BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Edwin William Rogers, October 10, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Title:
Interview with Edwin William Rogers, October 10, 2003
Date:
October 10, 2003
Description:
Champlain Rogers was enlisted in WWII Navy. His ship's chaplain was wounded, but before leaving the ship, asked Rogers to promise considering Navy Chaplaincy.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Rogers, Edwin William Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  10/10/2003 Series:  Military Length  50 minutes

 

Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Randall Library. Today is September 10, in the year of our Lord, 2003. We’re in Columbia, South Carolina. Our interviewee today is Edwin William Rogers. I would say he’s retired, but that is rather a far-fetched remark. He has had a series of careers and is currently in his most current career as educator and counselor and mentor to many people here in the Columbia, South Carolina area.

Zarbock: Good morning Pastor, how are you?

Rogers: Good morning. I’m doing fine.

Zarbock: Well I’m going to start off as I told you off camera asking two questions, what individual or series of individuals or events or series of events led you into the ministry and then the same question into the chaplaincy? How did you get into the ministry, how and why did you get into the military chaplaincy?

Rogers: First of all I joined the Navy in the enlisted ranks, took an exam and was sworn in as a 3rd Class Storekeeper. I reported for my boot camp at Norfolk Naval Station.

Zarbock: What year was that?

Rogers: That was in 1942, November 1942.

Zarbock: And how old were you?

Rogers: My name was the 7th name that came out of the draft for 20 year olds in Sumter. I went over and visited with the mayor who was head of the draft board, Mayor Creech. I said, “Mayor, what chance do I have to end a semester and come back”. We were on the semester system at that time. He said, "not a chance in the world, that I might as well go and sign up".

I used to scrimmage basketball, a gang from the Navy Recruiting Station. I talked to one of them and this guy said I should go down to Charleston and take an exam and see if I could be a storekeeper, that I had 18 months of college credits and been in administration. So I went down there and took one of the exams, one out of five of them, so I joined the Navy as a 3rd Class Storekeeper in October 1942 and reported to boot camp in Norfolk. Training session.

By the way that was the next to the last training of boots they did there. I was in Platoon 655. The last one was 656 and about 10 days after, my brother knew I was there because I had had supper with him one weekend when they left me off. So the next thing I’m looking at one day over the gridiron, here comes my brother in Platoon 656. The Executive Officer called us both in and said “you will have no comradeship, don’t even look in the same direction.”

My brother ended up being a Yeoman after Kennedy’s ship and all of that bunch were in Naval Intelligence in the Philippine Islands. That was a way that I got interested in the Navy. When the time came for me to do something about it I called up my uncle in Columbia, Frank Griffin, who’s a real estate dealer here and his brother was Supply Officer on a battleship at Pearl Harbor.

Thanks to God be goodness, he was ashore that weekend because one of his classmates from Annapolis was there and these two Captains and their wives escaped it. Otherwise he would have been sunk on the vessel. He got me in touch with Admiral Griffin then and Uncle Charlie as I called him said I should go take the exam and see how I got along with it. He was the inspiration to get me to join the Navy and to go ahead and do it now and not put it off any longer. He said I might as well do something.

Sumter High School was the last municipal high school in the United States to have compulsory military training. If you could take physical education and if you could tote a rifle, you couldn’t graduate from Sumter High School in 1939 with my class unless you have military training. So he said to me, “Do you feel like being a private in the ranks toting a rifle. That’s what you’re going to be unless you do something”. That’s why I got in touch with my uncle and ended up in the Navy. So that’s the story of how I got in.

Zarbock: Well how did you get into the ministry?

Rogers: I had an uncle whose name was Edwin William Hurst. He was named for his father who was Edwin William Hurst. He had gone through Wolford College in South Carolina Phi Beta Kappa and decided to go ahead and do a Master’s degree and take some little churches around the countryside in the area here. While he was putting his time in, he fell in love with a young lady from Florence and got married, who was Episcopalian who had a lot of money. She just couldn’t see him because the Bishop had sent him to a church in the sticks near Conway South Carolina.

