BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with John Galloway Truitt Jr., April 1, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Title:
Interview with John Galloway Truitt Jr., April 1, 2003
Date:
April 1, 2003
Description:
Interview with retired military Chaplain John Galloway Truitt, Jr.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Truitt, John Galloway, Jr. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  4/1/2003 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  58 minutes

 

Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington’s Library. We are interviewing today John G. Truitt, Jr., in the First Presbyterian Church located here in Greensboro, North Carolina. Today’s date is the 1st of April in the year 2003.

Zarbock: Good afternoon sir and how are you?

Truitt: Fine, thank you.

Zarbock: Chaplain, I’m going to ask you, how did you get into the ministry, why did you get into the ministry and then subsequently what were the events that took place that led you into the military?

Truitt: Well the reason that I entered the ministry is that I felt a call to the ministry that came really over a series of many years. My father was a minister, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and had a church in Suffolk, Virginia. So I was born in the manse, so to speak, or in the parsonage, as we used to say in the Congregational Christian Churches, which were his denomination.

As a child, I would go with him on visits to the hospital, sit in the car and wait for him to come back and listen to the stories and the things that he said and help that he felt maybe he had given to someone in the sense of encouragement. I was always, of course, in church. I was never made to go to church, but church was just what we did! So when it was Sunday morning, I got up without any probing, and went to church.

In those days in the Suffolk Christian Church, we lived on South Main Street next door to the church and I always went in the morning happily. I would go in the evening, but Wednesday night prayer meeting was a little more religion than I wanted. But I played in the church all the time. A group of us from the school, it was a big gawking building and lots of places to hide and lots of places to have adventures and it was just a place that I felt very much at home.

The Sunday school teachers were a great influence on me, not that I remember anything that probably any of them said in the earliest of days, but I remember them. I remember their presence and their caring and their love for the children. So that was enough for me. I said hey, this is good. So I decided to go into the ministry very early perhaps when other young boys were deciding that they’d like to be a fireman or be a cowboy or something. I wanted to be a minister.

So when I graduated from high school, my father had accepted a call from the church there at Suffolk to be the head of the Home for Children at Elon College. There was a school there named Elon College and that’s where I entered school. I always say that I was in college before I realized that there were any other colleges, because there were eight children in my mother’s family and six of them went to college and all six went to Elon.

There were two children besides my father in his family and they both went to Elon. My sister who’s two years older than I, she was at Elon. So it just seemed like to me that was the place I was supposed to go and I went and I loved it. Elon is now Elon University and a great school and doing extremely well.

The reason I went into the military service…????

Zarbock: When did you graduate from Elon?

Truitt: I graduated from Elon in 1953.

Zarbock: With a degree in?

Truitt: With a Bachelor in Arts, with a Major in Religion and Philosophy. Then, after Elon, I went to Princeton Theological Seminary for a year, but I had met this marvelous girl named Delores Hagan. We were cheerleaders together on the squad at Elon, and so after a year at Princeton, I just felt like I needed to go back and bring Delores with me and we would be married. So that’s what happened.

So, I was only at Princeton for a year and then took about one or two courses that second year because the only way I could get married was to go to work. I’d already done some church work. When I was a student at Elon, the Board of Missions of the Congregational Christian Church Southern Conference initiated a study that they hired me to do in a community called Lakeview outside of Burlington, North Carolina, to see if there was interest in a new church. I did that during the summer and found that there was an interest. We built a church and the church is still doing well today I am pleased to say.

Zarbock: But that was sort of a community survey, is that right, to see if there was a population of interest?

Truitt: Exactly, to see if it was feasible. There was a person at the Burlington Christian Church that was going to give land for the church if it was feasible. They decided that it was feasible so I continued with that. Then in my senior year at Elon, I was the pastor of that church, actually the founding pastor, because in the Congregational Christian churches, you get licensed, or can be licensed, and I was licensed to preach, not ordained because I hadn’t been to seminary yet.

I was licensed to preach, so I preached and I could do everything but the sacraments! I couldn't do baptism. I couldn’t do the Lord’s Supper. I would invite other clergy in to do that for me

Zarbock: Could you marry and bury?

