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Interview with John D. Singletary, March 31, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with John D. Singletary, March 31, 2003
March 31, 2003
Interview with military Chaplain John D. Singletary.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Singletary, John D. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  3/31/2003 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  58 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. We’re in the library of UNCW and today’s date is the 31th of March in the year 2003. I will be interviewing Pastor John D. Singletary and we’re currently located in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Zarbock: Pastor, how did you get into the ministry, why did you get into the ministry and then from there how did you segue into the military?

Singletary: Well I first have to start with my family. I grew up in a family with two older brothers, two younger sisters and church was just part of family life. Sunday came and there were no questions asked. We did the church thing. While at church though, I was exposed to men as teachers in Sunday School who had military experience in World War II and they sometimes would refer to that experience.

Zarbock: Where were you living at the time?

Singletary: I was living in Hamlet, North Carolina, and was born in Bladen County, North Carolina January 29, 1941. Today I’m 62. So growing up at First Baptist in Hamlet. My father moved there about the time World War II started to work on the railroad. I was about one year old.

So growing up in a small, small town in North Carolina, a railroad town, church was just a part of life. As a youth, being active in church activities, it was about the age of 16 that I felt the pull toward ministry. In the 8th grade my goal was to play fullback for the Cleveland Browns. At the age of 12, I wanted to be an engineer on the railroad and drive the trains all over the country. At the age of 16, there was a pull towards ministry. I didn't know what that meant or what that was all about.

I also felt that ministry is not limited to the professional clergy. That ministry can be as a lay person in any occupation. They were all called to minister. The tug was still toward church work of some type. I went to Mars Hill Junior College, Mars Hill near Asheville and left the junior college and went to Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. While I was at Furman in 1962, that summer I went to Korea to work with the missionaries.

Of course there was a strong military environment in Korea, both on the part of Koreans and the American military. I got to know some of the chaplains and some of the military persons as well as the missionaries and the Koreans. That was an eye-opening experience into ministry.

Zarbock: What were your obligations in Korea at that time?

Singletary: As a student, I would accompany the missionaries and they would line up visits to schools, elementary schools, junior high, to colleges and would talk to the students and answer questions they may have had. We would go to some of the summer camps where some of the Koreans were, would speak at the Korean churches to the Koreans. As a college student, that was really an eye-opening experience.

Zarbock: This was your first trip overseas?

Singletary: First trip overseas.

Zarbock: And you end up in Asia.

Singletary: End up in Asia, Korea. Following graduation from Furman, I was working for the summer at the First Baptist Church in Kingstree, South Carolina as their “summer youth minister” and I was looking toward seminary in the fall. Frankly I was getting a little tired of the classroom, book work and it was about that time in 1963, President Kennedy and the Peace Corps were on the headlines and front burner. That was related to mission work.

So I applied to the Peace Corps and was accepted and had an appointment to South America to be an English teacher. Well I talked this over with a senior minister at the church and he said it was a great experience, but if I got out of the stream of my planned educational path, it would be difficult to get back in. In terms of looking toward a pastor tour or mission work.

So I listened to his counsel and went onto seminary and went to Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. While I was there, I also served as a pastor to two small churches, one in New Grove, North Carolina and one close to Dunn, North Carolina. Of course this is ’63-’65. Those are years in which there was a build up in Vietnam. All of this time the Selective Service is after me, are you still in college, are you still in seminary.

There were stories I heard later that many people went to seminary to get out of the draft, but I didn't experience that or I didn't see that or note that on the part of the students who were in the seminary with me. At the churches, some of the servicemen would come back home and they’d go to church with their families and speak of where they were and something of what they were doing. Most of it at that point was related toward Vietnam. So I finished seminary and…

Zarbock: What year was that please?

Singletary: I finished in 1967 and went to Gatesville Baptist Church in Gatesville, North Carolina. I got a note from the Selective Service and they said, “ Are you going into ministry like you told us you were going to do after seminary?”, and I filled out the paperwork and sent it back. They sent me a notice that said, “That’s good, you are no longer required to render any service for your country because you’re a pastor and you are not a combatant.”

