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Interview with Jerry L. Rhyne, May 14, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Jerry L. Rhyne, May 14, 2003
May 14, 2003
very early (pre-school) identification with the ministry. "Always" knew that would be his proffession. Interested in Military grew during college R.O.T.C. experience. He flew bombing missions to Vietnam out of Thailand.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Rhyne, Jerry L. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  5/14/2003 Series:  Military Length  60 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I’m a staff person assigned to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Randall Library. This is a continuation of the military chaplain’s project and I’m in Concord, North Carolina at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Rhyne. Chaplain Rhyne is retired from the Air Force and today’s date is May 14, 2003.

Zarbock: Good morning Chaplain, how are you this morning?

Rhyne: Very well, thank you. Welcome to my surroundings and the opportunity to share my story.

Zarbock: And thank you for making the time. Chaplain would you start off with what series of events or what series of individuals helped to contribute to your selection of the ministry as a professional?

Rhyne: Well it began very early in my life as I think back and look at history. I think it began when I was about 2 or 3 years old. My mother told me the story later on that when I was about 2 or 3 years old someone came into our house as I was playing on the floor and they asked me “What’s your name”, I said Preacher Rhyne. So my mother and they all thought that was kind of funny.

She told me the story later, but as my life developed I grew up in a Baptist, we attended, my parents sent us to the Baptist church. I had an uncle who was an evangelistic pastor. I think I only heard him preach once but he is the epitome of what the evangelistic pastors were back in that age. So I’m not sure whether he had that much influence or not.

My life began to develop then, grade school, high school. During high school, my senior year, I was a typical teenager wondering what life is all about and what do you want to do, what do you want to be. So at one point I quit school for about a week or so working on the farm. I was going to start making my first million that way.

Zarbock: This is a senior year in high school?

Rhyne: Senior year, right.

Zarbock: And what year was that by the way?

Rhyne: 1955. But after church on Sunday, the pastor’s wife cornered me and said, “I understand you dropped out of school” and I said yes. She said, “I’m awfully disappointed. The pastor and I really thought that you would be a candidate for the ministry and hoping that you would go off to school and college and enter the ministry”. I told her I appreciated that, that I was struggling with what did I really want to do at this point, but that sounds like a great idea.

She said they would be willing to help me, but I needed to get back in school and so I did. I went back to the principal, he said if I was really serious I could come back. So I did. At that time, she began to help me to see if they could get me some scholarships to college and began to plan for that.

Zarbock: Now where were you living at that time.

Rhyne: In ____, Illinois just south of the St. Louis area, probably 60 miles south of the St. Louis area. It was out in the country and my stepfather was a farmer. In fact, I went 20 miles to school on the school bus each morning.

Zarbock: One way?

Rhyne: One way, yes. We were at the end of the line. Of course the church then was really my only social outlet because it was so far away to drive back to high school and become involved in those activities. The church really became my social life. My friends we there. We went to school together, but we also went to church. My pastor was a psychiatrist serving the VA Hospital in the St. Louis area, but he was also ordained so he served our country church.

They were missionaries and they met in the missionary field and of course they came back and he went to work in a hospital so she was really the kind of person that did a lot of pastoral work in the community and she was a very neat lady. Again we kept in touch over the years. She thinks that I’m her pride and joy. So that was the influence, I was thinking about being a missionary. Being raised on a farm, I knew about farming.

So I went off to SIU, Southern Illinois University, went to college in the fall of 1955. Interested in Agriculture, but I started to think about all the Chemistry and Math courses that I had to take and those really weren’t my strong suits and so I was looking at other majors. Of course I got interested in Education. I took some Philosophy courses and was interested in Philosophy so I became a Philosophy major. Then I took some History courses. That was also fascinating so I decided to be a History major.

But also, in the meantime I met my future wife at the Student Christian Foundation. She was the Choir Director and so I joined the choir and joined the fellowship of the Student Christian Foundation. So we had a whirlwind romance and we figured we could probably live cheaper, two could live cheaper than one, but for how long? So we ended up being married over the Christmas holidays and pursue our life together.