Truitt: Yes, I could marry and bury. That’s almost a church function and a state function and as long as you are authorized by the State to be a friend of court if you will, then that’s what you can do. So I was able to do that. The church has done well. From that experience, I went to Princeton and studied for a year. There was this little church that was looking for a pastor and they had had their pastors from Drew University, the Theological School there in Madison, New Jersey.

They wanted to get away from having student ministers, but they were small and their budget didn't permit them to pay a full time minister so they took me on with the understanding that I would not let graduation be the deciding factor in my leaving. That I could leave, you know, but it wouldn’t be because I had graduated and was going someplace else.

So, I lengthened my course of study and transferred to Union Theological Seminary in New York City where I could ride the Lackawanna Railroad out of Morristown and go into New York and study there at that great school. They had some marvelous professors. I was really quite fortunate. So I lengthened the course and stayed at the church for five years.

Their plan worked. I graduated finally from Seminary in 1958 from Union Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity, which was changed to a Bachelor in Divinity, because then they were still giving the B.D., the Bachelor of Divinity. This was changed to a Master’s. My thesis was in Homiletics, the Art of Preaching! That was my experience in Brookside, that was in a sense my second church.

Here I was, brand new ordained and after a year there, after the graduation, the church had grown. We had raised money for an education wing. They hired a full time regular minister and he stayed there 22 years, after I left so their plan was right on target. They did exactly what they intended to do. I went to a church called the Sareth Norfolk Congregational Christian Church.

I followed a gentleman there who had been at that church since he graduated from Elon. He didn't go to seminary, but he had been there over 40 years in that one church and they needed somebody to come in and try to be a buffer. He was retiring, and it was going to be tough. So I accepted that challenge. For a year and a half I was there. I was of in the Tidewater area in south Norfolk close to Portsmouth and Norfolk Hampton Roads, all that area.

A lot of military people around, and a lot of people in my church, were involved in military one way or the other. One of my very good friends, Dr. Frank Hamilton, was the Pastor of the Norfolk Christian Temple. It was called in Norfolk, Virginia and he was a retired Navy Chaplain. He was just an absolute marvelous minister and pastor. In addition to that influence, when I lived in Suffolk as a child, it was close to that area. My father headed up making bandages and having first aid classes and sat on the bank building in the evening on the roof as an airplane spotter and that sort of thing.

So Navy chaplains would come over to visit him and the church to get out of the Norfolk area and to see dad and talk, the same denomination. So I was surrounded as a child with these military uniforms, chaplains. Well in Princeton the year that I was in the dorm there, my roommate was a guy by the name of Dick Hedish and Dick and I talked about what sort of ministry we would do.

Frankly I feel that Union Seminary prepares best those that are going into teaching, to teach seminary and to teach in colleges. It’s more of an academic environment. Frankly my own year at Princeton and I thought their charter seemed to be to develop pastors for churches primarily, of course, Presbyterian churches but others. So Dick and I were talking about our congregations. This was our first year of study.

We said that every male person in our congregation will have had military experience, but we will have not had that experience. I was born in 1932 so I was too young for World War II and when Korea came along, I was in school so I was getting deferments for education and then when I became ordained, the military service has never drafted clergy.

So I said,” Unless we join Dick, we will never know what 95% of the men in our congregation have experienced in some sort of military environment either in World War II, Korea or compulsory military training, “ which was then a part of our country’s policy. So we graduated. I finally graduated in ’58. He graduated in 1956 which was the class that I was really in. Both of us took churches. I took a church in New Jersey and then in the Norfolk area and he had a church in Ohio.

Well after about 18 months of this pressure of the military all around and our sort of discussion, Dick and I. decided to query the denomination. The Congregational Christian to see if they would endorse me as a chaplain.

Zarbock: Now you are married?

Truitt: Yes.

Zarbock: Do you have any children sir?

Truitt: I didn't have any children at that time. We were married, but no children. We were married in 1954. Graduated Elon in ’53, got married in 1954. This was now 1960, 1959 to 1960. So I decided to query the Denomination and they said, “John, we need two people to go on Active Duty now. We have more Reserve Chaplains than we know what to do with because the war is over, we’ve got all these chaplains back looking for reserve duty and so on and we don’t need a reserve chaplain to go to meetings and the weekend stuff”.