You can really get into the sticks down there, they call it in South Carolina. So Uncle Ed was down there. She finally told him he should become an Episcopalian preacher because that’s what she was. She said they would probably take him in. The net result of it was he took an exam, passed the exam and became an Episcopalian preacher.

Zarbock: About what year would this be?

Rogers: This would be about 1931, ’32 or ’33, somewhere along in there. I finished high school in ’39, the day that Hitler invaded Poland by the way. So anyway I went on to boot camp up to Norfolk. The second individual who impressed me Navy wise was my company chaplain. He was the son of a family doctor type person, general practitioner in the woods of Arkansas up there. His name was James Woodrow Kelly.

On your blank you fill out for your biographical sketch they ask you any activities you participated in that you enjoyed. I said church music such as I sang in many, many choirs. Never did do anything with directing. I loved the musical end of it. The week went by and about Tuesday of the next week, a guy came up to where we were standing out there taking a break from phys ed or calisthenics or something and my petty officer came over and said that this young man had a message for me.

I went over and he was in full dress uniform. I said “what?” And he said “Chaplain Kelly sent this to you.” I asked who that was. He said that he was the chaplain of these units over here, that I would probably meet him sooner or later at a church service or something. What it was, he was inviting me to choir practice the next night which was a Wednesday night which was the first night I spent there.

I said I had to get permission to do that and he said he knew that, but that I should give the note to my Company commander and he would take care of it from that point on. I said, "okay" and gave it to him and evidently he talked to the powers that be. They said I could go but that I could only go there and must be right back. They said if I wasn’t back in 15 minutes, and of course the chaplain was four blocks from the barracks, it didn't take long to get there.

So all through boot camp I was privileged to sing in the choir with James Woodrow Kelly. I went home and on the 10th of April 1943, Margaret and I married because we had been planning our wedding before I went into this whole deal, hadn’t set the date exactly but we knew it was going to be in the springtime sometime around Easter.

I’ll tell you the second thing about Kelly. When I got back off of our honeymoon trip which was only about three days, I couldn’t get but 10 gallons of gas back in those days, coupons you know, we went down to Aiken, South Carolina, spent our honeymoon on the weekend and then I caught the train and came on back to Norfolk and made arrangements so that Margaret could come visit with me while I was up there for about a week with my brother who I found out was in boot camp, the one right after me.

Anyway I reported there and gave the guy the orders in a little Quonset hut and he said I’d be able to stay in this barracks over here. He said that I was on the commissioning crew of the USS Mobile. I said, "really" and he said, "yeah". So I asked where was it and he said it was right over there in that dock. I looked over there, the thing had no paint on it, no guns on it. You want to look at a disaster, it looked like a new disaster, an accident waiting to happen.

I went ahead and reported in and in about 10 days or two weeks later, we were getting toward the 1st of March now, people just began coming there like mad, enlisted people and all like that. I later found out, I said “Why in the world did you all get me with orders from the Bureau to come here of all people in the world?” They said the Mobile was a southern ship and they wanted to put as many southerners on it as they could. They were needing storekeepers and you had a lot of accounting experience and a couple of summers I had worked in a warehouse.

They said some guy in the Bureau said here’s a natural and that I was in Columbia and I could catch a train which I did to come to Norfolk. He said they’d been waiting on me for three days. This particular morning like I say, I’d been there about 10 days, I was standing outside putting stuff on the ship, making sure they put it in the right compartment because when the troops came on, I’d have to be there.

One of the things I had to do, particularly food on a ship, I had to know where every one of those things was because when the time came to go get them and bring the stevedore, the shipmates to bring them out, I was the guy that had to do that. I was in charge of all that. You know I had done that before so it was a piece of cake. Anyway this guy reported in a uniform. This yeoman saluted him.

By that time I looked up and realized it was Kelly. I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself, "what in the name of Jerusalem is this guy doing at this ship here". Just about that time, our eyes caught and I said, “Good morning Chaplain Kelly. How are you”. He asked what I was doing there. I told him I was on this ship, that I was a part of the commissioning crew of the ship. He smiled and said he was the chaplain of the ship (laughter).

