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Interview with Ross H. Trower, December 17, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Ross H. Trower, December 17, 2003
December 17, 2003
Ross H. Trower began his career as a Navy chaplain in 1945. In this second part of a two-part interview, Trower focuses on the 1960s and 70s. In 1962, he arrived at the naval hospital in Oakland, California, where he observed and counselled patients in the psychiatric ward. From there, he was ordered to North Island Naval Air Station, where he dealt with the growing anxiety regarding the Vietnamese Conflict. Trower was ordered to Great Lakes, Illinois, in 1966, a time when unrest in Chicago seeped north to that area. In 1968, he joined the 1st Marine Aircract Wing in Vietnam. Trower later served as chaplain to the released prisoners of war in Southeast Asia.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Trower, Ross H. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  12/17/2003 Series:  Military Length:  55 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. This is a continuation of the- the uh… video interviews of military chaplains. This is uh… interview number two for Chaplain Ross H. Trower, Rear Admiral, US Navy, Retired. Good afternoon, sir and how are you?

Trower: Just fine, thank you. We're picking it up again I suppose from where we left off, Dr. Zarbock.

Zarbock: Indeed, and thank you for coming back.

Trower: Well, I'm pleased to because there's some things that uh… I really need to uh… to add to this oral history. I really feel that that's important. And you're gracious for coming back again.

Zarbock: Thank you. I wouldn't have missed it. That's not a flattering statement. I really would not have missed it and I'm glad to be back with you. Well, let's pick up. Give us a context before you add the new information; where were we at the end of interview number one?

Trower: You'd asked me uh… not an easy question. You asked me uh… do you think we gain anything by warfare and uh… that made me reach down into the depths of my heart and soul and uh… think a good bit about uh… some of the things that have been consequent to uh… the experiences in Europe at the end of World War II and uh… certainly experiences in Korea and Vietnam. Uhm… I think I had said enough about those matters in the previous interview, at least all that I want to say at the moment. But I would like to pick up where I left off and that is that uhm… I had finished uhm… the tour of duty in USS Kitty Hawk and I had been sent to uh… to the naval hospital in Oakland, California, which was often times referred to secretly as Oak Knoll. The hospital there uh… was a rather large hospital that at the time was treating a great many uh… people that were coming back from the Pacific. Uh… The time now is uh… 1962, 63; we were beginning to get involved in Vietnam more deeply and uh… we had uh… a number of services there. But I was uh… sent to the neuro-psychiatric service at the hospital uh… under an arrangement that had been forged with the chief chaplains in the Navy and the chief of psychiatry in the Navy. And I think, as I had said before, this was an attempt on the parts of both of them to uh… provide, oh I suppose we might say in general terms, uh… some counseling training for chaplains. The chief of psychiatry felt that it would be valuable and important for uh… chaplains to have some understanding of uh… psychiatry's understanding or structure or construct of the human person in its growth and development.

And uh… I- I was uh… selected as the first person to go. I- I didn't know that that was a new program that was being tried and uh… when I received my orders, I thought I was going as a hospital chaplain to the hospital at Oak Knoll. But when I arrived, I found that uh… my senior chaplain, uh… a priest by the-- Roman priest by the name of Lone, Bill Lone, uh… said "Well, you're not going to be standing the watches the rest of us do," and I said "Well I-- Sir, I don't know anything about that." "Well, you're going up on the hill," he said. I didn't know what "the hill" was. It was where the neuro-psychiatric service was located.

And uh… there uh… was a chaplain there at that time who had been covering that unit uh… and he took me up to uh… introduce me to the chief of service and the chief of service welcomed me uh… with arms open. And he said "I'm going to put you in the hands of the uh… training residency uh… office of the re- residency director, uh… captain by the na-- or commander by the name of Arthur, Commander Arthur," who I'm came-- whom I came to find was a uh… who I came to find was a classically trained psychoanalyst; a very smart guy, a very bright guy. And he welcomed me too, but he said uh… "I want you to sit in with the residents and I want you to do everything with the psyti- psychiatric residents, but don't-- well, during the clinical sessions ask questions." [Laughs] I- I didn't quite know what the import of that was but he didn't want me to uh… I'm sure, introduce some concepts that maybe he thought might be contrary to psychoanalysis. Uh…

