BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Otis Smith, May 2, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Otis Smith, May 2, 2008
May 2, 2008
Interview with retired U.S. Army Chaplain Otis Smith.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Smith, Otis Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  5/2/2008 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  60 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington's Randall Library. This video tape is part of the military chaplains' oral history project, supported by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the Fed Ex Corporation. We're in Kansas City today, and today is May the 2nd in the year 2008. I'm interviewing Chaplain Otis Smith, retired, U.S. Army. Good afternoon, sir. How are you?

Smith: I'm quite well. Good afternoon.

Zarbock: Chaplain, what individual event led you into selecting the ministry?

Smith: Well it was a young-- I was a young minister. He was a student at a little college called Millsaps College in around Jackson, Mississippi. And as a little boy, at 16 years old, I was having trouble adjusting. I just could not put things together for myself. So he-- I had a chance to talk to him, and what he said to me was, "Why don't you ask God whether or not He's calling you into the Christian ministry?" I just shook like, "No, not- not me. I'm-- I don't want to be a minister. My aim and objective is the law." And he said, "Well you pray about it," and so I did. And in that process, I finally said to God, "God, if You want me to be a- a minister, help me to find the peace that I am seeking." And that was the (laugh) most profound words I could have said at that time, because I found the peace, and I began to- to turn my direction, even in high school. My parents were able to send me from a little place called Rainbow, Mississippi to a place called Natchez, Mississippi to the Natchez junior college high school. And it was there in that private school that I got direction and accepted God as my-- as my pilot for my life.

Zarbock: What year was that, sir?

Smith: Well I'd have to go back to 1952, 1952. It was, I guess, a tough time in Mississippi, but when you're in school, everything is falling into place for you, and that's- that's an exciting time. And I was in the tenth grade at the time.

Zarbock: You decided at that time?

Smith: I decided yes, at that time. And there were others who-- young men who were accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and accepting the ministry. It was a time when we had Vietnam veterans, too-- or no, Korean veterans-- (laugh) Korean veterans who were returning, and they had the GI Bill and they were part of this school system. They were much older than I. And this school also had a-- as a seminary, it had a Bible department-- really not a seminary, but a Bible department. And the Bible was- was mandatory for everybody who went to this Natchez junior college operated by the Missionary Baptist.

Zarbock: Paint me a picture, what was--? As long as the planet Earth is capable of producing electricity, your videotape and DVD's will always be in a vault and be maintained. Sometime in the future, some scholars, students or authors are going to pay attention to this and review it. So that from time to time, I'm going to ask you sort of horizontal questions. I'm going to do one right now. What was life like in that period of time in Mississippi?

Smith: Well it is as close to hell as I'd like to get.

Zarbock: If you're black.

Smith: If you're black. You may remember that it was in 1954 that the Supreme Court said that separate but equal will no longer be the law of the land. Well that began to turn Mississippi upside down, because there were those who wanted to maintain segregation forever.

Zarbock: Sure.

Smith: And thus anybody who- who wanted to change that was an enemy of the state. We were harassed often by the local police, okay. We'd be coming home at night and they had an unofficial curfew, okay. You know they'd say hey, there was not anything on the book, but if you are a black young male on the streets at about 11 or 12 o'clock, you could be stopped. We also had, I thought, was a change in the religious climate of the-- of the area. I was at this school, and by being in the ministry, I invited a local white Baptist minister to come out and speak to-- at our vespers services on Wednesday, and he spoke well. He recognized that God had created all of us. But my fellow students really got angry with me, because his last words were that when he got to heaven, (laugh) he would be able to go down into the basements of heaven and to visit with his black brothers and sisters. (laugh) (phone rings) But we were able, in those days, to- to have camps together, the religious people of Mississippi. The- the state passed certain laws, laws like blacks and whites could not stay overnight in the same house. They could not worship together in- in the same building. But the religious people seemed to disobey those laws, an effort to bring about the change that was-- that was coming. And this was not whites just coming from the north. This was people, local- local people. And we were able to-- Coleman, at the time, was Governor. I forget Coleman's first name. But he would come over when the teachers met, for instance, and he would be one of the speakers. And they would ask him about what is Mississippi going to do? Or how are they going to respond to the Supreme Court decision? His answer, basically, was, "It will never happen in Mississippi."