So for a little over three years that was the role I had to Kelly. I remember another experience I had with him. He was wounded on ship and the Yeoman 1st Class who was standing by him was also wounded so the two of them ended up being transferred back to Bethesda for recuperation.

Zarbock: When did this action take place and where was it?

Rogers: The USS Mobile was never struck by any fire, but we had a backlash. You know they had two hoists, one of them took the projectile and the other one took the powder. Well the thing somehow jammed and all the powder came back and the projectile lodged in the muzzle of the gun going out. Everything that was behind that was just cremated.

Kelly had been standing there and it blew him up against the bulkhead. He was pretty well shaken up and bruised quite a bit and this sort of stuff. Well of course you know we had been to Marcus Island, we’d been to Wake, we had been somewhere down near where the Battle of the Coral Sea. We missed that battle, but the rest of the Naval battles we were pretty well in. There were 12 of those cruisers built. There were three Cruiser Divisions of four and we were in Cruiser Division 13, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

That’s how it happened and he was immediately transferred off. I had read the plan of the day that the people who were being evacuated there would be leaving at such and such a time and anybody that wanted to say farewell to them, just be sure that you put on your dress blues to come up there because there would probably be photographers, newspaper people, somebody up there.

I put on my outfit, my uniform, and went up there and was saying goodbye and as we were getting ready to leave the ship, he shook my hand. I’ll never forget. He said, “I want you to promise me one thing”. I said “Yes sir” and I had no idea what he was going to say. He said, “I’ve been watching you as you was preaching for me sometimes.” Because he couldn’t preach and he’d see me leading the singing up there and how the crew responded to what I was trying to do out there from a spiritual experience point of view. He said he wanted me to promise him right there that as long as I lived, I would think about becoming a Navy chaplain. I’ve never been able to get it out of my system.

So James Woodrow Kelly later to be Chief of Chaplains was my mentor, my spiritual guide and impact throughout my whole career. He would call me up and say could I possibly attend such and such selection board, somebody had an appendectomy and those kinds of things and off I would go on an airplane. It was a wonderful opportunity and tells you something about how I got in the Navy. I never got out, let’s put it that way.

Zarbock: Where did you get your theological training?

Rogers: At Duke Divinity School and believe it or not I had a time battling my call to the ministry. This uncle of mine Edwin William was a great impact upon me. I remember the Sunday when I was about 14, it was a Palm Sunday. The pastor of the church during the singing of the closing hymn, the Methodist church was only half a block from where I lived, a small church, 300-400 members. There was a youth group with 15 or 20 of us.

He said he had a spiritual concern that morning. He said, “I don't do this often, you know. But he said, “the spirit was urging me to do something.” He said he couldn’t remember the last time he had done this. He said there was somebody there that morning that God is calling to the Christian ministry. He said he didn't know who he was, she was, how old they are or what their background was, but if God is speaking to you, as your pastor he just wanted us to come forward, tell God we were willing to look at it and he promised he would help us with it as long as we have a dynamic relationship.

I remember on the third stanza of the hymn, I can’t think of what the name of the hymn was, I came forward and I was the only person in the whole congregation that did.

Zarbock: And you were 14?

Rogers: 14 years old. I was born on June 13. This was Palm Sunday after that. I had just turned 14.

Zarbock: But there was high school, the military. All during those years did you continue to feel a call, a spiritual call?

Rogers: Not only that but everybody in town, I don’t know how the world got around, I guess teenagers and kids, but I can’t remember when it really started but everybody in town called me Preacher, Preacher Rogers or Preacher Billy, Preacher Something. To this day when I go back home, they call me Preacher. Some people known me sixty years.

I had the mantle thrust upon me you know and I never got away from it. I never was uncomfortable with it. I always was inspired by it in a way and awestruck in a way. I’ll never forget that Sunday, Uncle Edwin said he wanted to call our attention to the reading of the scripture lesson for the day. He held his bible up like that and never looked down. He quoted the whole narrative, something from John, the gospel, verse by verse. Had a photographic mind kind of thing.

I asked him how he did that. “God’s gift to me, I don’t know how”. He said he couldn’t do it over a long period of time, but if he concentrated on it Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sunday morning he didn't need to read it. So that gave me a sense of encouragement. When he would come down to visit us he’d always ask how I was getting along.