But at any rate, uhm… he was very good to me and he assigned me to the acutely ill ward, which at that time in 1962, 63, 64 was one of the first expressions of the so-called "closed ward" uhm… in uh… the psychiatric services in the United States. It was a concept that was carried over from England, where it was felt that the psychiatric patients would have some positive effect on one another and that the whole ward would be more of a family environment, where uh… psychiatric patients might be able to reconstitute themselves in a much more uh… conducive way than in the one-to-one situations with a uh… supervising or attending uh… psychiatrist/physician. Uh… It was a uh… it was a situation which I was always treated by the staff as a chaplain, fully functioning, but uh… at the same time, learning with the residents some things about the uh… field of psychiatry and particularly those elements that uh… saw the human being in a- from the psychoan- psychoanalytic point of view-mostly psychoanalytic; although there was some uh… mixture of uh… of other behaviorists and uh… geneticists in the group. Uhm…

I uhm… I uh… worked mostly with uh… the doctor who's in the charge of the acutely ill unit. I participated in the groups. The uh… patients seemed to welcome me and see me as a part of that unit and I was directed several times on several occasions uh… with the uh… chief of the uh… acutely ill unit to uh… help patients who were in considerable distress. I remember a young man uh… who told me he was Lutheran from the upper Midwest. He seemed to be a young man that uh… that uh… had a familiarity with Lutheran pastors and chaplains and he asked me one day-- he was characterized as a simple schizophrenic, whether I ever thought he would be better and I said to him after I thought about that for some time "No, but you'll be well taken care of." And uhm… he thanked me in a way that was touching. They-- Somehow I had calmed his fears about being alone or isolated in life. He was to be returned to his family and be given considerable protections against uh… kinds of things that he would be vulnerable to.

Uhm… I remember too uh… being asked to visit a patient who, in an aircraft accident, had lost a good part of his front- the frontal lobe of his brain as a result of the accident. And this man, a big fellow, uh… a man who was a petty officer in the Navy, uhm… was very angry, very angry indeed when he was told that uh… he would be discharged from the Navy and he would be in custodial care for the rest of his life. He uh… had uh… little judgment as we think of it. He was impulsive about spending his money, about his actions, uh… a likeable fellow but unpredictable. And uh… he at the time was in a, I guess one might call it a padded cell, a padded room, uh… to keep him from hurting himself because he was so angry. And when I walked in the room and talked to him, he recognized me, knew me, because I was there in the ward with him uh… earlier, uh… he took a swing at me. And uhm… he was lashing out against anyone that would even come close to him and uh… I felt that he pulled his punch. He really didn't hurt me but he hit me.

And then he- he cried like a baby and said uh… "I didn't mean to do that to you, Chaplain. I didn't mean to do that." Uhm… And I talked to him about- again about how uhm… his father would become his guardian, at least in that part of his life, and he would be- he would be well taken care of. And uhm… it was interesting that the corps people, the corpsmen, the psychiatric techs as we called them, said to me uh… afterwards because they knew he had swung at me. Uh… they said "Well, you're one of us now. Uh… we have that kind of an experience often when patients are very, very angry and upset."

I had uh… other experiences in the uh… in the uh… open wards, the-- that is the not so acutely ill wards. Uh… I sat in with the residents on uh… on the uh… disposition clinics and oftentimes, psychiatrists would ask me- because they- most of the staff members uh… had had no previous uh… sea duty of any kind, they would ask me things uh… about how it would be aboard ship if this man were returned to duty, what life would be like. And uh… one of the things that we oftentimes uh… kidded about a good bit was that there was a young doctor ca- coming out of civilian life into the Navy into a hospital se- setting for his uh… his duty assignment. And he'd pre- prescribed for one of those patients, uh… our patient that came to him, a sitz bath.

Well, you know, ships don't have tubs [laughs] and there was no way that this sai- this sailor would be able to take a sitz bath. It was that kind of thing that- that-- Uh… I- I provided really a kind of an experience at sea for them because I'd had more sea duty than most of them and a kind of a sense of what life was like at sea. So uh… as the year went along, year and a half went along, there was a mutual exchange of learning between the psychiatrists and me. I've never had such a situation in a medical area since. It was just…

Zarbock: But you were really one of the quality control people, weren't you?