So they said if I would go on active duty now, they really needed me and would love to have me. So Dolores and I talked about it and we decided to go. So I went into the military service in 1961 as an Air Force chaplain. Never have regretted a minute of it. I loved the ministry in the Air Force chaplainry. After about two to three years, the Air Force offered me a regular commission, to make me a regular officer instead of a reservist, I jumped at the opportunity.

I served in the military for 26 years as a chaplain. In those days, the new chaplains went to Lackland Air Force Base as I did along with about 30 others, about half and half between Protestant and Catholic. That was my first good real understanding of the Catholic church and priests. They were a marvelous group of guys. Most of them were a little older than most of us who were Protestant and had had more service as civilian pastors.

They had a love/hate relationship with all that goes into being military, you know, because they were professional in that sense. They leaned a little bit more like the remembrance that we have of the way maybe doctors felt about being in the military service or some attorneys.

But the Catholic priests were marvelous, marvelous chaplains because they had a sense of ministry that some of us as Protestants were involved with family life and we weren’t as involved with the men as Catholic chaplains.

In the Air Force Chaplainry, the ministry is Base oriented because the fighting is done from a cockpit somewhere other than where the force is located. So the Air Force Chaplainry comes closer to parish ministry than I think the other chaplainries do. The Army is geared to move the unit. They move on their bellies and they’re really involved with the guys and girls. If they were assigned to a paratroop outfit, they would jump.

The Navy, on the other hand, is geared for ships. There is a lot of time spent on port, but the gear is for ships. The Air Force is base parish oriented. So in the Air Force chaplainry, we would develop a very strong base program with education for children, women’s work, men’s fellowship groups. It resembles very much the civilian parish. We were not different as chaplains than civilian pastors. In fact, we encouraged in the Air Force the men, women, families that were there to attend local churches and be a part of the community.

It was good for their faith development. It was also good for the military because here they could see these family oriented people in the military service in their community making a contribution to their church life in the local town in which the base was located.

Zarbock: I’ve heard that from other interviewees where one chaplain said, “I always recommended to have one foot on the base and one foot off the base” when it came to religious and spiritual life.

Truitt: Exactly so. It’s a benefit to the military. It’s a benefit to the faith. It’s a benefit to the community.

Zarbock: See and I don’t think that’s ever part of the chaplain story that has ever been specifically enunciated and documented, but apparently that is an ongoing stream, belief, actions and activities.

Truitt: Absolutely. The only time that that was really not true was on the island of Crete in the town of Heraklion. We had a base there that was in the security service. It was primarily a listening post type base operation. The Greek Orthodox church is of course a state church. When a group, for instance, if you get five or six Southern Baptists together, they’re going to want to have a bible study in someone’s home. It’s just the nature of the Southern Baptists, bless their hearts.

And so they would want to do that. Well actually that was not permitted on the island of Crete because…it was tried and they would say all of your religious activities are supposed to be within the gates of your base. I used to brag to my wife, look how many people we had at chapel services, look how well everything is attended. She would be able to set me straight by saying, “John, they’re captives. They can’t go anywhere else. You’ve got them and they have to put up with you”. She was right.

But it was a good experience and one of the difficulties there, I mentioned being a friend of the court as doing marriages earlier in this interview, it was a peculiar situation on the island of Crete because if you had airman Y wanting to marry airman Z, there was no state licensing capability for them, no one to officially approve like we were used to their being eligible to be married to each other and yet it seemed not right if they wanted to be married, we were a federal arm and marriages were a state thing.

So we would marry. I would perform ceremonies on the island of Crete, but I would then go with the couple personally to where we would register that marriage because all marriage records are held by the Greek Orthodox church and they determine whether somebody is able to be married. Well these people were not Greek Orthodox, but they wanted to be married.

So I would go with them and get it officially recorded and then I would have them come back and talk to the personnel community to change whatever needed to be changed because they were now man and wife and so on.

Zarbock: Was there ever any animosity between the Greek clerics or the officials, whoever they were, and you and your request?

Truitt: I am delighted that you asked that question. Arch Bishop Eugenios was the Arch Bishop of Crete and the military forces on the island of Crete could not have had a better friend that Arch Bishop Eugenios. He was not only the Arch Bishop which gave me tremendous influence and authority, but he was also a war hero in World War II in that he would have people to come in and they would learn of the church and he would nurture them and the community knew that.

