapel, and then we had-- I had Saturday off, and by Midnight, Saturday, we reported aboard ship and Sunday morning got underway and were on our way to Okinawa and then Vietnam.

Zarbock: Chaplain, you were in two major military conflicts within our lifetime, the Korean conflict, and now Vietnam. Would you compare and contrast some of the aspects of Korea vis-a-vis Vietnam? For example, discipline, morale, equipment-- What was one like compared to the other?

Hiskett: Well, in Korea, we were kind of the aftermath of World War II. We had some World War II vets that were in positions of leadership, and we had good discipline. Equipment was left over from World War II, so that was a little bit to be desired. But-- and it was a different type of warfare. In Korea, it was more conventional where you were trying to get real estate. You moved your lines forward and whatever was behind you was covered and you bought real estate, one jump after another. Whereas, Vietnam was more out on the search and destroy and back to the base camp. You go out on an operation and back to the base camp. And you just went to various places to try to wipe out the Vietcong or, a little bit later, the North Vietnamese military units. Discipline was still good. In Vietnam we had good discipline; we had great officers. A battalion commander by the name of Leon Utter who had been a sergeant fighting at Okinawa during World War II had gotten a battlefield commission and was up now our battalion commander, great guy. And for me he appreciated the chaplain; he'd always refer to me as "preacher." He was a guy from Oklahoma, and traditionally back at the base camp, we would always have the commanding officer read the scripture lesson for the service. And my only problem was that he gave so much commentary about the lessons that I had him read, that he would steal half of my thunder. But Leon was a great guy, and he allowed me to go on the combat operations with the battalion. Some of the chaplains would stay back at the base camp when the battalions went out on a short operation, but Leon wanted me to be with the troops, which I was. Yeah. And that was the-- but the big difference was the type of combat. And--

Zarbock: Um-hmm. Was that go out, shoot, come back-- did that-- was that a morale influence?

Hiskett: No. It wasn't--

Zarbock: Because you're living two lives in the same lifetime.

Hiskett: Well, yes that's true. Morale was great in both respects. You know, in Korea when the column came down from Yudamni and from Fox Hill, and was entering the division headquarters where the division commander was, O.P. Smith-- the senior guy that was in front of that column before we made it-- just before we made it to the roadblock where we entered the division headquarters area, he said, "Okay you guys. Straighten up and we're coming in here like Marines." And we marched in, you know, counting cadence and everything. And that was a tremendous uplifting thing. In Vietnam we had the same kind of morale and so forth. It was good. It was different types of warfare, different weather, but it was the same old Marine units fighting with a great deal of pride.

Zarbock: But no frozen C-rations.

Hiskett: No frozen C-rations.

Zarbock: Had the chow improved?

Hiskett: We were eating C-rations for about the first month, month and a half, and then we started getting what they called B-rations. The battalion, we got larger-sized cans, and the cooks were able to heat it. And we went through chow lines and ate that way back at the base camp. When we were out on operations, of course, we were eating C-rations, the same food that we did 15 years earlier. Yeah. It was the same.

Zarbock: In Vietnam, were you ever actively in a firefight situation?

Hiskett: Oh, yes. On Operation Harvest Moon, we were in a column, and on the 18th of December, our battalion was ambushed in a little town called Qifu by a regimental-sized unit of North Vietnamese. And when we were hit, you know, they hit the rearguard first, and then the hit the point, and then they got the main body. And I always traveled with what we called the battalion aid station in the column. We had a battalion aid station forward and then there was another unit from battalion headquarters, and then a battalion aid station aft. And I always traveled with what we called the battalion aid station forward. Our battalion sergeant was by the name of Jim Penza-- was with us on that, and then we had a second battalion sergeant by the name of Steve Meda. And he had the battalion aid station aft. And when we were hit on the road, we were in the village-- in the middle of the village-- and I tried to get some cover on the ground. And this was during the monsoon season. And in Korea, it was the cold, and here it was the rain and mud. And I tried to get some cover behind a great big clay pot, and I landed on my back. And my pack was in the mud and I was kind of like a turtle trying to get upright. And I couldn't do it until I could finally get my shoulder straps off and get out of it. And I took my pack and threw it in through the window of this little hooch that was on the side of the road. And then was able to get through the window, and there were probably seven or eight Marines inside this place, including a radioman. And I suppose it wasn't very kosher, but I was trying to tell the Marines where to fire some of these-- some of their weapons to--

Zarbock: So you were a spotter.

Hiskett: Well, I don't like to admit to that too much, but the battalion commander said that the chaplain reverted to kind. But that--

Zarbock: Were you decorated for that?

Hiskett: No. I'm not really. I didn't want to be-- I didn't want that to be part of my thing there. I received an award at the end of the-- my tour, a Navy commendation medal with a combat V for valor. And that was all I needed. But then it wasn't too much after that, when a machine gun burst hit that clay pot and shattered it. So I was kind of lucky, and--

Zarbock: What was the end of the battle? Did they withdraw or did you get--

Hiskett: The end of the battle, we pretty much just decimated them, and the ones who could, withdrew. And we were able to make it out of there. We-- the battle lasted probably for about three hours in the late afternoon. And we settled in there at Qifu through the night, took care of our wounded, called in helicopters to get the more seriously wounded men out, and made it through the night without incident. The North Vietnamese-- what was left of them, withdrew. And then we were able to make it out to the road the next morning and got on the trucks and went back to our base camp. We had 26 men killed that afternoon, and several wounded. So [pause], excuse me, I had to write letters to 26 families just before Christmas.