Trower: Well--

Zarbock: Put him on a ship and give him a sitz bath? Now for heaven's sake, Admiral.

Trower: That was only the- one of the things we laughed about a good bit because that was his story that uh… circulated one of the doctors themselves.

Zarbock: I'd be very interested in your reflections on the nature of the discussions between you and the psychiatric staff. Would they ask you to interpret? Would they ask for an explanation? Would they provide you with technical terms and their definition? What was the nature of the give and take between you?

Trower: Of course, the word "interpret" in the psychiatric uh… profession is uh… is uh… is a very specific kind of word; it has a particular meaning. But let me take it from the standpoint of uh… would we exchange ideas and thoughts, yes indeed. I was even honored, I was even honored by giving a book report, which was always dedicated to the psychiatrists, always done by the psychiatrists, for a particular kind of clinical paper or book report or study that had been done. When I was asked to uh… report on- on a- on a volume that was popular at that time on the young man Luther and uh…

Zarbock: The notion of identity, wasn't it?

Trower: Well, it was the notion of identity and it was the notion of guilt and forgiveness and uh… it was the notion of uh… compulsive uh… obsessive-compulsive reactions--

Zarbock: Was that Erik Erikson?

Trower: Yes.

Zarbock: Was he the author of that?

Trower: Yes.

Zarbock: One of the authors I think. I'm sorry, yes.

Trower: Uhm… That was a very interesting experience for me and uh… there was a great- there were a great many questions about- about uh… the impact of Luther in religious life, both in Europe, in the west, and in America. Uh… There was-- there were a great many questions about uh… how uh… religious formation might come close to what the author saw as a uh… as a uh… as an obstacle in growth and development. And uh… on the con-- on the other hand, I uh… sat in with uh… classes that the residents had; this was a three-year residency for the- for the officers that were in the program. And uh… I sat in on their- on their classes in uh… in neuroanatomy. Uh… I learned something from neuropathology uh… that there was uh… many a situation uh… that produced psychiatric uh… behavior or off-the-wall behavior. There was really a result of uh… perhaps some uh… growth in the brain, some tumor in the brain, some meningioma [ph?], uh… some organic situation. And up until that time-now we're talking again about the '60s-up until that time most of my understanding of the human being in growth and uh… the growth as being perhaps abnormal or off- off the norm, uh… as having been produced by relationships, by faulty relationships-mother, father, parent, all that kind of thing. And uh… I came to learn that one needs to be very aware or at least uh… concerned with the possibility that there may be some organic problem or that I had to learn that brain tissue is not reproducible and when brain cells die, they die. Uh… That was a whole new discovery for me uh… out of the kind of more Rogerian school that from which I learned earlier. Uhm…

Zarbock: Rogerian school meaning Carl Rogers?

Trower: Carl Rogers, yeah.

Zarbock: His non-direct-- what was it? Non-direct…

Trower: Non-directive counseling or interviewing, that sort of thing.

Zarbock: Again, for the purpose of this tape, 50 years from now, these words are going to be mysterious. Tell me about them.

Trower: Even now they're mysterious. [Laughs]

Zarbock: Tell me about Carl Rogers. I know this is sort of adjunct but it's crucial.

Trower: Carl Rogers was one who uh… in his uh… interrelationships with clients uh…was always looking for the feelings that accompanied particular statements or uh… particular actions. And uh… he was uh… not so much asking questions as trying to reflect for himself and for the patient what was the emotion or what was the affect that was going on at the time. So rather than to ask a direct question, he asked uh… what people saw as an indirect question: "Well, uh… how does that make you feel?" or "What- what does…" If the patient said- a client said something like "I feel terrible," uh… Carl Rogers would likely to come back with saying "I understand that you feel terrible," which was a way of perhaps extending the conversation or the- the report of the illness or of the discomfort, which was perhaps also a way of understand- uh… helping the client to understand that- that the counselor was really there with the client.

Zarbock: And it was not a mocking response.

Trower: No. But it came to be such in the minds of many people. But uh… I- I don't think that uh… anyone ever felt that it was uh… it was uh… a comical reaction or comical kind of uh… kind of a parody of some sort, no. It was an attempt really to- to identify with the patient or the client; it was an attempt to- to have the client perhaps repeat that further or perhaps extend that to carry on the- the ill that uh… that produced the uh… reason for the- for the meeting and the consultation.