I never want to forget one day we were talking and I said “Uncle Ed about this call to the ministry. I’m going into junior high school and I’m thinking about what I ought to be taking, courses like that”. He said languages. I asked, “You mean the most important thing for preachers are languages?” He said, "yeah". When I got to talking to my advisors at school, which we had nothing like this is elementary school, this was a different thing entirely, I told her about what my uncle said.

She said that was wonderful and that she’d be my Latin teacher. Her name was Annie Mallad. That’s something I never shall forget, Miss Annie Mallad. She helped me as I began to study Latin. I took two years of Latin. By then I’m getting into high school now and she wanted to keep a Latin class going, about 10 or 12 of us in a class. She said, “I’ll tell you what. If you all will sign up for Latin 3, we’ll do nothing but reading, stories and things like that. We won’t do vocabulary building and all of that. You know enough vocabulary already” So, seven or eight of us signed up for it.

By that time I’d had a math teacher whose name was Marie _____. She was from _____, died seven or eight years ago. I went to her funeral. She was an old maid school teacher as they say. So I was talking to Miss Marie one day about algebra because I was going to be taking the second year of algebra. She asked what else I was going to do. I told her kidding around that if the principal didn't make me take a science course, that I wanted to take her French course.

She said okay, that she’d go down and talk to the principal about it and if he would let me off the hook, I could take Latin 3 and French 1 at the same time. That’s what I did. By the time I got through high school, I had three years of Latin and two years of French. The third Latin you do Virgil’s _____, some translation work. I felt real comfortable in the whole field of language. I still am no good with my hands and really I’m not that interested in science. The science I’m interested now is biblical archeology.

Anyway that was my high school background to prepare me for college. When I went to college I called my uncle up who was in Durham, North Carolina, Associate to the Bishop up there. He was acting as a Bishop but to keep politics out of it, you can never be elected full bishop. I think it’s a joke really. I think there are still a lot of politics still in there, but that’s the Episcopalian church, not mine.

When I was deciding what I was going to take at the University, the Dean of Men over there happened to be one of the faculty people in a group of students who had an orientation kind of thing. He was a little German guy with a crew cut like most Germans had in those days. His name was Francis W. Bradley, a professor. I got to talking to him and he asked if I really had three years of Latin and two years of French and I said yes, I had. He asked why didn't I take German?

I said that was the funniest thing in the world because my uncle told me not long ago on the telephone that I should keep up my foreign languages at the university. He didn't mention German, but I said, "sign me up". I took three years of German at the University of South Carolina. When I got into Duke Divinity School, Greek and Hebrew and those kinds of things, I knew how to grasp foreign languages. Of course I had always been fascinated by them.

With all the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and all the biblical archeology we do in the Holy Land, my stars, you know this is right in my field. I’m still today doing work in translating like that. I’m not an expert on it. I have to ask the rabbi an awful lot about Hebrew, but Greek, if you give me a Greek English dictionary, I can translate it. That’s why I’m in the teaching field right now. How about that?

Zarbock: That’s amazing. Let me see if I’ve got this right. You had a year and a half of college after you graduated from high school. Then you went into the Navy. How long were you in the Navy?

Rogers: Just under 41 months.

Zarbock: When you came out of the Navy you had the GI Bill.

Rogers: Second semester sophomore and I used it all the way through, a two year Master’s degree program in World Religions. I’m not an expert on Islam but I know an awful lot about it. I just finished teaching courses on the comparison of the bible and the Koran for example and have Arabs in the class. I’ve taught at the mosque.

Zarbock: Your degree facility was the University of South Carolina, both your Bachelor’s degree and your Master’s degree.

Rogers: Well yeah and believe it or not, I had so much along my BS degree in Business Administration which was what I was in, they said I was going to lose too many credits and that I needed to finish up even though I was going into the ministry. I told them I didn't mind that, I liked accounting and economics. In fact, I was the reader for the basic course in economics to sort of help me along. We had our first little girl by then.

