Interview with Robert Weeks, November 7, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Weeks, Robert Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 11/7/2007 Series: Military Chaplains Length 90 minutes
Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina Wilmington's, Randall Library. Today is the 7th of November in the year 2007. And we're in New Bern, North Carolina. This videotape is part of the Military Chaplain's Oral History grouping, and today we're going to interview Chaplain Robert Weeks. Good morning, Chaplain. How are you?
Weeks: Good morning, Paul. Fine.
Zarbock: Chaplain, what individual or series of individuals, or event, or series of events, led you into selecting the Ministry as your profession?
Weeks: Well, Paul, I started out in the Navy when I was 17 years old. My mother had to sign for me, she thought that was the worst thing she'd ever done. And as a result of that, I became a Navy Reserve sailor two by six, two years active duty, six years reserve. I was never called full-time active duty; however, I did active duty training every summer up until about 1955. And I went to college, to Newberry College, Newberry, South Carolina, and I majored in Chemistry. And, well, my dad is a Lutheran Pastor and he had me teaching Sunday school at one of his three churches. He had three churches at that time in Newberry, and I got hooked on the Bible teaching, and I wanted to become a Navy Chaplain because most of the guys in pre-Ministerial group, of which I was associated, or what I call "Draft Dodgers," they were there to get out, and I had already done my time. So dad had a friend at the seminary and --
Zarbock: Which seminary, sir?
Weeks: Lutheran Southern Seminary in Columbia. His name was Dr. Fred Schott and Dr. Schott was dad's friend, and so dad invited him down one night for dinner, and I decided that Dr. Schott was a reasonable person. He had been in the military. And I decided to go to the Seminary for one quarter. I had been offered a job of selling things in Rock Hill, and I turned that down and went to the seminary. So here I am.
Zarbock: How old were you when you entered the seminary?
Weeks: Paul, I have to figure back. I'm not really sure. Let's see, 1957. I just have been about 21, 22 or 23, something like that.
Zarbock: You had finished your college work?
Weeks: I had finished college work.
Zarbock: With a degree in Chemistry?
Weeks: Yes. I had teaching -- I had a secondary education degree, but my minor was Chemistry. And at any rate, I went to seminary and here I am. I had two parishes in South Carolina, and then I was re-called to active duty in 1966, and stayed 26 years. I have 36 years all totaled in the military. I was, by the way, a Bosun Mate in the Navy, and if you know anything about the Navy, it's the roughest rank going, and that was the best thing that ever happened to me because every ship I went on, the old man would announce the Chaplain was a former Bosun Mate and I would fill the mess deck every Sunday, no problem. So that's how it happened. The Lord called me, opened my eyes, and here I am.
Zarbock: Amazing. Is your father still living?
Weeks: Dad's dead. No, he's been dead a long time, about 36 years.
Zarbock: And he spent his life as a Minister?
Weeks: He did. He did 40 years.
Zarbock: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Weeks: I have no brothers, no sisters. I'm an only child.
Zarbock: Well, off camera, before we started, you said you had put together some notes. And I see you've got some papers on your knee there.
Weeks: Well, I understand you wanted some humor, so you would like for me to talk about that? I will .
Zarbock: Let's do it.
Weeks: While I was serving in Vietnam, I was made the Administrative Assistant to the Division Chaplain, 1st Marine Division, Father Casazza, who remains a very close friend of mine.
Zarbock: How do you spell that, sir?
Weeks: C-A-S-A-Z-Z-A. And he'll be 90 years old this year.
Zarbock: Was he a Catholic priest?
Weeks: He's Roman Catholic and a retired Navy Reserve Captain. He never made regular Navy. Well, we landed in July and shortly moved to Da Nang, and I was sent by my Senior Chaplain to Da Nang to set up the forward office. I arrived in the rain and mud, which was nothing unusual. I'm at the outbox and called the 3rd Marine Division Chaplain's Office, Captain Frank Morton at that time, was a Division Chaplain, and after some discussion as to who I was and why I called him, I was given a ride. So when I arrived at his office, nobody offered me a space, so I proceeded to put a nail in the wall and hang up my poncho. I found out later that was a real no-no from that guy, and at any rate, I also learned later that my boss, Father Casazza, got a real chewing for that, but Father Casazza never said anything to me about it. I did exactly what he told me to do. I was a real green --
Zarbock: What was the nature of the violation? You put a nail on the wall?