Zarbock: Thank you.

Trower: Now uhm… I hadn't thought about Carl Rogers in a long time. You're impressing me. But uh… I- I uh… I really enjoyed that year. I had a wonderful time that year with the- with the people and uh… In civilian life today, and I think in most medical situations where pastors, ministers, chaplains are called in, they never begin to have the kind of-- or seldom have the opportunity, have the kind of exchange that I had with doctors, who said to me "Oh, you don't need to worry about that but listen for this." I remember uh… several of the residents telling me "You know, you can help us most by referring depressive people to us. We have a difficult time finding depressions in ordinary life unless people come to us to begin with. But you can help us. You're kind of on the front line and uh… you don't need to know about this uh… neurotomical uh… pathway; you don't need to know that but you can help us a great deal and, you know, we understand and we- we share many of the experiences that you have of- of uh… not being able to understand or get a hold of patients," or, you know, so on. In the meantime at the- at the hospital itself in the service, there was a great deal of clinical work going on and I was able to uh… learn about uh… sleep deprivation occurrences. We had a number of experiments going on with that. We had a lot of work with uh… blood chemistry and depressions at that time, and we had a lot of work in spatiality, that is uh… how each of us as human beings seems to need a certain space in life and if that space is invaded in any kind of way, we- we get anxious about it. Just try for instance walking around the back of a person. Ask the person to stand still and walk around the person and ask that person uh… "Do you feel comfortable at this point? Am I at a comfortable distance or a threatening distance?" They'll tell you right away once you're back that far "Don't walk around my back side," you know. "That- that bothers me. I…" you know. So there was a lot of that going on.

And I went uh… I went uh… from there then to uh… San Diego, California, to the Naval Air Station at North Island for duty. Uhm… It was thought that uhm… by the chief chaplains, fathers who, on his staff we were involved in this experiment. By the way, there were more chaplains sent to that and there is still some carry on of that as a training program but in a little different way in the Navy today.

Zarbock: I was gonna ask you, you were really the pacesetter of that program.

Trower: Well, I was the pioneer.

Zarbock: But it was followed by--

Trower: Other chaplains, yes indeed.

Zarbock: Single chaplains or did they send them in several at a time?

Trower: Well the plan was to have me there for six months and then after about six months or so, send another chaplain in. He came in about 10 months I think and then there were two there from there on in for some time. Uhm… when I went to North Island at the Naval Air Station in North Island which is across the bay from San Diego, uh… There was a sizeable community there of course of aviators and of some others and I'll tell- tell you about that in just a moment; uh… some of the kinds of training programs and so on. Uhm… We were involved in the latter part of Vietnam, I mean in the- in the-- I should say in the middle part of Vietnam and in the growing development of the Vietnamese Conflict. Uhm… There were lots and lots of family matter. There were lots and lots of uh… anxious people. There were lots of folks that had considerable problems and the situation was such that at North Island, not only did we have a- a religious rights program going on, that is mass and services and- and activities-Sunday school and choir and so on-but we had a continuing walk-in traffic of people who would come to the chapel to talk to the chaplain. Uhm… people that uh… came out of- out of most any place, any kind of situation, and uh… I found that the experience that I'd had at Oak Knoll was very helpful to me in being able to get a little better handle on what was going on with people early on. That is, it was almost as though I was able not to jump to conclusions, but I was able to shortcut some of the things that took me much longer to discover--

Zarbock: Give me an illustration, Admiral.