Dr. Foyne who was my pastor married us. His wife put the seal of approval on my wife so we launched our life together. Later on I accused her of marrying me because shortly after we got married she suggested I drop out of the choir because I was such a monotone that I really didn't contribute much to the choir so I’ve always accused her of marrying me to get me out of the choir.

We worked at the library together and pursued classes and then she was a year or so ahead of me and eventually she went into student teaching, but at the time she signed up for student teaching she found out she was pregnant with our first son so I dropped out of school and worked and went to school part-time. Then she finished up. After she finished up then I went back to school full-time and she was teaching at a local school nearby and eventually became the Principal.

So with all these different courses I had in Sociology and Philosophy, they all helped me towards preparation for the ministry. But then when I decided to transfer to a small Christian college, McKendry College in Lebanon, Illinois, we moved that area so we could be closer to family. She had a teaching opportunity there. So I finished up with a social studies degree so a lot of background. All these courses could be put together to give me a degree.

I graduated from McKendry College in 1963 and that summer worked as an orderly in the hospital. There’s kind of story behind that in the sense that I had a cousin that was dying of a brain tumor and I felt that being in the hospital was kind of…made me nauseated, it was kind of scary place to be in, so I thought as a pastor I was going to be spending some time in the hospital so I needed to get acclimated to the hospital setting.

So I applied for a job as an orderly in our church hospital, Deaconess Hospital in St. Louis which was at that time affiliated with our denomination.

Zarbock: Had you really decided at that point to enter the ministry?

Rhyne: Oh yes, when I went off to college my goal was to enter the ministry and eventually go to the seminary. So yeah this was all in pursuit of preparing for the ministry.

So in the fall of ’63, I received my degree. I received a degree in 1966 from the seminary and after that served the church in Pennsylvania.

Zarbock: What seminary did you attend?

Rhyne: Eaton Theological Seminary, Westerville, Missouri. So my interest in the military chaplaincy even began in college at Eaton. I don’t know if we should tie that together at this point.

Zarbock: Yes, sure.

Rhyne: While I was in college the first two years, the Reserve Officer Training Course was a requirement in a state school, ROTC. So I was involved in that program because it’s mandatory. I began to meet some of the officers who were running the program. They were also members of the church I was a part of, it was a little mission church. In fact the pastor kind of made me the official student associate so I helped with liturgy and teaching some courses in Sunday school. My wife was the pianist and choir director.

We had to meet these people on a social basis. I thought they were kind of neat people, very caring people and not the image you have maybe of military people. They were ladies and gentlemen at that point. So after I finished my two year requirement, then I dropped out of that program and kind of forgot about the military as such.

Then when I arrived at Eaton my senior year the Minister of Development, the Director of Development for the Seminary was a retired Air Force chaplain so I got to talk to him about his experiences in the chaplaincy and share with him my affinity for the Air Force and the people I met in the ROTC program. So he encouraged me to apply for the chaplaincy which I did. At that time the denomination requirement, you had to have three years parish experience before you could get accepted into the chaplaincy program.

I asked for a waiver of this because I was a little bit older because I worked for a couple of years, two or three years and went to school part-time and also I served some churches in our local area as supply pastors. I preached at churches that didn't meet the supply on Sundays. So I thought with that experience maybe you could get a waiver and he encouraged me to do this. He came back and said they weren’t making any waivers.

So at that point I thought well the impression I had is that you needed to go and serve a church for six to eight years in order to be effective so by that time I would be too old, past the age limit that the Air Force imposed for chaplains at that time. So I went out to serve a church in Pennsylvania right outside of Pittsburgh.

Zarbock: And how old were you then sir?

Rhyne: I was 29.

Zarbock: Married and one child?

Rhyne: Two children. In fact my son was born while we were in college. Our daughter was born right before I graduated from college so that’s when we moved. So we went to seminary with two children and my wife had a wonderful teaching job right down the street, Webster Groves. That was probably one of the finest schools in the district at that time.