It’s different when you’re on an island like Crete than being on mainland Greece on the basis of Athens. It’s more cosmopolitan, but there on the island of Crete, there’s this island syndrome and the Germans had been brutal in the war to the Cretans and so this man had been a hero. Well he was a friend of ours and there were only two chaplains there, Jim Miller who was a Catholic priest and I was the Protestant. I was the only Protestant on the island.

That was the marriage deal. So Eugenios would have us to his home and welcome us with such warmth and his table. Jim Miller, the priest, was just a great character, he would sit on the floor even in his quarters. Well we always had to take the senior interpreter with us from the base. The Arch Bishop knew English, but he wouldn’t speak it because he didn't want to speak it incorrectly because of who he was. He didn't want to speak broken English so to speak.

We didn't know Greek that well. We couldn’t speak to him. Well we would say things to the Arch Bishop. We knew enough and we could see by his eyes and smile that the interpreter was not telling the Arch Bishop what we had said. We told the interpreter when we got back in the car, “You didn't say what we told you”. He said, “You can’t say that to the Arch Bishop”. I said, “No, you can’t say that to the Arch Bishop, but we can say that” because he took us as clerics and he had us to walk next to him in the festival parades.

We would go up into the high altar area and all of the other military people would stop at the rail, but we would go up in front of his chaplains to be with him in that environment and he made that picture for the Greek population of the island as to the way he treated us as clerics.

Zarbock: For the purpose of the record, how do you spell his name, sir?

Truitt: I would need to look that up to be sure I get it correct. He’s the Arch Bishop, I certainly wouldn’t want to misspell his name. He is now deceased. He died in London on the operating table. He needed to have an operation and died in London. But when he would embrace you, it was like being embraced by God Himself. He had this wonderful Greek Orthodox bishop beard that he had saturated in rose oil and when he gave you that wonderful Christian greeting, you just felt like God had greeted you.

So to jump ahead, but my first overseas assignment was on the German soil where our only child was born. We had not had children for about nine years of our marriage. The word was in the military that when you went to Germany, you’d either get a cuckoo clock or a baby and we got both. So we felt very well blessed. She has been our only child and we now have two grandchildren. We all live in Elon where she was a graduate and also where her husband was a graduate. So the tradition goes on.

But Germany was a marvelous assignment and we were there for three years at a place called Forstein. From there we went to California to Norton Air Force Base in California. The Vietnam War was on and the Air Force chaplains would go for one year. I don’t think any chaplain, I’d go on a limb and say I don’t think any chaplain was in Vietnam more than one tour. It was “all volunteer”.

But sometimes your turn came up and personnel being what personnel is would send you if they needed you. So I went to Tuy Hoa, Vietnam from Norton Air Force Base which was originally a logistics base and was going into a military airlift command base because the military needed that port on the west coast.

Zarbock: What year did you get to Vietnam, sir?

Truitt: I was in Vietnam in 1967-68.

Zarbock: What was your rank at that time?

Truitt: My rank at that time was Captain. I came in as a First Lieutenant and had been promoted to Captain when I went to Vietnam. In Vietnam, I was promoted to major and so I was getting close to that envelop. I’d had an assignment in Germany, Greenville base in Mississippi was my first assignment after training at Lackland Air Force Base. From Greenville Air Force Base, I went over to Germany, then to the States at Norton and then I went to Vietnam.

I was an old hand by then and got promoted to Major in Vietnam. I tell people sometime we talk about war and how you feel about Iraq now and all the rest. I say that my war was Vietnam and I always regret that we didn't win it. But I found Vietnam for a chaplain was a marvelous experience. We are not as chaplains of course the tip of the spear, nor should we be. But when you’re in a war environment, the chaplain’s mission becomes more important than say at Greenville Air Force Base or at Norton in California.

It becomes crucial to the people that you’ve been called to serve. So in Vietnam, you come into full bloom if you will as a chaplain. It’s a 24 hour operation in Tuy Hoa in the Vietnam War and we also had some forward air controllers that we needed to visit. We’d go by helicopter and visit them. We would visit the Matan yard villages in Vietnam in order to help with the public relations.