Trower: Well, I'll give you an illustration, a very simple one. Uhm… A lady came in one day. She was very angry, very upset, mostly with her husband. I had not seen this woman before, had no idea, anything about her family life or anything. But it was evident she was very angry and I could tell it from the staccato-like pressure of her voice. Her- her speech was like- like machine gun bullets. And I felt the anger. I mean, it was almost as if she were firing at me, just- just-- not because of me but because of the world. I represented somehow the world and life maybe to her and she was angry and she was angry at me and she was-- she-- Everything was just-- I really didn't spend so much time talking with her. I said to her "You know, I need a little walk. Would you mind just walking with me?" And she said "No, I'd like- I'd like to do that." We must've walked around the chapel a dozen times, just on a path, and slowly her language and her anger just seemed to- seemed to quiet and she was talking in a way that was conversational rather than so angry. I think I learned that at Oak Knoll because oftentimes, the psych- psych techs, the psychiatric techs, the corpsmen, when they had a very angry patient, would take a couple of pillows and hold them up in front of them and say "Go ahead and punch me, just punch me; punch as hard as you can." Of course they never hurt the corpsmen but they were punching into this pillow or sometimes a punching bag, sometime the punching bag. And it was very helpful to people. Now, that's not the cure for- for anything if I can speak of it in that shorthand way, but it did become a- a way in which I- I recognized uhm… symptoms maybe a lot more easily than I had before I had gone to Oak Knoll. That's just one illustration of something that you asked about.

Zarbock: Did the lady come back, by the way?

Trower: I saw her one more time, I think, after that. I think I saw her one more time and it was a- it was a matter that she had some right to be angry about. She was kind of an angry person to begin with. But uhm… I wouldn't-- I don't know that it was solved but at least the- at least the immediate acute situation was- was past and I certainly didn't see myself as one who would be practicing psychoanalysis certainly. That's- that's a whole other discipline. But any kind of psychiatric maneuvers. I saw myself as having another window into the world of human beings and their development and their- the consequence of perhaps some of their actions; having another window to that. That- I found that very helpful. Uhm… At uh… North Island, we had lots of activity with air stations. We had a number of- number of squadrons there. We had uhm… some so-called RAG squadrons or replacement air groups who were pilots who had been doing something else came back to re-train in their--

Zarbock: What did you call the squadron?

Trower: RAG, R-A-G--replacement air group. Uhm… in re-training squadrons and uh… I found that uh… particularly the multi-engine pilots, that is the- what we would call the uh… P2V P3V uh… Big Constellation aircraft pilots and their families made wonderful Sunday school teachers and choir members. I don't know why but they- they're just in a little different class than a class of fighter pilots or anti-submarine warfare pilots and so on and so on and so on. You get to know that if you're with aviation in the Navy. And uh… we had a good Sunday school, we had a good choir, we had a good junior choir. We had- we had a full chapel program. Uh… The Catholic chaplain that was with me was a wonderful, wonderful person, uh… Al Gibson from up in Boston. And uh… one of the hardest things that we had to deal with there at North Island at that time was the notification of families of the deaths of- of their husbands or fathers or brothers. Uhm… there were, as you may remember, uh… some aircraft casualties in Vietnam and some capture of pilots and uh… we had to be on the scene as chaplains before the newspapers got the word uh… to see the families, talk to them, and tell them what had happened, what was going on. That was- that was hard. That was hard.

But in addition to the uh… the aircraft work that was done there, there was a great deal of training that was given pilots uh… of-- for escape and evasion and uh… ways of dealing with prisoner of war situations should they get into them; and ways in which we might recover them eventually and their return to the United States. Later on, in 1973 when I was out in the Pacific, uh… I became the uh… head of the Navy's team for the re- return of those pilots from Southeast Asia and that was a uh… memorable experience over a period of about three months. Uhm… It was just- it was just really something and I-- because of some things I'd done with prisoners of war, as you remember in World War II, and some things that I had found in Oak Knoll, and because as the-- some experiences I had with the- with the uh… homecoming groups there at uh… Operation Homecoming groups there at North Island, uh… I became very much involved with the actual release of prisoners of war from Southeast Asia in 1973. Uhm… Life in uh… North Island was uh…

Zarbock: Excuse me, what were you specifically tasked to do with the returning prisoners?

Trower: Let me come back to that a little bit later on. Uhm… I- Let me- let me tell you now. Let me tell you now. I'll uh… I'll say that when Operation Homecoming came into action, uhm… a medical officer and I, a senior medical officer from the Pacific Fleet, went out to uh… to uh… Clark Airbase in the Philippines and we uh… worked with the uh… returnees just as soon as they were cleared by the medical people. Uhm… And one of the- one of the tasks I had again was to deal with bad news that had come during the years of captivity that they might not have known about. I think the hardest thing that I had to do one night was when a man came back, an officer whom I came to know and respect very, very highly, uh… to tell him that uh… his wife had sent him a letter and that letter was uh… that she had gotten a divorce. And he didn't know anything about it after some long years of captivity. Uh… He had come back home in the- in the excitement and the- the tremendous feelings of- of release uhm… in those days and find that your whole family life was gone was just a shattering experience the like of which I don't think any of us can imagine.