Anyway yeah, I went and finished the same degree I started out with, a Bachelor of Science. I finished August 31, 1947 and you can date me and the Dead Sea Scrolls because the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered on September 17, 1947, 17 days later after EWR finished his undergraduate degree, we found the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Then I went on to do a Master’s degree in the World’s Great Religions at Emory University near Atlanta. After that my first job was Director of Religious Life at NC State College. I’m a great lover of basketball. I tried to play a little. I was on the traveling team of the freshman team here. I played basketball in high school and tennis and badminton also. I used to play a lot of that.

I was tremendously interested in sports. I looked across the campus one day and _____, the great coach and he and I hit it off. I gave the invocation for the coliseum. Governor Scott was the governor and his son was a freshman and later president of the student body. So I had a lot of relationships with the governor’s family through his son and that kind of thing. God has just blessed me in a thousand and one ways. He’s opened doors and windows for me I never dreamed of really.

Zarbock: Why did you decide to go to Duke?

Rogers: I was in the traveling ministry and my church was in Raleigh. Being a minister I had taken one or two courses in the summer with some guys who were traveling over there and back. Duke just said to me that if I came there and when the GI Bill was over with, they would pick up the year or 18 months so I could finish the divinity program. Not only that, every credit they could give me credit from the School of Theology which is a Methodist institution too, they would give me credit for.

So I didn't have to take Basic Old Testament at Duke for example. I didn't have to take the writings of Paul at Duke because I already had those and three or four other courses like that. That lightened my load, you see. Instead of having to take 15 hours of German, I had to take 12. I was serving three churches and by that time had two children, one in the third grade and one in the first grade. When I was out there at three churches.

Zarbock: So you’re a full time student, a full time father, a full time husband.

Rogers: And a full time pastor. Four f’s. How about that.

Zarbock: Did you have any time to sleep or eat?

Rogers: Oh yeah. I was in the tobacco belt. They were within 3 feet of my carport. I would see them cutting them down in the wintertime. They had barbecues. My kids loved that you know because there was a whole lot going on. I’m going back up there for the 150th anniversary of one of their buildings in Smithville where one of my churches was.

I was there for the 100th anniversary of the building so they called me up about a week ago and said that I had to come back one more time. I’m going back up there a week from Sunday to re-dedicate the building. It was a wooden frame building. It’s modernized with air conditioning and all that, but it still looks just like it did the first day I ever saw it.

Zarbock: During all of your schooling at the University of South Carolina, at Emory and at Duke, what affiliation if any did you have with the Navy?

Rogers: Well I’m glad you asked me that. Strange as life works out, one day, I’d been back maybe three months I saw this guy walking across the campus and he’s the guy that was in the recruiting station who had been at the Y because I used to play basketball with him. He and I met and I asked him what was going on, why was he there. He said he was back with ROTC program.

About a month after that he came over my house one night. He asked if I had heard the latest about getting a commission and I said no, the last I heard was when I left the ship, the captain had put in my jacket a letter of recommendation saying that if I had the desire to stay in the regular Navy, he would recommend that I be automatically instantly promoted which they offered me.

But I had promised Margaret I was going back to finish this Bachelor’s in Business Administration. Inviting as it was, I told them I couldn’t do that. He said I should call the Bureau of Navy Personnel and see if I couldn’t apply for one of these things when I graduated, at least give them my graduation date. So I did and they said sure, I could do that. They asked why didn't I get into the Navy Reserves. They said why not join there, that I might make chief or something.

They asked how long I had to go to college and I said at least two years. I didn't do a thing but go down and join the Reserves. So I was in the Navy Reserve. I was first class and about the time I was coming up chief, I graduated. It took a long time. There weren’t that many billets in those days. It was just a beginning program really. I sent my grades in that last semester and one day I got a brown envelope and it said I would be commissioned in the Navy Reserve as an ensign supply corps and to present the papers whenever I was ready to be sworn in, let them know ahead of time.

I just called up the recruiting station again. I said I needed their services again, you swore me in one time, you’ve got to swear me in again. Shortly after December some time, I was sworn in as an ensign with the United States Navy Reserve. I would come down and drill in the training center.