Zarbock: And that was the spirit of the times.

Smith: Yes.

Zarbock: There were feeble attempts for a connection, but the official position was it's not going to change.

Smith: And that was the time of white citizen councils, too, you might remember. Yes.

Zarbock: For the purpose of this tape, what is a white citizen's council?

Smith: It was a group of-- basically, of businessmen.

Zarbock: High-spirited individuals.

Smith: Yeah, who wanted to maintain the status quo. And they saw another way of doing it that was a little bit different from the Klan. If you registered to vote, they will print your name in the local paper, and thus that-- and your employer was obligated to fire you. As a black person, you registered to vote. He- he or she was obligated to fire. And thus you had, later on, young people like the civil-- the three civil rights boys that were murdered coming down south to register our blacks. In my-- outside of my hometown, we put up a tent city, Greenville, because if you lived on a plantation, that man was obligated to ask you to move out of that house. And so those people who wanted to vote, and did register to vote, lived in this tent city until change-- things changed.

Zarbock: But they were really outcasts.

Smith: Yes, they were.

Zarbock: I mean really.

Smith: But they were just almost like-- they were refugees.

Zarbock: Yes.

Smith: Yes, but that's part of the price we had to pay.

Zarbock: But within that political and social context, you continued to go to school. Is that correct?

Smith: That's right. I-- at one time, I had to leave a little while. I had to leave Tougaloo College at Jackson, Mississippi, and I transferred to LeMoyne-Owen-- LeMoyne in Memphis, Tennessee to save my life.

Zarbock: Yeah. So from what facility did you graduate?

Smith: I graduated from LeMoyne College in Memphis, Tennessee.

Zarbock: And then you went on to seminary.

Smith: At Atlanta, Georgia, called the Interdenominational Theological Center.

Zarbock: Did you go directly from college to the--?

Smith: Yeah.

Zarbock: Now, so you probably graduated from seminary in your early 20's. Would that be?

Smith: I believe I was 27.

Zarbock: Okay, that's still early 20's for me.

Smith: Okay. (laugh)

Zarbock: Well there you are. You're now a fully educated and credentialized servant of the Lord. What did you do?

Smith: Well I had a friend by the name of William Smith. William Smith was the pastor at William Memorial in Augusta, Georgia, and he had become connected with the Army Chaplains Corp. And so-- and I was a- a weekend minister. You know how students come down to another town.

Zarbock: Sure do.

Smith: And he was telling me about how-- about his chaplaincy. At that time, you were-- you were going in as first lieutenants, I think it was. And I wanted-- I've always wanted to be an officer, so I had this first thing that I tried to be. I had spent some time as an enlisted man in the Air Force. And so but Will was a Methodist, and so I got in touch with the Presbyterian endorsing- endorsing agency and they said yes, but they had requirements. The requirements were that you had to finish the seminary, you have to at least one or two years as a pastor, but they would endorse you. But that would be training time for you, once you had finished the seminary. And so in 1965, I finished the seminary and I spent one year in the pastorate, and I came on active duty in July of 1966.

Zarbock: As a first lieutenant.

Smith: As first lieutenant.

Zarbock: Where were you stationed?

Smith: Well- (phone rings) well I had received a call about 60 days before I entered the- the military, and the call was from- from the Army, really, somebody at-- in- in the Pentagon, who asked me if I was ready to come on active duty. And I- I told him, "Yes, if you-- if you'll give me a good unit." I think I was pretty gung ho in those days. He said, "Well what about Fort Campbell, Kentucky?" I said, "That's all right." He said, "Well we'll assign you to the-- to the 101st Airborne Division." I said, "Okay." I had no idea (laugh) what I was getting into and what it was all about, but that-- when my orders came, I was assigned first to the-- to Fort Ham- Hamilton, New York for training as a chaplain, and then for further assignment to the 101st Airborne Division (laugh) at Fort Campbell. And then when I got to Fort Campbell, that sort of like scared me to death. I was afraid. It was hard for me to sit in a-- in a room like this and look down. It just looked like I was-- I was going to faint. Heights really scared me, so I had no idea that I was going to be able to ever complete that training. But it was exciting. As a first lieutenant, I had my first command. And chaplains are not supposed to command, but it just so happened that I had a bunch of enlisted persons in this unit in my platoon and seven lieutenants and who.