Zarbock: Chaplain, it was your responsibility to bring these data and the news to the returnees?

Trower: The people that were in charge of Operation Homecoming felt that uh… chaplains had more skill, compassion, understanding, I suppose, of that kind of tragic situation and uh… it- it was our job. Uh… I remember another man who had uh… who had lived his life through his son; his son had gotten into an accident that uh… really barred him from ever going to the Naval Academy, which was a hope for this officer, that his only son might go to the Naval Academy. And he- he didn't know that; it had been- been kept from him. In fact, he didn't get that kind of word from his family at all. So there was- that was- that was a kind of a primary task but there were a lot of other things. It was a matter of talking to prisoners, some of the- some of the returnees who were just anxious to sit down and talk with- with you as a pastor, as a minister, as a priest. Uh… And of course, things had changed. Uh… I remember uh… I had a Catholic chaplain with me and uh… he was oftentimes asked to say mass not only daily but particularly for a particular individual who had wanted to give thanks uh… through the- through the sacrifice of the mass and uh… the chaplain uh… now post-Vatican 2 said the mass in English but the returnee was puzzled by all this. He said "When did they change all this? What's- what was this all about?" He said "I've never heard a mass in English. I want to hear the good old Latin," and he came back to the priest and the chaplain and said "Father, would you say a mash- mass in Latin?" [Laughs] And this particular chaplain had a hard time remembering it all in Latin.

And there were- there were- there were just lots of things that we- we helped with people-- we helped people to do and to get on their feet. They were there for such a very short time, you know. The uh… the thoughts were that they were going to be very debilitated when they came back and would need a lot of medical attention, lot of dental attention. They did need a lot of dental attention, many of them and a lot of uh… orthopedic attention but uh… they were in such good spirits and such good uh… if I could say psyches that uh… they were sent on their way home within a very short time after they arrived at Clark Airbase.

Zarbock: Tell me again what year was that, sir?

Trower: 1973.

Zarbock: And approximately how many returnees were processed through Clark, ballpark?

Trower: I think uh… I think some- some seven, eight hundred as I recall. They came in various uh… flights. You know, there was a lot of negotiation that went on between Mr. Kissinger and the uh… Vietnamese- uh… the North Vietnamese uh… prime minister, foreign minister-- foreign minister. There was lot of- there was a lot of uh… negotiation that went on so we- we had a number of flights come in and then there was a long gap and then there'd be another flight that the Vietnamese would let go.

Zarbock: And the returnees represented all services?

Trower: Uh… Yes, but mostly Air Force and Navy, mostly Air Force and Navy. There were a few Marines, there were a few civilians that were contractors, few. There were a few uh… few Army people but not all that many. So the- the brunt of the work came to the- to the Navy, to the Air Force for that returnee process.

Zarbock: The returnees were picked up where in order to be brought to the Philippines?

Trower: Hanoi, from Hanoi in North Vietnam and they flew to Clark, which was a very short distance in the Philippines.

Zarbock: By military aircraft?

Trower: Oh yes, oh yes, yeah. Those- those were called Freedom Birds, Freedom Birds. Uhm… And during the times that we uh… that we had between flights, between those releases, we had uhm… a lot of uh… opportunity to learn more about the Philippines and about Filipino people. Uh… A medical officer and I in the-- this Roman priest and a couple of other people, a lawyer that was with us in our team, uh… went down one time to Corregidor. This Roman priest had been a chaplain, had been a missionary in the Philippines and uh… he knew his way around, spoke the lang-- one of the languages very well and we went down to visit Corregidor. We saw the Bataan Death March paths. Uhm… We uh… we learned a lot about the Philippines and we had a lot of interaction ourselves because we didn't have an awful lot to do until the uh… prisoners were released again. Let me come back to uhm… to North Island. I uhm… I left North Island uh… one time during the summer, I suppose this was 1966--yes it was--uh… to go with a group of chaplains to the Marriage Counsel of Philadelphia and there at the Marriage Counsel of Philadelphia, we worked uh… for a month in marriage counseling. There were a group of us that- that had had some experiences in this area, I with mine at uh… Oak Knoll, at the Naval hospital and others with some other kinds of uh… specialization and uh… we uh… we uh… worked uh… in the Marriage Counsel of Philadelphia which was founded by a- a Doctor Mudd, Emily Mudd who was a very famous in her day social scientist, social- social worker uh… marriage counselor, therapist kind of person. Uhm… and we were going to then come back to San Di-- I- at least I was to come back to San Diego and set up specifically a kind of an area-wide marriage counsel where dependents and uh… Navy personnel, Marine personnel could come and talk about uh… a number of aspects of marriage.