Zarbock: What was your age and what year are we at now?

Rogers: I finished in 1947 and was born in 1922, so I was 25.

Zarbock: You packed an awful lot of life in 22 years.

Rogers: It’s amazing how God just put me in the right place at the right time. Then when I graduated from Emory and all, I was going to NC State to be the director of religious life. They said they couldn’t find me any housing, but there were a few faculty houses which one of those days they were going to tear down and they have long time since.

They said since I didn't have but one child, no, I had a little boy that was born while I was getting my Master’s from Emory. I was in the graduation line and took off my cap and gown and said I had to go, that my wife was in the hospital. I was in Atlanta and she was in Columbia. I got there before he was born. Anyway guess what, right across the street down the hill less than two blocks was the reserve training center which they had opened up.

I took the rest of my training down there so it was a perfect setup if any guy ever had one. I stayed on in, but never did make Chief. But I served as an Ensign in the Supply Corps all the way through to a Lieutenant Commander in the supply corps. So you’re talking about 7-1/2 to 8 years, almost 9. I got a letter one day. The Korean War was just ending. In fact they had sent me a brown envelope before then that said if the war kept on, I was going to be recalled as a Supply Officer.

I wrote them and told them please not to do that, that I was in divinity school and doing all these things, that they had interrupted me one time, that I wasn’t blaming anyone for that, I enjoyed my Navy service, but please to let me stay in the Reserves for a while. They said they would see how it goes, if they didn't need me, they wouldn’t call me.

They didn't call me and about six months later I got this greeting from the Navy that I had been selected as one of 75,000 to be a Supply Officer. When I got to Duke Divinity School, I had all these credits. Where it took the average guy four years, it took me three and a half to graduate from divinity school. So I actually finished in December, but I didn’t get my sheepskin till June. But that didn’t matter. Kelly, Chief of Chaplain, he was in second in command back then, I sent a letter to Tom Jolly, he was up there with Kelly, a young Lieutenant Commander, telling him that I finished Divinity School and would like to be considered to be a chaplain assistant.

Sure enough in January after I finished classes, Jim had me come up and interview with eight other chaplains. I was accepted into the Chaplain Corps. The next morning before we were to be sworn in, I heard the news they were going to take a stripe away from me. Instead of being a Lieutenant Commander, I was going to be a Lieutenant JG in the Chaplain Corps.

There was a guy in front of me who was the Supply Officer of one of the ships that was sunk. They were doing the same thing to him and he was a full Commander. He had the ribbons and a Purple Heart and all that stuff. When I started complaining, he turned around and looked at me and said, “That’s just the way the ball bounces”. He was from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I never did know his name. He said the Navy would make it up to me.

I asked him did he mean to tell me he was giving up being a Commander and being a JG and he said, "yeah, it was the only thing he could do". They finally got us in a room that morning and somebody from the Bureau came over there and told us that we probably thought they were doing us a disservice, but that they were doing us a tremendous service.

He said let’s suppose we stayed a Lieutenant Commander as we were and we come to the next selection board for examination and all we have in our record and all we have in our record is about like that and everybody else there has got about like that, that they were going to take those. He said what they were doing is we needed to start at the bottom, but that some day we would get near the top.

I never failed to get promoted in the Chaplain Corps beyond the first selection in my whole career. They selected six chaplains for full Captain in August 1974. I was the fourth of the six chaplains selected.

Zarbock: When did you make Captain?

Rogers: Let me see, September 1974. The reason I remember that is a good friend of mine was a line officer and they were working early, he made it April 1. His name is Floyd Spencer and he just died recently, wonderful guy. Floyd made it in April and I made it in September 1974.

Zarbock: What percentage or what amount, give me some sort of word that looks documentary, how much time did you spend on ship after you were commissioned as a chaplain?

Rogers: The rest of my time I was just in the Reserve program. I was never on full active duty as a chaplain other than training duty. In fact, I’m glad you asked me that. There was another chaplain, a Presbyterian, on the west coast and the Navy needed chaplains so bad who had fleet experience and particularly in missile fleet experience until he and I, I’ll let you in on a secret, never went to full time chaplaincy, never did. I don’t know how it happened. I can’t remember if Kelly was Chief of Chaplains. Maybe he was an administrative officer as a captain or something.