So that sort of stuck, “ you are not required to render any service to your country!” talking about military service. So that stuck a little because I felt that all citizens needed to contribute something to their country and community. I began to hear from other classmates who were in Vietnam as chaplains and their work and their ministry and talked to them when they would come back to the States.

I wondered if that ministry was for me? I wondered. I certainly didn't feel like I was exempt from any service to my country, including military service as a chaplain in this case. So I wrote to my Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, letting them know that I had an interest in the Chaplaincy and wondered if they had any requirements at that time? I was particularly interested in the Air Force.

They wrote back and said, “ They had no openings for chaplains, except for the Navy.” They had an opening in the Navy and if I was interested in the Navy and wanted to pursue that to let them know. I shared with them that the Navy wasn’t a place that I felt that I would be that effective. I think if I were single, I would have enjoyed being on the ocean for months, but …

Zarbock: But you are married now?

Singletary: I married in 1965 to Priscilla Sanders of Laurel Hill, North Carolina. So I took that message from that Mission Board that said, “ There were no openings except in the Navy.” I said to myself, ”Maybe this was the message to me that that’s not what I ought to be doing?” About a year later, the Chaplain’s Office wrote back and said that there was an opening for an Air Force Chaplain endorsement if I were still interested.

Priscilla and I talked about this and went to Atlanta and talked to the Mission Board about this and accepted an endorsement as an Air Force Chaplain.

Zarbock: Now how old were you at that time?

Singletary: I was 29 and went into the Chaplaincy in August of 1969.

Zarbock: You had had no military experience whatsoever?

Singletary: No military experience whatsoever. We were assigned to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Abilene, Texas, a Strategic Air Command bomber base. B-52’s and KC-135 tankers.

Zarbock: And you’re now a brand new Lieutenant?

Singletary: Right. I did not go to the Chaplain School for their orientation program first which some chaplains do and then they report to their Base. I reported to the Base first and I did not receive my orders. They got misplaced some place and the Air Force said, “Well, we’ll send you a telegram and you can go to Norfolk to the Navy Base and they will ship their household goods on the basis of that and you’ll also be able to come to Dyess on the basis of the telegram.”

So I went to Norfolk and I had accepted the commission and was sworn in, but didn't have any uniform or anything. The folks at the moving office at the Navy didn't know what to do with me. After sitting around there trying to decide what to do, they accepted that and moved my household goods on the basis of the telegram and not military orders.

Zarbock: How did the Navy get involved in moving an Air Force officer?

Singletary: Well wherever you’re located, there are military offices that have a district that’s responsible for moving all military and I was in the Norfolk District. So I drive out to…Priscilla was nine months pregnant and we left Gatesville and I drove out. She couldn’t drive. She had to fly because of her imminent expectation of giving birth. So I reported to Dyess and drive up in civilian clothes. SAC bases, nuclear weapons, of course there was very tight security.

The person at the gate asked if they could please see my orders? I said , “I didn't have any orders, didn't have an I.D., all I had was a telegram.” He said, “ he couldn’t let me in there with a telegram.” So after picking up the phone and calling the chapel, “Yes they were expecting me,” so they let me in. So I went to the chapel and met the chaplains and the staff. They sent one of the sergeants with me to go buy clothes and shoes and a hat.

One of the guys in clothing in sales who happened to be a Captain buying something showed me how you put on the uniform and where you put it. The Captain’s bars are about a nickel’s width above this line and so I got an orientation right there as a newbie and started wearing the uniforms. I went and got my I.D. card so I became an instant Air Force Chaplain and that was in August. I was scheduled for school in October. Priscilla flies in about the day after I got there. We go to get a room…

Zarbock: On the base?