Well, I came back uh… being told that this was to take place within a very short time and found instead I had a set of orders to go to Great Lakes. [Laughs] I oftentimes received my orders just at the last minute, I mean, really at the last minute. I uh… The duty officer had called me from Naval Air Station and he said uh… "Are you Ross Trower?" He gave my serial number and I said yes. He said "I have orders for you." I said "Oh you're just kidding me. You got…" "No," he said, "I'm not," and he hung up the phone. Boy, I raced down to the duty office and sure enough he had orders for me to go to Great Lakes. There was a problem about relieving someone in Vietnam and uh… it did come up at the last minute and uh… I guess the personnel people thought well, Trower would be the one to come up here. So I went to Great Lakes for the second time.

Zarbock: And the year is what now, sir?

Trower: The year now is '66, uhm… 1966. This was my second time. I think I had told you in the earlier tape that when I went to Great Lakes in 1949, '49, late-'49, I was the junior chaplain in the department. When I went back to Great Lakes this time, I went as the senior chaplain or the department head of the chaplain's department. So I uh… I felt I was on grounds that I knew something about. Uh… I had a great tour of duty there. It was not one that chaplains generally liked because the snow blew over Lake Michigan and dumped itself on that side of the lake and uh… as you know being from Milwaukee or Wisconsin that- that it can get cold. [Laughs] But Great Lakes was- was really busy. We had 20- 25,000 recruits there at that time. We had 10,000- we had 10,000 uh… sailors in service schools, in training schools of various sorts. Uh… gunnery, uh… radar, electronics--all kinds of schools, training schools. We had about 10,000 people living in government quarters and it was a- it was a big job; it was a big job. I had about 30 chaplains. We spread out all over and I had a commanding officer who was uh… one of the best I ever had. He was up from the ranks, through the ranks as opposes, as poses made in the Navy. He uh… he uh… had been a diver. He was a big man, a bull of a man and uh… he said to me early on, he said "Chaplain, if anything happens in your department, I'm going to see you, I want to talk to you. I don't want to see the chaplains involved or the- the chaplain's assistant that's involved or the civilian employee that's involved. I want to see you," and that's the way it was. [Laughs] And we understood each other and- and uh… he was a goer, he was an energizer, he was for his men.

And it was uhm… it was a busy and wonderful place. Uhm… We had lots and lots of preparations for baptisms uh… with the recruits. We had a lot of what was called "moral leadership" at that time among the petty officers, mostly at the service schools command. We had a lot of uh… family matters, family problems and so on. We had a big program of all kinds of things and I was as well response- responsible for the Blue Jacket Choir, which was a well-known organization over the radio systems of the Midwest during World War II and later on during Ko- Korea and Vietnam as well. Uh… It was a busy job.

Uhm… 1968 came along. We had riots in Chicago. Uh… They were felt. Uh… There was Martin Luther King's death. Uh… I went down with the commanding officer of my command and the- the admiral of the uh… 9th Naval District to the uh… memorial service for uh… Martin Luther King. We drove through uh… the near north-- near north side and west side of Chicago where there were fires everyplace. Police--I'd never seen so many police. We went up to meet the mayor and uh… interestingly enough, offer our condolences to the mayor. I don't know why that was done because he'd just thrown Martin Luther King out of town. But Mayor Daley was much pressed at that particular time uh… from many, many sides and of course had the city in chaos. And uh… it was a grim time, grim time. Uhm… And then uhm… of course there were- was all the debate and all the- all the uh… response at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. And all those things had a way of spilling over into the north side of Chicago into this protective environment called Great Lakes, Illinois, you know. And so we were never apart from these matters; we were- we were very much involved in it.