Zarbock: Who you outranked.

Smith: I out-- I outranked. And the ranking in man is supposed to be the commander of that--

Zarbock: Although you are new in the United States Army.

Smith: Yeah, but I had enough sense to- to get those second lieutenants and the sergeants together and-- to discover who could call cadence, because I could not call cadence and so forth. And they instructed me where I was supposed to- to be as we ran. We ran everyplace we went at Fort Benning, Georgia. And I knew where I was supposed to-- once the platoons stopped; I was supposed to post in a certain area. So they helped me to-- we worked together. And the normal instruction that platoon is supposed to receive came from the second lieutenants and- and the sergeants.

Zarbock: Now is the military desegregated in those days?

Smith: Yes, it is.

Zarbock: What was the composition of the platoon? Was it mixed racial?

Smith: Yes, it- it-- com- completely, more-- believe it or not-- more white than black in this training.

Zarbock: Second lieutenant, what?

Smith: All my second lieutenants were white.

Zarbock: How were you received?

Smith: Received quite well. First of all, I'm a chaplain, and chaplains are held in such high regard at- at every level of the military.

Zarbock: What are you doing at 7:00 o'clock in the morning, running around Fort Campbell?

Smith: Ask that question again. (laugh) That-- 7:00 o'clock, you- you were in your office. (laugh) You were up much earlier than that, okay--

Zarbock: Doing PT.

Smith: -- doing PT. You- you do your PT, and if you live on post, most especially. You're up at 4:00 o'clock. You are there at like 5:00 o'clock, and 5:00, 6:00 and so you're doing the PT. And you go home. You- you change clothes, or you change clothes in your chapel. At 7:00 o'clock, you- you're open for business, yes, and that's-- there was no such thing as eight hours a day.

Zarbock: Let me ask you to repeat. What did you ask? You wanted to be assigned to a what?

Smith: A good unit.

Zarbock: Ah, you got one, didn't you? (laugh)

Smith: Yeah. And-

Zarbock: And did you really jump out of airplanes and stuff like that?

Smith: Yes, we-- they were so kind to me when I arrived. I arrived as what they call a leg. A leg is a soldier who is assigned to an airborne unit, but he's not airborne qualified, so they call him a leg. So I was a leg chaplain. And often, they- they-- the sergeants would take me riding in the airplanes. I couldn't jump out, because I was not airborne qualified, but they were trying to help me to adjust to what I was about to experience. And then about 90 days after I arrived at Fort Campbell, I had orders for Fort Benning, Georgia to the airborne school. And that's where I was in. I had the platoon with me. And I still had that fear. And then a Special Forces doctor, who also in training, called me over to the side and he said, "Chaplain, you know, this is what has helped me." He gave me a little white pill (laugh) or something like that and- and I took it and it- it did the world for me. I think it did something to my religion, my faith (laugh) in the uniform, because it settled me down. It allowed me to go out on that 34 foot tower, remember- remembering my name and number. That's what you had to do. Say, "I am Otis A. Smith. My number is 56789," or something like that. And- and the instructor said, "Go!" and you jump out and you count to 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000. Now I could not do that successfully until I took whatever the- the-- that Special Forces doctor shared with me on that day, and I've been doing it ever since. And I've been assigned, of course, to the 101st and to the 82nd Airborne Division, and I think I can count about 39 jumps on my record today.

Zarbock: I would assume you remember very vividly, the first time you went out of an airplane.