Anyway they wrote us both letters and said they were going to have a retraining for chaplains who had been out in civilian life and coming back. See the chaplain school was nine months in Newport. This was about two months I think. I think it was in Newport also. We went up and took one month in the fall and another in the springtime. There were a few of us. Of course there were a lot of chaplains that were taking the retraining. So they didn't know we’d never been to chaplain school and I never told anybody about it (laughter).

Zarbock: So what sort of duty assignments did you have?

Rogers: The Chaplain Corps almost had a pioneer program, a Reserve program particularly for staff officers rather than line officers. They decided that first of all you ought to have boot camp experience, like Kelly was with us or something on a base like that, a big Navy base kind of thing. So I went up for 14 days or 28 days to do stuff like that.

Then they said you ought to have ship experience. So I had a couple of those kinds of things. Then they said, you know it might be 3-4 year cycles, you don’t learn it all in one trip, but they wanted us to enroll either by correspondence or by attending some Naval course on the chaplains. So that’s how we got a lot of what we learned about the chaplaincy.

I took two or three of those. I remember one I took, I never will forget, the time schedule and all, I wondered if this was going to work out. They said they had chaplains in the Seabees and the Marines so that I should get a ground troop type of experience and just take that. They asked if I had done _____. I said I had done two, one at Parris Island. You remember at Parris Island when the guy that led the three guys in there and one of them drowned.

Zarbock: Yes.

Rogers: I came as Reserve chaplain right after that thing. I knew McGowan.

Zarbock: That was screaming headlines.

Rogers: And the person that saved his hide, thank goodness, was the Secretary of the Navy because there’s no doubt about it, he had vodka in the desk drawer and he’d been drinking that day, but he wasn’t drunk or anything like that. He’s too good a Marine to do that. But those guys panicked on him and he saved two out of three. He only lost one so give the guy credit for what he did.

We had a Methodist chaplain down there whose name was Ralph Atkinson. He still lives in Columbia, South Carolina right now. When they started cutting back, he didn't make Commander so he was passed over and got his 26 years or whatever he had. He was a little bit bitter about it. So he said to me one day he was going to give me his uniforms so he did. I went in to take over where he had been when he left. So I was right there within a month, six weeks, after this tragedy happened and knew the situation.

Then they said, okay, so of all things, this course I had to take getting back to that, was on logistics and ground troop organizations and all like that. Little did I ever realize that when I would come back up again for training duty, guess what, it was in the Marine Corps or a new thing was coming out, Seabees. I was in one of the original four Reserve battalions of the Seabees.

We were the backup, they took two of active duty backups, you remember Vietnam, we were in one of the two backups kind of thing. So since we didn't go to Vietnam, remember they had the hurricane down there in Gulfport, leveled everything. My unit spent a month down there and I was in charge of all the photography of the Navy Reserve program doing all of that. I was working with professional photographers. We had one photographer on the ship and the Navy had a couple of others. We had some civilians too with the Chamber of Commerce.

I was the overall coordinator representing the Navy in terms of the chaplain thing for all of that. I knew Admiral Fox real well, the base commandant, he and his wife. He took a cruise after all that was over and died of a heart attack. Marvelous human being really. We lost a real fine human being when we lost him.

I saw them rebuild Gulfport, Mississippi from the ground up. I just did one Seabee duty after another with the Marine Corps and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was chaplain of the Marine Corps unit at Greenville for example.

Zarbock: What was the work of the chaplain? What was your work as chaplain?

Rogers: A lot of it was counseling and of course when I got up to commander and above I was in supervisory kind of responsibilities. I did just basic chaplain work. The chaplain could take a leave. I remember there was one guy down there and I was in Key West of all places. We have a pastor ship down there that stays down there all the time, goes out and comes back training people down there.