Zarbock: Did your denomination support you financially?

Rhyne: Yes there was some support from the church and of course my wife was a teacher and some student work we did so were pretty much self-sustaining at that point. We lived in a student apartment on campus. At that time you know tuition and expenses weren’t all that great in seminary.

Zarbock: But it wasn’t luxury living.

Rhyne: No, no, it wasn’t luxury living but we had a great time, wonderful community, other students, married students living in the dormitories so we went through a wonderful experience. So after graduating seminary, I then decided with this background I’d be too old if I stayed at the church for seven or eight years so I kind of dropped the idea and moved to Pennsylvania. We wanted to get out of the southern Illinois area. In fact we really wanted to go to New England so we went up there for some interviews but we kind of got the word, you’re not from around here and I don’t think you’re going to be too successful finding a church here.

So we received a call from a church in Pennsylvania and went there and started our ministry. My wife planned to be a stay at home mom and raise our children and be a pastor’s wife full time. So we arrived with that idea but we didn't realize until we got there that the Superintendent of schools was a member of our congregation. Of course superintendents are always lacking for teachers, there’s always a teacher shortage so it didn't take long to discover that he needed her in his elementary school.

Zarbock: Not only a teacher, but a good one.

Rhyne: Yes, yes, because she had some very good credentials at that point.

Zarbock: What did she teach by the way?

Rhyne: Elementary education, she taught third and fourth grades there. She taught fifth and sixth grade before. Eventually she taught all the grades. This was a church that had been without a pastor for several years and temporarily had one pastor who didn't stay very long so they were looking for some growth and a full time pastor to grow as a church.

Zarbock: You were the one that was supposed to import the vitality.

Rhyne: Right, right, being young and vigorous.

Zarbock: Get in there and be vital.

Rhyne: That’s right. So we did. First of all there was a group of people in seniority who said we needed a fellowship hall, that they just had a small basement in this old church that was then over 150 years old I think. We needed a fellowship hall so we could have activities. It was out in the country about like we are here about four or five miles out from the nearest town and probably 10 miles to the nearest big town.

So we needed to focus on family activities, youth activities. My advice was never start a building program in the first year. Get to know the congregation first. No, we want to start now. So they kept pressuring me that we needed a building program. Okay, do a self-study and know what you need and where you need to go, what kind of building you need. They said okay, they’d do it.

So a consultant gave us a survey and he told us what we needed to do a self-study. So they launched into that and got it finished in about six months. I said okay, the consultant came in and looked at the reports and said basically you can do anything you want to do if you’ve got the energy. So they wanted to build. One of the members happened to be in the building business so we went with a national firm with architectural drawings, long term plans and so forth.

He got us a contractor and provided one of his employees to supervise the job. So within three years we had the building project finished and programs started. By that time, I began to get feelings of maybe I wanted to do something else. Maybe God was calling me to do something else. I had had some Clinical Pastoral Education in the seminary during the summer and had worked in the hospital filling in for the chaplain while he was gone for about a month.

I had an interesting hospital chaplaincy and worked in the hospital for the summer before seminary. I went back and got CPE training. The Lord was stirring something up. About the same time….

Zarbock: Excuse me for the interruption, but this would be important for the videotape. I know and you what CPE is, but a few years from now…

Rhyne: Clinical Pastoral Education. It’s a requirement nowadays and it was then too if you worked as a hospital chaplain to have this background. It’s usually three or four quarters of academic work in this field. But this Army chaplain had moved into the area to serve his chaplaincy for the Army in that area which had a battery of missile sites around Pittsburgh. So he was a chaplain to the personnel in this area.

We got acquainted. He was an Army chaplain with a lot of exciting stories. He’d only been in three years but he’d been to Korea and back. He was excited about chaplaincy. Unfortunately his wife was encouraging him to get out and eventually he did and stayed in the Pittsburgh area. He was really excited about chaplaincy though and he kind of stirred up that excitement that I had about chaplaincy.