Smith: Yes, I did-- I do. It was on a Saturday, and it- it had rained, but then the sun came out.

Zarbock: That's an omen.

Smith: Yeah, the sun came out and my rank, again, made me first in line. (laugh) And I had to stand in that door and look out over Alabama, it was, look out over Alabama. And all of this stuff going through my mind, and I'm waiting for that light to change to green, and I'm waiting for somebody to say go. And by the time the sergeant said go, we were in clouds. And so I went out and my whole stick followed me, and they wouldn't let anymore jumps, because more clouds. We went down through clouds and that was a no-no, so they cancelled jumping for that particular day. But I had-- I survived.

Zarbock: That was your first.

Smith: That was my first, yeah.

Zarbock: When did you get around to being a chaplain?

Smith: I was the chaplain. We had what we called, and what I would call the ministry of presence. Okay?

Zarbock: Yeah, that's a nice phrase.

Smith: Yeah, a ministry of presence. You didn't have to preach or teach. You just had to be there. And the- the Army allowed you to be wherever the men were, and you ministered just by your presence. And you didn't have to worry about striking up a conversation with young soldiers. They wanted to be near you. In fact, I had one or two bad jumps because the guy was right on my back, you know, (laugh) going out of the door. But they wanted to be near you. They wanted to hear what you had to say. They had questions that they wanted you to discuss with them. They were really looking for answers, some of those young soldiers.

Zarbock: And you could do that one-to-one when you're doing whatever tasks you're supposed to do, better than, in some cases--

Smith: Yes.

Zarbock: --sitting in a church house.

Smith: Those-- the harness that you are strapped in is most uncomfortable, okay. And when you, as a minister of God, is- is strapped in that harness, they knew what you are experiencing, because they are (laugh) uncomfortable, too. And so if you can do it-- and in fact, that was my motto in the-- in jump school; nobody quits until the chaplain quits, okay. Nobody quits until the chaplain quits. And here I am, pretty close to 30 years old, and all these young fellows, and I could run. And- and if I could run, they could run. If I could take it, then they ought to be able to take it.

Zarbock: How long were you at? Let's see, you're now in Georgia.

Smith: Yeah, I'm in Georgia.

Zarbock: How long were you there?

Smith: I don't understand the question.

Zarbock: You were transferred to--

Smith: Okay, Fort Benning.

Zarbock: Fort Benning.

Smith: We were there four weeks.

Zarbock: Okay.

Smith: Okay. It is-- it's really a 3-week course.

Zarbock: So it's kind of a carwash thing, in and out.

Smith: In and out.

Zarbock: Where did you go after, you were?

Smith: I went back to my unit at Fort Campbell.

Zarbock: Okay.

Smith: Okay, and we were there from 1966 through late '67.

Zarbock: And then what?

Smith: Well we formed-- or the Army formed the third battalion of the 506 infantry. And this was a people-- airborne qualified people were brought in from all over the nation and from Fort Bragg to form this unit to become the fourth battalion of the third brigade in Vietnam. Our unit was formed and trained to go to Vietnam, and I became the- the chaplain for that unit.

Zarbock: What problems were brought to you? What kinds of problems?

Smith: The first problem that I remember was a whole platoon did not return on one Monday morning. We had been training hard. We came in on Saturday. They cleaned their weapons and so forth. And they had the-- like a day-and-a-half off, but we were all supposed to be there on Monday morning. One platoon did not show. And they did not show because they did not appreciate the lieutenant that was leading them. He could not read his map very well. And so therefore, they had wandered around on our last maneuver, that- that Friday and that Saturday morning, trying to find one spot. And they knew they were going to war, and they did not necessarily want to go to war with somebody who could not find a spot.

Zarbock: Essentially, they went on strike.

Smith: Well yeah, but we called it AWOL. (laugh)

Zarbock: Yes, but that's a court-martial offense, isn't it?

Smith: Yeah. It- it is my job to find out why, okay, I thought, and to inform the battalion commander. And I got all of those guys out of jail. You know I just shared with them what had happened. And- and sometimes, a tear will come to my eye, because some of those guys got killed in Vietnam, and I said now if they'd have been court-martialed and sent out to jail, they would probably be alive today.