Weeks: Yeah, he didn't like nails in the wall and he didn't like any clutter around. Of course, I was dirty as you could get out. I had been in the field and I had nothing clean. So I disrupted his office for him. And as a matter of fact, I seemed to get on Captain Morton's nerves quite a bit during my entire tour in Vietnam because when he moved from Da Nang up to Fubar [ph?], he left the storehouse full of crosses, organs, and liturgical equipment that he had just kind of hoarded, he wouldn't give to his Chaplains to use. Well, Father Casazza looked at it different. He thought everything should be used. And so I had doled it out and I turned the front end of the storehouse into a Chapel for our headquarters battalion and I was in the process of nailing a Latin cross to the wall, when Chaplain Morton revisited at the door and yelled, "Who the hell gave you permission to do that?" I said, Chaplain Casazza. The cross stayed in place. Then on board the William S-- The William H. Stanley, I was eating breakfast and the O.D. called me to the quarter deck, then the wife of one of our sailors had just delivered two small children. It was freezing rain outside--
Zarbock: Freezing rain?
Weeks: We were down in Charleston, South Carolina, and the rain was raining, and it was freezing on the ship, and we were getting ready to get underway in 30 minutes. And she was tired of her husband's attitude and delivered the children to us for safekeeping. So both children were infected with chickenpox and I put the children in the CO's car, which was parked on the dock for safekeeping, turned on the motor, you know, for heat. And the CO thought my plan was great, but he refused to use the car for fear of catching chickenpox. And while I was serving at NAS Pax River, I was in charge of Sunday School Nursery and one Sunday I got a call from a parent complaining that the nursery attendant had fed her baby French fries. So I learned a great lesson from that, to be very, very careful about nurseries and tenders. And while serving as a Junior Chaplain at NAS Pax River, I conducted a live manger scene one Christmas and everything went well until Mary went to ride the donkey to the stable. She had to go up a hill. I had rented a pony that had been taught to walk in a circle. Well, he would not walk a straight line. As a result, the basketball that we put under the young girl's skirt slipped out and went rolling down the hill, and finally we were able to get the donkey to walk in a straight line, and the crowd thought the scene was great. So that was right funny, but really a serious problem. And while I was serving as the Chaplain of the Armed Forces Staff College, I encouraged the children to attend Chapel and meet Pastor Bob Bear. Pastor Bob Bear is a stuffed Bear, with a clerical, a bible, eye-glasses, etc that looks somewhat like me.
Zarbock: So that's B-E-A-R?
Weeks: That's correct. And so because -- and this became a great attraction for the children. They would bring their parents with them. We had great attendances. Pastor Bob Bear had been given to me by a lady that had been in one of my Bible Studies. And Pastor Bob would preach during the children's sermon time. And on the last Sunday that I was at the Armed Forces Staff College, I gave out a photo to each of the children of Pastor Bob, and as the children's sermon was called for, the entire choir came down, about 20, and they had hidden bears under their robes, and so they all sat down for the children's sermon. I thought that was right neat. I want to go to some sad things now, after that humor. One of the saddest moments of my life was while serving with 25 in Viet Nam. We had been a sweeping operation. I came across a marine who had his body from his waist down blown off, and he begged me to take his knife and kill him. Well, he died a few minutes later. Of course, I did not help him. Then, sad were the evenings that I spent 1st battalion in Viet Nam counting dead bodies, plugging bullet holes with cotton, and listing the dog tags, and then stacking the bodies.
Zarbock: Why would you plug the bullet wounds?
Weeks: That was the protocol. I don't know exactly why it was a medical situation, but the hole for plugging-- I guess so it wouldn't leak, I don't know.
Zarbock: And you and --
Weeks: And a Chaplain's job was to identify and to actually sign a roster when he saw the dog tags and, of course, we had to write letters, too, you know, at times. Yeah.
Zarbock: Did all of the decedents' families get the letter from the Chaplains? Was that standard procedure?
Weeks: That was standard procedure. Of course, it went through the command, and I can't prove that everybody got a letter. They should have. That would be the proper protocol.
Zarbock: And what did the letter-- what would the letter describe and define?
Weeks: Well, the letter would inform the parents of the operation on which the person was killed, or the accident, or whatever, you know, the circumstance. I could not get into any details as to the death because that would be a medical thing, but just basically thanking the family for the person's active service, serving the country, and that this person will be remembered. Also, we had memorial services and sometimes we would send the bulletins or some of the message from a memorial service in that letter.