We actually were able to build in the little town of Tuy Hoa an orphanage which was called the Kindergarten of Love, a Protestant community. We gave an enormous amount of food and building supplies to the Catholic orphanage and to the Buddhist orphanage. How did that happen? Because Red Horse was our civil engineering group at Tuy Hoa and they went with the kind of supplies necessary to protect the airplane while it was on the ground by building this arch where they put the airplanes in.

We always had air superiority in Vietnam so we didn't need it. But here we had shiploads of cement and iron bars and all of these marvelous building materials. Red Horse permitted us as the chaplain community to go and take flatbed truckloads of that into the community and build these facilities.

Zarbock: Did you say Red Horse?

Truitt: That’s what we called them, they were an engineering group known as the Red Horse. That was the term they used in the Air Force. So we did that and interestingly enough, the priest that was there and Asa Hunt was the other Protestant there and myself, there were three of us at the base in Tuy Hoa. Jerry Brennan, the priest, said to the Bishop who had come down from Saigon to do some confirmation of converts into the Catholic church, Father Brennan said, “The people that get ribbons, awards or medals in Vietnam are the people that kill people”.

He said, “We’re doing this humanitarian work”. The bishop said you’re absolutely right and because he was a bishop and lived in Saigon, his office was in Saigon, he said when he got back he was going to speak to the President of South Vietnam and bring that to his attention.

Well he did and much to our surprise, the base got word that we were to be awarded the Chou Mei Medal, the Vietnamese medal. As far as I know, we’re the only three chaplains in the military as far as I know that have ever received that medal. It was at a level that it had to be presented by a General Officer. We didn't have a General Officer. Our Wing Commander was a colonel.

So they sent a general officer down to present us with this medal. I had already served my year before the general officer came so my medal was forwarded to me at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and it was presented to me by a general officer of the United States Air Force. The other two chaplains were still there and received theirs at the hand of the general.

I’ve always been very proud of that award and owe it to the work really of Red Horse and the men of the chapel who went out and hauled that stuff around and got the job done. So that’s one of my favorite stories about Vietnam. Interestingly enough, Asa Hunt who was the other Protestant chaplain there, I’m in the Presbyterian church now. Have dual membership in the United Church of Christ, but Asa Hunt is at the First Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas now. He was a Southern Baptist when he was in Vietnam. Father Jerry Brennan is in Boston.

Zarbock: One of the questions I ask is as follows, were you ever ordered or indirectly and strongly suggested that you perform such action or activity that was in violation of your ethic?

Truitt: Absolutely not. Interesting that you should say that because my own church, the United Church of Christ, was really very opposed to the bombing in the north in Vietnam and the only strong direction that I ever had came not from the military. The military because of the separation of church and state, they were there and they were living it and they honored that greatly. The never implied to any of us as chaplains that we should do something, in my personal experience, that we should do anything that was outside of our conscience and of our ordination.

From conducting services or having open communion or not open communion or anything, we did according to our church rubrics and what we were supposed to do. However, the United Church of Christ wanted their chaplains…you see we are endorsed by the church and we have therefore two bosses. We have a military boss and the church boss. Well the church boss in this case wanted their chaplains to express their anguish over the bombing in the north.

Well I wrote an article for the magazine of the denomination which they didn't print. Basically it was saying this – you say what you need to say and I uphold you 100%, but do not expect me to stand in the pulpit at Homestead Air Force Base (crying) and tell the wives and children that their husband and their father are enemies and criminals and doing the wrong thing.

We had at Homestead a detachment of B-52 bombers. They were stationed out of Guam. They would go from Homestead to Guam, fly from Guam and do their bombing runs. Having had the experience of a security service base, I was always appalled that more information is obtained than is allowed to be given to those that really need it. So the bombing runs would always stay the same and many of them ended up, as we know, in Hanoi Hilton.

I told my church that we would not do that. That they should do what they need to do and let us do what we need to do which was to be pastoral to those people, to encourage their lives and to see to their spiritual well-being. So we did that. Well the United Church of Christ came within a gnat’s hair of withdrawing the endorsement of all of their chaplains.