Singletary: On the Base and the person who was there who we met at the desk, that I met, it was at the Dyess Inn, he said, “ we have no room in the inn!” He was a little sharp about it. I thought ‘well, here we are like Mary and Joseph in a far country. Priscilla’s expecting and there’s no room at the inn.’ So we get a motel room downtown. Not long after that, there was a SAC inspection of the Base and that person at the desk got written up for being very impersonable. I didn't complain.

Another interesting thing about getting oriented into the military, the first time I went to the barber shop to get a haircut, I waited my turn. I didn't know anybody in there. As soon as I thought it was my turn, somebody else jumps up and jumps in the chair and I knew enough at that time that he outranked me. So I’m thinking, ‘ I wonder if you get haircuts by being the highest ranking person?’ That wasn’t the case, but he may have had an appointment and I just didn't know about it. You wonder about these things.

The orientation on the base level was good before going to Chaplain School because you had a frame of reference. There were three Protestant chaplains and two Catholic chaplains at Dyess at that time.

Zarbock: Please take me back. Your wife has arrived the day after you. You end up in a motel room downtown. She’s in her 9th month of pregnancy. Don’t leave me there. Was there a physician attending her?

Singletary: Her physician was in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. We left Gatesville and went to Dyess, reported in and she reported to the hospital. They had a nice military hospital there at Dyess and she reported in. It was approximately two weeks or three weeks. She was a little late. She gave birth September 13, 1969, and Lena was born. Thought about calling her Abby for Abilene, but we didn't do that.

The Chaplain School is located, or was located then, at Montgomery Air Force Base, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. Enjoyed that experience and as I reported to Dyess and reported into the Chaplain School, I became broadened in the sense that I have always lived in a “Baptist bubble”, in the Baptist realm of the church and I didn't know any Episcopalian clergy or Catholic or Jewish or Presbyterian much.

I did know a Methodist minister in my hometown, who was a former Marine, and got to know him, but he certainly didn't press the military aspect of it. In the Chaplain School and first impressions in the Chaplaincy was the teamwork that all the chaplains, all the clergy of different denominations worked together. Of course you have your Protestant Program and your Catholic Program and your Jewish Program, but you are a part of a chaplain team in terms of a broad picture.

I gained over the years a greater appreciation for other Christian traditions. Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and others as well as a greater appreciation of the Catholic tradition and of their history. In saying that too, I gained a greater appreciation of my own tradition as a Baptist and the distinctiveness of being of that tradition. So stepping into the military was an adventure, the travel, meeting new people and new experiences.

My perceptions of the Air Force in this sense proved to be correct, in that the Air Force chaplains, ministry as a chaplain is a broad family ministry. The pilots in the Air Force take the airplanes and fly away and they come back, they fly away and they come back. Sometimes you’ll fly with them, but the chaplain program is a family ministry. You have everything a local church has. You have men’s programs, you have single airmen, you have wives’ programs, choirs, Sunday school, vacation bible school, ladies retreats, men’s retreats just like you have at a local church.

I appreciate the other traditions of the Navy Chaplains who go to sea with their men or Army Chaplains who go out in the field with their units. In the Air Force, you do stay on the Base wherever you are in the world. So I was at Dyess for one year and I knew that sometime I was going to have a remote tour. Everybody has a tour where you go overseas without your family. With Lena, being just an infant, I figured that probably the earlier in her life I was away, the better it would be.

So I put in papers and volunteered for Southeast Asia. I was picked up within a year and went to, was assigned to Udon, Thailand. This was in 1970. It’s close to the Laos border, probably 30 miles away from the Mekong River. Their mission was reconnaissance and also bombing missions in Danang.

Zarbock: Were you the only chaplain on the Base?

Singletary: No, we had two Catholic chaplains and three Protestant chaplains and I went there as a junior Protestant chaplain.

Zarbock: Must have been a good size base.

Singletary: It was, it was! If I said how many were there, I’d just be guessing. There were about three, two Fighter Squadrons, Recon Squadron and a contingent of Air America working in Laos. That was the year in which your relationship with other chaplains were, of course, stronger. Nobody was there with their families. You had off duty time with other troops and you get to know some of the local missionaries.