So I wrote and asked if they had any openings. They said yes, they certainly did, they had at least three and they would be glad to talk to me. So they sent me the paperwork and I applied. When I went to take my military physical, they discovered I had a hernia and they said I needed to get that taken care of before they could bring me on board.

So I went to see a doctor and it was just a minor one. I didn't even realize I had it. So they repaired that and at the end of the six weeks the doctor cleared me. I had paperwork and I was sworn in as a Reserve chaplain. I received a direction admission into the Reserve program.

Zarbock: With the rank of?

Rhyne: First lieutenant. Then I waited for an assignment and in the summer I received an assignment to Seymour Johnson, North Carolina on active duty. I wasn’t sure where Goldsboro, North Carolina was. I don’t think I’d ever even been to North Carolina at that point in my life. So I was off to the military. So that’s kind of how I got into chaplaincy.

Zarbock: What was your wife’s attitude towards your entering the military service? It’s a big decision.

Rhyne: It’s a big decision and again we discussed it, prayed about it. She felt if this was where the Lord was leading us, this is where we ought to go. At that point, you had a three year commitment so we thought we’d try it for three years and if we didn't like it, then we’d do something else. So it was the great unknown, but we made the move three years before. We left home in the St. Louis area and family and came to Pennsylvania. So we had made that kind of transition. It was kind of a shared decision.

The children, my son at that time was probably 9 or so, our daughter was 6. They were kind of excited to be going someplace new. I went ahead and she finished up the end of the semester teaching and before Christmas I had packed up my furniture and came to North Carolina in time for Christmas.

At Christmas our house was on base housing and we were assigned to on base housing. Our house was filed with boxes, but we found a place to put a Christmas tree right in the middle of it. That was our first Christmas in North Carolina.

Zarbock: And the year was what?

Rhyne: 1969, November of 1969, I reported to active duty at Seymour Johnson which began my career as a military chaplain.

Zarbock: What were the actions and activities required of you in your first assignment?

Rhyne: As a new chaplain of multiple staff, as I remember all of them were either majors or above. The Base Chaplain was a Lieutenant Colonel. So I was the most junior guy and I was assigned youth work and Sunday school, Christian education. We had a big Sunday school program, about 300 folks, kids in the Sunday school program, a lot of volunteers.

Then I was also involved with the single airmen’s program. We eventually started a coffeehouse; a place where they could meet and share experiences and stories. Also I was involved in youth work, went off to summer camps a couple of summers, joined some other bases for church camp experiences in South Carolina.

Zarbock: Pastor, let me take you back for just a minute, when you left civilian life, you knew how to be a civilian. All of a sudden, you put on a uniform. Well there are all sorts of norms, there’s etiquette, and there are rules, regulations. They are proper ways of doing things, improper ways. Who taught you to be an Air Force officer?

Rhyne: Of course I arrived in November and my wife arrived in December. Then at the end of February, they sent me off to Montgomery, Alabama to the Air Force Chaplain School for an orientation course. I think it was about five weeks because we learned all we needed to know about how to be an Air Force chaplain, how to wear the uniform, how to salute. They tried to take us behind the hangars and teach us how to march, but that never did come off very well. We never could master that marching business. Well you know as chaplains you’re not required to march anyway.

Zarbock: There was no weapons training?

Rhyne: No, absolutely no. Chaplains were prohibited from carrying weapons, using weapons because of the Geneva Convention.

Zarbock: Well your other classmates were multi-denominational, weren’t they?

Rhyne: Yes, it was a very pluralistic setting we had. Our class had Protestants, Catholics. We didn't have a rabbi in our class, but eventually there were rabbis in the Air Force. So yes, we kind of struggled together. We all came from civilian parishes, various backgrounds, various parts of the country. They tried to meld us into what we needed to know to become a chaplain.