But the denomination as a whole did not vote the vote that would have caused that to happen because they were as churches do, they were making these pronouncements of their issues in the country and they felt that they were not being heard. So they said if we’d withdraw our endorsement to all of the chaplains of military services, that would make a big enough wrinkle that we will be heard. They didn't do it because the church would not allow it. So I was able to finish my whole career which is good.

Zarbock: But you put your career on the line.

Truitt: Well we all did really because all of the chaplains that I know that were in the United Church of Christ – we had one of our chaplains to become the chief of Air Force chaplains. He’s now deceased. He died last year. His name was Dick Carr, Chaplain Richard Carr and he was a UCC chaplain and he was very strong, very able, very fine and we did a lot of great work. We did a lot of things that the church approved of such as really assisting folk who were conscientious objectors to file the right papers, to have the right backup from their chaplains and got a lot of the people out of the service in that way that really needed to be out and wanted to be out and therefore it was best that they be out. Dick Carr, one of our chaplains from UCC, was very instrumental in helping that take place.

Zarbock: One of the issues that other chaplains have mentioned to me at varying lengths of mention was the observations they made with difficulties with alcohol and drugs. What was your experience with family difficulties or individual difficulties with airmen with drugs and alcohol?

Truitt: When I was at Greenville Air Force Base training base, it was phase II of basic training. They would come out of Lackland at the time I was there. We had a personnel school and a firefighter school, very young airmen. I’ll never forget this. There was a guy that came to the chaplain and he said, “I really enjoyed the service, glad I was able to be here. I stayed up all night in order to come to your service”. And I didn't pick up on that.

I was at the door of the chapel and there were people coming and I just said I was glad he came, but I just didn't pick up on that. Well the next day, I was called to the barracks with the same fellow and had drunk himself to death and I have never forgotten the fact that I did not pick up that signal, why would anybody have to stay awake all night in order to attend an 11:00 service.

So yes, there was a certain amount of drinking, but during the time of my time in the service from 1961 to 1987, drinking began to be downplayed among not only the officer’s club – it was the thing, that you had the club and you had the happy hour and that’s where the camaraderie was. But because of the problems of alcohol, that was downplayed considerably of the latter years of my service.

That filtered down to all of the troops. When I was a young kid in Norfolk area and the sailors would come over from Norfolk and Portsmouth and go back and forth on the ferry and they couldn’t take alcohol on the ship and so they would go to the ABC store and buy the bottle and drink the whole thing cause that was really all they could do. They didn't want to throw it away. That was a waste so they drank it, they consumed it and I guess therefore the “drunken sailor” type of syndrome.

Drinking became not a big issue. I was on the island of Diego Garcia. I had gone over with our F-15’s to fight against the Navy F-14 Tomcat and we were land based at Diego Garcia for this exercise and they came off the carrier in the ocean. After the exercise was over, the pilots and aviators got together for a party. They were going to have it there because there could be drinking, but not on the ship.

So it was a time, and I enjoyed the party like everybody else, but the good chaplain always knows when there’s a time really he ought to go back to his quarters and I did. I left before the party was over. Just experience after experience like that makes me conscious that yes, there was alcohol and yes, there were drugs certainly in Vietnam, but Tuy Hoa, but those of you whoever see this tape know anything about Vietnam, Tuy Hoa was a turnkey base.

It was built by civilian contractors before the military came in. Eat your heart out, those of you who were in Vietnam and don’t know about this, but at Tuy Hoa we had a 35mm indoor air conditioned theater and everybody else had 16mm outdoor movies. We had one of the most gorgeous officers’ club you can ever imagine with a full glass window looking over the South China Sea.

We had parking spaces marked where you would put the trucks and jeeps in front of the buildings and so forth. We had already the design for where the school might be when the dependents came over. We became, like we always seemed to do, you know, occupy the land where we’ve been for a certain period of time and of course that didn't come to fruition. But it was that kind of experimental base.

Some of the Army guys used to come to the air base there at Tuy Hoa as an R&R where they could go into the movie and be cool and eat popcorn and it reminded them of being home.

Zarbock: Someone pointed out that in the military, especially in the officer corps, all actions and activities are noted and become part of your permanent dossier. So that if you began to develop the reputation of a heavy and constant drinker, this was also noted in your efficiency report and in your conduct report. It was pointed out to me by other chaplains, news to me, that drinking as such, although it was still part of a social phenomena, drunkenness was…that belonged to a different era. You know, the heavy drinking, ham handed individual that set up for the boys type, that put you under a social microscope that may suggest that perhaps you are not military material. Am I more or less correct?