One of the local missionaries also served as our choir director and there was a missionary couple there, a singer couple, who were probably about 65 or 70 years old. Their children had grown up and were back in the States. Reverend and Mrs. Perkins – they had lived there and they had seen the day when you could drive from Udon, Thailand up to Laos and drive over to Hanoi and drive down to Saigon, come across Cambodia to Bangkok and then back up the country.

They were a wonderful couple. You just had to admire their commitment to be there for their mission work. I don’t know how long after I left that they stayed, but it was just a wonderful experience. My job there had to do with visiting with the units, counseling. It was heavy with families left alone with problems with children, some humanitarian issues come up.

Zarbock: What about drugs and alcohol? Was that a problem?

Singletary: I was not aware of any drug problems. Alcohol was available in the clubs. I do remember the way the environment was at that time. I didn't see a lot of, I wasn’t aware of a lot of abuse of alcohol in terms of drunkenness, public drunkenness. I went to a Happy Hour at one of the Squadrons on Friday afternoon and they had trash cans with beer iced up available to everybody at no cost. I couldn’t find a soft drink anywhere, there wasn’t one. You go to that party, you drink beer or not drink at all.

Those who did not drink, didn't have an option. Well they did have an option, to not drink alcohol. So that was sort of the culture of the 1970-1971. By the time I got out, there was a de-emphasis on alcohol to the extent that the Enlisted Clubs and the Officers’ Clubs were going broke because of the lack of sales of alcohol. There was a clamp down on DWI’s, Driving While Intoxicated. It affected a lot of careers. So the men and women began to stay away from the clubs to not be observed drinking. So you had that switch in culture in 20 years.

Left Thailand and went to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. They were Recon Squadrons and some of them had been to Vietnam. No, I’m incorrect. I have notes here. From Thailand, I went to Homestead, Florida. Homestead, south of Miami, was a large Tactical Air Command Training Base and the Air Force Survival School was there. It was the same makeup of chaplains. I think there were four Protestant chaplains and two or three Catholic chaplains, a larger base. A great variety of personalities there. All of them different and all of them having different gifts of ministry.

There I did a lot of preaching, was a Religion Education Chaplain, worked with the youth and enjoyed South Florida. Got back in time…my daughter, about that time, was just about one year old. It was just a wonderful time to see her grow and to do the ministry there at Homestead. One of the interesting things at Homestead was, that from time to time gets to be an issue, and that is the question of, “Who a chaplain is?”

Are you military or are you church? The Senior Chaplain on the Base was Howie Lesch and he was very tall fellow, very focused in his work as a chaplain and a priest. After he retired from the military, he did mission work in Central and South America. But the Wing Commander, the boss on the Base at one point, was real active in his parish. Putting the Catholic literature on the display in the foyer of the church, this one commander objected to, because some Catholics were very vocal about their stand against Vietnam and the military and that sort of thing.

We had another chaplain who was a Protestant chaplain who I couldn’t dare find the paperwork on this, but he was sort of a maverick, a very committed person. I never questioned his commitment, but he liked to challenge people. Sometimes he would upset folks and try to make them think. Well the Commander of that Base at that point would endorse his officer efficiency reports that were done periodically on all officers, Captains included.

At one time the Commander asked for this chaplain’s Efficiency Report and his endorsement was, “This chaplain’s theology does not agree with the theology of the Air Force”. Of course, there’s no theology of the Air Force! The chaplain chuckled and he could have made an issue of it, but he let it drop. The chaplain has a foot in the military and one foot in the church. It’s the church state issue.

Of course I saw challenges to the constitutionality of the Chaplaincy while I was in the military. The resolution of that was that the First Amendment to the Constitution says “That the government shall not restrict religious expression.” So men in prison, men in the military are restricted and so the Chaplaincy was decided to be constitutional in terms of supporting, giving people the opportunity to worship in whatever environment they find themselves.