And then suddenly one afternoon, I got orders to go to Vietnam myself, this time to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and uh… again, I had to move my family quickly. Uhm… I had two- two children in college by that time and uh… Well, a- a daughter had- had just graduated from high school and uh… three children-- two uh… two other children in high school--one in junior high and one in- in high school. And it was hardest on the- the uh… boy who was in- coming up to his senior year in high school to move to St. Louis at that time but gosh, we did it. My family, my wife uh… had to make those moves in a hurry and--

Zarbock: Where did they move to?

Trower: They moved to St. Louis, where- where they'd moved before because that was home for us at that point and Margaret was close to her mother who was in Vandalia, Illinois, not more than 70 miles away. I went out to uh… the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in 1968 and uh… Vietnam comes back to me as a place and a time of enormous contracts-- contrasts, excuse me, contrasts. Uh… A day could be beautiful. We could have contacts with wonderful, beautiful people. I could call on one of the sisters down at the Catholic uh… cathedral in Denang, which was up in the northern part of then South Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam and talk about uh… helping uh… the uh… the orphans at uh… China Beach. I could uh… talk with one of our chaplain's clerks who was very active in teaching Vietnamese high schoolers uh… English as a second language. I could talk with uh… a- a woman officer who was in the army, the army of Vietnam uh… as a social worker and she ran a uh… She was in command of a- of a kind of an obstetrics clinic for Vietnamese dependent uh… army uh… people, women, uh… children's clinic and talk with her about building uh… building a kind of a clinic or hospital. Uh… I had lots of Marines coming out of the bush as we say, out of the- out of the fire bases and out of places up north, just to talk about their experiences. I remember a young man who came in one time telling me that he'd lost most of his outfit and he just wanted to talk about it. I remember another man who came in from a ship off the coast by helo and landed at the helopad which was close to where- where I was located, the chaplain's office was located. And he wanted to talk about the casualties he'd seen being helo'd around in medivacs. And he and on his ship, he didn't- he didn't have that kind of an experience and he was uh… he was for the first time coming closer to the face of warfare and of casualties and of death because he'd been off the coast on a ship where there was not that kind of action going on. Any of those days would be filled with all sorts of things.

Some of our men from one of the outfits in the wing went over to a leper colony across the bay and took uh… some foodstuffs and some clothing and some other things that uh… they could put their hands on, some gifts to the leper colony. I'd never been in a leper colony before, nor had they. But we went and we talked with them and we brought them this food; we brought them this- these batches of clothing. Uh… It was a time of great contrasts. At night of course we could get rockets; people would be hurt; people would die. All sorts of things.

I had uhm… I was the only Lutheran chaplain in the Denang area for about 10 months, about 10, 11 months. And every Sunday for that period of time, I went uh… as a Lutheran chaplain for a Lutheran community service at a Navy base early in the morning, at the Marine base- uh… wing base where I was uh… about 10 o'clock in the morning, to an Army unit which was uh… up from Saigon; it was kind of a branch unit uh… for-- with the Army and then about four o'clock in the afternoon, uh… to the Air Force chapel--every Sunday for- for about 10 months in addition to a uh… my-- the- the own-- my own Protestant service so to speak at- at the chapel. I did that for 10 months; almost a year, almost a year.

Zarbock: Same sermon?

Trower: Uh… Same theme. [Laughs] Same theme, yeah.

Zarbock: Same theme with modifications per site.

Trower: Well, depending upon who was there. One day my church, where I serve now, there was a man sitting in the pew next to me, where I happened to be uh… just attending church one morning and he said to me "I remember you. You used to come to uh… the air base at Denang every afternoon," and I said "I remember you; you were always there." Small world. Uhm… There were many things that happened in- in Vietnam. Uhm… I had about uh… 25 chaplains and we-- I visited them often. Uhm… We had some conferences together. Uh… We all had some kind of a- kind of a- a humanitarian aid project of some sort with some group of people, Vietnamese people that were nearby. Uhm… We had some chaplains in some pretty difficult situations and uh… there was need to talk about these situations and talk about what was going on and the fears that every one of us had.

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