Zarbock: Chaplain, I've never asked this of other Chaplains, and it just came to my mind. Assume for illustration that you had written a letter to Family X, Y, or Z, informing them of the death of their son, did you have any experience whereby the families wrote back to you, asking for further information or even thanking you for the letter? Was there a return in communication?
Weeks: Yes, many times. Many times, yes. And a unique thing happened, which I don't have in my notes, but since you pricked my brain, I had ridden an Amtrak into a unit at Christmas of 1966 --
Zarbock: Excuse me, for the purpose of this tape, which is going to, I hope, survive a long time, Amtrak may not be known-- what is an Amtrak?
Weeks: Yeah, an Amtrak is a vehicle, an enclosed vehicle with tracks on it that'll go through mud, and it's kind of a personnel carrier.
Zarbock: An amphibious vehicle?
Weeks: That's right, somewhat, yes. And I went into one of my units to have serviced Christmas Eve and, as a matter of fact, we had communion under a tank that night, and then I moved on the next day only to find out the very next day that the entire unit had been wiped out. And so, in the process of writing letters, I wrote a letter to a wife, who had three children, of a young captain that I knew very personally and expressing my sorrow. But the unique thing about it is that, in 1984, I went to a meeting at Camp Lejeune as the Wing chaplain-- I was a Wing Chaplain by then at the Second Marine Aircraft Wing-- I walked into the room and this gentleman was there. He looked at me and I looked at him, and he said, "You thought I was dead, didn't you?"
Zarbock: It was the captain?
Weeks: He was now a Colonel, right. And the whole side of his face had been damaged, I could tell, but he was still living. So that's a good story. So I'll move on and say that one of the saddest moments I had was aboard the John F. Kennedy when I was saying prayers over the bodies of three sailors who had been decapitated by the break in a flight deck wire, and when that wire breaks, it cuts people to pieces. The flight deck wire is the wire that catches to your plane that comes in on a flight deck.
Zarbock: That's where the tail hook grabs?
Weeks: That's correct. That's correct.
Zarbock: And this cable snapped?
Weeks: Every once in a while, they snap. And if anybody is anywhere near, the flight deck is the most dangerous place in the world, and if anybody is anywhere around and that hits them, it just completely tears them apart. That's not an uncommon accident. And another sad thing I'll share with you is, the day that my wife arrived at a student pilot's home outside of Milton, Florida-- I was at that time serving with NES Whiting Field-- to tell the wife, the mother of two twin babies, that he had been killed in a T28 crash. I had fourteen funerals within 18 months at that place because of crashes.
Zarbock: Aircraft accidents?
Weeks: That's correct, yes.
Zarbock: Miscellaneous kinds of aircraft, or the same kind?
Weeks: No, the same kind. T28, as a matter of fact, I was sent through the entire flight syllabus of T28 and learned to fly a T28.
Zarbock: You are a pilot?
Weeks: No, well, I'm not now, but I was allowed to fly as long as I had a naval aviator with me. You can't have but one designator in the Navy, and I was a Chaplain. So I flew and, as a matter of fact, I flew until about 1984 when I came to the wing.
Zarbock: Does "T" stand for Trainer, Trainee?
Weeks: Does --
Zarbock: You said a T --
Weeks: T28. T28 is no longer used for Training, but at that particular time, it was a second stage of training in the Navy Aviation Flight Training Program. A T28 is a very heavy plane, internal combustion engine, radial engine, actually, and there's no parachute, you have to jump out. I mean, there's no ejection seat, you have to jump out. It was a very dangerous thing. When it stopped, when that engine stopped, there was just, you know, very few minutes that you had to get out of that thing. And so it was an interesting endeavor--quite a plane to fly, though. It had an awful lot of power, a lot of fun. Well, at any rate, now I guess we'll go into the problems that I might have had. While serving aboard the Stanley, I was in charge of what was known as a Sight TV System, and there were a dozen TVs located throughout the ship to provide entertainment for the crew. And I had been, you know, as when you serve aboard a ship, you get collateral duties. My collateral duty was to install that system and to run it. Of course, I had help to do it, but, I mean, I was supervising it. So once I got it running, on one occasion, the XO called me and said, "Bob, do you know what's being shown over the TV right now?" Of course, I didn't know. I looked and my TV crew and several sailors were gathered in the show room, showing a porn movie over the whole ship. So I went out on the TV space and my first thought was I'll go in and raise a little sand, but I decided, no, I'll lock the hatch. So I locked the front lock on the hatch outside, went back up to my state room, and called them and said, "Now, I know what's going on, and you all can put yourselves on report and call me." And so they didn't realize that I'd locked the door outside, and so it was several hours before anybody called me, and two of them had to stand and watch, couldn't get out of the door. And so they were in double trouble. And I never had a problem like that again. While serving as the Senior Chaplain at NAS Key West, a CO asked me to help deal with the local Pastor, who was holding exorcisms in the housing units. I was able to convince him to hold those at his church instead of in the houses, so that was an easy problem solved. No problem. And many times I was asked to draft answers to professional inquests for the Command, and often I was requested by the Command to provide marriage, alcohol and drug counseling. I had been sent to marriage counsel in Philadelphia and I was specially trained in marriage counseling, and that was a big benefit for me throughout the Navy career.