Zarbock: Yeah.

Smith: But that was my first problem. My second problem that I-- that was big; a black soldier came to me. He was in the motor pool and he said that my sergeant is trying to- to get me out of the-- out of the motor pool, because he wants all of the- the men in his unit to be people that he can trust. He said he can't trust me. And- and so we got that resolved. Another big unit time came. The- the black soldiers became disgruntled. We went over by ship, and they were on the ship and they felt like they were being mistreated.

Zarbock: By whom?

Smith: By the- the platoon leader, by the platoon leader. And the combat commander felt like I should give them an order to cease and desist, you know, and to behave themselves. And I shared with him that as a chaplain, I don't give orders, and that it was a problem that he ought to resolve.

Zarbock: It sounds almost like they want mama to go over there and stop a fight or something.

Smith: Yes. The trouble came for me when we got to Vietnam. When we got to Vietnam, we had some young lieutenants who had not had a drink in some-- quite some time. And so we were stationed near an Air Force base, and they went up to the Air Force base and was very rowdy. And so a man that I love today, by the name of Jerose[ph?] was our battalion commander. His answer to all of that was to put the club off limits. (laugh) And so I- I said-- to he--as a chaplain, I should not have-- should not have said this, but I did stand in the meeting and said you know, "Sir, I just don't understand why you're going to punish the whole corps, officer's corps for the- the behavior of one or two- two officers." And of course, when I saw my efficiency report, (laugh) I saw that on my efficiency report. It was not that he was necessarily offended, but that was a thing that you should share with your commander in private.

Zarbock: How long did you spend in Vietnam?

Smith: I spent a year.

Zarbock: And it was with the paratroop?

Smith: I was with the 101st. It is-- in 1968, I went over in '67. April the 5th, 1968 was the saddest day of my time in Vietnam. I came out of my- my hole to give service and to have Holy Communion. I set up the-- some crates and so forth, and- and then a young soldier came to me and said, "Sir, did you know that Martin Luther King was killed today?" and just tears just flowed from my- my eyes. It was a sad day for me, and I really felt like I was fighting the wrong war, because I had left the civil rights struggle to join the Army. And my-- and the memories of my church, back in Augusta, Georgia, had the idea well this is not our war. This is not our war. And I was telling them, "Who-- you don't make that kind of choice, you know. This is bigger than- than a small church. This is bigger than a- a peephole. This is a nation involved," but they kept saying this is not our war. But that came down on me that day, April the 5th, 1968. We were in what we called the A Shau-- A Shau Valley at that time.

Zarbock: Again, one of those horizontal questions. Tell me again. Paint me a word picture. What was it like to be in the military, in the Army as a black chaplain, with a mixture of troops, racial mixture of troops? Were you ever? What experiences did you have?

Smith: Well I like to say that it- it saved my sanity. It- it saved my- my relationship with my- my nation, my country.

Zarbock: How?

Smith: Because I saw a- a different world than the world that I grew up in. I saw men and women of all different nationalities or races working together to achieve a goal. And nobody really worried about what color you were, if you carried the M-60 machine gun, (laugh) which was the most- most helpful weapon. I did five combat assaults while I was there, and I was in situations where I should not have been, because a chaplain really should not make a combat assault.

Zarbock: Why were you there?

Smith: I was there, here again, because of the ministry of presence, and I felt like I had to be where the men were. And I- I didn't go out on the first chopper. I would normally wait until the last or the next to the last chopper to go out and, hopefully, by that time, the landing zone was cool, you know. It wasn't- wasn't hot. And it would give me an opportunity to-- as we used the word-- hump with the men until we were extracted seven or eight days later. So I hate to share this with you, but I grew up thinking that a revolution was going to come in our country. And it was the- the military that gave me another objective, other than the- the revolution. And what I discovered was that in 1954, I just felt that we were a nation of laws, and that the laws could be changed and would be changed, and--

Zarbock: And could work.