Zarbock: Which is a lot different from forcefully proselytizing.

Singletary: Right, right.

Zarbock: By the way, did you experience any of the chaplains actively proselytizing within their religious denomination?

Singletary: Well the Baptists don’t do that. You proselytize people who are not of faith , and there were no restrictions, that I experienced in the Air Force, in terms of sharing your faith. You recognize and other chaplains too, you have people who are Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian who have confirmation classes and invite inquirers and others seeking confirmation. You’re free to have Baptist classes for people who are interested in the Baptist expression.

Zarbock: But it’s an invitation?

Singletary: It’s an invitation.

Zarbock: It’s not within the military mind an order you will report to…..?

Singletary: That’s correct.

Zarbock: By the way chaplain, a question I ask other people, was there any time in your professional career in the military that you were ordered or strongly suggested that you perform some action or activity that you thought was in violation of your personal or spiritual ethic?

Singletary: I can’t remember such an order or suggestion. My experience was Commanders knew that the role of the chaplain for the most part, with the one exception that I mentioned to you, and they respected that and they supported the chaplains and saw that they received the budget that they needed for their work as well. I can’t remember either myself, or anyone, receiving an order or a strong suggestion to do something that violated their convictions, their conscience.

There was an unspoken courtesy I think that existed. The pulpit, the freedom on the pulpit was respected. I felt though that it would be an abuse of that freedom if I got up and told folks that, ‘all you Methodists are going to hell’ or ‘all you Catholics are doomed!’ I saw that there was never an attack of the faith of expression of any other chaplain or any other tradition.

Zarbock: Have you ever heard of an attack by others without identifying the individuals?

Singletary: No, I haven’t. I do know at the present time there’s a suit among Navy chaplains that the evangelical chaplains feel like they’re discriminated against. I can see where some civilian pastors I know right now would be in your face and tell you if you’re not of this tradition,’ you’re damned to hell !” I think there was a mutual respect among the traditions.

Zarbock: All the other chaplains whom I’ve interviewed ,always spoke so reverently of the colleague nature of the chaplains irrespective of the denomination.

Singletary: Right, right.

Zarbock: That the respect shown to each other was unflagging.?

Singletary: That was my experience.

Zarbock: Though there may be personal distance between people.

Singletary: Once in a while there would be personality clashes, but 99.9% of the time there was a professional respect accorded to all chaplains.

Zarbock: I’ve also been alerted to understand that Commanding Officers, non-chaplain officers of base or ship or what have you, their attitude would range from benign indifference to a full and energetic involvement.

Singletary: That’s my experience.

Zarbock: And it ran the whole spectrum, but there never was a situation of antagonism or removal of the chaplain. Had you ever heard of a case where a Commanding Officer…?

Singletary: I knew of one case of a Baptist chaplain who was an aviator who applied for and was accepted as a chaplain and went through the proper training, got out of the cockpit. Later he missed that and wanted to go back into flying and was not allowed to do that. He became quite disgruntled, to the point that he was later given other duties, and later got out of the Service.

Zarbock: That may be a master of understatement (laughter).

Singletary: A very intelligent, smart person. There were, after Vietnam, there was a downsizing of the military and some of the chaplains who had had maybe 10 years in, would be given their papers to leave and some of them stayed in the Reserves and some of them became, I forget the title they use, but it was in the area of race relations for the Air Force. They would take their Chaplaincy cross off and begin to do social work and counseling in race relations work for the Air Force. Then you saw some people leave under circumstances where it was just a matter of the Force being reduced, not that there was any trouble on their part.

From Homestead, Florida, I went to Bangor, Maine, to Charleston Air Force Base. Flew from Florida to Maine, from hot country to cold country. There for two years I rode radar sites. This was during the cold war when the country was lined with radar stations to catch any airborne missile threat…

Zarbock: So you were a circuit rider?