So he was the chaplain of that and his wife’s mother had come down with a malignancy. He wanted to go home. So they gave him leave for about 14 days. I came in to do the 14 days. All of a sudden she grew worse and eventually died within about 10 days, two weeks something like that. They called me up and asked if I could stay two more weeks. I said I would check with my Superintendent and if he said he could get someone to do it for me, I’ll do it.

He was real nice, a real good friend of mine. He allowed me to do the whole 28 days down there. That kind of thing happened over and over again. Many times, I remember one time I was on a destroyer escort unit out of Miami. Another time I was assigned to the Marine Corps detachment right at the Navy Reserve unit. I just drilled with whatever they were doing. If they were playing volleyball in the afternoon, I’d go. The chaplain did whatever came across his plate.

You’ve got all kinds of things, wonderful administrative duties and possibilities. I worked when I was in Charleston as the Senior Chaplain in charge of 13 chaplains, I had made captain then. Thirteen chaplains and one of my responsibilities was with the sub squadron so I would have chaplains who would train the guys who were going to be absent from their wives.

I’d have some of the other chaplains training the wives in the absence of the guys because we found out most of the trouble happened as they were leaving and as they got back. While they were there, the wife was entrusted with running the ranch and the guy got accustomed to what he was doing on the ship. So whatever the chaplain did in the regular Navy aboard a ship or whatever, that’s what you did.

You were supposed to know how to do it. That’s why they had this highly regimented way of doing it so that if you became Lieutenant Commander, if you stepped up on the stage, you were pretty sure that you had the selection. It was almost two out of three. You almost had to be a goof-off not to make it. But when you got up to commander, it was about like one out of eight or nine, then when you got up to captain, it was strictly a numbers game. We were the second largest class that had a Reserve program ever.

Zarbock: You really have had a remarkable career, haven’t you?

Rogers: Thank you so much.

Zarbock: Could you tell me, more accurately would you tell the future, of all the experiences that you’ve had as a civilian, in the military, as a scholar, as a teacher, as a chaplain, how would you put together some remarks about what life is really like.

Rogers: I’m 81 years old now so that tells you that my short memory isn’t worth a cuss as I say all the time. You have to know what you want to do in your retirement years for one thing. Most people just fall into it. I was not that way. I began to say to God as early as 1974 and I retired from the Navy in 1982, September 3, I knew I was going to have a lot more time.

So I used that period to do a lot of doctoral study and got my degree in Chicago and this kind of thing. I began to realize that somebody has got to start teaching the lay people, the scholarship that we know on the scriptures because I don’t expect our pastors to do it. Like I said earlier, they don’t have the technical training and Lord knows they don’t have the time to do it, visiting hospitals and all that stuff.

I began to just keep my eyes open and my ears listening and told God if He opened doors and windows, I would walk through and jump out if I had to. What I do is from time to time I see what the big issues are in terms of culture and life, I began to develop a course on the Bible and the Koran. I had my class notes from Emory University in 1947-49, so I was able to do that and just read the Koran for myself, taking notes and talking into Dictaphones, to put down what I was doing and develop my own classes.

I’m still doing that. We have a course in about an hour on Biblical Archeology, trying to introduce people to what we found out below the stones that affect the Bible behind the text.

Zarbock: What do you think about human beings? Eighty-one years of age, human beings are what?

Rogers: I think they’re very grateful people. The fact that you could even live to be 81, I marvel. It’s a credit to medical science, don’t misunderstand me, I believe that. They may make a lot of mistakes, but they do a lot of good in this world. With the techniques and the equipment we have now, it is amazing what they can do now. You almost have to have a total collapse of your system, an aneurysm or heart attack or cancer to take you out. Other than that you have a fighting chance.

I never drank, never smoked, didn't stay up all kinds of hours. I always felt like the Lord gave me a good body and wanted me to take care of it and I wasn’t going to mess it all up. I think that pays off. It’s a grateful life, it’s a disciplined life. A person who has a good retirement has planned for it and been disciplined getting ready for it all the time really.

It just dawned on me in 1974 that my mission was teaching. It took me a long, long time to learn it.

Zarbock: Chaplain Rogers, thank you sir.

Rogers: Oh, thank you.

Zarbock: The Lord be with you.

Rogers: Same to you.

Repository:
UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign