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Interview with Victor Smith, July 31, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Victor Smith, July 31, 2007
July 31, 2007
In this interview, Chaplain Victor Smith discusses how he came to enter the chaplaincy, the structure of the Chaplain Corps, and memorable experiences during his service.
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Interviewee:  Smith, Victor Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  7/24/2007, 10/9/2007 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  240 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. Today is the 24th of July in the year 2007, and we're in Williamsburg, Virginia at the Hampton Inn. This tape is part of the military chaplains oral history project, and my name, as I said, is Paul Zarbock. Our interviewee today is Chaplain Victor Smith. Good morning, sir.

Victor Smith: Good morning to you.

Zarbock: Would you tell me, please, to start off with, what individual or series of individuals, event or series of events led you into the ministry?

Victor Smith: Interesting question. I started out life as a mathematician. Yes, sir. I studied in France among other places, at the Faculté de Sciences at Orsay, and went to Williams College fully intending to use their stellar math department, although very small, to do my studies. While I was at Williams, I realized that I was not destined to be a professor of mathematics as I thought I was, an abstract mathematician, which was my love until that point through a series of interesting things, and became an art historian. Got heavily involved in art history, curatorship; I did some internship at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, the National Gallery in Washington, worked at the Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and had a job that I thought that I was going to do in Massachusetts upon my graduation. Had been accepted at Johns Hopkins; they were going to pay me as a fellowship student, I mean, in addition to the tuition, etcetera. I figured I'd probably finish my doctoral degree maybe in a year and a half of studies, plus my thesis, and I had my thesis outlined. I knew what I was going to do. And just before spring vacation in my senior year...

Zarbock: The year is now what?

Victor Smith: 1968, and if you remember what happened in the spring vacation in 1968 -- we'll get there, I guess, but just before that, a friend of mine who had been an Army chaplain...

Zarbock: For the record, what happened in 1968?

Victor Smith: Martin Luther King was shot, and I, who lived in Washington, went home for my spring vacation. And --

Zarbock: Home being?

Victor Smith: Washington, DC, and so I was in the middle of Washington, DC being burned down, and that had a significant impact on what happened at that point. But to back track a little bit, I was called by this army chaplain friend of mine who was the first reader of the Christian Science Church where my folks belonged in Georgetown, Washington area, and he had been bugging me for years about, you know, "You'd make a great chaplain." I don't know, whatever, and I told him he was crazy. I thought, first, I was a mathematician, and told him so, and I wasn't interested in chaplaincy, and then it was I want a, you know, an art history career, and I love art history. It's wonderful, and just sparkles; I'm not interested. And so he called me up, and he said, "Would you mind doing me a favor?" and I said, "Sure, Colonel. What do you need?" And he said, "How far away are you from Boston?" which is where our church headquarters are, and I said, "Oh, three hours by car, depending on the driving conditions." Because that's how we measured distances back then, you know. How quick it was going to take you to get there, especially on road trips to places like Vassar, you know, for weekends, because it was a men's school. And he said, "All right, do you have any time free in the next little while?" and I said, "Well, it turns out that tomorrow is Wednesday, and I don't have classes on Wednesdays, and yeah, I could go there, and it'd probably be a good opportunity to do a Wednesday evening service at the church. So I'd do a little double duty. I would enjoy that. What do you want me to do?" He said, "I would like you to go and meet Dick Chase." And I said, "Who's Dick Chase?" and he said, "He's in charge of the Armed Services Department of the church." And I said, "You know, Colonel, you're not listening very well. I'm not interested in the chaplaincy," and he said, "No, I think you're at some point going to do something with the church." I said, "Yes, I will, but you know, I'm just not interested in the chaplaincy." I had gone to a Quaker school in Washington which is probably one of the top institutions of high school in the world, so far as I'm concerned: we had 25 percent of our graduating, my graduating class be semifinalists, and another 25 percent be finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying whatever, so it was a pretty hot shot class. We had about 60-some people graduate that year, so it was fairly small, but dedicated, dedicated teachers. That's how I got into Williams, I think, you know, whatever. Anyway, so I told him I'd do it, but he said, "Well, you can tell Dick Chase that you're not interested in this program," and I said, "I certainly intend to." "But he'll show you around, and, you know, tell you what it's all about. I think you, I think you deserve to know what it is, because it's, you know, a piece of the church's puzzle." So I drove across the next day, and knocked on Dick Chase's office, and said, "Hi, I'm Vic Smith," and he said, "Hi, I'm Dick Chase." And I said, "I'm not interested in your program, but Colonel so-and-so said that I needed to see what it was all about, and just that you would explain it to me." He said, "Sure," so he got one of the students, the chaplain trainees, in to squire me around Boston University, which is where all of the students at that point were going for seminary, good enough at this institution. A good reputation, had good credential-building potential for any candidate who wanted to do really hands on work in the military, and that's the only reason we went there, is because we don't have any ordained clergy in our church. So our seminarians were all at Boston U.

Zarbock: I'm sorry. Seminarians were all what?

Victor Smith: All of our seminarians were at Boston University. He did give me the opportunity, though, to go to any seminary in Boston of my choice, which was an accommodation, but that's later, too. Anyway he, this fellow took me to some of the classes. There were some really interesting things going on. They had some really good biblical study professors, as it turned out, but I wasn't really impressed with the academics. They were sort of what I called at that time even: panty-waist, which is an old phrase we don't use any more, and so I told Dick that when he asked me what I thought about it, and I said, "You know, it's an interesting program. Thank you very much." And it turns out that Dick was a Williams College graduate. So at the end of this day he asked me whether I wouldn't do him a favor, and I said, "Sure." I'm not a dummy, thinking that perhaps he wanted me to get a T-shirt for his son, or something like that at school, you know, a souvenir, I don't know, whatever, from Williams. No such luck. He handed me a sheaf of papers that was about that thick, and he said, "Would you mind filling this out?" and I said, "You haven't heard anything I've said today. I'm not interested in your program. Why would you want me to fill out this thing? It's going to take me my entire spring vacation in order to do this. You want six letters of recommendation to a program I'm not interested in, from leaders of my community, Washington, DC. Now, this just doesn't compute to me. I don't understand." He said, "Well, I'd just like to see how a Williams College graduate compares to the numbers of people that have applied." And I thought this is an exercise in futility, but I had said I would do him a favor, so I reluctantly did this. Well, there was one other nice lure that he threw in, and he said, "You know, are you doing anything this weekend? We have a group of interviewees coming back to talk to the Board of Directors." And I said, "That sounds like a real treat. I haven't done that yet," so I said, "I'd be glad to come back." He said, "We'll pay your way, and put you up in a hotel, and you can meet all the directors of the Christian Science Church," and I said, "Well, terrific." So I came back that weekend, had interviews with these people, wonderful folks, but after the interviews I was absolutely certain that they weren't going to accept me. One of them had rolled back in his chair and gave me pretty much a lecture on what my vision of the chaplaincy ought to be, which wasn't quite what I had been geared to, because the Colonel had told me a long time before that my job would be to be a Protestant chaplain in the military, and also obviously be a Christian Science chaplain, but most of it was not going to be denominational, probably, and I took that to heart. I mean, free exercise for me started real early in my career, and I've been advocating that ever since. So I took this back home. Well, after the interview I actually talked with my girlfriend, who lived in Connecticut. She'd asked what I'd done, and you know, been doing, and I told her, and she laughed hysterically. She said, "You? A chaplain? That's the funniest thing I've ever heard in my life." Well, that was a life transforming experience, so I didn't ... unfortunately I guess, I didn't see her much after that after about three years of dating her. I was sort of confused. I just didn't know where to pack that one at all.

Zarbock: How old are you at this time?

Victor Smith: I don't know, age, I was born in '45, so it's '68, some time in there. Anyway, you know, I loved her dearly, but I just couldn't figure out what to do with that kind of response, because she had to accept my not understanding what was going on in my own life, if she was going to participate in it, and I didn't know what was going on. I was just completely blown out of the water. After this experience, when I went home, and Martin Luther King was shot, my mother had asked me to go down to the Christian Science reading room and help the little old ladies who were at the desk, and keep it open, and keep them safe, keep the place hopefully from burning down, respect the curfews that were being imposed. There were mobs coming up Pennsylvania Avenue, and you know, it was just a mess. So I had a lot of time to sit down there and think and pray, and read things, obviously a lot of scriptures. It was really interesting. Every time I'd pick something up to read, it said you need to be a Navy chaplain, so I'd put that one back, and I took another one down, and, you know, I read something else that said, to me anyway, you need to be a Navy chaplain. And I said, "You've got the wrong guy. I'm not interested in this Navy chaplain stuff. You've got the wrong fellow. I'm going to be an art historian, I have a fellowship to go to Johns Hopkins, they're going to pay me to go there, I love art history, and I'm not interested in Uncle Sam's military. I'm sorry. This is just not..." And the thing that came to me next, and by this time it was pretty much like voices, but not quite, it was more break my arm, you know, something anyway, a prophetic kind of experience, and I realized that all these people that were downtown were in serious condition of upset, anger, frustration; and I started thinking about it, and the message came through real clearly: Who else has the kind of problems like this, that are this severe? People in the military. Who do they have to turn to? Nobody, except the chaplain. "You can do that." "No, not interested." "And if you don't like one year of seminary, you can always go back and get your fellowship back." "All right." You know, "Do Me a favor." That's three in a row. So I put in my application, and to my great surprise and chagrin, the day that I had to respond to Johns Hopkins, that was their deadline for saying whether they could give their fellowship to somebody else, the church sent me a telegram, and called me on the telephone, and said, "You're in." And I said, "Oh, dear." Turns out, of all the candidates, there were only three selected that year. There had been six the year before. There had been, you know, it had been building, and Vietnam was building, and...

Zarbock: I'm sorry. Sixty candidates from...

Victor Smith: There were lots of candidates, but only there had been six before, but there were only three in the group that I was with, and I knew that there were many, many other groups of people who really wanted to be chaplains, and had submitted applications. I don't know exactly how many there were.

Zarbock: But the group was what? Christian Scientists, or...

Victor Smith: This was all Christian Scientists for the church.

Zarbock: Okay.

Victor Smith: You know, this is all a church program for training people specifically to be a Navy chap..., to be some kind of chaplain in the military.

Zarbock: At Boston College.

Victor Smith: Theoretically, Boston University. Boston College is Catholic, and Boston University is Methodist.

Zarbock: Okay.

Victor Smith: But I was thinking very seriously about going to Harvard. Harvard was much better academically, and there was a consortium anyway, so that anybody who was in any one of these seminaries could go to any class in any one of the other ones, and have it count. So the reason that I did go to Boston University, is because their practical applications were much better than anybody else's.

Zarbock: Please define practical applications.

Victor Smith: They had an arrangement, for example, with University Hospital for Clinical Pastoral Education, and the Clinical Pastoral Education professor there was one of the people who started the concept, the modern concept of CPE. He was instrumental in the aftermath of the Coconut Grove fire, which transformed Clinical Pastoral Education, and he actively practiced the T-group stuff, which incidentally during my time there fell apart, because it didn't work. I was not about to be made his enemy. I knew he had something to offer me, and that whole T-group confrontational thing was completely blown away. Much to his chagrin, and over his dead body; there were some interesting stories out of that, but it didn't really...

Zarbock: Let me take you back. What? After the Coconut Grove fire, you said that really a fundamental change took place in direction. Why?

Victor Smith: In Clinical Pastoral Education.

Zarbock: Why?

Victor Smith: Because I guess it had enough people that were traumatized by that, including a fifth cousin of mine's parents, who both died in that fire. I didn't know that until later. But it, but it transformed the approach of chaplaincy and I guess pastoral care towards people in crisis. A whole different approach to taking care of people, and there were even sort of rules that we had to learn. You shouldn't stay with a patient for longer than certain kinds of things. You shouldn't use prayer as an exit strategy for getting out of the room. Lots of things. I mean. It really tightened up pastoral care.

Zarbock: For the record, historical record, how many people died in that fire? Do you remember? Approximately.

Victor Smith: I have no idea. Lots. It was full. It was packed.

Zarbock: Okay. And there were many, many deaths.

Victor Smith: There were many, many deaths. It was a disastrous fire.

Zarbock: Okay.

Victor Smith: And it left a lot of pain in a lot of people.

Zarbock: So that was a Road to Damascus type of event.

Victor Smith: Well, it certainly gave me -- oh, you mean the event for CPE?

Zarbock: Yes.

Victor Smith: Yes, absolutely. For me, it was a tool. It was a vehicle for me to learn the vocabulary of my colleagues, my peers. I knew that I needed to learn how to be a professional. I needed to learn how to be as good as anybody at whatever it was, you know, preaching, or CPE, or whatever, and I needed to learn how to talk that, because most Christian Science students are, have a reluctance to go there, because of the medical issues, because we rely pretty much exclusively on our great physician, God, and therefore don't experience hospitals routinely. Don't experience medical treatment. Don't want to rely on medical treatment, because it's a physical treatment rather than a spiritual treatment which results in physical results.

Zarbock: Do you find your phrase, "pretty much exclusively" to be a little bit of a paradox? Your phrase was, "Pretty much exclusively."

Victor Smith: I am missing my own context. I don't remember what I said.

Zarbock: Exclusively seems to be 100 percent, and pretty much is...

Victor Smith: Well, because it should be exclusive, if one is able to fully rely on one's faith stance, but the church's position, and mine, is that if you can't handle it one way, you jolly well better find a way to handle it, and many people have... not many -- I mean, people in certain circumstances have felt that they need to turn to medical treatment in order to get at least temporary relief, if not spiritual, because you're not going to find the spiritual there. They're going to find a physical cure. Your questions...

Zarbock: When did you finish your seminarian work? What year, and how old were you?

Victor Smith: I'm not real good at my own ages. '68 I graduated, so in '68-'69, '69-'70, '70-'71, it was a three year plus program, I finished early. There was a reason behind that. I needed to finish by Christmastime of my third year, or before then, because my father, who was a Professor of Music at American University was going to take a sabbatical. This sabbatical, like the one that was incident to my study in France at the Faculté de Sciences was going to be a real big one. He was interviewing musicians of all kinds for a radio program that he was doing for PBS out of WAMU radio in Washington, at American University, and it was called Musicians Face the Music, and I wanted to be there. I wanted to be his technician. We were going to do film or video. At that point there wasn't any video, but it was Super 8, or something like that, and I needed, I wanted to go as his sound technician, because I could help him out. Actually it turns out the family went. My brother and sister, younger than myself, and my mother and father, we all went, and this trip was around the world. It started in Scandinavia, went through Eastern Europe. We had done Western Europe several years before. All through the Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, whatever. We were supposed to go to Iraq. At the time there was some problems because the sheiks had come to Bagdad, I guess for one of the OPEC conferences, and one of them had gotten shot in the head in the middle of the street, and we decided that that was not particularly a place we wanted to go, so we rerouted all of our tickets.

Zarbock: Who was your funder?

Victor Smith: Pardon?

Zarbock: Who was your funder?

Victor Smith: My parents.

Zarbock: This was a self...

Victor Smith: This was a self-funded trip. Yes. And so we avoided Iraq, which was probably just as well. We did go to Iran. This was before the Shah fell. We spent some time there. We did not live high on the hog. We self-funded. We lived very close to the people. When we were in Eastern Europe, we lived in peoples' homes, stayed there, were their guests. Watched their television. Learned a lot of culture. A lot of the underground things. Talked to a lot of people. We were in Eastern Europe frankly -- I guess it was unintentional propaganda, because the propaganda of the Soviets was that American families just "pfft," and here we were in a family. You know, that's hard to figure out for some of these folks, and they were astounded at this, you know, that we would get along and actually did some things together as a family. "Gee, that's too bad." But anyway, we went from there, from Iran to India and Nepal, and Burma. We were... they had just opened Burma for overnight trips, even, because you could go in and come out the same day, but you couldn't go in and stay there for any time. This was the time when Nixon sent Kissinger to China. One of the Burmese newspaper's reporters was at the site where Kissinger was meeting the Chinese leader, and Kissinger came out, and this man went in, and that was part of his news report that day, that I read in the Burmese newspapers, and one of his questions was, "Now that obviously you're having some sort of détente with the United States, how's that going to change your foreign policy, and your funding of certain kinds of activities?" and the leader said, "Not at all." You know, so it was real interesting. So I learned some things that I only got to Taipei and some of the Chinese things that we could go and visit, we asked some of the questions to firm up what that all meant. Anyway, Thailand, Singapore, Penang, whatever, up to Japan ultimately, and then back to Hawaii, and home. Got there, got back home around August. On the way, my endorsing agent, Dick Chase, had indicated that he needed to have me come on active duty. I had already told him that Navy was the choice that I wanted to make, and there was an opening they thought, but I needed to have interviews, I needed to do all the paperwork, whatever. Well, I got to Iran, and there was a Naval Attaché, so I went to visit him. He set me up with something in I guess it was India, where there was also a Navy Attaché. He set something else up in Taipei, where I could interview a Navy chaplain for that part of it. He sent a follow up, so that went we got to San Diego, I think that's where we were. It was Neil Stevenson, actually, who interviewed me. He knew my uncle. They'd served together. So he did one of my chaplain interviews. By the time I got back to home, the church asked me to do some work for the church as a civilian minister of armed services personnel in the Annapolis area, so I had an office on State Circle in Annapolis, and worked a lot of the military installations down to Dahlgren and whatnot, until the Navy was ready to have me come on active duty, which was in the springtime of nineteen seventy -- whatever that was -- two I guess. Because I signed up actually in December of '71. Middle of December, when I sworn, when I got sworn in. So it was an interesting way of coming on active duty. Chaplain school -- I went to chaplain school. [Then] I was supposed to go to Memphis. There had been a chaplain, a Christian Science chaplain at Memphis, and they, at that point, were only giving Christian Scientists places where they could do Christian Science kind of stuff, and there was still this reluctance to have Christian Scientists on active duty chaplaincy do anything, you know, real, like what I had expected. And I countered to the Detailer when he told me where I was supposed to go; I said, "That doesn't sound real interesting. You know, why do you think that a Christian Scientist has to follow a Christian Scientist? I don't understand this." And okay, this is -- this is a goodie: There were only six people in the class, five of them in the class, myself, an LDS guy, and three priests, so it was a real interesting chaplain school. There were a lot of things that were weird about that, anyway, but we were going to the White Horse Inn downtown, to have a really nice dinner, because it was a beautiful place to eat, old, you know, nice service, good food, an old building.

Zarbock: The Whitehouse Inn?

Victor Smith: White Horse.

Zarbock: Oh, White Horse Inn, in?

Victor Smith: In Newport, Rhode Island, because the Chaplain School was in Newport, and we learned how to march and do administrative things. One of the things that I intended to do was to learn the Navy instructions, so after the classes were over I would go to the front office of the Chaplain School, and I'd pull down the 1730 binder that had to do with chaplains, the 4300 binder that had to medical issues and relationships, and some of the other things, the drug abuse programs, the treatment of women, the gender issues, the courts-martial manual, you know, so I would know the environment that I needed to work in. I knew that my job was to be able to listen to these kids, young men, women, older people, too, and be able to help them, whatever their problems were. It didn't make any difference what the issue was. If they needed to have a chaplain, the Manual for Courts-Martial gives chaplains and only chaplains pretty much carte blanche in terms of confidentiality under the Manual for Courts-Martial. Doctors don't have it fully either, frankly, and so the chaplain is the only vehicle inside the military "read in" to the military structure, meaning a trusted agent that has confidentiality under the Manual for Courts-Martial, and that is an incredibly, incredibly valuable tool if you understand what that means. And it's the youngster's responsibility, it's his privilege, not mine. He's the person who can release it, not me. I can talk about it only if he releases it, so if I'm in a court martial, and that kid is on trial, and I know something, I can't tell them, I can't say anything at all about it until he lets me tell it, which is pretty serious. I mean, and it's happened that way. So I took it very seriously, but I needed to understand the regulations. Anyway, that's sort of a context for the way I did business there.

Zarbock: But the potential for anguish on the part of the chaplain who knows such and such he cannot divulge such and such.

Victor Smith: Oh, yeah. You carry a load.

Zarbock: Truly.

Victor Smith: You carry a load.

Zarbock: And what do you do with it?

Victor Smith: Fortunately, I have a Father that I trust, and it's His will that it's going to have to get done, and He's got enough figuring-out-how-to-do-it power to be able to do it, so I don't have to bear all that responsibility. I bring it to Him, He takes it over. And I also know that that youngster that I've talked to is not, not-his-child either, because he is his child, whether he knows it or acts like it, or not, and God knows him, even though he may not know himself, so that's between him and God. My job is to help him get a different perspective on life, and to give him tools to talk through things, to bounce ideas off the wall, to say, "What ifs," to say, I don't know, get beyond where we are into a solution-based orientation, and if he wants to, I will be glad to help him in prayer, because I firmly, I've been convinced through my own experiences, all my life, in the power and efficacy of God as a presence in lives, to transform physically instantaneously if necessary, or whatever, I don't know how or why, you know, why it does and why it doesn't, but I have had instantaneous healings in my own life, and in the lives of my sailors and Marines. And it's just, that's the most exciting thing I can think of, and that's the blessing that I have also tried to bring to anybody that I'm with in the military. Have a ministry to the institution as well as to the individual. The institution needs ministry. The institution needs prayer. The institutional structures will govern what goes on with those sailors' lives, and they don't have any control over it, so you also have to minister to the institution. That's part of my chaplaincy job, and as I grew more senior, which was another surprise, because that never happened before in my denomination in the Navy, I was able to do those things, which was a real blessing. Anyway, we were in my little cubicle in my, in the BOQ, all five of us, and the radio was on over near the window overlooking the quad, and I was washing my hands at the front door, which there was a little sink in there, and I was washing my hands, and the radio was on, and it was the news, and the newscaster said, and it's pretty close to what he said, "The Marine Air Group that was in Danang is moving to Nam Phong, Thailand," and I said, "Did you hear that?" and they didn't hear it. You know, none of the four! They weren't paying attention. They were talking amongst themselves, and I heard that, and I at that point knew I was not going to Memphis, Tennessee. Even though I had orders to Memphis, Tennessee, I had intentions for orders to Memphis, I knew I was going to Nam Phong. So my orders got changed to First Marine Air Wing in Iwakuni, Japan, which was the headquarters at that point, and after Chaplain School was over, and I had a little leave, then, you know, whatever, I got on a plane, went to Iwakuni, Japan. Landed the plane in a military aircraft from Travis, I believe, where we took off. Most everything was going out of Travis in those days. Landed on a plane. There was a fellow at the bottom of the plane at this, it wasn't a tail dragger, it was an older, I don't know, some kind of plane, and he greeted me coming down the back stairs, and he said, "Hi, I'm chaplain Tom so-and-so," and I said, "Hi, I'm Vic Smith." And he said, "Good to have you aboard." I said, "When am I going to Nam Phong?" and his eyes got big. He said, "Shhh." I said, "I just asked you." "Shhhh, don't talk about it. We'll talk about it in a minute." So he took me to the captain chaplain, and the chaplain said, "Hi, I'm so-and-so," and I said, "Hi, I'm Vic Smith. When am I going to Nam Phong?" and he said, "Shhh." I said, "Wait a minute. We're in a secure area." This is. He said, "How did you hear about that?" I said, "I heard it on the radio." He said, "It's impossible. It's top secret. Nobody even -- most of the people that are there don't know where they are, except the engineer and the one star, and you can't -- and besides, you're not going. You're too junior. We have somebody that we've just sent off to Nam Phong. He's in Okinawa tomorrow. Ah, no, he's in Okinawa today, and he'll be taking off tomorrow to go down to Nam Phong in the jungle." And I said, "Okay." So goes to introduce me to the general. The general says, "Hi, I'm General Brown. Welcome aboard." I say, "Hi, I'm Vic Smith. When am I going to Nam Phong?" and I'm serious.

Zarbock: You really do preseporate, don't you?

Victor Smith: Yeah, and his eyes got big, and he said, "Where did you find this out? This is a security violation. You can't possibly have heard this on the radio." I said, "Well, then you tell me how I heard about it, because that's where I heard about it, you know," and he says,... (excuse me, It ties me up a little bit still).... So he said, "And you're not going because you're too junior, and we need you back here, and we're really short of chaplains, and so, you know, whatever." And the next day I walked into the chaplain's office, you know, just getting a doctor I needed, and I barely know how to wear my uniform. I didn't know what a Lance Colonel was, and if you know anything about Marine Corps, it's Lance Corporal or Colonel, but not both, and it just, I was just really still learning. I didn't know. So the General called the Captain, the Senior Chaplain there, and he said, "I need to see Chaplain Smith." And I thought I was in trouble. (laughs) You know, I thought they were going to put me in the slammer for a long time, and throw away the key. So he says, "You know, you're living now on a four man hootch, and the three other people in this hootch, you know, each has a separate room." You know, they treated us like field grade even though we were junior chaplains. I didn't have but railroad tracks on at that point, and so I was in field grade quarters, and it wasn't, not terrible. It wasn't great. You know, the Marine Corps doesn't have a lot of money, so the other three folks are Warrant Officers, and they're pilots, and their job is to do ferry back and forth one place to another. He said, "You know, your roommates are Warrant Officers, and what are you doing this weekend?" and I said, "I don't know sir. You know, you tell me what I'm doing this weekend." He said, "Well, you're going to have a little R and R." I said, "I just got here." He said, "Well, you're not going to have any R and R for a long time, because you're going to Nam Phong. The chaplain broke his leg down there, in Okinawa, and can't go into the country, and you're the only one we have left. And so we're going to get you uniforms, and all that kind of stuff. We're going to get you outfitted, and you're going down in the middle of next week, so you've got now until the middle of next week, and you can go to Korea, because that's where these guys are going." So I went on a trip to Korea. Had another Christian Science Chaplain friend of mine who was in the Eighth Army headquarters, a Senior Chaplain Colonel, and so I went and visited him a little bit, in Seoul, and had some suits made, and bought some antiques, and stuff like that, and then went down to Nam Phong, and a new country, and so there started my experience with Task Force Delta. I was assigned to MAG 15, Marine Air Group 15 down there in Nam Phong, Thailand, N-A-M P-H-O-N-G, rhymes with ping pong.

Zarbock: And you were the chaplain.

Victor Smith: There was, I was relieving a Protestant. I was the Protestant chaplain. There was a priest, actually, a Jesuit, Lieutenant Commander, and this other chaplain who I was relieving was an Evangelical Lutheran, I believe, who had a very steadfast, but small congregation, and they met in a fly tent right off the runway, because that's where my tent was. I got there at night, or as dusk was falling. They got me into this tent. It was hot, it was like, it's monsoon season in Thailand, it's not real pleasant. And so they stuck me in this tent on a cot, and at three o'clock in the morning that night they were apparently doing some take offs, and sometimes these guys took off in tandem. They were carrying 500 pounders, and 1000 pounders under their wings. (There were F-4's, A-6's, A-4's. They had helicopters.) But they were taking off, and we were only, it must have been 50 yards or less to the working end of the runway. So here they are with afterburners going full blast, and I'm about 16 feet above my rack, almost into the tarpaulin, you know, tent stuff up there, and I had no idea. I thought the end of the world had come.... I mean, this is weird.

Zarbock: What year was that?

Victor Smith: '72 in the summertime. So they were hot and heavy, flying over North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I didn't know that we weren't supposed to talk about Laos and Cambodia. What did I know? Nobody briefed me. I wasn't even cleared for unclass[ified], you know, much less anything else. The priest decided he wasn't really interested in going to staff meetings, so he asked me to go to staff meetings. He was a very pastoral kind of person. Didn't like administrative stuff a whole lot. We didn't have any clerk help particularly. I mean, we had a Marine, you know, to help us do paperwork, and things like that. Or drive, but we didn't really have a vehicle.

Zarbock: What were your duties?

Victor Smith: That was interesting, too. We had a change in command within a couple of days, so Colonel Talbert came in, T-A-L-B-E-R-T. I remember him very clearly, and he and his Sergeant Major came -- well, actually, the Colonel sent the Sergeant Major at the end of the ceremony to me and said, "The Colonel, the Colonel wants to see you in his office bright and early tomorrow morning," and I said, "Oh, geez, what have I done now?" You know, I haven't even been here. I can't get in trouble, you know. So I went in there, stood tall, and did the "Yes, sirs" and "No, sirs," and saluted and everything, and the colonel said to me, "Chaplain, I don't know what you think your job is around here, but if you're in your office more than 50 percent of the time, you're not doing it." "Thank you, sir." [I said.]

Zarbock: This is a Marine Colonel.

Victor Smith: This is a Marine Colonel. I mean, I learned chaplaincy from the Marine Corps. They take care of their troops. They know their troops. They know the back of their head 50 yards back there, and they know when that kid's sister's been in trouble. You know, that's the way they are. They take care of each other, because they will die otherwise. That's why you have a fire team with three people, so that everybody doesn't have a back. You know, you've got one on them. That's what it's for, and then you've got one person on top of them whose, it's all threes and ones, you know. It's all like four. So teams of four, and the whole system is built on that. Anyway, so he wanted me to go around, and he said, "You know, chaplain, you, you cannot tell me specifics about anybody, because that's not, you know, that would violate your value to me, but if there's something important, you know, give me a broad picture of something I can handle or take care of, and I'll be glad to go in there and do it. But just leave all the little specifics out of it, because I can't know. You know, I'll figure out my part of the job. You just do your job. But you need to do your job, and please do that." And I said, "Sir, thank you very much," and walked out. I had some interesting experiences sort of like that afterwards. I discovered that it must have been 80 percent of the E3's, and below, the very junior enlisted were on some sort of drug at one point or another. They were just floating all over the place. Pot, some of it was laced with who knows what, including heroin, I think. Yeah, they had some really, lots of pills. I mean, I had to do a study to figure out what all of this stuff was! So I had, I made a close friendship with a doctor who kept his mouth shut, and lawyer that I could talk to that kept his mouth shut, so I could get help and advice, and do a little cross feeding and what-not.

Zarbock: Was alcohol a problem, too? Or mostly drugs?

Victor Smith: Alcohol was a problem only when the kids got off. Now, because we were 50 miles south of Udorn Air Force base, and we were pretty much self-contained, and we had our own perimeter with Marines at the gates and stuff like that, there wasn't any alcohol on board, well, at least until they decided they were going to have a Thai restaurant get built on board the station, so that they didn't have to go off. Because the kids only got, like, one day or a half a day, or something every other week, of liberty, and they, because we were in Khon Kaen province, the governor of that province didn't recognize the Marine Corps: it didn't exist even though here we were. You know, didn't exist. There was an Army Base in Ramasun, a communications place, and they were okay, but for some reason the Marine Corps was not okay, so we didn't exist. We were invisible, and the only way that we could get from Nam Phong to, say, Udorn, which was our liberty town, the Air Force. It was the second... Udorn was the second largest town in Thailand at that point, after Bangkok, because of the Air Force presence, I think. And they had lots of people, jewelers, and vendors, and restaurants, and places where these kids could sort of unwind. It even had a place where you could fight a gorilla and get a little money if you won, which was not going to happen very often. I had another experience I'll tell you about. We're still at my first duty station here. Anyway, you couldn't go anywhere except in a locked bus, because the governor required that, or a helicopter. I had made an arrangement with the chaplains up in Udorn to provide them denominational services for Christian Scientists that were up there, so I would fly up once a week on a Thursday, and stay overnight, because they didn't have a late helicopter, and then go back on the next helicopter home on Friday morning. So I would figure out a way to find a little room that they didn't want -- the Air Force doesn't sleep in other than air conditioned quarters, but they had a bunch of these things with screens on the outside, and racks that were just sort of stacked in the corner, a mattress and so on, so I basically commandeered one of those every night I was up there, you know, because they didn't care. It didn't cost anything to them, having this rack out there, and I was used to tents and Southeast Asia, huts, anyway, and the heat, you know, you sort of get used to it, more or less, and the dirt. Anyway, so I was, I would go up there and learn about things, and help them out. Anyway, but that was the context for liberty. I mean, we just didn't have very much of it. When we first got there, there was virtually nothing. The SeaBee's had not built a water tower yet, which came a little bit later, so we had no running water. We had no, we had no hot food, which the troops are supposed to have once a day. Well, we had hot food, but it wasn't real food. It was K- rations, or C-rations, or one of those things, you know. Wonderful stuff. Anyway, so it was a little miserable. If you wanted a shower, they would take a big water buffalo, and they'd fill it up, and they'd have a heater thing, and they'd run the water buffalo through the heater thing, and then go through some pipes that eventually got built, and so they had some wooden platforms that the guys could go out on, and get a shower, so that it was warm, and they'd bring their towels and their soap, and then you could, you know, run around naked for a while. We weren't integrated that way with men and women at that point, except when a couple of women came for, you know, a girl band from Idaho, and they got all interested in the shower part, but the other interesting thing was because it was monsoon, and there was usually a regular shower, as soon as it started raining, everybody would rip off their clothes, go out there with there soap and hope that the rain would stay long enough to be able to rinse off, because if you didn't it was really uncomfortable for the rest of the day. And it was hot, and so that was a little bit of a respite for cleanliness. There was a point at which I just cut all my hair off completely. I sort of looked like a Buddhist monk, and the Colonel came up to me one day and said, "You know, we're going to have to have you get some, you know, saffron robes, chaplain." And I said, you know, "When you get them in the system, sir, I'll wear them." Anyway, but we had some fun. I saw one of my roles as inculcating in all of our Marines an understanding of what it meant to be in a foreign country as a guest. We were not going to be rape and pillage on liberty, folks. We were going to understand, which I had taught them from an American University thesis that I found and had it shipped to me on Thai culture, that you don't cross your feet, your legs, and point your toe at somebody, because that's the evil eye. You don't show them the bottom of your foot, because that then puts them underneath your lowest part visually. You don't pat anybody on the head, because that means that you're, this part is higher than their highest part, you know. The servants there, when you're in a very nice, private home, their head must be under your food at all times so that they will crawl on their hands to serve you, and to put it on your little table in front of you, and they will back off, and their head still needs to be underneath your level of food, because they don't want to contaminate your food. They needed to understand that if they held hands with a girl, girls can hold hands with girls, guys can hold hands with guys, but if you hold hands with a girl, you've automatically shown that she's a hooker, and lower than you, and so you know, the things that you need to understand, and you really need to understand that because you are the status of the person who invited you, the Marine Corps was invited here by the King, King Bhumibol is your host, so you need to recognize that you need to act as King Bhumibol's protégés. You're here at his request, and his invitation, so behave like you're a diplomat, because you are. People will look at you differently, and if you behave unseemly, you're probably going to go home, or...

Zarbock: How much penetration into the mind of the Marines did these messages go?

Victor Smith: It apparently worked. It apparently worked so well the colonel himself always made a presentation to the incoming troops. During my session with them, one of his things was, "These are the good old days," you know. "When you are an old coot, and you've got your grandchild sitting on your feet, bouncing on your leg, and he says, you know, 'What were the good old days like?' These are the good old days. You either have the choice of being miserable, or relatively not miserable, so be relatively not miserable, and recognize that what you're doing here, you'll never get a chance to do ever again. You may not want to either, but you will be able to reflect on those days, so reflect on some of those things and make it an experience that is not quite so miserable," and that was a lesson also that resonated with these kids, because when I first got there, I'm telling you, I would go down to this butler building that they finally did call a mess hall, and nobody was saluting each other, which is really remarkable for a Marine Corps. I mean, you have a miserable, depressed bunch of kids if nobody's saluting each other. And for me a salute was "Hello," and so I would go down there and salute these kids, and they'd say, "Oh, we'll salute him back." So they started saluting when they saw me coming, and then pretty soon, you know, they'd say, "Chaplain, why are you saluting me?" I said, "Because it's a way to say hello. Don't you say hello to people? This is the military's way of saying hello to people. I'm giving you a courtesy. Now, I understand that you're supposed to give me the courtesy first, because that's the way we do things, but it's a courtesy. It's a hello, so I'm going to be able to say hello to you." And he'd say, "Can't I say hello to you?" So you know, I got it transformed a little bit. I also had figured out with Ramasun station how to get MARS calls, M-A-R-S, which is the short wave radio hook ups that, you know, volunteers in the United States would be able to do short wave, and you'd have a telephone over here, or a short wave, and a telephone over there, but it was only one way at a time, so you always had to say, "Over," which is a real pain in the nut, neck, but at least it was some sort of communication. I figured out how to get a line to Ramasun station, and they agreed that they would serve our Marines first, which was remarkable for those guys, and so I would stay up sometimes all night long with kids in my office, because I had one of the only telephone lines that we could do this with. So I could get them to talk to somebody back home if they needed to, which was really something. So I had lines, you know, all night long. I finally got an opportunity to open a line, so I called my dad, and my dad's in Washington, DC. He says, "Hey, how are you doing?" I said, "Uhhh." He said, "You sound terrible." I said, "Yeah, well." He said, "What's wrong?" I said, "Well, you know, you guys are on the other side of the world," as we used to say. You know, when we get back to the world was one of the favorite phrases of the kids that were homesick anyway. And I said, "I just sort of feel alone." He said, "What is, you know, what's back here?" I said, "Father, mother." He said, "Wait a minute, chaplain. Where is your Father?" I said, "Oops." He said, "When you work that out, you'll be okay, and you'll be able to help these kids better." And so I figured that out, and recognized that my Father was indeed right there with me, and with these guys, you know, and so I got freaked out a little bit, and it helped. So I was able to help, you know, these kids better. Lots of interesting stories. They, you know, I had mentioned the fly tent off the runway, and a very small congregation. They had a Bible studies...

Zarbock: Why do you call it a fly tent?

Victor Smith: Because it was just a fly tent. I mean, it was just hanging by the middle, and they had stakes off it. There were no sides to this thing. It was just sort of a shelter. It wasn't even really a tent really.

Zarbock: I see. No.

Victor Smith: It was just sort of something if it rained, and we stood up. Whatever, and I guess they had some chairs out there. It wasn't much. There just wasn't that many people, and I remember my first sermon out there, and it had to do with the omnipotence of God, and some of these Jesus kids, which is what they called themselves, came up to me afterwards and said, "What do you think about the devil?" And I said, "Well, you know, you heard my sermon, and it talks about the allness of God, and I don't know that there is such a thing as infinity plus one as a power. And I do believe in the first commandment. You know, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and you either have an omnipotent God, or you have a problem. You know, and so, yeah, you experience the devil, and you experience bad things, but in terms of absolute reality, which is what God is and made, and whatever, you know, I'm not going to talk about that. You're going to have to draw your own conclusions." Well, this sort of puzzled some of these kids. So we had some real interesting discussions. We started a Bible study. Anybody was invited. We had some rules that developed a little bit better when I was on other duty stations, but the early rules were that anybody could say anything out of their faith experience that they wanted to, but they could not say anything against somebody else's faith experience and criticize what somebody else had said as being stupid or whatever. I mean, we could disagree, but we can agree to disagree, and everybody can bring their best highest understanding whatever it is about scriptures or anything else into this conversation, and I don't care where you come from. You can be Catholics, or whatever, and they were. We had all kinds of people coming to this little Bible study. Well, it challenged these kids, some of them, because and they told me so later that it forced them to go back into their Bibles, because they had Bibles, but they didn't have all the wonderful, you know, commentaries and things.

(tape change)

Zarbock: Tape number two. Military Chaplains Oral History Project. 24 July, 2007. Interviewee, Victor Smith. Take it away, Chaplain.

Victor Smith: Well, where do you want to go? We were in the middle of a story I think. Forgot what it was.

Zarbock: Well, you where in Southeast Asia.

Victor Smith: Nam Phong.

Zarbock: And you were starting a Bible study group. And life was not abundant, but you had spoken with your father, both of them.

Victor Smith: All right, well The Marines figured out that it was important to have worship services. As a matter of fact they built the Chapel before they built the hospital, which was real interesting. So we had a double Southeast Asia hut for this sanctuary. We had a room over here for offices where I happened to live as well. So I had a rack in the back of my office. We had another wing over on the other side for a fellowship / library, whatever it was, which we had to find books for, and make shelves and everything. I mean it was a whole lot of things. But we did. We grew to the point where when we had our chapel dedication, the place was packed. We had standing room only outside the screen walls of this place. The people were interested because it was important to them, the message that we were bringing. They understood the value of this. They wanted to hear more. They recognized that this was something that was what I would call spiritual weapons of warfare. Spiritual readiness is one of my bylines in more the second part of my career, in terms of oversight, but I think that spiritual readiness is as important as military readiness or physical readiness. And you can't teach that when the Marines are hitting the beach. This is something that has to be started and nourished and tested and trusted so that when they get into a combat situation they're better able to do something with this. But spiritual readiness for me is terribly important. Goes along, it's up there with confidentiality and a lot of those other things, you know. Those were -- and free exercise of worship. So we each talked about spiritual readiness. We talked about the value of whatever was going on in their lives, and the impact that their own prayer life, whatever that happened to be, or their own spiritual growth, or their own trust or their own whatever it was would support. I wanted to have a person not be a junior me. I wanted that person to be a good whatever they were, or a better whatever they were. If he was Lutheran, I wanted him to be the best Lutheran he could possibly learn how to be. And that was my job to support that. If he was Jewish. We had a Jewish kid come into my office. And he said, "Chaplain, I have a problem. I need to talk to somebody. Will you talk to me? I'm Jewish." I said, "We share the same patriarchs. We read the same psalms, so you know. And you know, I'm not going to make you into something that you're not. But I'm going to recognize who you are. And what can I do for you?" And so he said that there were people down in the mess hall, he was doing mess duty, and they were harassing him. He didn't like that much. They wanted him to participate in some of their drug escapades, and he wasn't interested. So I said, "Well, you know the 23rd Psalm, you know the 91st Psalm. Why don't you put your name in there and see what happens? You know, you put your name in there and claim the blessings or whatever that means to you." Well we talked more than that but that was basically the essential, the real core. So he left the office and a couple of days later he bounded up the front stairs. I hardly recognized this fellow. He was the same guy, but not really. And he thanked me and thanked me and thanked me. He said, "It worked. I'm not getting harassed any more. I don't know what happened but my whole -- everything's changed down there," so those kinds of experiences. He came later to a retreat that we had up in Chiang Mai, which is the northwestern part, which had been the summer capital of Thailand, historic place. Led a retreat up there. And he asked whether he could come along. Most of these guys were going to be conservative Christian Bible beaters and stuff like that. And I said, "Sure, come along. It's great, you know, we'll talk just like Bible study." So he had heard some of these folks say that they were very concerned about the Meo tribesmen [actually Karen tribesmen] who were up in the hills who didn't have the privilege of getting the gospel preached to them. And they were concerned because all of these people obviously were going to go to hell because they hadn't been able to choose. And I didn't think that was helpful as a theological ground point. Not certainly something that I believed in, that kind of a God. And he piped up and he said, "Would you mind telling them my story?" I said, "Well why don't -- it's your story, you tell it," so he told it. And these guys said, "Wow, you know, this kid's Jewish and he's had a charism with his experience with this Psalm business and that doesn't compute, because it's not supposed to be that way." Charism, meaning a gift, you know, of active something that happens. And so they didn't quite know what to do. Well the next day I knew we had an interview with -- a talk by an American Baptist Missionary up there, to the Meo Tribesmen. And this man had indicated, "Well, you know, maybe..."

Zarbock: I'm sorry. How do you spell the tribe?

Victor Smith: M-E-O, I believe. I'm not sure. I can do some research.

Zarbock: No that's good enough.

Victor Smith: But it's Meo. It's a hill tribes up there. There were some of those up there and there were some between Vietnam and Thailand and some in the hills of Vietnam. But they're all, you know, the tribal folks that we interfaced with a lot during the warfare at the time on the ground. Anyway, he had been up there to try and help these folks or some of them pull away from the idol [animist] relationship of planting and agriculture to different kinds of ways of doing things a little bit better, he thought. And in that case it meant that, you know, some of these folks became Christians. Well if they became Christians they could no longer go back to their village. So it was a real life changing experience for these guys. But he told these young folks about some of his experiences with these Meo tribesmen. And to the extent that there were stories that these people had out of their way-distant foggy past that sounded very much like "the flood" with people's names that were sort of similar to Noah, people that had names sort of similar to the patriarchs with similar stories. And this was just -- and he told of this. And he said, "You know, I don't presume anymore anything about what God's will is, or is not, in terms of preaching gospels to people. Because it's just beyond my comprehension. And I've been here for a long time. And I just don't presume to make condemnations of people that I don't know anything about." So that transformed these kids among other things. So we had a lot of experiences like that. The drugs were big. One night in the middle of the night, a kid come in to the Chapel and he was ranting and raving right in front of the altar. Just beside -- you know, all over the place, loud, carrying on. So I was waked up, went over there, approached this fellow who was pretty violent. It was obvious that he was strung out on something synthetic. And so we talked, we sat down in front of the altar and I gave him sort of a sanctuary. The MPs had been called I think by that time, and I told the MPs to back off and, you know, we'd work this out later. "You can stand by if you want because after I'm finished obviously you've got him. But while I've got him, he's mine." So we -- I talked him down, prayed with him, got him literally down to the extent where he was no longer violent. And, you know, that night he spent the night in the slammer. We had an improvised brig, probably a conex box. And the next day the colonel asked me what I should do. And I said "Well I think we need to get him down to treatment in Bangkok, where the Army has a facility at the hospital." And he said, "Would you mind taking him down?" I said, "Well I don't think we're allowed to fly on 130s," which was KC-130s, which was how you get from one place to the other ones. And he said, "Well I'll arrange that if you'll take him down. He'll be in your custody." And I said, "Okay." So I took him down, got him treatment down at the hospital. And we saw him a little while later and he was a little better. He had some legal problems and stuff but, you know. That kind of experience -- you know, I was talking about Colonel Talbert. There was a Lieutenant Colonel who was in charge of one of the Squadrons. And one of his folks had come to me and I needed some administrative help at that point. But I couldn't tell him pretty much of anything, I just, he needed to trust me. And he didn't. I walked in and I said "You have a problem." And he said "Well if that's the truth, you know, if 80 percent of my E-3s and below as you say are on poly drugs, then we're going to have to shut this place down." And I said, "Well, Sir, you better be prepared to shut it down, because that's what the truth is." He said, "I don't know how you can prove it to me." And I said, "Well I do. And you just let me go into your cantonment area, I'll go only into your cantonment area, your tents, and I don't want you, Sergeant Major, to follow me. And when I come back, you're not going to know where I've been, and you're not going to ask any questions, and you're not going to see what you see." So I went down there and the clothes we had had pockets all over, jungle utilities had pockets all over the place, you know. Went down and about half hour I came back into the Colonel's office and I walked through the door and I said, "You don't see me do you, Sergeant Major?" And he said, "No Sir, Chaplain, I don't see you." And I dumped out of every pocket full, a different drug that came from his cantonment area that I had picked up because of my relations with the sailors, I mean the Marines down there. And I said, "You have a problem, Sir, and I need some help, and here's what you need to do." So we worked that out. Anyway Nam Phong was an interesting place. We called it "The Rose Garden" because that's what the Marine Corps didn't promise us, and that was a popular song back then. But I learned the essential tools of chaplaincy from the Marines. I learned that being in the organization had a real value, you know. You can knock on the colonel's door, you can say "I've got a problem." You can say "Here's what the problem is." "Here's how you need to fix your problem, Colonel, our problem, Colonel." And, because I was in there, I was part of the staff. There's been a movement to contract out ministry. I think that is anathema in a military context because they don't understand. We don't get what -- they haven't been there, done that. Even if they have, they're out of the loop. They're not "read-in" to the organization. I never -- you're never going to see Joe Baptist Minister coming from the street. And first of all you're not going to know what happened because he doesn't have the context, the same past or care that I do, which crosses any border. He's going to see a little piece of it. But he isn't going to know on the colonel's door and say "Colonel, here's your problem and here's what you need to do about it." He's an outsider. He's never going to be able to understand or have access or credibility or credentials or anything to be able to help the sailor or the Marine, the Coast Guardsman, whoever it happens to be, fix the problems. He doesn't have access to do ministry to the institution. He's not there. Anyway, next duty station was Marines again, the 1st Marine Division in Camp Pendleton. I went to a ship, USS Jouett. Wonderful cruiser -- had some wowee-zowee experiences in all of these places. I remember, I was just talking yesterday to my next door neighbor who said that, he's a civil servant, scientist, engineer. One of his COs was the guy who had been our weapons officer on the Jouett. Weapons officer came to me one day, he's a Jewish guy; we had beards at that point: he just looked like a Rabbi. He was a wonderful guy. And he came to me at dinner and he said "Chaplain, you know, we're going to have some missile shoots." And I said, "Yeah, I heard, Sheldon." He said, "Yeah, we're going to have about three days of these things, and DOD sent us all these fancy-dancy things with different propellants, different heads, different all this kind of stuff. And they want to test these things on our ship." I said, "Fine." He said, "Would you help?" And I said, "Well what do you want me to do? I'm not into guns and missiles and stuff." He said, "Well no, we just need some help with the weather, it's been a little unstable here in San Diego. And I just want to make sure that tomorrow we have a clear sky so that we can see what's going on and I can track these missiles." And I said, "Sheldon, clear sky tomorrow." So clear sky tomorrow, but boy the sea state was just out of sight. He didn't have a stable enough platform to get any of his missiles launched. It was terrible. We had soup in our laps and we were doing spread eagles just to stay in the rack overnight. It was awful. So he came to me that night, the soup was falling all over the place. He said, "Chaplain, got another request." I said "What do you want, Sheldon?" He said, "Well you gave me what I asked for and I guess I don't -- shouldn't have asked for that. What I need is a stable platform tomorrow. I need to have clear calm waters." I said, "Calm waters coming up." So the next morning we woke up and it was just like a glass. It was like this table top. It was nothing going on. Only problem is it was so foggy you couldn't even see the missile from the bridge. They couldn't track it again. He said, "Chaplain," that night he said, "Chaplain, you know, you've given me what I asked for." I said, "It's not me, it's, you know, Daddy, but, you know..."

Zarbock: It's a sense of humor.

Victor Smith: Yeah. He said -- I said, "What do you need, Sheldon? Just tell me." And he said, "Well I need a perfect day tomorrow. I need stable platform and I ought to be able to see it." I said, "Coming up." Well today was perfect waking up. It was, you could see forever, and he got all of his missiles. He got three days' worth of missiles shot off in one day, had all the data points that he needed, and it was terrific and he was just happy as a clam. We had a captain, Captain Stalder on that ship who didn't like writing fitness reports on his officers. So he came to me like he came to all the officers and he said, "Chaplain, you need to write your fitness report." And I said, "Sir, in good conscience, that's not -- I can't do that." He said "Well, if you're not going to do it, it ain't going to get down, because I'm not going to do it." And he said -- I said, "Well that seems to be your problem, Sir, because it's your responsibility to do that." And he said, "No." Said, "It's okay, Sir, thank-you very much" and walked out. Well that evening Sheldon came to me at dinner and he said, "Chaplain, I understand you had a problem with your fitness report." I said, "I don't have any problems." He said, "Well you don't now." And he wrote one. It was right through the roof. It was a very nice fitness report. So, you know, turn around comes around. I had a lot of interesting experiences. I tried to divest myself of non-chaplain things such as public affairs officer, the SLJO kind of, we won't spell that one out for you. Little jobs that have to be done, took a lot of time away. I ran the TV station, the SITE-TV station when they were doing -- well it gave me some opportunities because I did this sort of Walter Winchell talk-over with slides that I had managed to get hold of when we were doing war exercises. So the crew knew what was going on. I mean, if you're a radioman or you're a missile officer or something, you don't get the whole picture. So I was able to give them the whole picture with slides and, you know, a little bit of Walter Winchell kind of voice over, and so that they had an idea of what was going on. Evening prayers are important. Evening prayer, every night, underway there's a tradition in the Navy that the chaplain or somebody gives an evening prayer. Those evening prayers as time went on became really powerful vehicles for the ship, the life of the ship. A lot of times at the beginning, certainly I didn't -- you know, I just gave a prayer. It was always about what was going on but, you know, it's an evening prayer, okay, we're going to get a prayer. And then everything stops and you get it over the microphones -- over the loudspeakers throughout the whole ship. When I was on my carrier, which was my last ship -- I had three ships. I had Jouett, The USS Missouri, which I helped recommission, which was wonderful, had a wonderful history and used that history well. And the third one was the first initial cruise, the maiden cruise of the USS George Washington, which is down here in Norfolk, a big carrier. By that time I had done all my formal prayers in rhyme. They were all in verse; quatrains with different patterns, you know, iambic or trochaic or anapestic or something. And they all rhymed at the end. And it became a little challenge sometimes because the kids would come in and say, "Well, I bet you can't rhyme this, you know, and you can't put that word in there." But they usually would come up with what they thought was appropriate for prayer that night. When we were off the coast of Bosnia, there was a time when the United Nations had determined that allied bombing was going to have to happen because they had taken all the big heavy weapons out the box that they were supposed to be contained in. And this was a threat the United Nations had that they were going to get bombed if they didn't put it back. Well they didn't put it back. Our mission that night was to go have our planes go up there and bomb the tar out of these folks. And the kids came up and they didn't like that approach, some of them, and they said, "We need a prayer on peace tonight." So we had a prayer on peace tonight. And they went out, did their -- you know, were going out to do whatever it was. When they came back they were fully loaded. They hadn't had to drop one bomb because by the time they got there all the weapons, all the heavy weapons were back in the box. Really cool. Two weeks later, we were around -- because the Iraqi Army was marching down towards Saudi Arabia and there was great consternation and so it was our job to go down there and figure out what to do. Well we had the same kind of issue. We were going to go out there and bomb the tar out those folks and teach them a lesson, whatever we were supposed to do with that. This was before the fall of Saddam Hussein. And went out there and they said, "We need to have another peace prayer tonight, Chaplain." And I said, "Understood." I mean this is God's kingdom, it's His will. His will is not to do evil. On any side, you know. And he can figure out what to do with this thing. Same thing, the planes came back fully loaded. The Republican Army decided they were going to go north instead of keeping on going down there, and we didn't need to do anything anymore. So we had a whole series of experiences that these kids learned that prayer had some power. Now was it coincidence? I don't know. But I'll tell you that we had a six month rule that was given to us by the Chief of Naval Operations in person on our ship, because Admiral Boorda loved our crew for some reason. He'd come from enlisted ranks. And he had made a promise that we were going to be back day to day, day for day at the six-month point no matter what. And we were held over in that arena over there with the two wars going on at once, Bosnia and Iraq, and it was going to be really almost impossible to come back in time. So the ship hot-footed it across the Atlantic Ocean, same time there was a hurricane going on in England throwing us waves that were hitting us broadside. And one of those I think as I recall caved in the side of the ship at one point of the ship's hull for about three inches. Brand new ship, so there was real power going on in those waves. We made it back that night in time for the homecoming. But the homecoming had a problem because all the tents were blown over because Hurricane Gordon was coming up the coast. And the Captain heaved-to offshore. The kids could see their homes lit up over there, I mean it wasn't cloudy or anything, they could see their houses. And they wanted to go there. I want to go back to Mama. And the Captain was going to go out and ride this storm out at sea because Hurricane Gordon was coming up Georgia, South Carolina, whatever and the meteorologist -- we had a staff meteorologist who said, "Hurricane Gordon's coming up here. Here's the weather." You can't pull this ship into port without tugs. Tugs can't operate with so much freeboard with anything over 30 knots. So 30 knots was the absolute, and you had to do it at high tide because the depth of the carrier required 30 some odd feet of water in order to get in. And so the kids said, you know, after we didn't get in that day, they said, "Chaplain, you didn't give the evening prayer last night." And I said, "Well, you know, it was the priest's turn." -- I mean, we tried -- I tried to get them... "But we were coming in to port. You should have done it last night." They said "We were not there." I said, "Well, you know..." He said, "You got to do it tonight." I said, "Okay, I'll do it tonight." I said, "What do you want to pray for?" He said, "Come on Chaplain, you know what we want to pray for." I said, "Okay, I got it." So I made a poem that night. Basically it said you know, "God these guys have, you know, done what they've supposed to do. I mean they performed hard work. They've had not very many liberty ports during the second part of their tour," a lot of beer days, you know, when you have no liberty for a long time then you can have a beer on board courtesy of the command. Anyway, "And they want to go home."

And so the Captain at the end of this prayer, in rhyme, it was blasting up through -- onto the bridge from his quarters down below and he said, "Chaplain, what did you just do to me?" I said, "Sir, what do you mean?" He said, "You just put me on report to the Lord," you know. "You've told the crew that we're going in tomorrow." I said, "No, Sir, I didn't do any such thing. It's a petition. That's a prayer out there to God." He said, "But you said, you basically so much as said we were promised that we were going in." I said, "No, Sir, this was a request. This was a prayer." I said, "But on the other hand what time is high tide tomorrow morning?" He said, "Between 6:30 and 7:30." I said "Well, Sir, at 7:00 be prepared to weigh anchor and go in." "We're going to weigh anchor all right tomorrow, 7:00 about but we're going to ride this storm out. Because haven't you seen the weather?" I said, "Yes, Sir, I understand the weather." He said, "You know, Hurricane Gordon's coming off the coast. We're not going to get in tomorrow. The wind is already above 30 knots." I said, "Yes, Sir, I understand. We'll just see, you know, just, we'll just see." Both of us were way up early in the morning, you know, way early in the morning and the weather guesser was coming on, that's what we used to call him, just coming up and telling the captain where Hurricane Gordon was, and it was sort of slowing down after a while and then it stopped. And then he came up and he said, "You know, Hurricane Gordon, I can't understand this. I've never see this before, Captain. Hurricane Gordon's going south and the winds are starting to come down a little bit." And, you know, this is, like, not very much before 7:00, and so, at 7:00, the winds dropped below 30 knots, just barely, but dropped before 30 knots. And true to his promise, he took the ship in. And by the time the lines had doubled up, meaning moored, ding-ding, you know, "Moored," and the kids could go home and everything was all right. The winds picked up over 30 knots because Hurricane Gordon had come inland, come behind us and the winds were too strong so we couldn't have done anything about it. Kids went home. They knew the value of evening prayer at sea. Happened at D-Day, same thing. We were at the beginning of that same cruise. We were going to England. Had a lot of crew liberty and small boats and everything, we were offshore. Time for them to come home including myself, and we couldn't get into shore that night, the night before we were supposed to take off the next day to go to D-Day. And there was a significant portion of the crew, including the chaplain on shore. They couldn't get the small boats to work because there was just too much sea state in the wind and all kinds of stuff. It was threatening, and so, the crew that night, we were in the basketball arena that the British troops had for themselves and they just allowed us to stay there and put out something or other. They gave us blankets and the crew said, "We need to have an evening prayer tonight." I said, "Well, you know, what do you want?" They said, "Well, we need to have the weather get better because we've got to get back on the ship." I said, "Okay." The next morning, the weather wasn't better right away, but, you know, the crew knew that they had to get back on the ship. The sea state came down just enough for the boats to come in and pick the whole crew up, get them back to the carrier. Carrier got underway that night, the next day we had problems because the secret service and everybody else in the world thought that this was going to be a tragedy because it started to rain, a morning drizzle. And we were going to have it out on the forward elevator and the White House Communications Agency folks that had an advance party that took one of my offices away from one of our chaplains, courtesy, said, "You know, all these people are saying this was a stupid idea to have this outside job on this." I said, "Well, it might be a stupid idea, but it's going to be okay." He said, "But it's raining, you know, people are going to get wet. We have dignitaries from everywhere. We have TV crews from CNN, you know, the whole world is on here looking at this thing and it's wet." And I said, "Well, hadn't started yet, has it?" He said, "No, hadn't started yet." Well, the President came down on his helicopter, as soon as he touched down, the rain stopped. It didn't start up again until he was wheels aloft. But it had wonderful photography because through the mist you could see those other ships and it looked like the same kind of weather that Eisenhower had when he was doing D-Day. And it was marvelous; the 50th Anniversary of D-Day celebration. Did the prayer in rhyme. It was a really onomatopoetic prayer.

Zarbock: Do you have copies of those prayers?

Victor Smith: I've got a copy of that one, right here. It's in my luggage. I didn't have it -- I have -- yeah, I do. I have all of them in my computer over there. I'll drag them up for you if you want.

Zarbock: I would be very appreciative if I could have a copy of whatever papers you could give us, in order to put them into your collection.

Victor Smith: Well I was going to try and make them the core of a little book that people have already asked me for about, you know, prayers at sea, for that Carrier. I don't know, I haven't worked some of this stuff out yet and haven't finished the book.

Zarbock: Sure, sure. Okay.

Victor Smith: But I do have all the prayers, yes.

Zarbock: Well, in addition to the prayers, do you have anything else? Logs, diaries, letters?

Victor Smith: Sure.

Zarbock: Anything like that, that you're not going to process into something?

Victor Smith: I don't know. I mean, I still keep my brains in my pocket, so for every year I have one of these little guys [a pocket calendar]. Now, they would be incomprehensible. And the reason for that is because, if somebody wants to violate my confidentiality for one reason or another, this is going over side. It never existed. So there's a lot of stuff that, I would know what it means, you know, if I can remember, you know, but they don't -- they're not written out yet, you know. I need to stream the things together, and make them comprehensible. But like, what I've just been talking to you about, the power of prayer, in terms of the evening prayer, that's -- I think that's a powerful statement that people need to learn about and understand, that that -- I mean, chaplains as well, because not all my colleagues do that either. You know I've had some wonderful experiences with my colleagues. One of the nice things about having the professional training that Boston University Seminary gave me and the experiences that I had in growing up as a chaplain with the Marine Corps, for example, three out of my first four tours was with the Marines and the ship chaplain moniker that I had was "The Marine Chaplain," you know, close, tight hair. And I don't do that anymore. But I knew what a chaplain was for, you know. These guys knew that a chaplain could mean the life and death of a Marine, and the sailors don't always think that way. The sailors, quite often the Captain is God out there and by God he's going to do it his way come hell or high water. And I've had some real interesting experiences with that as well. But...

Zarbock: Can you recall one?

Victor Smith: Oh yeah. I was, as a matter of fact, on the George Washington. We had an XO who had his way of doing business. And one of those was at a certain point in time, he better have all his department heads down in his stateroom for a meeting. And it was something like 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, I can't remember, 2:00 maybe. And I was in the middle, in one these times, of a really serious, suicidal -- active suicidal counseling case, where the guy was about ready to go over the side. And I was just, I had no idea what time it is, I mean -- you notice that I have a problem with figuring out how old anything was or whatever. I can tell you some things about it you can figure it out, but I just don't care. You know, I'm a camel. After Thailand things -- environment, are relatively irrelevant. So I was involved with this guy and I get a telephone call and the other end of this thing is the XO, and he's irritated because I'm the only guy that's not in his office. And he wants me down there now. He isn't going to even hear why I'm not there. He said, "Where you supposed to be at 2:00?" I said, "Your office, Sir." He said, "Well, it's 2:15." I said, "Whoops." (laughs) And he didn't care that I was in the middle of one of these things; that was it, you know. We had some interesting talks about some of these things too, but. So I told this kid I needed to put him on hold for a little bit, would he be okay until I got back? And he assured me that he would make a covenant with me that he would be okay. That he wasn't going to do something to himself. So I went back down there and knocked on the XO's door and I -- here I am in khaki, you know, shipboard uniform, working uniform. And so I stood up in front of his desk and pretended like I was doing the Marine Corps thing, you know, "Reporting as ordered, Sir," and then proceeded to lie down on the floor. And he looked at me and he said, "What the (makes grumbling sounds) are you doing, Chaplain?" And I said, "Well, Sir, I knew I was going to get called on the carpet so I was just going to get ready." Broke up these guys behind me, you know. It broke the tension, but you got to do something creative. You just can't let this stuff go. You just can't do that. And you can't compromise and I don't care whether the XO wants to know who's suicidal and who's not because it's his butt going to go into the grinder if one of these guys goes over the side and we lose him. "Well, I'm sorry, I'm not going to tell you. I'm going to try to convince the youngster to do something better, or to get help or whatever, but it's his choice, Sir. And I'm going to do the best I can and I have not lost anybody yet." He didn't trust me, so. Yeah, I've had a whole -- I've had some real interesting experiences. I had an experience on the Missouri where my XO at that point who was married to a lady who he left in Newport, Rhode Island at a previous duty station with kids, I guess, and started, sort of, consorting with one of the nurses out in San Diego who used to like to wave to the ship in her net top, you know, bouncing up and down, all that kind of stuff, and I didn't think that was very helpful. So I went on leave one day and he thought that this was going to be funny, and I came back and there was this blow-up feminine-type doll on my rack as I was opening my door coming back from leave. And a Playboy, I think, it was, under -- something like that or Hustler, under my pillow. And I thought that was kind of tasteless. And he had been, not helpful to my -- anything I was trying to do. He had -- he was even giving the priest a hard time, although the priest and he got along, seemed to be better, than for some reason me. I was a little more hard-nosed about some of these things. I wanted to make sure that there was a chapel, I had designed one when I was in the chief of chaplains' office, not knowing that I was going to go there. We had ordered an organ for a space that was going to be down below in the old warrant officer's mess, and he didn't want to have it down there. He wanted that for some other function. And so I tried to convince the captain that he needed to find me a space to do that. He actually took two staterooms out of the officer's country and say, "You can have it." Well, the problem is that the passageways are not big enough to get an organ down and the XO wanted me to toss the organ over the side. I wasn't going to do it. It was a nice, brand new Allen organ. So, I figured that there was a way of getting in there without carving a hole in the sidewall of the battleship, which would have cost a couple of arms and legs, and one of them would have been mine because he would have court-martialled me, I'm sure. We could have done it, but I decided I was going to find a Japanese saw, which leaves almost no kerf, and saw the front end of that sucker off, and then get the Marines to manhandle it in there. And then I would put this thing back together again with a little piece of -- right kind of veneer that was exactly the same kerf, drill some screw holes in it and got this all back together again. It was actually so well put together that when we did have a hurricane, the ship went through after I left, I heard that the thing went galley west, end over end, and still stayed intact and could play. You know, it was perfect, so we made this into a chapel up there, but he was a -- he was sort of obstreperous. I decided, with this little female accoutrement thing that he left on my rack, that, you know, turn about is fair play. So that night I tied a, which is illegal actually to have onboard, but a hangman's noose around this poor young thing's neck, half-deflated her with a note around her neck saying, you know, "Even the chaplain has rejected me and so I'm going to hang myself on your doorknob." And he -- she disappeared. I never heard any more about that anymore. But there was real tension, to the extent that when the new XO came onboard, he had been briefed about me that I was a terrible chaplain. And when I left that ship, that replacement XO said that he was so grateful for the work that had been done on the ship, that this was the finest chaplains that he'd ever served with and this guy was just brawly, you know, good guy, wonderful, wonderful XO. But, you get XOs every once in a while, you get a skipper every now and then that's just a jerk and doesn't care about his sailors. But we had a wonderful skipper on the George Washington. We had free exercise, which he supported. We had ninety worship events a week under way on that ship. Probably the first-ever Native American worship regularly. That stemmed from a desire on the part of some of the Native American community, who I had taken time with before to get them endorsed or credentialed so they could do something if they wanted to. During the solstice when we were in the Persian Gulf they wanted to have three services in the chapel, which I had also configured so that you could turn down all the lights, get rid of all the furniture, stack it up and we had a complete bare area with very little lights. They brought in their skins and blankets and things like that. They had their accoutrements. We got them permission to burn sage grass, but not tobacco because there was a restriction against tobacco smoking, so you couldn't do that, but they could use tobacco as a dry offering. They had an eagle feather to do the -- part of the ceremonies and I participated. But that grew into the need which they perceived, for a regular service every Saturday night. And they felt so comfortable. It was like being back home, they said. It was like being in a kiva, they couldn't believe it. And so one of the warrior prayers of coming back home was one of the ones that I allowed this fellow to write up for me, so I delivered that as one of the evening prayers coming back home. And I gave a translation so that people could understand it in Lakota-Sioux actually. Actually he gave it and I helped him by posting it. But we would do things that were a little interesting and creative. The crew learned a lot. Whenever on the Missouri we went in to a different port, we did the around the world cruise, solo, first time that had ever happened for a battleship since the Great White Fleet in 1910s. We did it solo. And we came into an awful lot of ports. We caught the 75th anniversary of the Royal Australian Navy, which was amazing. My wife and daughter flew out to participate in that. She took her out of school and it was a great experience for everybody. But everyplace we went, I had in the plan of the day, a little corner that I could use. It was called the "chaplain's corner," that I could do a little cartoon or something illustrating the little pithy statements of the day. And also when we were going into a port like Turkey or wherever, a little historical background, cultural background or something that the crew could learn everyday, something different about that, so that when they got there they would be prepared. I always made a map that I found from -- you know, I drew a map of a little guide book kind of thing on a one sheet piece of paper that they could hold in their hand so they wouldn't get lost. They could venture out past the bars, see some actual things. Find something about the culture. If it wasn't a museum it was learning how to buy rugs from a merchant in Ephesus or someplace, I don't know, wherever we were. So that helped the crew. In addition to the tours and stuff like that that we were all supposed to help with. But we had a tours officer so that was a little divested. Creative things are important to me. I think there are lots of ways of doing stuff that don't get boring, that meet people's needs. That really speak to their experiences at that time with the things that they're struggling with. I love parables. Parables have come out of my experience over and over again. When a youngster comes in and I don't have a clue as to how to solve this one, you know, this sort of parable will come and give me an illustration that will completely change the perspective. And they will be, then, able to find with the tools I have given them bouncing ideas against the wall, doing what-if scenarios, helping them find the legal backgrounds, the ramifications of their behavior.

Zarbock: Could you give me an illustration of a parable that you had used?

Victor Smith: Oh sure. Lady came in. Her husband had just committed suicide by gunshot, in their home, in front of their daughter and another little girl, and another little neighbor kid, both of whom were supposed to have been in the custody of the old man who was sexually abusing them. And he realized somehow that this was not a good thing, and so he blew himself away, in his home. She was at work, she was a sailor, worked in admin over in SIMA. and came in and she was just messed up. And her daughter, she talked to me, was in a -- I don't know, she didn't know what to do. I said, "You know the first two words of the Lord's Prayer?" And she said, "Yeah." I said, "What are they?" She said, "Our Father." I said, "What's the first phrase of the last part of the Lord's Prayer?" And she said, "Hmm." I said, "For thine is the...," and she said, "Kingdom." And I said, "Okay, put 'Our Father' and 'for thine is the kingdom' together. What does that say about you? Does that give you a title?" She said, "I don't understand." I said, "Well let me put it this way, have you ever thought of yourself as a princess?" And she said, "Nah. Nah. No," I said, "But you prayed this Lord's Prayer and it says you're a princess." And she says, "What do you mean? That never came out of the Lord's prayer before." I said, "You said 'Our Father, thine is the Kingdom.' If your dad is the King, who are you?" "Oh, a princess." I said, "Now, if the gypsies come and steal you away when you're a little baby and you outgrow your clothes, obviously, and you forget who you are and you're down there and you just know -- all you know is gypsies, or brigands, or something. And you're off in the woods and you grow up and you're now eighteen-years old and does your dad still care about you?" "Oh, yeah." "Well you know, here you are, and so he sends his storm trooper angels out there, and they, of course, have computer generated graphics to figure out what you look like, and so they can sort of recognize you and decide you have the mark of the royalty on your forehead." You know, that says somewhere in the scriptures. "And so they find these guys and they toss all these brigands in jail. They going to toss you in jail too?" "Hmm -- no I'm the princess, I guess they're going to take me back to daddy." "Well, you know, when your daddy sees you come in, in the palace, is he going to say 'Oh you stink. Get out of here, you know, girl?'" I said, "No. He's going to say 'Wait a minute, my daughter's back, I love her to death, you know, I haven't seen her in so long. We're going to get her bathed and her hair all fixed up and her teeth fixed up and her -- and she -- we got a tutor for her so she can learn how to be princess again, give her a sense of real authority, because I'm King and I've got all the authority, and she's got it only by virtue of me.'" I said, "You know, tell me who you are. This is who the Bible says you are. You need to figure out what this means in your life." She took that story back to her daughter that night and she came in the next day and she said, "Chaplain, you won't believe." I said, "What is it?" She said, "My daughter has been transformed. She is no longer a basket case. She probably will not need to have psychiatric help for the rest of her life because she saw herself as a princess. And she saw her daddy as a prince who screwed up. And so she doesn't have a lot of the baggage. She's working through some of this thing that just happened like that." Well I used that, the concept as a sermon for the next week, because the pericopes happened to match too, you know, God is wonderful. So the pericopes, the readings for that week worked and that was -- I didn't talk about her, that was inappropriate, but the whole congregation. And that became, sort of, also a vehicle for similar kinds of experiences with other people who had experiences of lack of worth, and meaning, and direction and value and, you know, sort of ties in with the Prodigal Son concept. You know, what did the dad think about the son? He saw the son as son, the son saw himself as a guy that needed to be a slave. Go back just to get food. His dad just said, "Hey, welcome back." Gave him three symbols of authority: his ring, which is his symbol for authority, a cloak, from the top to protect him, to shield him from the top and shoes on his feet to protect him from the bottom, and a home, and food and rejoicing. The older son didn't get it either. The older son thought that, you know, he was now intruding on the older son's territory, you know, he had his stuff and he blew it. His part was gone and now he was going to suck up the part that the older son had, and now he was going to get deprived of something that was part of his dad.

Zarbock: Chaplain?

Victor Smith: Yes Sir.

Zarbock: When you were burdened and heavy laden, to whom could you turn other than your Heavenly Father?

Victor Smith: That's who I turned to. Never got let down. There were some tough times. I took -- for some times -- there was a point on the Missouri that I said especially with this XO, I was about ready to call my endorsing agent and ask him to pull my endorsement because they didn't want a chaplain. He certainly didn't want me. And I was really, at that point of just hanging it up, because it was a struggle. And I had to wake up an extra half an hour or an hour early in the morning just to read enough scriptures and to do enough praying so that I didn't have to have a toothpick stuck in my cheeks to keep my smile going for the sailors, because it was not in their best interest to have me beat up on.

Zarbock: And you made it?

Victor Smith: Thirty years, O-6, first Christian Scientist in the Navy chaplaincy to get past O-4 [on active duty] without getting crucified and nailed to some cross somewhere because of the prejudice that had been manifested towards my denomination professionally, until me.

Zarbock: Chaplain, you are a wunderkind.

Victor Smith: No, I'm God's child.

(tape change)

Zarbock: Tape number three. Chaplain Victor Smith. Today is the 9th of October, in the year 2007. Good afternoon, chaplain.

Victor Smith: Good afternoon, sir.

Zarbock: Where would you like to start this afternoon?

Victor Smith: Well, I think probably in what a chaplain is. I don't know whether somebody's talked to you about that. But I think it is important for us to figure out "Why do we do what we do at all?" How do we get there? If you're volunteering to do, for your country, the preservation of the rights under the Constitution for the people that live in this country, and you're put in a position where you don't have those rights anymore, that's really difficult. One of those rights is free exercise of worship. My understanding of Constitution is that the rights under the Constitution are individual rights and not corporate rights, that every single individual has the right of free exercise of worship. The right does not reside in the church, it resides in the individual. If I'm on active duty and I'm overseas somewhere, it is really difficult, if I'm a Pentecostal or a Baptist or something, anything, it doesn't make [any difference] -- Christian Scientist, to be able to freely exercise my worship without the things that it takes to do that. The only place that most churches have people who can lead that kind of worship are those who are ordained by the church, authorized duly to do that. Therefore, in order to accommodate the need of the sailor or the Marine or the soldier or the airman, to be able to worship in the way that he is or she is normally used to doing that, you have to have somebody that can lead those worship services. They have to be ordained or duly appointed somehow. And they need to be, in my opinion, they need to be "read in" to the [military] organization. They need to be trusted agents enough not so that they're making war but so that they're not antithetical to the perceived mission of the military itself. And that's a difficult transition for people, who are in my position, from many churches. So, we borrow, in effect, ministry from the churches. We borrow a pastor. We borrow a rabbi. We borrow an imam. We pay them. We give them a rank so that they have some sort of sense of where they are in the military. And then we sort of say, "The rank doesn't make any difference, except if you're a chaplain." I mean, there's an old saying that I used to say in the Marines, I hope it's polite enough, that, "Rank among chaplains is a little like sex among hippopotami. It makes a big deal if you are one and not much if you aren't." The rank system does make a big deal if you're a chaplain. But most people just call me chaplain, and that's good. I don't want to be called captain. I don't want to be called lieutenant. I want to be your chaplain. I want to be able to move freely among the enlisted, the officers, everybody, and [I want] to be me, and to have my function be chaplain. Chaplain means a lot of things, too. It's not just a deliverer of Sunday morning worship. I think I told you before, that one of the things that drove me into this was the question, during Martin Luther King's time, when Washington, D.C., where I was, was being burned down, "There are an awful lot of other people around here who have problems. Where is it?" this Voice said to Vic, "Where is this, Vic, that they don't really have any different kinds of problems? They may even have more, and they have almost no place to go to get help?? In the military." If I'm a sailor in the military and I have a problem, am I going to be able to go to my senior person and admit that I have a problem, which may show weakness in me? Because the job in the military is to find weakness and kill it. That's what we do with the enemy. Well, we sort of do it with ourselves, too. So they don't have anybody that they can talk to, except for the chaplain. The chaplain is the only individual in the entire structure of the military for whom confidentiality is a baseline. It's a given. Doctors claim it occasionally. Psychiatrists think they have it sometimes. But the one that is in the Manual for Courts-Martial always... is the chaplain. And in the Manual for Courts-Martial, that's where you want to be. When somebody -- when the Captain asks me to be at mast, to request mast or... (usually, it's a bad mast), he wants me to be there, not because I'm validating him or anything. Occasionally, they [the Captain] would ask me, "Well, what do you think about this, chaplain?" If that person at the other side of the Captain had not said, had not freed me up to talk, I can't talk. And I'd have to tell the Captain, "I'm sorry, sir. I can't tell you," even though I'd talked to the young man or woman. I would look at the person, and if they indicated to me that it was okay, then I would talk. But it's their privilege, not mine. I cannot release that. It's their privilege. So confidentiality is really important. So given that the chaplain is the only person in the entire structure that has confidentiality, what are they going to come to me about? Anything! I don't care what it is. It's... anything. They came to me for a reason. They didn't go to the social worker for this. They could've perhaps if it's a social worker thing. They might've gone to a psychiatrist, (not usually in the past: it's become pretty much of a stigma; you didn't want to go). If you're on drugs, it's not a good idea to tell anybody about it, especially if you're having problems. So: Chaplain Smith. Especially in the Vietnam era; I knew all the kids. I knew them all, and I knew who was dealing. And sometimes I could do something about it. Sometimes I couldn't. I wasn't going to jeopardize my position as chaplain for anything. And so I would try and help these youngsters.

Zarbock: So, let me pose a question: In theory or in practice, if you saw an event which was breaking the law and causing damage to others, could you... is it within the role of the chaplain to do something about the person who's causing the difficulty, breaking the law?

Victor Smith: My question is do I have a pastoral relationship with that individual at that time. Did they come to me for help?

Zarbock: Assume they didn't.

Victor Smith: If I'm walking into a scene, I'm an officer. I may wear a cross on my shoulder. But if I'm walking into a scene, I have the same responsibility as any enlisted person or anybody else to try and help. I'm not a newsperson who will jolly let sometimes these things go by because it's "good" news. I'm there to help. My job, if they are pastorally responsible with me and they do have confidentiality, my job is also, I see, to have a sense of morality prevail so that I will try and convince them that they need to do something about this or they have some serious problems that are bigger than what they thought they came to me with, or there may be things that have driven the reason that they came to me with these problems. So they need to get those things fixed as well. Suicidal things were things that the XO used to just go berserk about. Because I had lots of people come in, at various times, who were suicidal. And he'd say, "I need to know who these people are." I said, "Captain XO, I can't tell you." "Well, what happens if they jump over the side?" "Well, sir, I haven't lost anybody yet. But, oh, by the way, you have, you know, when they were in medical? Sorry about that. " I pray a lot. I mean, I need to know what to do. And God will tell me. There's some times I just do not physically humanly know what to do. And I will rely on my prayer right in the middle of counseling. And most of the time, I get a pretty decent answer. And I don't know how these things are going to work out. But if it's something where I'm coming in to something, somebody's doing something against the law, or disastrous or sabotage; at that point, unless I have a pastoral relationship with that person, in other words, he or she is coming to me for help, and somehow in the process -- I can't imagine, but -- somehow in the process they start up all this whacko activity.... Hmm ...Oh yeah, I can! Umm, A young man had flipped out in the middle of the jungle, was on poly drugs. Probably he thought he was smoking pot. It was probably laced with -- it could've been anything -- heroin, included. And he just went bonkers and went over to the chapel, was raving. And I went in, middle of the night, two o'clock in the morning, and pastored him down. I mean, I was praying hard with him. Me praying hard with him, (because he was not part of my "congregation") that morning. And so I helped talk him down. Meanwhile, the MPs were outside. They had finally figured out that something was going on. Somebody had reported this. They were going to come to cart this guy away. I gave him sanctuary until I was ready. Then I told him, "We need to get you -- (because there they are. There are the MPs) -- we're going to have to get you to let yourself be put into custody for a while. But I will stick with you. I'm not going to -- I'm not your lawyer, but I'm going to stick with you. And we'll figure out what to do next, you know. So be patient. Let them incarcerate you, whatever. Because, I mean, you're in trouble. You know that." And so he let himself be taken away. We finally got him to the point where, I guess it was even the next day, he was down far enough so that I could -- (I was not allowed to, but the skipper told me that I needed to) -- hand carry him down to Bangkok on a C-130 airplane, where we could get him treatment, where he needed to be. And he was okay. Well, he became okay after that. He was really fried. And he was in the middle of doing things that were obviously, in the Marine Corps, illegal. So, he became no longer destructive. But that was, you know, a Pauline kind of experience for me. There were other places, other things, too, that were destructive I can't talk about much.

Zarbock: Is the chaplain's role to fix? or is the chaplain's role to wire together long enough to...

Victor Smith: My theological position is, I believe in spiritual healing. I don't know whether that means "fix." I do mean that it means transformation. I do know that, for me, it means redemption. I don't know how you pack that. I know how I unpack it a lot, but it's different for everybody. So for me, redeeming is the real reason. Sometimes patch means patch well enough so the guy can go out and kill again? I mean, that's what the military feels is a side benefit of having chaplains around. And sometimes we became -- we become talismans hanging around the unit's neck? We are the magic wand? We are the cross that we hold up in front of the mighty army, and they all go out and do whatever it is... and, you know, God is on our side now and all that kind of stuff? My theology is a little more inclusive. I think that God is God of the entire universe, so if there's evil, it needs to be rooted out, it can be on any side; and, if there's good, it can be uplifted, and that the good that is uplifted cannot harm good on the other side. And so I've watched -- let me give you an example: [aircraft] carrier: George Washington. We were fighting the Bosnian war and we were fighting the Iraqi war at the same time. So we were covering both the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, go through the canal, boom, boom, boom, all the time. The crew came up to me one day. There was a time when the United Nations had told the Bosnians that they needed to put back the big armaments into whatever that box was that they had. That was the terminology that they used. They wanted the Bosnians to put all this stuff back "in the box".... "Or else". And the United Nations was going to be the "or else". And we were going to be the vehicle for that "or else". It was our airplanes. One particular afternoon, late, crew came up to me. And, of course, I had had the practice, since my service in Memphis (it's another interesting story), of doing my formal prayers in rhyme. I won't call it poetry. But I will call it rhyme. Because it did rhyme, and it had meter and quatrains and different kinds of anapestic or trochaic or, you know, iambic or whatever [meters]. And I would have [the door] open. The interesting thing about prayer at sea is that you get on the microphone, and the bo'sun says, "(four whistle tones) all hands stand fast for the evening prayer." So he hands this microphone. Well...

Zarbock: And this takes place at ten o'clock every evening.

Victor Smith: Well, it depends. But, yes, before taps, just before taps, whenever that is, normally. But it can vary, depends on the ship. Most of the time, it's just before taps. And so everybody stands fast. I mean, literally, if you're running down passageway, you stop. And you don't come to attention necessarily. But you come to a position of where you halt. And it's respect. The television goes off. Everything stops. The games stop, everything. So then the chaplain give his prayer or her prayer. And then things start up again. And then taps is announced, when taps is announced, at ten o'clock usually. And so all of mine were done in rhyme. And it's interesting, because you listen to rhyme differently. Anyway, and it'd also been open so that there was a lot of back and forth. At first it was, "Chaplain, I bet you can't rhyme this in your prayer," you know, that kind of stuff. And so it was kind of fun. But I would...

Zarbock: But you know you've made a connection with somebody when they start challenging you, like, "Try Xerxes!"

Victor Smith: I will tell you stories that will curl your hair about making connection. This is sort of one. They came and said, "We need to have you pray about a certain topic tonight." And I said, "Okay. What's that?" He said, "You know what we're doing tonight." I said, "Yes, we are. We're going out, and we're going to bomb the bejesus out of these people [in Bosnia]." And they said, "Yes." And I said, "Well, what do you think you want to pray about tonight?" They said, "Peace, chaplain." And I said, "Thank you very much. You got it." So we had a prayer, in about four or six quatrains, for -- about peace, that it's God's kingdom, it's.... And peace was the whole thing, you know, "I don't know how they do this, God. But, you know, this is your realm." The gospel of the kingdom is what it talks about certainly in the New Testament, and, you know, they can understand that. There's a lot of "king" in the Old Testament and certainly Islam, and the whole sovereignty of the deity is important. And I did not do this particularly denominationally either. It was so everybody could hear and participate. So we had a prayer about peace in rhyme. They [the planes] went off, came back at about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, whenever they came back, fully loaded. They hadn't had to drop a single bomb! It's like you had a teakettle that was steaming, and you take it off the heat. And all of a sudden, it doesn't steam anymore. So you don't have to do whatever it is that you do to have steam kettles to stop, whatever. They had put all the stuff back in "the box." Two weeks later -- you'll think this is cool! Two weeks later, we were back around because the [Iraqi] Republican Army was going down towards Saudi Arabia. This was another big event within the news. And our job was to do the same thing, ba-zoom! And the kids came up, and they said, "Chaplain, we got another one of these things. Pray tonight." I said, "Okay. What do you want?" Well, we had completely different thing. We're in a different theater. Prayer is targeted to what's going on. So specific in Bosnia, it's specific in Saudi Arabia. And, again, it's "Thy will be done," you know. It's not, "We're going to make you do something, God, because, you know, you're our patsy, you're our servant." But it's, "We're putting in a request, God, and we think this is right, because we're going according to your law as written down, and it says to me this is what it is. Now, if that's true, then let's have some ideas about this." Same thing happened. Took off, came back fully loaded. The Republican army, in the middle of this, decided they were going north. Now, that was not the first time. The reason that these guys came to me was because they had already had experiences with the effectiveness of their evening prayer. Now, this is, at once, institutional ministry and personal ministry. But I think it transformed the way that these youngsters looked at their spiritual readiness. My theory about spiritual readiness, for example, is, and one of the reasons "Why we do what we do at all?" there has been a move to try to civilianize pastor-kind-of-stuff in the United States. If we have all these churches in Norfolk, why do we need to have chaplains? Because that's all they do. Well, that's not what we do. Yes, we do do Sunday stuff, which in some sense is nice to have people go to their pastors in town. Because it gives them a neighborhood, and they have old people and young people. They might not have [that] so much in the military situation. However, there are things that those pastors just aren't going to deal with. If, for example, Sergeant John Smith goes into his pastor and he says, "We have some problems at work and I'm struggling with them," now, there's some things the pastor can do. One of the things that the pastor can not do, readily, that I can, because I am "read in," whatever that means, a "trusted agent," I can go to the skipper and say, "Sir, I'm not going to talk about any individuals. But I've had a number of these people who've come in and mentioned similar kinds of things. Here's a problem that you need to work on, sir, or we need to work on because it's our command. And here's what I think we can do about it." The pastor doesn't have access. If he had access, he wasn't going to be able to tell the skipper what he thinks the skipper ought to do about it!... Because I'm the skipper's chaplain as well. I'm the institution's chaplain. So I have a job to be able to put grease on the wheels. And if there are squeaks somewhere and it's hurting people, then we don't need to do that anymore, unless that's part of the mission. You know, I can't do anything about that. Sometimes you've got to charge the hill, and you know you're going to lose everybody. And I don't like that. But that's not, you know.... God can do something about that. I'll lay it in His hands, but I can't do -- that's not my personal job. I can't do that. But I think that's important to see that there is something that the chaplain can do not only just for the institution. But that's where we teach our youngsters how to hit the beach. When you're asking a Marine to fire his M16, you don't start teaching him when he's hitting the beach. You start teaching him in boot camp. You start practicing in your duty stations. You start going to mock wars. That's what we do all day long. That's what we're practicing for. We're practicing to do this stuff called warfare or defense or whatever it is you want to call it. I think that spiritual readiness is an integral part of that for the individual, not for the institution but for the individual. Because the individual needs to know that "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." And you have "a shield of salvation and the sword of the spirit and the helmet of", whatever it is, all that kind of stuff. And here's how you do that. My evening prayer was sort of a way of doing that. It integrated into the training program. When we had firefighting, I would talk about the firefighting spiritually. We had chemical warfare. We'd talk about things that attack you as a chemical would. When we talk about family issues, you know, the family's important. How do you get that integrated? How do you talk about loneliness or separation? Or how can you help each other when you're separated for such a distance for such a time? That's part of the training issues. And those were topics that we would make as foci, for the evening prayers, for that night. If we had a firefight? We lost several compartments to gas fire. It was -- if you've ever been in a gas fire at sea, it is terribly dangerous. I mean real gasoline. This is terrible. It burned through the bulkheads and the decks on a carrier, brand-new carrier. We did not have a serious casualty. We had some smoke inhalations, but we did not have a serious casualty. We had evening prayer. I was praying all the time, you know. And three chaplains onboard. So we were all doing this. We had a priest and two protestants. But this! The crew learned that this was integral to their existence as whoever they were. They didn't have to be religious. They could be an atheist. And there was still something about the way your mentality is and the way you can focus and treat yourself and take care of yourself. It's important and there are aspects. So that was part of the training. You can't do that just in a battlefield situation. Oh, and "by the way, we don't want to put chaplains in harm's way either. So we might take them off the ships." Well, then, where are you? You don't have chaplains. Well, if you're, then, now, depriving people of their right to free exercise of worship by not having the availability out there, then that's the other side of what I started out with at the beginning. And, again, free exercise. So in order to get people borrowed from the churches that are authenticated and okayed to do this, by whoever responsible authority, the denominational agencies or religious faith group people consider to be okay, that's who you have to have. So you bring them in. Hopefully, they don't get co-opted too much, enough so that they can not be enemies of the structure, system; instead help the -- again, there's this difference. I don't want to help with the kill. I do want to help the people. I mean, the killing is not what I want to help foster. I would love to have justice and righteousness and peace triumph, whatever that means, not over somebody but just God's kingdom. That's ultimately what I'd like to see. And I don't see that as a piece of evangelism, because you're not supposed to evangelize somebody. I don't want to have Mrs. Rabinowitz come back and say, "Johnny Rabinowitz is now no longer my son because he's been converted into something that he didn't particularly want to be." And we're having that in the military now. I think that's an anathema. I think that we can share, but we cannot tell somebody th--

Zarbock: How is taking place in the military?

Victor Smith: It's in the news. The Air Force Academy has had a big blowup about individuals, line officers, for example, indicating that "I am a evangelical of some sort, and if you're not one, then you don't belong here." Oh, yes, -- it gets worse. There's some very serious news casting going on about this. There's an individual who used to be in the JAG Corps, officer, whose son went -- in the Air Force Academy in Colorado and was treated very badly. And there are other people in Colorado that were treated very badly. It seemed to be institutionalized. The chaplains were -- I don't know that they were perpetrating it, but they were certainly party to it. And this is not the way free exercise works in this country. And it -- it has no place. It's not in our national interest. It's not in our ethos.

Zarbock: So you are telling me that certain line officers were actively proselytizing?

Victor Smith: And still do. There's a case in the Pentagon where there was some advertising video taken, and these people were in uniform actively saying basically things like, "If this Christian triumphalist organization has its way, then we are successful in converting people in the military to my type of Christianity," which was...

Zarbock: If an officer, if anybody in the military did this, would this be a court-martial offense?

Victor Smith: Potentially. Depends on what's going on.

Zarbock: And what would be the charge? Because the officer, for example, the proselytizer, is exercising his freedom of speech?

Victor Smith: His freedom of speech is like his freedom of his fist. It stops at the other guy's nose. When we had Bible studies, we had some rules for our Bible studies. We had everything from LDS, to Catholics, to Jews, to Christian Scientists, me, to Pentecostals, to Roman Catholics, to you name it. We had them all in this Bible study. And the rules were things like you need to respect somebody else. They can say what they want to do as long as it's in a positive way and not in a negative way toward somebody else's faith stance. Now, you know, maybe you can't say everything you could say back in your Pentecostal church or whatever it is. I'm not picking on anybody, you know, because everybody's got this problem to some extent. I think that if somebody's really zealous about who they are religiously, they want somebody else to be like that. Because the end is either damnation or salvation, ultimately, and you don't want that guy to be damned. You don't wa-- you want him, therefore, to look like me. Now, I have a problem with some of that to extent. Because I think that we get into this -- into the idea that I'm not stupid, and I've chosen this. So there must be something to what I've chosen. Because that, you know, I'm right. I'm not -- if I were wrong, then I'd want to not be wrong anymore. So, you know, there's some right in what I'm looking at. Now, this guy's different. Well, right and different usually mean right and wrong for a lot of people. And there isn't something else that could also be right. It's right and different ... means right and wrong. So you want that guy to be like me, because, "I know I'm going to heaven. That's what God told me. I'm going to heaven. So you've got to be like me in order to be there with me, and I want you to be -- I love you, man. I don't want you to go to hell." So now, if, for example -- this is an airport, right? [holds up a DVD box] And let's put it this way [shifts the orientation of the box]. And you're in an airplane, and I'm in an airplane. It's sort of cloudy out here. And we can talk on the radio. So you can call me and say, "Vic, can you tell me where you think -- can you, first of all, can you see the airport?" I say, "Yes, I can see the airport." "Well, I can't, and I'm running little low on fuel. I would really like to get back to the airport so I don't crash and burn. Which way's the airport?" If I say, "Down 30 degrees in this particular direction," [points down toward the box from his vantage point], you go down 30 degrees in that same direction, you're crashing and burning because you run into the thing behind you. And you're never going to get fed. Now, if I ask you the same thing, you're going to say, "Well, it's over here." [Points to the box from the other direction where the interviewer is sitting.] And I'm going to crash in the corner. Well, that doesn't do either of us any good. But there are things that we can talk about. We can say, "Hey, I see this thing. It's got, you know, UNCW on it. It's a picture of this building, and it's got a little thing. And it's this box, and the box has some little things on the top. And the box is basically blue." "Well, I don't see a blue [one] -- I see a box, and it's got the fuzzy things on top. But I don't see that. I see something else. [Each side of the box is a different color and text.] And yours over here is white. Mine over here is dark blue." You know, so we don't see the same thing. But it is the same thing, you know, sort of like the elephant story with blind guys. But we can talk about things that we do have in common, I think. I think there are lots of things that we have in common about God and about the way goodness is and the way values... and lots of good things that we can talk about. Scripture even is parallel. I love to know about the good things in the Koran or the good things in the Bhagavad Gita and whatever. I think that they'd like to know little bit more about the good things that I know about. And so if we talk about those things, you make your decision to go this way. [points to the box from one side.] I make my decision to go a different way. [points to the box from the other side.] And we both end up here, because we're both getting closer to each other by the way. When we get close to God, I really truly believe we get close to each other. But we can't tell somebody else where God is for him. Because if I read the scriptures tomorrow and yesterday, I'm not going to read them the same way, even to myself. I will get something different out of that scripture today and yesterday or tomorrow. Because I have a different need today. I'm not the same person that I was tomorrow or yesterday. I think that's important, because we are not the same people either. And you come out of a tradition. And I truly believe that where you stand determines what you see: religiously or physically, culturally. I mean this whole business about calling "Old Europe" that we've been talking about. That's from where "we" stand -- it's not from where I stand. But we vilify people that don't look like us. We do not need to do that. We need to be able to talk sensibly and humanely with one another and share and uplift the good things in the cultures and the people that we are. That's true certainly in the military. We have, in the military, an immense diversity of human beings. They come from every walk of the United States of America and other places who want to come in the military, and we need to be able to talk. One of the neat things about the military, talking about "why do we do what we do at all?" is that this is one of the only places where the Constitution trumps everything else. And so we have to talk to each other. We have protestants and Catholics and Jews, imams and you know what?... everybody, and lay and clergy doing things together as a team. These people would love to be able to do this out in town. I mean we've had commissions and councils and all kinds of people in the civilian community trying to be doing this for a long time, ecumenical movements. We've been doing this for years as a routine. We haven't always been doing it well. My denomination has been beat up pretty hard [in Navy chaplaincy]. I'm the first person that made it past lieutenant commander on active duty without getting literally crucified and thrown out of the [active duty] military [chaplaincy]. The same people have gone into the reserves. Same people have had the same record in the reserves, and they've gotten to O-6. I don't get it. I do get it. It's what "they" think that [we are] based on their seminary training, best thing that they could have. I mean it's their perspective, where they stood, depending on what they saw.

Zarbock: So they've constructed reality in a particular way.

Victor Smith: And fortunately, when they've been with me or one of my colleagues, you know, they can now go back to their people and say, "Listen, the stuff on the radio about this stuff. I'm sorry. I know Vic Smith. I know Charlotte Hunter. I know somebody else. And that's not [the way they are], yeah, that doesn't make any sense to me. That's not who they are. So something's wrong [with the report]."

Zarbock: Chaplain, are you developing an argument for, or are you developing an argument against the generic chaplain?

Victor Smith: I don't understand what a generic chaplain is. I do understand that a chaplain is a representative of his faith group. I also understand that, at the same time, he has a responsibility to everybody that is not pastored by his own colleagues, somebody or other, even if he is. I mean there have been times when a Roman Catholic is fatal, and I will do the best that I can do for that individual in accordance with what they need but also what I can give.

Zarbock: I don't mean generic in terms of denomination. I mean in terms of military branch. One size fits all.

Victor Smith: Oh, I see. Yes and no. No in the sense that I'm "read in". If an Air Force guy goes over to a SEAL unit, they can't talk to him. I'm sorry. They can't talk to most of us -- unless he's "read in" to that organization. To the extent that he can understand the organiz -- until the organizations in which we live, in other words, the Air Force, the Army and the Marine Corps and the Navy, become purple, literally purple, so it makes no difference to them, it makes no difference to us. When it does make a difference to them, it does make a difference to us because every organization is different. I'm a minister not only to the people, but I minister to the organization. If I don't know that organization.... I don't know enough about the Air Force to be able to be an Air Force chaplain ... yet. I maybe could in another career, but I'm not ready to do that. I'm very good at what I have been doing in the Navy. I have been a participant in rewriting all the Navy instructions, at the high levels, for religious ministry, Secretary of the Navy instructions and OPNAV instructions also individual installation instructions. My first tour of duty, my senior chaplain was blessed to give me the job of rewriting all those instructions [for the First Marine Aircraft Wing] because he knew that it was going to be good training for me. And I did it ever since. I did it at El Toro. I did it at Camp Pendleton. I did it on every ship. When you commission a ship, you have to start with all new everything. And so I wrote them for the Missouri when we recom-- I recommissioned the Missouri. I was not recommissioning officer but, right next. I took the George Washington through its first sea trials, I mean, you know, after it had been commissioned, and through its first cruise. I was on a cruiser, their second chaplain. The first chaplain, it was his first duty anywhere, so I'm not sure that he was able to do fully the institutional kind of things that needed to be done. He did a good job chaplaining. So I'm used to this. I know how to do this.

Zarbock: You just alerted me to the obvious: which is, a good way, if you mount an argument that said let's have generic chaplains, I think the thing that would speed that along is all uniforms be the same. Well, try that!

Victor Smith: When we're in Canada, then we do Canadian [where all chaplains serve all services]. When we're in, I mean, you know, the same kind of argument happens in terms of rank, because there are uniformed services that have chaplains without rank [e.g. -- Britain]. And they live just under the XO's rank. We are positioned under the skipper responsible to the XO on a ship (XO meaning Executive Officer) no matter what rank we have. As a matter of fact, on my cruiser, I was a very junior officer. I was a lieutenant. My Captain was a very senior officer. So even though he was a cruiser captain, his cruiser was the lead ship because he was the lead guy on not necessarily the biggest ship but the lead ship, because he was the biggest guy. So I was the biggest guy's biggest chaplain, even though I was the junior chaplain in many cases. So the rank structure's important. You have to understand where you are and whose you are, both whose you are God's, whose you are free exercise, but also whose you are institutionally. That makes a great deal of difference in how you are seen by your people and how you interface. I was on the strategic planning process for virtually every place I was, especially during the end, when I became a specialist in strategic planning and the whole intricate process of long-term planning for the institution. I was part of an IG team, who completely revamped the whole concept of what IG means, rather than oversight...

Zarbock: IG being Inspector General?

Victor Smith: Inspector General, right. And we transformed that to be Baldrige Criteria, full-fledged Baldrige Criteria, which is a business kind of practice, which is how do you help them do their best. How do you not punish but transform this whole organization into a functional organization that has communication from top to bottom, which was one of my areas of expertise, human -- the human values aspects of this and core values. For that, we got a Vice Presidential Hammer Award. I mean that's...

Zarbock: What is it called?

Victor Smith: This is the Vice Presidential Hammer Award, which was transformation process award for the nation. All the best practices were taken, and the best of those were...

Zarbock: Why is it called a hammer?

Victor Smith: I don't know. Probably somebody knows better than I. But, you know, it has to do with getting thi --

Zarbock: Getting it done.

Victor Smith: Yeah, getting it done. So I have a little hammer I can wear on my lapel sometime. Somebody who knows what that means knows that that's a big deal. But I put it in my drawer somewhere, you know. But, yeah, so a lot of the transformation things -- we did a lot of transformation in the Chaplain Corps, strategic planning, when I was on active duty. They're still doing some of that now. It's important. It's important to know where you're going. Like Alice in Wonderland said, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." Paraphrased, but that's basically what she said. So I don't want to go on any road. I want to -- I want to have these people understand "why do we do what we do at all?" which was the basis of my core values lectures. We transformed the core values lectures by the way. They'd been done once before in the middle of my career. And that sort of fell away. And there was a time when they were trying to dismantle this training, even in boot camps.

Zarbock: Why?

Victor Smith: Time. They needed time to do more armament things. So the core values was not that important. So they were just sort of phasing it out or squishing it into maybe half an hour or something like that. And I expanded it, rewrote it completely. And the command said, "Oh, now we know why we need to do this." Because if you give an instruction from the Admiral up here of the fleet and the people down here say, "Yeah, I hear you," but because of where they stand they may do something that is unexpected because of the values that they have and the way they hear this guy up here, they will say, "Yeah, I think I know what you mean," but they'll do something else, because their values are different. And they don't have the same values.

Zarbock: Chaplain, it ought to be now that you define what you mean by values. I can give you all sorts of quotes and definitions of values...

Victor Smith: Well, the Navy has its own set of core values. Marine Corps has its own set of core values, you know, honor, integrity, [honor, courage, commitment]. They have a subset of all human values. And they pick out the ones that they want, and it changes from time to time. So I won't just go through some list. But you can look them up on the Web site, or -- most corporations have a set of values that they would like to be known by. And so the corporate values are published somewhere. We made corporate values for Naval Sea Systems Command. If, for example, your name shows up on the front page of the Washington Post, you know, what it says in there has something to do not only with you but with the institution that you serve. Well, you know, this guy in the Navy did this. Well, if you rob a bank, that's not a good thing and it reflects badly on the Navy or his unit or the SEALS or something, you know. And so that's not a good deal. So that value is not a good value. We don't want to emphasize that. So, you know, there's some real obvious ones, like murder and, you know, rape and pillage and stuff like that, which we used to teach people, I think, in times past. The Romans used to do that pretty well. Maybe that was one of the reasons you got good recruits, because they knew that at the end of a battle they could just go in and ___________. And that was part of their perks. Well, we don't do perks like that anymore, especially after Tailhook, which I think was a legacy of this whole business of perks.

Zarbock: Again, for the purpose of this tape...

Victor Smith: Tailhook is a time where you had people who -- technically it was an organization of people who used their tail hook flying in to the carriers. The tail hook catches the wire, and it stops you so that you can land... Really, We are the only people who can do night operations, by the way, in the entire world, from air, from sea. Nobody else knows how to do night ops -- well, they may. We are the only country that normally does night operations from carriers, from airplanes. Tailhook is the way you stop. You catch your tail hook. You drop the hook. And if you're right underneath it, like I was, it's, like, 115, 120 decibels right on your head. And you catch this wire that's stretched across [the deck]. There are usually three wires or so. [Four, actually.] And, anyway, it stops you before you go off into the drink. Well, you don't want to do that. That's not a good way to keep your airplanes and your pilots happy. So, anyway, they have a Tailhook Association of these particular group of flyers that use tail hooks, like carriers and Marines and that.

Zarbock: There are really derring-do guys.

Victor Smith: Yeah, these are derring-do guys. And they would meet in, say, Las Vegas. And they'd have these parties. Well, the parties would be pretty, hummm, free and open, especially in Las Vegas. You could pretty much get away with anything you could get away with, and they did for years and years. Well, when the ladies started invading the ranks, you had women officers. They're supposed to be treated with respect, and so they're not targets anymore. Ha-ha, well, now what do we do? Well, oops, I don't know. So there were some of these people who got targeted inappropriately. And it's all been inappropriate anyway, I think. But that's just -- I can't change everything at once, especially history of Romans and like that. But Tailhook became a big deal, and it gained a lot of national notoriety. And it took a long time, a lot of hair pulling and teeth pulling, in order to change the mentality, the values, the core basic values, of that structure so that this is no longer right anymore. You can't do this. You don't target women. You don't go down the passageway half drunk pulling people's blouses off and then figuring out what you're going to do next. It's not a good idea, doesn't...

Zarbock: Those days have passed.

Victor Smith: Almost. But, yes, they...

Zarbock: Those days are passing then.

Victor Smith: Those days are officially past. There are lapses occasionally, because people are idiots sometimes or get carried away. But those days are no longer appropriate. Let's put it that way. And drunken parties in the club, in the Philippines somewhere, probably not a good idea, you know. I know people need to think they need to let loose after a war. They carry around with them things that you do not want to carry around. And that's part of the legacy of sending our young people out there, especially without spiritual weapons of warfare to help them not only during process, after process and now process. Because those things do not go away, and they "are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalted the self against the glory of God." And the glory of God is that kid. Why? I'm going to take this one from a Christian point of view. I've talked a little bit about parables. This one is sort of a parable, but it's not really. It's straight out of the New Testament. And that is the first two words that Christians pray is, "Our Father..." The last part of that prayer is, "...for Thine is the kingdom..." Young woman comes in to me, and she says, "My daughter has -- is five, six years old, has just witnessed her daddy blow himself away in our home. He was supposed to be taking care of the kids and the neighbor. And he was tooling around with them. That was not a good idea. He realized that he had done something terrible, and he blew himself away right there. My daughter's whacked. I'm whacked. I don't know what to do, chaplain." So I said, (This is one of those places) "God, I don't know what to do. You know, this is your job. This is your child. This is your daughter, your precious daughter." And then it came to me, "Our Father... for Thine is the kingdom." I said, "What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see a princess?" "Are you kidding, chaplain? Not!... I'm sorry. Way far from that." "Well, you pray The Lord's Prayer, ?Our Father... Thine is the kingdom.' What's the title of the king's daughter? Princess. You say, ?Our Father.' I mean, that's what y-- we all say that, I mean, ?Our ... King.' Okay. You've got a title. You don't act like it. You may forget it, because the gypsies carried you off. And he raised you as a gypsy in the woods. Are you a -- are you a princess, or are you a gypsy? Well, you look like a gypsy and you smell like one. You think you are because you've been raised that way. Storm trooper angels come in and take the gypsies to jail. Did they take you to jail? No. They've got this computer animated -- you know, what they look like now. And, oh, by the way, you've got a mark on your forehead, which you can't see anyway because you don't have good enough mirror. And you've outgrown all your nice princess clothes, because they were just this big and you're now this big. And so you're a 16-year-old princess. And you get taken back to your dad, to the castle. And does he say, ?Oh, get out of my sight, you ugly pig,' you know, ?You're filthy. Get out of here'? No. He says, ?Gee, it's good to have you home, daughter. I love you very much.' The prodigal son's dad did the same thing. He went out to meet him. And he gave him three things. He gave him a ring, which was his symbol of authority back. He gave him shelter from the top, which was the cloak. He gave him shelter from the bottom, which is his shoes. And he brought him back and gave him a party as his son, because he thought he was going to come back and be a slave. You think that you've got this problem. Who does God see you as? Habakkuk says, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil and canst not look on iniquity." That's what it says about God. Well, if God is looking at you and that's what He can't see, what can He see in you? Who are you that He can see that you can be? Because that's how He made you. I don't know how to get rid of all that other stuff, but God does. And He knows who you are. And I know the king gave the girl a bath and gave her nice new hairstyle and got her teeth all cleaned and gave her a tutor to know how to act, you know? That's what he's for. And, oh, by the way, a principality has a castle in which you have sovereign authority. But it's not sawed away from the kingdom. You know, he doesn't just say, ?Here your principality. Now, go off and float.' It's part of the kingdom. So if you got a problem again and these guys come back and invade your palace, who do you call? You call the guy who's king, you know. He's there. He says, ?Okay. We're going to clean it up. Here's the storm trooper angels coming sweep it up. Here's your key to the palace, again, lady. Love you very much. Don't wait till Christmas and Easter to come and have dinner with me,' which is what a lot of people do.... Daily. Every single minute of your existence, that's who you are. That's who he sees, and you can be that person." Transformation!

(tape change)

Zarbock: Tape number 4, October the 9th, 2007, Chaplain Victor Smith.

Victor Smith: Now we've got to finish her story. Well, she got the point. She got the fact that she was a princess, at least she understood it here [puts finger to temple]. It started sinking in here [puts hand over heart], so she thanked me for my help after we also talked about her husband and some things like that with her daughter. And then she went home, I guess. And I saw her the next day at work and I was surprised because normally she would have plenty of emergency leave and she wouldn't have been at work. And she saw me and she came up to me, ran across the room, and she said, "Chaplain, it's great to see you. I have to tell you about my daughter." I said, "Oh, tell me about your daughter." She said, "Well, I told you I'd tell my daughter about being a princess, and what you had said. And it transformed her. You could see the -- it was almost like scales going off her skin and she no longer ... she saw that her daddy had done some things that were terrible, that that was not who her daddy was 'cause her daddy was also a prince even though he had done some terrible things. And she was a princess and she didn't have to be the way that, you know, she thought she was going to have to be for the rest of her life sad and messed up... just a disaster. And so, you know, both I and my daughter thank you." And I just want to tell you it was just a transformation. Now "it ain't over 'til it's over," but we have now something to work with, a tool, one of the weapons of our warfare which is spiritual readiness. Now, obviously she was Christian and I could talk to her that way. I can talk to a Jewish [person] the same way using different kinds of illustrations. I don't have to talk about Jesus all the time, but I can talk about God almost all the time. And that's important because most everybody, except for really - and again there, there's things about atheism that I can talk about. It's my job to do this. It's not their job to become close to me. It's my job to understand and help them where they are because it's their free exercise of worship. When we rewrote the instructions, we wrote free exercise of worship into them. We wrote the mandate of the chaplain to be agents for free exercise. Denominational agents, yes, but also free exercise agents. So when they came into tension, then we had to work on it. There are times when you've had evangelism and free exercise in the military context have a problem. There's a tension there, but that's important. And so, I've been known as Mr. Accommodation, the Accommodation Doctor in the "Military Chaplain's Association Magazine" three or four times last year. And that was my title (sort of tongue in cheek, perhaps), but, you know, the Accommodation Doctor. We can talk about free exercise and the ministry to people of all kinds. So I took great, I hate to say pride, but I've very joyous that God put me in a position of learning how to do that and to be able to talk to people in this way and also be a mentor and an analyst for the Chaplain Corps. and a strategic planner input person too so that we can get some of these things for the sailor, for the Marine, for the person. That's what the Martin Luther King Day, (you know. the day of his death) riots were to me. Those are the people that need it. You will have confidentiality under the Manual for Courts-Martial. And I said, "Oh, I think I can do that. I don't want to, but I think that's something I can do." And 30 some odd years later, almost 40 years later, and I'm glad I learned those lessons. I don't think I want to go through some of them again. But I'm not the same person that I was before at least in my position, I know God sees what's there, but I had no idea. So I'm real grateful. The business of institutional ministry, I think, is something the chaplains need to learn better, that they are both denominational agents and agents of the United States government. Therefore, the Constitution is not at odds with each other. Yes, there is a tension but I think that the overwhelming requirement is to take care of the needs of the sailor.

Zarbock: Where is the tension?

Victor Smith: The tension is that some denominational agents have as part of their tenants evangelism, proselytization, making everybody else "look like me" and -- for the purpose obviously of salvation. Salvation is a good thing. Love is a good thing but love can get personal and love can be tinier than God, let me put it that way. And I love God for his infinity. I love God for his omnipotence, omniscience, omni-love, you know, inclusiveness. I mean he made all that was made and didn't make an atom or an element else. I was thinking -- we were talking about doing good for others. One of my favorite denominational hymns is by Mrs. Eddy, who is the founder of Christian Science, the Discoverer of the Church, of the principles that from my perspective, Jesus was practicing: "My prayer, some daily good to do to thine for Thee, an offering pure of love whereto God leadeth me." That's one of the verses in this multi-versed hymn, but that's been one of my basic guidelines and I love that hymn dearly. And any number of tunes that it comes up in, but that was, I think, one of the things that was at my wedding. We had a soloist sing some things and that was one of the things that was sung. So that's been part of my guidelines for myself ever since way before I came on active duty. I had no idea I was going to do this, but it was really something. Other things: habitability! Having been on a carrier and having my office right under, if you will, O'Hare Airport, you know, when you're landing all the time, 115 decibels, when these guys are catching their tail hook, is nothing. And if you know anything about sound decibels, every, say, three digits that you increase, like 94 to 97, is a doubling of the intensity of the pressure. It's a logarithmic scale. It's not a linear scale. So if you're requiring hearing protection at 84 or 85 decibels and at 90-something decibels, you have to have double hearing protection. And the claim is that at, you know, 100 and something you start having immediate hearing loss potential. One hundred and fifteen decibels is not a good place to not have hearing protection because you have to be able to hear the guy say, "I'm suicidal. Chaplain, you're the last person I'm gonna see before I go off the fan tail." And that actually happened under those kinds of conditions where the planes were landing on my head. And this guy (and I was that far away from his ears), he could not hear me shouting. I can read lips so I could read what he was saying and I could visually see what he was saying. So I knew that's what he'd said to me. And at some point, he just lost it. He couldn't take this anymore and he was up and out the door. And I got myself plus three fairly strong sailors to literally wrestle him down to the third -- below decks in medical where I could talk to him. But that's what he said to me. And one of the things that I did when I went back to Naval Sea Systems Command, I had done it before, it was part of my tasks as the Chief of Chaplains' Staff, to help try to mitigate sound on carriers and noise on carriers. You have 1,400 young people and that includes officers that live under the flight deck. When you're on there and you're in your rack, you can't have hearing protection 'cause in the middle of the night if somebody calls, "Fire, fire, fire," you have to hear "fire, fire, fire," or "general quarters," you'd better be there. You can't have an incoming and be asleep in your rack because you have double hearing protection 'cause you don't want to hear this stuff. So you're subjected to this all the time. I know very few people, senior officers who've been carrier officers who can still hear you without ringing in their ears and have not had serious degradation of their hearing. Now, there are ways of mitigating that.-- And I've done cost benefit analysis of these things because I was stationed in Naval Sea Systems Command after being the Chief of Chaplains Office, after carrier duty. And I knew first hand what this was like. And I knew that if we could fix this, we should; that the cost-benefit analysis even compared to the V.A. costs of hearing loss alone when it wasn't even connected with anything else, was serious money. It may not have come out of the same pocket, but certainly out of the same budget. It's the same Navy and they had to pay for it. And that comes right off the top. So if you could mitigate that when you're building a carrier whose life span is 50 years and who's number one component is not the steel but the people on it, the number one cost factor of the life of the ship is the people that are on it, then it behooves you to fix your people's problem by fixing the carrier.

Zarbock: With due respect, Sir, you're not a speech pathologist and audiologist and you really don't have a degree in the science. So who would take you seriously?

Victor Smith: It's interesting. I went in to one of Naval Sea Systems' sound guys and...

Zarbock: I'm sorry, into?

Victor Smith: One of Naval Sea Systems' sound technical guys. He was the guy who was responsible for taking care of noise patterns on submarines, quieting submarines so that you can't hear them because it's critical. He was quieting other classes of ships. The carrier was the only major platform that didn't have any sound mitigation -- I mean when we pull -- I probably shouldn't say this, but when you pull out in Norfolk, you can hear it all over the place. You have four screws that are going gangbusters. You make a sound pattern that you can hear all the way across the Atlantic, literally. And everybody knows where you are. You can't do that with a lot of the other ships 'cause their curves are down now because we've done something about them. But inside the ship is the same problem except it's worse because with the joint strike fighter, they want to break the boundary of 145 decibels on deck because they say power needs to have it. And I'm sorry but the noise is "too bad." Well, the noise is not too bad because there is such a thing that the Germans have looked at that's called Vibro-acoustic Disease. It will kill you. And it's not just noise here [points to ears], it's noise! and it will stop your heart and your arteries and everything else and it'll fall apart. You will literally just collapse.

Zarbock: Buck Rogers' ray gun or something.

Victor Smith: Pretty close.

Zarbock: The force field hitting the body.

Victor Smith: Yeah, and they're -- and they've already done some of this stuff with quote "non-lethal weapons." So they're already using this as weaponry but they don't realize that this is a weapon inside their ship and they're killing their people with it. They're sending them home right now with hearing loss or other things. But it also causes other things. So I'm trying to get them to mitigate that so that we have now retrofitted every chapel which is right on the O-3 level, most of them. And every chaplain's space, I think, and every library which is also there -- it's a library study complex, so that the crew, which is the only place on the entire ship that the entire crew can come and unwind. Well, you can't unwind at 115 decibels. I'm sorry, you just can't do it. And so, this has been mitigated because they put hearing protection, shielding and all that kind of stuff -- it takes a lot. But I went into this guy's office and I said, "You know, Kurt Yankaskas, I understand you're a noise freak and I need your help." And I said, "I'd like to take you out to a carrier and I'd like you to have some noise studies done out there 'cause I can't do this. You're the techie. Will you please help me?" And his eyes lit up and we went out there. And we got on a carrier and they were doing landings. And we were giving him one of the rooms on the O-3 level, which is supposed to be V.I.P. rooms. And he went in there and the walls shook. He could see it. It was like being inside of a kettle drum. And he said, "Whoa, let me get my instruments out." So he pulled his instruments out and started doing this instrument stuff and he freaked out. He said, "Chaplain, you weren't lying to us, were you?" And I said, "No! You're documenting this." So it was based on his documentation. He had prize winning stuff that he would give to the American Society of Naval Engineers and a whole bunch of other people. He's given this talk to the Naval medical folks and .... It's a prize winning presentation based on our collaboration for noise not just on carriers but he has now been influential in getting them off a lot of the small boys. When you're on a PT size boat and you have a diesel engine here and you got a bunch of SEALS and that's where they live and nobody has done anything about the noise around here, and that's where they have to be,... he deadened it. We used noise canceling, I mean, all kinds of stuff to get rid of these problems. And the people are much, much better on these classes of ships and boats. So we made a lot of progress but there's still a lot of inertia, mentally, to get these dang people to get off dimes and fix the problem, which is cost beneficial way over. And the human benefit to this, in terms of human engineering is...

Zarbock: Did you report to the ship's captain before you initiated this study?

Victor Smith: Yes. We were there at his invitation. Because I had entrée.

Zarbock: Fine. So you were really performing the staff function for the captain of the ship?

Victor Smith: I was performing a staff function for Naval Sea Systems Command who didn't know it had a staff function yet -- on my own behalf, with the permission and collusion of the captain of the ship. He owns the ship. He -- we got him to understand what some of the implications were. I think that one of the reasons that we shot down the Iranian airliner was because of some of these noise issues and stress of going 99 hours a day. And that does something to your perceptions. You can no longer function clearly. It does a lot of things to you. I think that a lot of the other problems that we've had in warfare have been because of these kinds of issues overstressing the people. That's what we're leading them into right now in Iraq, in Iran and Afghanistan and wherever the heck we're in, you know, whether it's going to be China next or.... It's our ships. When we engineer people so tightly that we think that they're replaceable parts, like a steel ball bearing and you can just stick another one of these in when the first one breaks, we are not being human anymore. And I don't want to see that! When you take off so many of the other non-warriors, like we used to have on ships like the personnelman and yeoman and the cook and bakers, and you contract some of these guys out, and then they're no longer military. I think contracting has a real serious problem because we're contracting out the morality of the nation which is counter to the A-76 instructions in the first place. So we're not...

Zarbock: What is A-76?

Victor Smith: A-76 is the driving instruction. You can look it up in the GAO or anything else. That's the driving instruction for the philosophy of contracting out. That's the salient document. See, one of the things, the other things, that I did Chaplain Corps School at the very, very beginning: I was the only kid in that school... student, who sat down at the end of the day and went to the chaplain staff office. And they have all these books that have 1730, about chaplains, and, you know, 1300 about something else and 4200 about human interactions. And I grabbed those 'cause I knew that I needed to understand the environment that I was in. And I needed to learn the instructions themselves because listening to the interpretation of the instructions wasn't going to be good enough 'cause I wasn't going to rely on somebody's interpretation of what that said? I want to make sure that I'm right 'cause I can be right and everybody else can be wrong 'cause I'm the only stupid fool that's read the dumb things. So I sat down on the floor with these things on my lap, reading these instructions. And, you know, the secretary thought I was crazy. Well, I probably was, but I learned what that meant. I learned the 4200 series about drug abuse so that by the time I got to Thailand, I knew what the responsibility of the military was towards their human beings and what the requirements were on the sailor's side or the Marine's side and what the problems were going to be if the kid got caught, you know? I also happen to know something about the physiology. You asked about being an expert. A chaplain, in some sense, needs to either know or be an expert of some sort, not with a degree, of some sort in almost everything and big time: legal. I'm not a lawyer and I tell the kid, "Hey, I'm not a lawyer, but, you know, let's find -- first of all, we need to bounce all your ideas off the wall. Some of them are really whacked and those are the things that are getting you in trouble. You don't understand what the perspective is of ?the old man.' You need to pretend you're the old man. If you were the old man, what would you do with a kid like you? Huh? Well, maybe that will shake you, because where you stand determines what you see." And these kids are standing somewhere else, you know. They're not enculturated and maybe that's good. But anyway, they would have problems with the grit and the interface and they wouldn't work. And so we bounced these ideas off of the wall, which are good and which are bad. And most of the suicide happens when you don't have anything else you can look to anymore. You're blocked. You just... you're blinded. You can't... there's no place to go except "let's wipe me out," 'cause anything is better than this, and I can't stand the pain anymore. So bye-bye world. And that's a real problem. Getting this person to understand that they're a prince too! What does that mean? Well, beats me, but we'd better get there. I don't know. So to be an expert is important, to find resources. I was the biggest resource finder in the entire, wherever I was, I mean within miles. AUTOVON will get you anywhere now. You can go by videotape to -- with satellites -- to anywhere around the world. And one of the things I want to do is to be able to make us interactive. I wanted to get us on ships to have a camera like that in every chaplain's office so if a Jewish kid needed a rabbi, he was going to be able to hook up with a rabbi with audio-visual. Now I didn't want him just by himself in this place 'cause he could still flail himself. I wanted to be there chaplaining with him, but partnering with my chaplain colleague who's a rabbi 'cause I can't do rabbi stuff. I can't do priest stuff. I can't do Native American stuff. I had a Native American lay reader with me on my carrier. And they came up to me one day and they said, "Chaplain, we need to have Solstice services. We really would like to do this." You know, I don't even know how many Native Americans there are onboard, because it never happened before. And I don't know that there has been much Native American worship at all anywhere, certainly not on a regular basis ever in the Navy, that I'm aware of. And I said, "Great, we're gonna have to wipe [the schedule] 'cause you want four of these things, and yeah, okay." So this was one of the days in Solstice and there are lots of other things going on. We had 96 worship events a week underway on my carrier. Yes! Yeah, and since then, the carrier has even grown to beyond that. So I'm real grateful this has taken off because we're focusing on the individual's needs and not just Protestant and Catholic and Jewish and oh, by the way, some of the other denominational, other entities. Yeah, these were individually tailored things. Oh, and also, a lot more people came to the Protestant worship because they knew that it was not just generic something or other. It had some meaning. And I was talking to them on the evening prayer, so they'd come. They really wanted to hear what I had to say. They really wanted to know what God wanted to tell 'em. You know, I wasn't going to be any intermediary for them, but it was a time when they could really seriously do something. And if I could help during the denominational things.... I know, a Baptist can be a lay leader but he can't do ecclesiastical things. So I would try and do some of the ecclesiastical things for all these groups. Well... the Native Americans. So after this was success, four times -- I mean here we are in the Persian Gulf too, you know. And I had made the chapels -- I was also in military construction. So in my previous life, I had designed chapels so that they could be for anybody. And, you know, I know a kiva needs low light so we put the lights on pots so that could go way, way, way down or even dark, take all the chairs out and put them somewhere else so that you'd have flat floors or you could rearrange the altar or do -- you know, take all the stuff out of there and make it completely faith neutral except for the spirit that's there. And it's -- how do you get spirit in a room? That was my job as designing this stuff. Both for chapels on shore and ship, well, this was one of those places where I had an input. So we cleared the decks and they brought in their blankets and bowls. And we got special permission for them to have fire onboard -- not fire but smoking something. We had a smoking ban, so you couldn't have tobacco. But they wanted to have tobacco as a smoking thing. Well, we said, "Okay, you can have tobacco but it can't smoke. But you can have sage grass and we can have that smoke 'cause that's not tobacco, okay?" So we had special dispensation from the captain. And he recognized the needs, but he didn't want to have -- he didn't want to ban the smoking ban, so he -- he let 'em have tobacco but it couldn't smoke. So they had the eagle feathers that this man brought because he was an authorized person to do this. He had to be certified. We made all the lay leaders certified. So all these 85 groups had people that were leaders of those groups that were certified by the people for whom they purported to represent. So it wasn't just some charlatan coming on and saying, "I want to be something or other." It was a real...