Smith: And would work, you know, especially when the laws were enforced- enforced, okay. Now I'm in-- I'm in Mississippi. I'm going back and forth, but I'm in Mississippi when the troops would come--came into Oxford. Eisenhower did what he did not want to do. I'm in Mississippi when the troops went into Little Rock, that I saw that here was a nation prepared to- to enforce its laws for the least within the nation, for the least in the nation. Yeah.

Zarbock: That's an inspirational experience.

Smith: Yeah. My greatest satisfaction, though, came in the military in 1970 and '71. Most of my friends were getting orders for a second tour chaplaincy in Viet-- back to Vietnam. They sent me orders for Europe. And in fact, my orders was changed from Vietnam to go to Europe. You- you may remember how that in those days, black soldiers were meeting in the parks in Germany, meeting around the flagpole in Germany. They were staging protests in Europe, because the Vietnam veteran refused to- to accept the discrimination both from the Germans (laugh) and from his own government. When I arrived in- in '70, you could not buy black products in the PX. My wife had to send for-- back to her mother for a straightening comb. You might not know what a straightening comb is, but it's a hot iron that we had to use in black hair. Black women had to get their hair pressed in somebody's kitchen in Europe, because there were no beauty shops. But you couldn't buy our products there anywhere. They would not hire blacks in the PX, or in the American Express or on post. We had some black teachers that were contracted through a company in New York, but that- that was it. And the veterans from Vietnam said we're not going to take this and they were stirring up trouble. So it was my job to go to Europe and to find out why this was happening as it was happening. And I was assigned to the third infantry at Westburg, and stationed at Aschaffenburg. And a white chaplain and I formed a salt and- and pepper team, and we would go into units and we would talk to the soldiers and to hear. And most commanders did not want to hear. They- they saw themselves as having a green Army. Everything was green. They did not want to see that there were people of color who had different problems. And our salvation was the Army sent over General Davis to be useric commander, a black general. And he created not only my little unit, but salt and pepper teams that went into all of the units and discovered what was going on. And that really changed the Army, and I-- and I feel good about that.

Zarbock: The wheel of life is kind of a funny thing. It keeps going around, and round and round, or maybe it's a spiral. Maybe it begins to pick up a little altitude. This is the year 2008 and there's going to be a presidential election, the year 2008.

Smith: Thank God for that.

Zarbock: Yes. To me, one of the most important things about the forthcoming election-- said he, who is now editorializing-- is the importance of the Supreme Court and whose on the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court is going to lay down many aspects of our life, or your lives. I'm not going to be around in 25 years, but 25 years, the people appointed to the Supreme Court will probably be on the bench. So to me, it's very, very important to have a president who is going to appoint people on the Supreme Court bench who have got some sense and quality. Having said that, I wonder if you'd care to editorialize about that, again, since this is going to be seen years from now. I wonder if you'd care to editorialize about the current rift, let's say, between presidential candidate or Senator Obama and his pastor.

Smith: Well I want to say first that we have known, personally, Pastor White. He has been one of our presenters and resource persons. And we call this person, not only a presenter or a resource person, but workshop leaders- leader. I just happened to be Presbyterian, thank God. (laugh) And within the Presbyterian church, we have a caucus. And- and in the caucus, it has the- the privilege, and it has the opportunity, but it has a mandate to keep the church informed about what's happening and what the needs are in the black church and in the black community. And so each year, we meet. We- we call black Presbyterians from all over the nation. And Reverend White, not Presbyterian, Methodist, I think he is, has been one of our presenters each year. Reverend White is part of a- a school, not only a-- not a school in the-- a school in the sense of this is a- a philosophy, okay.

Zarbock: Yeah, a school of thought.

Smith: A school of thought of- of black people who- who are angry. I shared with you that I grew up angry, okay. (laugh) And Reverend White is able to articulate his anger in some very high-faluting words. (laugh) I mean--

Zarbock: No, he's a spellbinder.