Singletary: I was a circuit rider from the Canadian border down to Cape Cod. I would go up and make a week’s trip to _____ Maine and then go down to Cape Cod and then out from Bangor, near Dover, there was a radar sign and I would go and stay, sometimes have services, counseling, dinners and programs with the troops at the sites. Those sites no longer exist, but it was a great experience to live in the Bangor community and get to know some of the Bangors and pastors there and experience the Maine winter.

Zarbock: Were there other chaplains on duty there?

Singletary: No, I was the only chaplain. There were other circuits around the country, all around the country, of chaplains that did that and that was my circuit.

Zarbock: How would you be transported from point A to point B?

Singletary: I would drive a military vehicle. These places were on mountains or in communities and there was not a place distant enough for me to fly. I think one occasion I took a helicopter ride to one of the sites. It was just a different, it wasn’t the normal way to travel.

Zarbock: What did you find was the attitude of the personnel in these remote and isolated places? Were they remote and isolated by the way?

Singletary: The two sites were and one site was on Cape Cod and Cape Cod was not remote or isolated. But the remote sites, the people did things with the local folks. They would hunt or fish, things like that and these were not training sites. These were working sites, 24 hours a day, crews watching the radar screens. Periodically there would be exercises where there would be flights that would come in to test them. I found too that because they were small units in remote areas that there was a good sense of community where you knew everybody.

Zarbock: Did you have the opportunity of performing any wedding ceremonies while you were there?

Singletary: Not there. I had plenty of weddings in Florida, but there? Don’t remember having any weddings. In Bangor, there was a base closed there and we lived in the old base housing and because there was military housing there, they made it available to families who had military members on remote duty in different parts of the world. So there was a wedding wives group that met and did things together as picnics and potlucks and getting families together so there was that, but there weren’t many single guys.

There were a few. I remember one airman in a very remote site in Machias, Maine and he reported for duty, went through some testing programs. He received a commission to the Academy. He left to go there and so obviously a very smart individual. The Maine winters were interesting and I found that the Mainers didn't stay in during the winter. They got out and did winter sports. I learned to ski there and saw these grandfathers and grandmothers coming down the mountain skiing. By the time it snows at Easter, you’re ready to see the snow gone. Wonderful hearty people.

From Maine we were assigned to Bitburg Air Force Base, Germany. Spent three years there. This is in Eiffel Mountains near the Luxemburg border from which the Battle of the Bulge was kicked off. There were historians that would come through and scout the countryside. You could still visit some of the bunkers on the border that were, of course, abandoned.

But Bitburg, I was there, I went there in ’76. Jimmy Carter was running for President. The new fighter, the F-15, arrived shortly after I got there, in Bitburg, Germany. There were I think two or three Squadrons of the F-15 to experience the German culture and get to know the German people who were very welcoming. Most of the Germans that you met, well all of them were very cordial toward Americans. The town appreciated the Base being there for economic reasons.

You never saw a German who fought the Americans. They were all on the Russian front. One of my responsibilities there, was visiting the German prisons that had American GI’s in them.

Zarbock: Who had committed a civil offense?

Singletary: Right. One gentleman was there because he was convicted of murder. He didn't remember, he was probably strung out, whatever. Another was in there that I visited quite a bit. I went to see him one day and he had some bruises on his face and I asked him, “ What happened?” He said they told him to, “ turn the lights out last night”, and he wanted to finish reading a couple of pages of a book. He said the door opened and they gave him a lesson on how to turn the light off.

There was a German guard that spoke perfect English. I asked him where he learned his English. He said, “Well I was a prisoner of war in Idaho in World War II working on a farm”. He learned to speak perfect English. It was while I was in Germany that I went with two groups from the Base who went to the Middle East on a Holy Land tour in ’76, went to Israel and Jordan. Got an orientation into the problems that they’re having even today. In ’78, went back to Jordan, Israel and Egypt and those were eye-opening tours as well as visiting the Biblical sites and the culture and the pyramids of Egypt.