Of course a lot of it is on the job training. These senior chaplains who were Majors at that time and they’d been around from anywhere from 10 to 14 years so they had a lot of experience and they took me under their wing. In fact, in many cases they taught me more than I really wanted to know. Oftentimes they would make sure I wouldn’t fail at projects I took on and make sure that I did the things I should and sometimes I felt, let me fail so I can learn from them. But they were very gracious.

Zarbock: Could you give me an illustration? How did they help you from failing? Was it instructional, was it the monkey see, monkey do?

Rhyne: No, if I had a project they would say have you done this or this, have you coordinated with this organization. If we were going off the church campus, we would need a bus or transportation and all the paperwork to go with it and coordinating with this organization and that organization. You had to get approval from the base commander. So they would teach me these processes. You know it was very helpful.

Zarbock: It was really very brotherly.

Rhyne: So, I didn't preach unless none of the other chaplains were around. When they were on vacations, etc., they’d let me preach. But again, very active just as an associate pastor in the local church with programs, youth work, Christian education. But that only lasted 20 months. I was gone the first month off to Chaplain’s orientation and then by the end of the summer of 1971, I received orders for Thailand to serve an isolated tour in Thailand. Isolated meant the family didn't go with you.

So I prepared for that. In fact, I volunteered for that. These older chaplains said in order to get promoted, you had to have an overseas tour and you needed to serve in the Vietnam era and they needed a volunteer for either Thailand or Vietnam. The Air Force didn't have a lot of bases in Vietnam itself, but Thailand; the pilots flew from there so I volunteered.

And also I think one of my motivations for being in the military chaplaincy was to serve God and my country because both my brothers had served in the Army. My next younger brother had served in Korea and my youngest brother was in the 101st Airborne and of course I was exempted in the seminary. But I felt a lot of the young men in the community I was serving had been off to war or were off to war so I felt that I needed to also serve my country.

Then all the chaplains and the young people had gone off to Southeast Asia to be there also. So my wife agreed knowing we would be separated for a year. I think it was one of the first really family struggles at that point because to this point we’d been married quite a while and hadn’t spent more than one or two nights apart other than the month I went away on active duty.

We really depended on each other so to spend a year in isolation, our children were in school, but she decided to stay in that community. She had a teaching job and was happy with the work she was doing and the children were pleased to be there. It was kind of a close knit family we developed with other chaplains’ families and also the base community, you become family. So she depended on their support. She stayed and continued to teach and be involved in the local school program.

I went off to serve my isolated tour in Thailand _______ Air Force base in Thailand. It was from that base that we launched jet bombers and also some older bombers, B-29’s. We bombed the supply trails. We also had the squadron of Specters, which were 130 aircraft, which had all the technology on it, infrared technology to fly over and spot the convoys and the movements, troop movements.

Eventually the chaplains started flying with them and they would show us their scopes. You could pinpoint and see a person sitting on the running board of a truck smoking a cigarette because they’d light up. So that’s how precise they were. There were little fuzzy things like they would bomb a water buffalo they saw. It would be headed off in a direction and they’d think it was a truck trying to escape the convoy and they’d go after it, but basically they were after supply routes.

Zarbock: And you flew missions with them?

Rhyne: Flew missions with them.

Zarbock: Your request or their request?

Rhyne: We requested from the commander to allow chaplains to fly with them. Of course the crews were delighted to have us with them. So the second commander halfway through the tour agreed to let us do this.

Zarbock: Why did the aircrews think it was a great idea? Safety?

Rhyne: The best, I think they thought we were better than a rabbit’s foot. It was the presence and reminder of the holy and they felt they were a little bit safer with a person of God with them. Also that we were interested in their work, what they did because it was a unique job they had. It wasn’t all fun and games flying over, finding these supply routes and firing on them, but they had missiles being fired at them that they had to dodge. So it was a scary mission on their part.

They would go out and be out most of the night. So I flew with them for several missions. It built camaraderie. They got to know you and trust you. Sometimes you wouldn’t see them. They’d fly all night and sleep all day and get up the next night and do the same thing. They weren’t maybe part of the social fabric of the base except when they weren’t flying; they would party and invite us to their parties.