Smith: And people-- often, people who have not heard him do not understand where he's coming from, okay. He is an angry man because of what he has experienced and what he's seen his people experience. And most whites thinks- think that we ought to be as they are. The white man has endured privileges that- that segregation has provided for him and that discrimination has given him. And today, he's not willing to share those privileges. He's still holding onto them and saying these are mine, and don't you dare. And so Reverend White will probably never be understood. (laugh) As I can say that.

Zarbock: By the white community.

Smith: By the white community. And if you attend a black service, we-- when we-- when we preach to our congregation, we preach in metaphors. We- (laugh) we tell the story, and- and the way that we tell the story is different from the way other people tell the story. We wrap that story in- in our history, and in words that- that has to be translated. You have to go back even to slavery, and when we would sing, there would be a message in our singing. And the black community, even the slaves understood the message, but the slave owner never understood the message.

Zarbock: So it's code language.

Smith: Okay, so revelation is the same.

Zarbock: Sure.

Smith: So I just want you to know that- that what you are hearing is not that Reverend White- White is disloyal or un-American. He- he's very loyal. He's very American, okay. But he does not know how, I don't think, to eat apple pie. I don't think he knows how to be humble. He doesn't know how to- to apologize for his- his feelings. And that's what the- the American white nation, the- the news media is waiting for him to say that. For instance, Obama's wife said, you know "Boy, this is the first time I have been very proud of my-- of- of America," and people get, "What you mean this is the first time?" And- and if- if the Clintons were real, if they were real, if they were who they claim to be, they- they would step aside. They would step aside and say look where we have come. This is what I have worked for ever since I left Little Rock, Arkansas, to have a candidate that is qualified to be the President. I'm going to do everything I can to get elected.

Zarbock: But they're not.

Smith: They're not, because the true color--

Zarbock: Nice phrase.

Smith: (laugh) Okay, the true color of the Clintons are- are coming through. And those of us who are of color have said even if Clinton wins the nomination, we are not going to vote for her. We will vote independent. (laugh) Okay that's another movement. We're just waiting to see what's going to come out of-- out of all of this.

Zarbock: Chaplain, I'm going to ask you a last question. Assume that we've got a marbled slab and we're going to carve some English words on that marble slab, and those words are your words, and those words say I, Otis Smith, having learned many things in my life, have a credo and it is:

Smith: That you ought to be prepared to- to live out what God has put in you. Being Presbyterian, I believe in predestination. I think I'm here for a reason and a purpose. I first must find out, the best way I know how, what it is and why I'm here, and then I will have the courage to live out that conviction. To give you an example; in 1967, a young soldier was-- sergeant was killed in Vietnam, and they brought his body back to Fort Campbell, because his wife lived in the community outside of Fort Campbell, but she wanted to bury him at his hometown in Georgia. My unit put together a detail, along with myself as chaplain. We brought the body back to Georgia. And while I was at Georgia, I was at Fort Gordon, and I saw emergency vehicles coming to a water tower and I just wanted to know what was the- the commotion all about, so I walked over there to discover, as others had discovered, that there was a young soldier 180 feet in the air, threatening to jump. And I had just finished airborne school, wore-- dressed in my boots and so forth. And the post chaplain was there, and somebody got the understanding that a doctor or a chaplain ought to go up to talk to that young soldier, to keep him from jumping off of the tower. And the post chaplain looked for a colonel and said, "Well that's too far for me." So I said to myself now what is the purpose of my airborne training (laugh) where I have conquered now the fear of height? And so I asked for a pair of gloves and I went up, and I asked the young man to sit back. You know, don't stand over the edge. (laugh) Sit back. Sit down. And we talked for 20 minutes, and he told me that the Army had promised him something that they were not going to keep. So I promised him that hey, we'll- we'll do what the Army promised you. Now you must come on down. You must follow-- you must follow me down, and he came down. I felt like that you have a purpose in life, and God is going to give you the opportunity to discover that purpose. Then it's up to you to follow the dictates of your heart.

Zarbock: It's a privilege to know you, chaplain.

Smith: Thank you.

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