Truitt: You’re absolutely correct. We used to sometimes call it if one were to drink a lot or dining in where there were a number of glasses of wine being poured, you drink it forever, or go to the grog bowl, it would make it a lot of fun. On the other hand, there was the field grade test and you were always supposed to be able to handle whatever you were doing. You were always supposed to be alert and capable of being in control of yourself.

It basically was a life and death issue. A commander told me one time that you don’t, you have to got to think you can lift anything or do anything in the Air Force if you’re willing to strap a rocket to your back and go soaring off into the sky which is basically what those guys were doing. I was always at fighter pilot bases when they would go up.

I had a Commander one time that asked me to speak to a fellow who had been a graduate of the Air Force Academy and he had had a very strong and religious experience and he wanted to pray before he took off. The commander said, “Chaplain, I’m in a terrible position and you’re my chaplain and I don’t know how you’re going to handle this because you’re supposed to encourage people to pray and I encourage people to pray, but this lad cannot pray just before he releases that airplane. We take off in formation. The formation is very tight and we cannot have somebody pausing to pray. It just can’t be done”.

It was interesting that I had to speak to an air person, an officer, saying that let’s find some other way to pray. I was given an F-15 ride on the island of Okinawa and he was right. They do take off in formation. We went up in that formation and electronically maneuvered and took each other on in tactics. It was just a marvelous experience. Anybody that’s under any kind of drug or alcohol just couldn’t function in that kind of intense environment.

Zarbock: Split second requirements.

Truitt: Split second requirements. In the Navy, the Blue Angels, but in the Air Force, the Thunderbirds, when you look at those formations, the basic thing they’re telling the audience and it’s true, that all the fighter pilots can really do that. Now these are the best here, okay. But all of them can do that and all of them do do that. They fly in that kind of tight formation.

If you’re the knuckle breaker on the flight line trying to have that airplane at its best quality for air worthiness, you can’t be involved in alcohol either because it’s your plane and those crew chiefs take that very seriously, this is my plane. My plane is not going to go down. So alcohol is a non-issue for the true military person.

Zarbock: Last question is in your professional experience, did your wife have a role as a chaplain’s wife? In a civilian situation, the pastor’s wife plays at some level a series of roles. Was this the same in the military? What was the situation in the military?

Truitt: It was not as strenuous I don’t think from a religious standpoint on the wife as being a wife of a civilian pastor. There were certain expectations of wives. My wife enjoyed most of her time in the military service, but I would not be fair to Dolores to say that she loved it as much as I did. She did her things.

She had the children’s choir at one base in Montgomery, Alabama. She taught Sunday School. She was involved in the women’s, what we call the Protestant women of the chapel. She was involved in that. She was also involved in the wives’ club of the base and was president of that for a time and became the military wife of the year one year of the tactical air command.

So she was very involved in the military scene, but what bothered her about the military was the moving and the raising of our one child. She had always lived in Burlington, North Carolina. She liked and she had a lot of friends in Burlington where she and I now live in Elon next to Burlington. She loves it there and she is happier in Burlington than probably anywhere else she has ever been maybe except for Homestead Air Force Base when I had just come back from Vietnam. We were there and had a nice fresh start.

But when I had the assignment to Okinawa, she didn't want to go with me because she said she had already been to one island and that was the island of Crete.

Zarbock: I’m going to now address you as Colonel. Colonel, would you look right into the camera lens and I’m going to ask you to address some remarks to your grandchildren and generations that follow. My question is what would you tell generations that will follow you, what did you learn from the military and your experience in the military as a pastor?

Truitt: I think I learned a lot, my grandchildren’s names are Christopher and Christine. Christine is 15 and Christopher is 13 as we tape this. Christine has joined the junior ROTC in her little school where she goes to school. I think human dignity is the thing that you learn being in the military service. The respect that people have for each other across racial, ethnic boundaries is only learned when you live it. In the military service, you live as one people with one cause and that is to serve God, to serve country with honor and dignity for every person.

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

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