So it was during that time that we could get to know them. Then when they had issues, they felt comfortable coming to talk to us and many of them did with their fears or anxieties or family problems. We had a very intense ministry there.

Zarbock: Any funerals?

Rhyne: Not any funerals at that base because the bodies would be shipped back, but towards the end of my tour we had a B-52 crash away from us. It was quite a way away from the base so you couldn’t drive to it and so we sent out a rescue effort to recover the bodies. I got a call from some higher up in the headquarters back in the Philippines and asked if the chaplain had been on that mission to recover those body parts. I said no, I was not asked to be a part of that mission, they left without us and a chaplain to my knowledge was not a part of that mission.

He said that I should be. He said those parents are wanting a chaplain there to bless those body parts. I said I couldn’t agree with him more. So I did go and was there when they brought the body parts in and did bless those body parts. We didn't lose any pilots during the time I was there so we wouldn’t have had a memorial service. We had people killed in automobile accidents or vehicle accidents. Of course then the body would be shipped back. We would have memorial services for those folks.

This was also a period when on the whole base we had three chaplains, a senior chaplain, myself and a Catholic priest assigned to us and of course our chaplain assistants who were NCO’s who provided logistical support. We became a unique kind of a family. Also the base itself was a very close-knit family so you got to know most everybody, you could begin to relate to them. It was a very intense ministry.

So we had aircraft flying, the F-14’s would go out and bomb and then they’d come back and reconnaissance planes would go out to take pictures of what they had done. So these pilots were flying in and out almost around the clock. I found many times these pilots would get finished with their evening run, come back and look at their mail in the post office which was right next to the chapel. They would get “dear John” letters or sad news from families.

They would walk by the chapel and sometimes late at night I’d be there reading or studying or writing and they’d knock on my window and ask if they could come in. So I had many late night discussions with aircrew. That was kind of the highlight of that kind of intense ministry.

Zarbock: Did you get off base?

Rhyne: Yes, we had a program, retreat programs where we would fly, the old gooney birds, transport planes, would fly us up to Chang Mei, Thailand to a couple of retreat areas, hotels and so forth. We had bible studies in the mornings, group discussions and programs and then visit the religious areas. We had missionaries so we would go up in that area and see their work up in the northern part of Thailand.

So the older chaplains didn't really care to do that kind of work. They’d ask me to take their turn. We did this once a month. One month the Catholic group would go, the next month the Protestant group would go. Then at one time they wanted to do something different so I researched some sights in downtown Thailand, the Chang Mei area, so we were able to see some missionary works down in that area, some of the beaches and some of the cosmopolitan activities of a big city.

We were kind of isolated. We did that once and it really wasn’t as successful as going to the retreat in Chang Mei. Off base we were involved in some missionary work usually once or twice a month, we’d have a work group. We’d get together and work at a local orphanage. We do work around the area; we’d do carpentry work, clean up work. So we’d have 15-20 airmen volunteer to go out and do this work.

One of our big projects, they slept on the floor on mats so we raised some money to buy them mattresses to equip this little orphanage with. It didn't take long to raise the money at all. In fact after I left, I knew it was in the process at that time, but one of these senior officers and his wife adopted a baby out of the orphanage and took it back home with them. So we were involved in that kind of process.

Our chapel program was very active. We had Sunday school classes, a worship service every Sunday, the choir. So all the activities of a parish church were there in this military situation.

Zarbock: When your time ran out in Thailand, to where were you assigned?

Rhyne: After Thailand, then I received an assignment back to Vandenburg Air Force Base, California. Vandenburg is what they call a non-operational base in the sense that they don’t have airplanes. They had one little helicopter unit, but this is where they test all the missiles. They fired the missiles from Vandenburg to Johnson Natole islands. It’s where they trained ballistic missile officers to go out into the countryside to man the missile sites around the country.

There was ongoing training. We had a large hospital and a lot of other functions. There was the Strategic Air Command base so there were a lot of Strategic Air Command functions there. That was a unique assignment because it was my first assignment, I’d been around airplanes, a lot of airplanes, but this was also an assignment to grow.