Zarbock: Hollywood Indian that would...

Victor Smith: Yeah. No, this was a real guy. And so, it worked so well. I said, "You know, I'll bet you would like to have an opportunity to do this." And by the way, at the end of this, he said, "You know, this felt like a kiva to us." I mean remarkably. I mean the whole: eagle feather and the smoke and all that kind of -- because I participated in some of the things too. "We really felt at home here." Well, that's what I'm here for. You know, that's what I'm here for: to make you feel at home in your worship. And so, we started this -- and I said, "We have a Saturday night slot open. Can you take it? Would you like to take it?" We had more people coming out of the woodwork that had never identified themselves as Native American worshipping people. And they came to the service and they opened up. And there were times when there was -- there was one young man who came in dragged by the lay leader. And he said, "You know, I know this kid has had problems. And he won't come to the chaplain because he's a Native American and he doesn't think you have anything to offer us -- well, so can you let me come in and help participate?" I said, "Sure, you know, if he doesn't mind. It's his issue." So he came in and I became resource chaplain and he became denominational something, agent, helper, and we helped this kid get his problem solved, literally. I mean that's what it takes. It takes that in order to understand how to fix these things, if you call it a fix or whatever. And so that kind of partnership. But I wanted to have this be able to be Navy-wide so that any vehicle -- because we're all hooked up by satellite. All this stuff is satellite controlled, command and control. If the command and control can do it, I want to ride that thing. The Navy has done all this stuff. It's built its railroad tracks. I don't want to try and create a separate path of railroad tracks over here 'cause that ain't gonna work. You know, I'm not going to have a bunch of little tiny ships that are chaplain ships over here and the Navy has got all this good stuff. I've got to be in there, you know, 'cause that's where the people are. That's where the -- including the skipper. And when the skipper's dad dies and he's in the middle of the Persian Gulf and he knows he can't leave, I'm his chaplain. And that happened. And that's serious business. You know, how do you get that not to deteriorate in the middle of a warfare situation when he's responsible for his entire crew? And my job is to bring the presence of God into his -- not into, but the palpability of that together so that he has the kind of spiritual support that he needs, his spiritual weapons of warfare so that he can continue to do what the Navy has mandated that he do. Period. And that's for the Captain, Admiral, all the way down. That's why I think it's so important for the Chief of Chaplains in the Navy to understand the Title 10 which changed after J. J. O'Connor as Chief of Chaplains and then archbishop of New York where as Chief of Chaplains had input to have Title 10 changed to reposition the Chief of Chaplain's office from under BUPERS, which is way, way down here, to not only in CNO but also, "There is, in the Office of the Secretary, the Chief of Chaplains."

Zarbock: What is the power of the Chief of Chaplains? What can the Chief do?

Victor Smith: Only referent, only moral. He's not a line officer. He does not have authority to order anybody. When I'm in a boat and I'm the senior guy in the boat, I am not the guy who is going to direct the thing because I have no authority to do that anymore than I have the authority to carry a weapon. The carrier... You know, the Captain wanted me to be skipper of the ship for a little while; I could learn how to do all that Navy Sea stuff and I get a little badge of ribbons and little devices and stuff like that. It's important. But I said, "Captain, if something happened on here, this is the biggest weapon in the arsenal. I'm not carrying a weapon. I am not going to put on your aircraft carrier around my belt. I'd love to be able to guide the ship, but I'm sorry, I can't do that," you know. So I can't order people on a small boat when they're going from here to there. That's not my job. I can ask somebody to do that but I'm not a line officer. I'm way, way down on the totem pole underneath the lowest enlisted kid, you know, for authority 'cause he's on the line side and I'm not. And I don't pretend to be. Now, I can help but I can't -- I'm not supposed to be...

Zarbock: So the Chief of Navy Chaplains has referent power only?

Victor Smith: Well, not only but primarily. That's his...

Zarbock: Or this -- and there's probably...

Victor Smith: Except within the Chaplain Corps. I mean he orders people around in the Chaplain Corps and his detailer is a chaplain. And he tells us where to go and, you know -- yeah, in that sense, but again, it's like hippopotamuses and stuff. You know, we don't -- it's sort of a joke outside the Chaplain Corps. I mean he wears his stripes and he gets his pay and it's really great. And he -- I mean he got there for some reason. He didn't get there by being stupid. He got there because there's a whole process that the Navy has to make him an Admiral instead of somebody else who's still a lieutenant.

Zarbock: But he's a one star Admiral?

Victor Smith: Two. Two star Admiral. And we have two of them. We have a Deputy Chief of Chaplains and the Chief. But the Chief needs to be where Title 10 has him. If for no other reason, that he not only gets to talk to these people, but his position and his relative position relative to the authority structure, then makes the paradigm for each level below him, at every level, including the ship, including the Marine Corps unit that the person's on. We rewrote the instructions that clarified that the chaplain, when he goes onboard ships, reports to the commanding officer because if he's got a problem, maybe nobody else better know about it except the old man. But he reports most of the time through the XO under usually admin for administrative purposes. So it's sort of one of those things -- he's under the Secretary [of the Navy]. He reports to the CNO as well. He also reports to BUPERS -- "reports to and is supported by," is the way the word is said, Bureau of Naval personnel, "reports to and supported by."

Zarbock: There's a table of organization and then, of course, there's this really marvelous thing called the Table of Power. And the Table of Power is rarely if ever documented.

Victor Smith: I will give you another documented legal source for a way of looking at the Chief of Chaplains. He is a two star but he's a Presidential appointed two star. He's nominated by the CNO but the President makes the appointment of who the Chief of Chaplains is. Now, then, two star becomes his pay grade, not his authority level because a two star presidential appointment is senior to promoted normally officers. Bet you didn't know that!

Zarbock: Did you say senior to?

Victor Smith: Senior to, because he's a presidential appointee. Therefore, he has a right to go with those four star folks at CNO level and at the Secretary level because he is a presidential appointment.

Zarbock: Are the other military chaplains, Army, Air Force?

Victor Smith: They have different rules. I'm not...

Zarbock: They're not presidential appointed?

Victor Smith: Well, I'm not purple. I only know my organization best. But I do know the [Navy] Chief of Chaplains. I have done this research. I have done this homework over and over again. I have reported my findings to the Chief of Chaplains -- Chiefs of Chaplains ever since 1980 when I started playing around at that level of expertise under people like Neil Stevenson. He's right down the block from me. He was one of the brilliant stars in the galaxy from my perspective. I mean he grew a team around him that we still call the Deputy's Dogs when he was Deputy Chief of Chaplains. And we were junkyard dogs. He said the reason that he started that was because he was going to sic his junkyard dogs on some of these other three and four stars. And we were outperforming them. We were doing some of their own work. We came in, for example, I said that I had automated the Chief of Chaplains' office. I literally did. When I first came to Washington in 1980, an officer was not supposed to have a typewriter on his desk. It was not seemly. You had to have a secretary and she could have a typewriter. But there better not be a typewriter on an officer's desk. So I came there to be, one of the functions was budget officer in addition to MILCON and all that kind of stuff, military construction. But as budget officer, we had a POM, Program Objective Memorandum, that was past year, current year, budget year, you know, next year, 10 years out and then five years back, or three years back, you know; and you got 10 years of stuff you've got to do, and if you change a factor of a percentage of inflation in any one of the thousands of areas all the way across, how long are you going to take with a stubby pencil to figure out what this particular? "Oh, it's a quarter of a percent, Chaplain, because the Congress just did a mark [cut in the budget] and yada, yada, yada and it's only this expense element." Well, that screws up my whole budget for the rest of the week. I knew I needed a computer. Well, at that point, computers were basically these boxes that would fill this room and do something that, you know, nothing could do now. I mean you can -- my telephone can do more than that now and it's in my pocket. But they had these little sewing machine things that were 85K -- 80A-- I don't know, single density, single sided floppy disks ump-di-umps that had a five inch screen and if you were lucky, the whole thing came in one box. And I was lucky 'cause I went to my comptroller and I said, "I need a computer on my desk." And the guy laughed at me and he said, "Chaplain, you'll probably be gone for at least five or 10 years before anybody in your office gets a computer on your desk. And oh, by the way, I'm getting one first." He didn't have one, either. And he knew what was what because he was the guy who was obviously in control of our budget. And his POMing was even worse 'cause he had all of Navy Military Personnel Command and a lot of these other hidden things that he was supposed to take care of. Well, I went to a wonderful -- who's now passed, but she was an Admiral [Grace Hopper] who invented ADA [an early programming language] and she happened to be on active duty and she happened to have an office room on the other side. And I happened to run into her by mistake and by God's grace in the Atlanta airport when Atlanta was still closed down because Washington was under snow and we couldn't get out of Atlanta and couldn't get into Washington. She sat here and I sat there. And at that point, she was a four striper captain. And we were talking about stuff. And she has a great sense of humor and she said, "Chaplain, you know what these four stripes mean?" And I said, "Well, Ma'am" -- I was not a captain at that point and I said, "Well, Ma'am, I understand that it has to do with your authority and rank. And she said, "No, that's really good for getting the lint off your uniform." And I said, "Listen, I love this lady. Whoever she is, she's just wonderful." Well, it turns out she's in charge of -- she's been pulled back on active duty, had invented ADA which spawned all these programming languages and was now back on active duty to automate the Navy and get us back on track. So I went over to her office one day and I told her what I had a problem with. And I said, "The comptroller can't do it. Is there any other way I can get this thing done because I have to have a computer on my desk. And I know this isn't gonna work." And she said, "Okay, let's talk about it." So within a very short period of time, I mean weeks, I had this computer on my desk. And so I bought an impact printer and -- and so we could print out some of these things. I had an old fashioned word processing thing where you did control characters and all that kind of stuff. And I bought a little spreadsheet something or other so I could do spreadsheets. Well, I had been a mathematician in my early incarnation. And abstract math was one of my favorites and so one of the problems was that the guy next to me was in charge of figuring out career paths and how many people we needed to have on active duty and how long they were going to be there and projecting the manpower staffing levels and promotion zones and everything. Well, when we do that, we know man, woman, name, serial number, denomination, everything 'cause it impacts on us in many, many different ways. We did for ourselves everything that the entire building down there, the Military Personnel Command did for themselves except war gaming which we should have gotten into too from a different perspective of training and the chaplain's role in that, which I have done later -- which I did later in that. So we got the Navy Military Personnel Command's computer program and I figured out all the little formulas and stuck it into this spreadsheet and managed to get the spreadsheet to do the replications for me so that we could take this not three years, which they did a projection of three years and they could figure out how many people they needed next year, accessions and ... their slop was just big like them. They could have slopped the entire Chaplain Corps in their slop for the whole Navy. And we had it onesies and twosies, so we put our numbers in there and they would come out wrong. And we did it for five years and 10 years. And it came out wrong. We knew these things weren't right. So I went back and I looked at this thing and I wrote it out on a piece of paper. It was a long formula and I looked at this thing and just -- all of a sudden it came to me. I mean, literally, miraculous, and I saw a loop in the formula. It was feeding itself back in here. It was a little tiny piece of something or other that was kicking in a number. And I fixed it in the formula, put it back in the computer and then ran the scenario and we came out perfect every time. Neil Stevenson, Deputy Chief of Chaplains (and we were the Deputy's Dogs), goes back to the guy whose people were doing this stuff. And he's now two, three stars, something like that. I don't know what. A flag officer Admiral. And he [Stevenson] says, "You know, you guys have a serious problem in your formula." And the guy said, "Nah, we don't have any." "So, well, here it is and here's what our folks have found out. And oh, by the way, here's the answer. Here's the correction for you." It was really cool. You know, we not only had a problem but we had the solution, which is the right answer in military anything. If you've got a better solution -- you'd better have the solution when you have the question. And it was one of those things where in several of these big staff meetings, the Deputy would go in there and he said, "Yeah, I'm gonna sic my junkyard dogs on you, you know, to fix this problem" because we were thinking, for example, that if we can get a better sense of spiritual readiness, we will probably have to build fewer brigs. Would you rather have a brig or would you rather have another chapel program that can solve some of these things?... like you were talking about CREDO. CREDO is one of my colleagues' pets. See, he started the Chaplain's Religious -- CREDO, Chaplain's Response to the Emerging Drug Order. That's what it started out as because it was a drug related program. How do you get these kids off of this stuff that'll kill 'em, you know, in the military context? So he developed the CREDO program, which then transformed a couple of times into some wonderful things that was far away from drugs. But it was human stuff, you know. I don't know. Anyway, find his tape: Don Harris', just look up Don Harris and go into the -- 'cause you got this in the archives. He's one of your guys. But doing this kind of thing is a thrill because you're really ministering and changing the institution so that when it impacts on the sailor or the Marine or whatever, it isn't gonna kill them anymore. You know, it can be a little more humane. It can be a little more responsive. I find that if a kid has a problem that has anything to do with an instillation or an institution, I have two problems. I need to take care of the pastoral care for this young man or woman. I also need to take care of the pastoral care of the institution at the same time, and then send it up a couple of levels. And I can do that. And I -- it's my job to learn how to do that. I needed to understand the military inside and out from the things that I interface with, human values engineering, core values, I mean military instructions: how do you write a Navy military instruction? I mean that's a talent in and of itself. You need to know how to feed that stuff through all the arcane ways of getting these things chopped. That's one of the reasons that I think chaplains need to be at every echelon of the organization because if you miss one of those levels, somebody is going to make a decision and you're not going to have a representative there to say this is what the chaplain's stuff is all about. And it goes away and this guy never knows that it happened. He's gone. There's no communication here. The Chief needs to be up with the Secretary [of the Navy] in his offices all the time talking to him in this -- and I know he does a lot of things in -- but the box is not there yet in the Navy's...

Zarbock: Why not?

Victor Smith: Let me put it this way, under Ross Trower is when we redid the instructions. I had made arrangements with the Pentagon's whiz-bang people-placing stuff that Ross Trower and his secretary had an office that he could move into within a week. And he refused to go down there. And there were a lot of reasons not to for him. He needed to be where his staff was [brings his two hands together down low]. I had a vision that his staff needed to be in Naval Military Personnel Command 'cause that's who we were with. He wanted to be with his staff. I needed him to be out here [brings one hand up higher than the other one to where the SecNav offices were represented]. I needed to have maybe the Deputy take over the day-to-day running in the organization [wiggles lower hand]. He needs to have the 20 year perspective [wiggles the upper hand]. We need to have the one to five year perspective [wiggles the lower hand]. Somebody at the CNO's level needs to be five years to 20 year perspectives [wiggles the upper hand]. And those are the timeframes of accountability that those people live in. And you don't need somebody here doing five -- two to five year stuff. That's like having the Commanding General coming around and measuring the grass. It's not his job. If he's spending his time doing that, he's doing the wrong job. He ought to be a grass mower. Let somebody who knows how to make those decisions... -- if somebody's making two or three decisions at the same time and it's the same decision, you've got too many people making those decisions. You have the decision makers and then you have the staff people. The staff people help this guy make his decisions, but you have one decision maker. You have unity of command. You have unity of understanding what this is. And we don't have that. We don't have that. We want to make our own little railroad track over here, our own little ship over here running on it's own little train track. Well, this is the place where the train has been funded and supported. And they know how to make trains. They're good at it. Their organization has been there for a long time. Okay, they have the anomaly of God and his representatives but it's in here [brings hands together] because it's these people, it's the sailor, it's the sailor, it's the sailor. That's what we're there for. That's "why I do what I do at all." That's what I am there for. That's what I am as a chaplain.

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