Zarbock: Did you conduct the burials? I mean the--

Hiskett: The memorial services. Yeah. Yeah. I conducted memorial services. As a matter of fact, one of the-- we have reunions with this 2nd battalion 7th Marines, and we exchange email. And one of the guys just a couple of weeks ago sent me copies of the memorial services with the names of the guys. I would conduct a memorial service for each company, because it was kind of a personal thing for each company. And then at the end, then the battalion commander would have me do a memorial service for the entire battalion. But I would conduct the service for each company.

Zarbock: Chaplain, what can you say in the letter to the next of kin of a decedent?

Hiskett: It's hard for me to talk about it, but I try to reassure the family that what their son was doing was meaningful to the goals of our being there, to providing protection for Vietnamese villages and that their son was courageous in trying to do something for someone else. That's the gist of the letter. And obviously I provided my condolences and so forth. And the battalion commander would write a letter also, from his point of view. But you know, those guys were all my parish-- hard to lose. Excuse me. After all these years-- so that was one of my early experiences as a chaplain. I had just been in 1965-- I came out of active duty in '62, so that was just three years later that was involved with the combat. And then the other big operation was Operation Utah. And we lost, oh thirty-some odd on Utah. And I was pretty much stationed on that operation at the landing zone where the wounded would be evacuated out so that I could see each wounded man as we loaded them aboard the helicopters. Yeah.

My second tour to Vietnam was a little less exciting, but I was the senior chaplain aboard the hospital ship Sanctuary, 1970-71. And that was a different kind of a ministry altogether, you know, after the wounded had been brought aboard ship and so forth. And I got pretty much involved with the orthopedic surgeon in being present each morning for dressing changes for the traumatic amputees. And we discovered that the patients during dressing change were so medicated with analgesics and painkillers, that the rest of the day they were kind of dopey all day long. And then they would be awake at night. And of course, I would set my alarm-- I would get up at two or three o'clock in the morning and make some rounds of the hospital wards at that time, but the young orthopedic surgeon and I discussed it. And we thought if we could only get them cut off of the painkillers, the analgesics and painkillers, that the patients, the men, would have a better day for themselves.

So I would go down every day, every morning for dressing change, and I would get a roll of gauze and let him chomp down on that with his teeth. And I'd let him squeeze my hand, and I would recite a psalm to him. And for some of those patients on day eight or nine, we had them essentially going through dressing change cold turkey, so that they could then, during the day-- and the other thing that we did, is we required them to do exercises on the orthopedic ward, depending upon, you know, what their problem was. We had some guys with below the knee amputation of one leg doing pushups and things like that. And back in those days when you could smoke aboard Naval ships, the requirement was that they couldn't smoke on the ward. If they wanted to have a cigarette, they had to get somebody to put them on a gurney and get them out topside. So we had them living an active daily routine. And when they got back to the Naval hospital at Oakland, orthopedics where they would be fitted for a prosthesis and so forth, they-- the surgeons back there commented that, you know, they really had a different group of people coming to them that had been on the Sanctuary. And I co-authored an article with the orthopedic surgeon that appeared in U.S. Navy Medicine regarding the care, treatment and management of traumatic amputees. So we were a team. We were a team.

Zarbock: Chaplain, all your life experiences, enlisting in the Marines at age 17 all the way through where you are right now-- what credo have you put together for you? What does all this world mean?

Hiskett: Well, I made a promise to serve. Serve who? Well, mankind-- but for a long period of time, 30 years, it was the Navy and Marine Corps. And if I could make a difference in somebody's life, then that accomplished my goals. And that's what I look forward to. Later, when I became a chaplain in the Marine Corps, for instance, it was important for me, at Christmas time, and my wife and family agreed with me, it was important for me at Christmas time, to visit the troops at Christmas. And I would go out. When General Grey took over as commandant of the Marine Corps and after about the first three or four months or so, and he was out visiting troops and getting himself established as the commandant among all the troops-- he got a hold of me and said, "Walt, I want you to travel with me." And so I traveled with him wherever he went. And then, of course, as the Chaplain of the Marine Corps, I had anywhere from 275 to 300 chaplains throughout the world that I had some kind of responsibility for. And so I would get around and meet with the chaplains and try to share with them some of my experiences and so forth, so that the main thing was to serve the troops.

Zarbock: Am I correct, in conclusion, that in the Marines, the only time that "the" is used is "the" commandant and "the" chaplain?

Hiskett: And "the" sergeant major-- Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.

Zarbock: That's right.

Hiskett: The Commandant, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and the Chaplain of the Marine Corps. Yes.

Zarbock: Thank you, Chaplain. What a wonderful, wonderful, full of wonder, life you have had.

Hiskett: Thank you.

Zarbock: Thank you, sir. My best.

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