Egypt looks like a big country, but everybody in Egypt lives along the Nile or within a few miles. Cairo is a huge bustling city. That was a great experience, to be able to see the pyramids and walk in them and see the places in Israel and Jordan. There were incidences that were occurring then. We were going to Jacob’s Well one day and it appeared to me we weren’t going there.

I asked the guide what was up. He said, “Well there are no more tourist buses going to Jacob’s Well because there was an incident there yesterday and they don’t want tourists to go there.” We had a bus full of folks from the Air Base there and their families. From Bitburg, I went to Charlotte Air Force Base in South Carolina and had a three year tour there. About this time, I’m no longer the Junior Chaplain.

Zarbock: What is your rank now?

Singletary: At Shaw I was a Major and came out on the Lieutenant Colonel list. So I had the title of Senior Protestant Chaplain and had two first term chaplains working with me. That was a different role that I had, but enjoyable too, seeing the freshness that they brought out of the civilian pastorate adapting it to the military. Shaw was a very good assignment and not far, of course, from North Carolina so I was closer to home than I’d ever been.

That was good. At that point, my father had develop Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, so it afforded me the opportunity to go and visit home and try to support them during that time. From Shaw, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and served there on the staff in the Headquarters Chaplain’s Office in the area of Chaplain Assignments, to deal with the issues of balance and experience and denominational coverage.

Usually at a base, you won’t have three Baptist chaplains. You’ll have Lutheran, Methodist and a Baptist. They try to have someone that will serve open communion, some traditions just serve communion to their traditions. So we try to have a spread there to have that ministry available to all Air Force expressions of faith.

I finished up my assignment in the Air Force at Langley Air Force Base as a Senior Chaplain at one of the older bases in the Air Force, one of the oldest chapels. That’s a picture of the chapel right up there behind me. We replaced the slate roof while I was there and that’s one of the old slates off the chapel. It was built in 1928. The civil engineer gave me that.

My experience in the Air Force was that of a ministry that I felt was worthwhile, relationships with other chaplains are some of the finest of my life and some of the most appreciated. When I got out of the Air Force after 24 years. I felt there was still ministry to do and I’m enjoying the ministry here at Mt. Gilead Baptist Church in Pittsboro, North Carolina. We’ve been here seven years and enjoy the ministry here. We’re close to family of course being in North Carolina.

The military offered, you know, the experience of traveling the world at no expense to me except buying rugs and curtains everywhere you go, trying to adjust there. Our daughter finished high school in Springfield, Virginia, while we were at Andrews. She gravitated back to North Carolina. My wife is from Laurel Hill, North Carolina, near Laurenburg. Of course, with family here, we both gravitated back to North Carolina.

Zarbock: Do you have any grandchildren?

Singletary: I have two grandchildren, two granddaughters, Ashley who is 8 and Emma who is 6.

Zarbock: Chaplain, I’m going to ask you to do something. Before we went on camera, in the little time we have left on the tape, before we went on camera I indicated to you the obvious which is you’ll never be a day older than you are today through the miracle of cinematography here. So I wonder if you’d look right into the lens of the camera and talk to your grandchildren and as a result of that probably your great-grandchildren. Tell them what did you learn from all of your time in the military. What did it all mean to you?

Singletary: Well, Ashley and Emma and your children, my experience in the military led me to appreciate what family means in terms of seeing your mom grow up, moving about in the military and seeing the closeness that other families experienced. Noting too that being uprooted every few years is disruptive, that it’s the family where it all begins and where it ends.

So the value of relationships whether you’re in the military or whether you’re not is what’s really important in life, the friends you have, the company you keep, your faith commitments. These are things that stay with you and that you can’t lose. You can have financial difficulty. You can have health problems, but the relationships, friends and family, are the treasures and really the meaning of life.

Zarbock: Thank you Chaplain. May the Lord be with you.

Singletary: And with you.

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