Talk about growing, my wife, I nearly drove her everywhere we needed to go. She and my daughter and a cat drove across country from North Carolina to St. Louis to visit her family and from there they got in the car and drove across country and met me in California when I stepped off the airplane so that was quite an accomplishment for her.

My daughter and son were in Michigan in school at that point so we hadn’t been to California. Yes we had, in ’68 we went on vacation in California but to live there was a new experience. So I spent the next almost four years there. It’s kind of interesting in the sense that when I got back I was again one of the junior chaplains and was assigned to instruct in Christian education.

Of course the Christian education program probably involved over 500 children and adults. In fact we had paid volunteers also working with me to organize this. So it was an ongoing teacher training program and projects.

Zarbock: You’re running a school system.

Rhyne: Yes, yes, that’s exactly what it was. Then the other odd projects as a junior chaplain whatever the staff chaplain wanted you to do. Occasionally I would preach. But right after I got back to California, I was selected to go to a five week training program in Houston to the Family Life Institute which was part of the University of Houston Medical Center.

So it was really an intensive four week program on family life and counseling and the dynamics of family in your daily life. So I was off for another four weeks of training which was very good training in family systems and so forth. But I was away from my family for another five weeks.

Then when I got back I began to pick up various duties. Then I was selected to go to SOS, Squadron Officer School, which was the beginning level of professional military education. At this point, it was mostly for line officers, but the chief chaplains had managed to get four slots in each class for chaplains to go to this school with the line officers. So I was chosen to go to that school. It was the last 15 week course. They pared it back to 12 weeks after that and eventually down to 10 weeks and before I got out, it was an 8 week school.

So again I was away from home for another 15 weeks. It also was a time with military education training that I’d be able to relate to the line officers and did a lot of strategic study, military studies. I got back from that and then began to pick up some other duties. I was assigned then, the other chaplains left. We had the main chapel for the main functions. Then we had two other little wooden chapels around the base that the chaplains ran programs out of and had their various services.

So I was assigned this little country church like. As the pastor I preached there every Sunday. So we had a small congregation that every Sunday this is where they’d meet, they called this church home and of course I was their pastor.

Zarbock: This is a civilian chapel?

Rhyne: No, this is a military chapel. It’s on the base, the base proper, but because there were so many people on the base, you couldn’t accommodate them all in one chapel. Many people went off base to their own denomination, but many stayed. It was just like a community chapel.

Then I was assigned to the hospital to be the hospital chaplain. So I was assigned there to the hospital commander as part of his staff. I was there on a part time basis but also preached. It was kind of a dual role as a pastor to a little congregation and also the hospital chaplain.

Then my last year there, the Base Commander asked for some ideas about celebrating the Bicentennial on the base. They celebrated the Bicentennial in 1976. So I passed some information to my boss, some ideas I had about it. He carried them off to the group commanders meeting. In fact he thought that I ought to be the chairman of the Base Bicentennial Committee.

So I spent the next year setting up this Base Bicentennial Committee, but early in the summer I got warned that I was being reassigned to Oslo, Norway and I tried to get it extended so I could be there for the 4th of July celebration, but they wanted me to be there by the 1st of July because the other chaplain needed to come back.

But by that time I had everything organized and the complete program was more than just one person so it was on its own. So I left Vandenburg and went to Oslo, Norway for a three year assignment as the chaplain in Oslo, Norway. When I got there I was responsible for 1000 souls scattered throughout Norway, Denmark and Sweden and pastor to the local community in the Oslo area. Then I would travel once a quarter to the surrounding areas to visit some of the Army sites throughout Denmark and Switzerland.

They were technicians who were in the meat packing plants and dairy plants inspecting the products that were going into Germany and the rest of Europe into the military commissaries and bases. They were to make sure that the product met quality conditions. I visited these young families. We had a lot of baptisms, a lot of children.