Zarbock: Chaplain, let me ask you to return to an earlier comment that you made, when you were to draft responses, did you say to Congressional members?
Zarbock: What sort of questions would they ask?
Weeks: Well, parents would write their Congressman about their child, or their sailor, and some of the facts that they wrote were true, and some weren't. So my job was to investigate the problem, to interview the person, and make a response. And we had to do that within a certain period of time. I don't remember how short a time it was.
Zarbock: Why was that the Chaplain's duty rather than a line officer's duty?
Weeks: Well, the commanding officer would sign the document, but he looked at his Chaplain as the person who could interview this person, and not be biased in the process, and tell the truth. This is one of the things that I've always admired about being a Navy Chaplain, that the COs that I've worked for, liked to hear the truth from the Chaplain. They trusted the Chaplain to tell the truth. So I guess that's my answer, Paul. Then I personally supervised the recalling of all the Navy Reserve Chaplains for Desert Storm. I was the Navy Reserve Command Chaplain at that point in New Orleans. I was in charge of a little over 1,000.
Zarbock: What year was that, Chaplain?
Weeks: That was 1980--lets see--1989 to 1992.
Zarbock: And you were a captain at that time?
Weeks: That's correct, yeah. And I was given orders to that place because of a problem of the previous Chaplain. I had a seven days' order from the Chief of Chaplains to go down and straighten out the Navy Reserve System, which if anybody knows anything about Navy Reserve, they know it's a very complicated situation. And I was able to get it in line by the time we did our Desert Storm act and we were able to support the Chaplains that were needed.
Zarbock: Was this the result of special skills that you had, or a result of the reputation built upon organizational capability? You know, that is an abrupt assignment and certainly a complex one.
Weeks: Well, I don't know. Al Canaman [ph?] was the Chief of Chaplains at that time and a very close friend of mine, and I guess he saw something and maybe he knew that I had been somewhat of a hard charger, and I had been somewhat a successful administrator everywhere I'd been, and so he chose me to go. And I guess that's my answer.
Zarbock: What were your first actions and activities when your feet hit the ground at New Orleans?
Weeks: Well, the first thing to do was to learn the system. And the Navy Reserve System is quite different from the Navy System. And the regular Navy Chaplains did not understand it. That was one of the big problems. The Chaplains in Washington, including the Chief of Chaplains, had to look to me to explain to them the Navy Reserve System, which I tried very hard to do, and I think I was successful with Al Canaman and Dave White. And that was one of the problems, they did not understand the Navy Reserve System, and there were all kinds of conflicts. Therefore, the Navy Reserve Chaplains were not getting proper attention, no support, and so my job was to go in and figure out the Navy Reserve System and make it work. And I think I successfully did that. Now, there were some bumps. Let me, I'll explain that later. I guess during my tour at Second Marine Aircraft Plane, I had a young Chaplain -- we're talking about problems -- and to leave the Command without properly checking out. And I warned him that he should check out with his boss, and he refused to do that. And so I had to put him on a report. And as a result of that, he wrote his Congressman and put me on a report. And the Marine Corps had a board, tried me, and found me innocent. So that's one escape that I made.
Zarbock: This was an actual Courts Martial Board? Or a Board of Inquiry?
Weeks: A Board of Inquiry, I think, would be more properly --
Zarbock: You were charged with -- you were being evaluated by the Marine Corps?
Weeks: To see if what I had done was proper.
Zarbock: And were all the investigators Marine Corps Officers? Or did you have Navy people? And did you have any Chaplains on there?
Weeks: No, no Chaplains. All of them were Marine Colonels.
Weeks: And General Smith, who was a very dear friend of mine, signed the file backing it, so that was okay. Now, the next thing is, the next thing I have to tell you is not all good for publicity status, but it's something that I think I need to share. During my tour as the Commander Naval Reserve Chaplain at the Navy Reserve in New Orleans, the Navy Reserve Admiral, Bill Stewart, accused me in writing, the Chief of Chaplains, of not properly managing the Navy Reserve Chaplaincy and Religious Program Specialist Program. And he did this in a backhanded way. I was attending a board meeting with the Chief of Chaplains in Washington, when the Deputy Chief of Chaplains read this letter of how I had not striven to get billets and money for the Navy Reserve Chaplains. So when I returned to New Orleans, I had a copy of this letter with me and I ran it up through my Command. And I worked at that time for three Admirals, a Navy Reserve Air Admiral, a Navy Reserve Surface Admiral, and a U.S.N. Admiral in Washington. And so, as a result of that, all three of these people knew that I had been working hard for a couple of years to correct the system, and I had their confidence in every way. And of course I had been able to get more billets and more money, and so the Senior Admiral, Admiral Smith, requested this Chaplain Stewart to come to his office to discuss this problem. And the day I retired, Admiral Smith presented me with the Legion of Merit Award. I said, "Bob, I have yet to receive a visit from Bill Stewart." And his letter of complaint is still in my basket. And, see, Stewart had been misinformed by someone about my efforts. And this is one of the problems that I see in the Navy Reserve System, when a Chaplain becomes an Admiral, they do not understand the system of acquiring billets and money, enough. They want what they want when they want it. And if the guy, like if the Command Chaplain isn't providing that, then they're unhappy. This is my only answer, and of course this guy, really disappointed me because when I was the Chaplain at the Armed Forces Staff College, he came to Norfolk to do some work for the Reserve Chaplains, and he had no office, he had no staff, and I provided him with an office and a staff. I even taught him how to write Navy letters and I had, I think I had a lot to do with suggesting that he be the next Admiral, talking with the other Chaplains, who eventually wound up on his Board. In other words, I supported him in every way that I could. And then, secondly, he greatly disappointed me as a clergyman by stating falsehoods about my work. That's the only thing that would ever really get to me. And thirdly, I left the Navy without his friendship, so he --
Zarbock: Did he make Admiral, sir?
Weeks: Oh, yes. He made Admiral. He had already made Admiral when he read this-wrote this letter, yeah.
Zarbock: Have you seen him since you --
Weeks: I have not seen him, heard from him. He wrote me a letter before my retirement ceremony indicating that his Presbyterian Church had required that he go somewhere that day and he couldn't come to the ceremony, which was an unheard of thing, especially since the Chief of Chaplain sent his deputy, and my admiral friends were there, and everything. But I -- the Lord will take care of this person in his due time, and it's unfortunate because I had supported him and for some reason he turned on me. But I see that as a real problem in selecting an Admiral for the Navy Reserve. I in many ways do not really think the Navy Reserve needs an Admiral. I think that a Senior Captain can fill the billet and I think it would be a lot better because the Command Chaplain will be a Navy Captain, and they can work a little bit better on equal terms. That's my conclusion, which may not be worth anything.
Zarbock: Well, it triggered off very strong and deep emotions in me and I was thinking of a quote while you were describing and defining this situation. The quote is from Shakespeare. And it is, "Let me have men about me who are fat and sleep a night yon Cassius, has a lean and hungry look, and thinks too much."
Zarbock: Well, you can think erroneously, as some people have, and it strikes me this was erroneous thinking on the part of this Admiral. And I concur with you; it is a curiosity that the pressure of another invitation would deny him the opportunity of congratulating you, and saying farewell.