We spent three wonderful years there in Norway and family visited us. We had a close knit chapel community. We met in the local school. Following that assignment, again I could probably talk longer about that assignment, a lot of highlights, then I was asked to put in a request for the next assignment. There were three different choices. So I had asked for the Air Force Academy as my first choice. I thought it would be good to minister in that atmosphere.

But I got an assignment to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Of course we had always wanted to go to the southwest. One day I got a telephone call and somebody was calling from the United States; the phone system wasn’t all that great so they were screaming that my assignment had been changed. I would be coming to the Chief of Chaplains office in Washington, D.C. I said I’d call them back in a day or so when we had better telephone connections.

The word came down that that was my next assignment, the Chief of Chaplains office in Washington, D.C. Some of these pictures you see here, it was a new assignment, a new position that they had created and they wanted me to head up that position. It was really involved with readiness. At that time the Air Force was moving into a more readiness posture.

We had been out of Vietnam for almost 10 years. So really things were beginning to happen around the world that they needed to be able to deal with more contingencies. So they needed someone in that office to work with the air staff on readiness for the chaplaincy and how the chaplaincy fit into that program.

When I got there I didn't recognize the language, the acronyms. In fact, the dubbed me Mr. Readiness. Talked about man reps and so forth so I really put together the chaplains being in the readiness posture for the Air Force and what the manning would be if we went off on these contingencies. So now we put together how the chaplains would respond. I also worked with the personnel folks. I spent hours over in the Pentagon back in vaults that would be locked when you got inside the vault.

You were looking at top secret plans of contingencies that could happen throughout the world and look at those plans to determine what the chaplains needs and requirements would be in those contingencies. Then I would source those. One of the big areas that we were dealing with, I began to work with the Surgeon General’s office and their staff, the kind of contingency they were looking at…for example, the Iraq situation in the 90’s.

They were anticipating mass casualties, chemical, fire. The Surgeon General was planning on at least 500 mobile hospitals around in England and some of the other areas and also back to the United States where hospitals would be inundated with casualties. We were trying to match chaplain requirements in those hospitals. There would be 250 bed hospitals, 500 bed hospitals, so the chaplain manning in those hospitals I was responsible for.

I was also responsible for the Reserves component of the chaplaincy. One of the areas I was very pleased with is I was able to get initial authorizations for 300 more chaplains through the Reserve program, 150 in the International Guard and 150 in the Ready Reserve program. I was also involved in setting up a training program for chaplains in this new readiness posture. So that was what I spent four years doing, traveling around the country doing training, orientation, getting awareness of the new posture the military was moving into.

Zarbock: Chaplain, let me ask you during your career, I’ve asked other chaplains, were you ever ordered, were you ever suggested, was it ever hinted at in a subtle or elliptical way that you do something that would be in violation of your ethic and sense of spirituality?

Rhyne: Not that I can ever recall. I think most of the commanders were sensitive of the nature of the chaplain’s role and function. In one assignment a challenge came to me as the staff chaplain because a letter had come down from the Catholic bishop which was quite controversial. Again the Catholic chaplains were mandated to read the letter because it had been signed off by the Secretary of the Air Force. That created some consternation, but other than that, no. I was not asked to compromise my faith.

Zarbock: Before we came on camera I mentioned that you’d never be a day older than you are today through the miracle of videotape, you’re entombed by the miracle of technology. Would you take just a minute, look right into the camera, talk to your grandchildren, and tell them briefly what have you learned in all of this life that you’d like to pass on to them.

Rhyne: I think the greatest thing that I learned from the Air Force chaplaincy is to learn to live in a pluralistic society, to honor and respect other religious beliefs and faith backgrounds and a variety of cultures. We’ve lived in a number of cultures around the world and learned from them and I hope they from us and from me. I think this world view, I hope that my grandchildren will have this. Of course they have been involved in my military career and understand it and been introduced to some of it so I think they begin to sense this. So to you, I pray that you will continue on in this tradition of being open to cultures and other religious faiths and to understand.

Zarbock: Thank you Chaplain.

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