Weeks: Yeah. I never received that and -- but that's okay. What I did, I did for the Corps, and for the Lord, and I'm not worried about him. He'll have to deal with that. Now, as far as violations of my ethic and religious beliefs, Navy regs, or personal value system, I never, never, ever-- truthfully never had any command, any commanding officer, anybody, deny me of being the Navy Chaplain. I mean, I had no problem with prayers, I had no problem with sermons, and I had no problem with any of my clergy actions. And I had a multitude of different kinds of people to deal with, and never ever was I denied anything. So I have a real clean slate there. Now as far as my personal ethic, well, I have the highest respect for almost all the Navy Chaplains with whom I've served. Many of them have contacted me after retirement and expressed their thanks for my honesty, primarily. I had a young man call me three weeks ago that I haven't seen since 1984, and he is now teaching in a school in Colorado. He's a black gentleman, and he called me to thank me for kicking his butt. I don't remember ever personally doing that, however, what he meant was that I required of him a proper uniform, discipline, I would send his writings back and have him correct them, and he kept stressing the fact that he had worked for a lot of Chaplains, but never had worked for one that would honestly tell him what he needed to know, except me. And, you know, honesty is -- when you're honest with people, sometimes it hurts, and that I learned early on, so I guess if there's one personal ethic that I'm proud of, it's being honest. I've made mistakes, but I've been honest about it. I feel that honesty with the Command, with the fellow service persons, with the service persons' families, and with fellow Chaplains, is the greatest treasure for a Ministry. Every service person has a right to know that his or her Chaplain is honest. That's it, Paul.
Zarbock: Let's take a break.
Weeks: He's been one of my great friends. And I actually met him (Tape Change)
Zarbock: Tape number two, Chaplain Weeks, 7th of November, 2007. Military Chaplain's oral history project. Go ahead, Chaplain Weeks. Off camera, we were talking about another interviewee, Chaplain Eli--
Weeks: Eli Takesian, yes. One of my jobs as the administrative assistant to the First Marine Division back in 1996, '67, was to pick up, to go meet our new chaplains when they came to Da Nang. So I arrived to pick Eli up off the airplane and to introduce him to Grotland [ph?]. And so I brought him back to the headquarters chaplain's office, the division chaplain's office. And that began our friendship, and I haven't seen Eli now in a number of years, but we always had a wonderful, wonderful relationship because he was such a down to earth person. He had been a marine. He understood what was going on, and of course I'd been a sailor, you know.
Zarbock: And a bosun mate, to boot.
Weeks: Yeah, we hit it off real well, and I always highly respected him. He was senior to me. I was a lieutenant. He was a lieutenant commander, but I was the guy that gave him his first experience in the field there. I introduced him to the division chaplain, helped him get set up. I hope that I did okay on that.
Zarbock: Chaplain, what was your first series of sensory stimuli when you-- how did you get to Vietnam? You flew in?
Weeks: I flew in. Yes, I flew first from, gee, let me think, I left California. I can't remember the airbase now, but I had been in field medical school first, went through that. Then I left California and flew to Okinawa, and then from Okinawa I flew to Hawaii. From Hawaii I flew to Da Nang. No, yes, I flew to Da Nang and then I flew into Chu Lai. Actually, my unit had hit the beach at Chu Lai just a few days before I got there, but I did not ride in. I didn't ride the ship into Chu Lai.
Zarbock: So the aircraft engines stop. The door opens up. You walk down some sort of--
Weeks: Into quite a different climate. It was hot.
Zarbock: And what did it smell like? Do you remember?
Weeks: Well I don't remember that being a real problem. There were fumes and things around and it was hot, muggy, and rainy.
Weeks: Oh, yes.
Zarbock: Who met you?
Weeks: Actually, nobody met me. I walked into the little temporary depot there and requested a ride south to Chu Lai on a 130, C-130 down there. And when I got down to Chu Lai, the division chaplain had sent his assistant to meet me. And that was the first meeting I had. I was just like the rest of the guys, trying to find a place.
Zarbock: Were you wearied out?
Weeks: Well, I was kind of excited. I guess I was a real nut back in those days. You know, I was one of two guys that was selected from chaplain school to be sent to Vietnam, I'm sorry, one of three. There was a Roman Catholic priest, Marty Whiting, who's really a fine guy, and another gentleman, I can't remember his name, and I were selected out of our class because the division was down to 18 chaplains, and there was a need to get somebody over there in a hurry. And I had, you know, previous enlisted service. And so I qualified to go and as a matter of fact, in Vietnam I became a regimental chaplain as a lieutenant at one time because the regimental chaplain was wounded. And I was the next senior guy. I maintained my 25 Battalion at the same time I did my regimental work, and then the next guy that came in, Clark McPhail, was there, and I oriented him. I gave him a briefing and seriously cautioned him never to ride in a vehicle across a dam or a rice paddy, but he and the Red Cross worker did that several weeks later and were blown out of their jeep. So I took the regiment back over again and--
Zarbock: Was he killed?
Weeks: He was not killed. He was blinded. The Red Cross worker was killed, but Clark finally regained his sight to a certain extent. And I had, in fact if the VC could have shot straight, I probably wouldn't be here because there've been several times when, you know, a round was pretty close. I was on the same operation of Vince Capadana [ph?] when he was killed. Of course there's a ship named The Vince. Vince and I were very close friends. He was a Roman Catholic and he had just returned from Hong Kong. In fact, he brought my wife a little watch back for me to give to her, for me to send home, and Vince and I were on the same operation when he got killed.
Zarbock: What were the events around his death, do you remember?
Weeks: Vince was trying to help wounded Marines. He was administering to wounded Marines when he got cut down, and there's a whole story about what Vince did. I don't remember all the facts, but he was buried and died as a hero, he really did.
Zarbock: This wasn't at Hui, was it?
Zarbock: This wasn't at Hui?
Weeks: No, this was down in the, near about I'm guessing now maybe 50 miles from Da Nang, a little south near Black Mountain, near Hill 55.
Zarbock: Other chaplains, Navy chaplains who had served with the Marines always say the same thing. One, it was one of the greatest experienced they had ever had. Two, you either proved yourself to the Marines or you got out.
Weeks: That's right.
Zarbock: And proving meant you did what a Marine did, be it food, be it shelter, be it physical demands, with the one exception that you did not carry a weapon.
Weeks: Never had a gun, never did, no, and I got the highest respect from the Marines. I served, I actually had, I guess, three tours with them. I had a tour in Vietnam. I was a 2nd Marine aircraft wing chaplain, which is the largest wing, and I had the 4th Marines as the reserve component in New Orleans. I was the command, the reserve command chaplain, so by virtue of that I was still the senior guy even though I had a chaplain in charge of 4th Marines. And I have here in Newbern, my closest friends are Marine colonels with whom I served. We get together every quarter, our wives, for dinner and we still carry that on. And one of them is a guy by the name of Colonel Rick Dove, and he and I were held at Cherry Point an extra year to write a book. We organized, we honchoed the Beirut bombing notification here.
Zarbock: What do you mean by that, sir?
Weeks: Well, when the bombing took place in Beirut and when the Marines were killed--
Zarbock: Again, for the purpose of this tape that's going to endure beyond your tenure and mine, what are you talking about the Marines and Beirut?
Weeks: Beirut, I can't remember the year now, that's terrible isn't it? Somewhere along about '84, a truck, a guy with dynamite went into the Marine barracks in Beirut and killed over 200 of our Marines immediately. And most of those Marines came from Lejeune and Cherry Point, and Rick and I were responsible for doing the notification of the wings part of that. And as a result, he and I became just like brothers. Still that way. Yeah, I'm the only Navy captain in a bunch of Marine colonels because I had to keep it straight.
Zarbock: When you say notification, how was notification achieved?
Weeks: Well, through commands. You would have a notification group to go out and meet the family, the wives and often there would be a chaplain along. A lot of times there would be a doctor along, and it would be, of course, an OD along, officer, you know, of the day. And they would notify the family and set up arrangements for the funeral. Our general's son was number seven from the end being identified in that he had a young captain, General Smith, General Keith Smith's son was out of Lejeune. He had gone over. He was a grunt and he went over, and he was in that building, and his body was number seven to the end. So we had to wait all that time to figure that he died, but we didnt' identify him until the very end. Very sad time. Very sad time.
Zarbock: You were stationed at Lejeune at the time?
Weeks: No, I was the wing chaplain at Cherry Point, mixture, Lejeune and Cherry Point, the Marines were from both places.
Zarbock: Did you conduct funeral services in the States for the people in the wing?
Weeks: Yes, a number of funeral services, yeah, and not just for this but for aircraft accidents. And I had a memorial service at Cherry Point for the Beirut bombing event. We had a command memorial service for that.
Zarbock: In civilian life, if a funeral takes place it's usually that the family and the friends, maybe working companions. In the military when a funeral takes place, is it obligatory that-- what obligations are there for other officers, if it be an officer who's the decedent? What obligations, formal obligations are required? Are there, you, you, and you have to go to the funeral?
Zarbock: It's voluntary?
Weeks: Yes. The command, of course, is very close and they would expect, you know, certain individuals to show up, and they may have certain responsibilities. They may have something to read, something to do, but nobody's forced to go to a funeral. But I can tell you right now, when we had funerals at Cherry Point, the place was filled, the Marines, fellow Marines. Nobody was ordered to go to a funeral.
Zarbock: I'm curious, I don't how you've triggered this off in my mind. Is there a cemetery at Lejeune, a military cemetery?
Weeks: There's a cemetery in Jacksonville. I don't understand exactly everything I should about it. It's not considered a national cemetery in the sense that the ones in Washington are, but it is a place where you can bury military people, yes. And it is a military cemetery. There's one here in New Bern.
Zarbock: More by tradition than it is by legislation?
Weeks: That's right, and well, you know, it's a mixture of state and national. I don't understand exactly. The reason I don't understand that is that I, at one time, was vice president of the Retired Officers Association down at, we meet down at the base. And we were trying to get a military cemetery established on the base at Cherry Point, and we had to go look at the regulations. And that's when I discovered that the one in Jacksonville is not like Arlington, not like Quantico exactly, not like the one we have here in Newbern, not exactly the same setup. But they welcomed people, so it's not anything detrimental. It's just a little different. I don't understand it.
Zarbock: And you say, how did your wife take all of this, goodbye and I'm off to go overseas?
Weeks: I've got the best Navy wife you've ever met. She's always right behind me in everything, and of course the first separation was to be for 13 months in Vietnam. And we had not been separated more than maybe a few days forever before that, and she was a real trooper. She went back to Columbia, South Carolina, worked in the Red Cross program there, and of course wrote me everyday, and back in those days, you know, you didn't have email and you didn't have mail delivered very regularly, and you'd get news that the Marines had been hit here, the Marines had been hit here. And she never knew. We had actually wound up with six days R&R instead of seven because the airplane had a problem when it got to Da Nang, and it was delayed a day and they never gave it back to us. We went and met in Hawaii for that, for six days, and then I went back and, you know, but she was always, when I got underway, on board a ship, I did a lot of six months, nine month cruises. Especially on the Kennedy I did nine months several times and she was always a trooper. She met me overseas when she could and my daughter too. I had a little daughter at that time. She's married now, so, you know, she was, and she-- if you were to meet her, I think one of my friends put it appropriate. Sylvia is very polished, and then there's Bob. He's a character.
Zarbock: Somebody once told me, for a guy that deserved to marry a peasant, you certainly got a queen.
Weeks: She's definitely a queen, yeah.
Zarbock: How was it, again other chaplains have mentioned their experience. You've been on a deployment and you come back to the United States, and you reenter your family. Well, wife has been mother, father.
Weeks: The boss, yeah.
Zarbock: Yes, and here you are, ta da, arriving from an entirely different environment yourself. Other chaplains said there have been moments of collision, emotional collision that had taken place.
Weeks: Sure, right.
Zarbock: And not only in the chaplain corps, but in the military.
Weeks: We spent a lot of time trying to make that easy on trying to make that easy onboard ship. We would have sessions before we came into port, you know, for reentry and that was a big thing. Not only that, but getting ready to go on a deployment we'd have sessions with the family.
Zarbock: Was that the chaplain's obligation to run these?
Weeks: The chaplain was one of a team member on that. Usually the XO led that operation and you would have maybe the personnel officer, chaplain, people who-- the doctor would be in on that, the whole team, a whole team of people, not just the chaplain would do that. And, now sometimes some commands had to put past their chaplain with that, but my commands did not. They had a team member to work with, but yeah, you come home and they've been used to running things the way they wanted to, you know, and you had to back off a little bit, be careful. Also, discipline of the children, you know, the child needs to know who's in charge, you know, and can they get a fair shake. And it needs to be done easily.
Zarbock: One chaplain said that he had quite a battle with his children for a while. When he returned, the children saw him as intrusive. You know, it's been mom, and brother Mark and I, and who needs you around here.
Weeks: That's right. I never had that problem. I was always very close to my little daughter and never had that problem, but I can understand what you're saying. Now, before you leave our deployment you get to the point where they wish the heck you'd go ahead and get out, get out of here.
Zarbock: Isn't that amazing? Other chaplains have said that too, and some people would even, I don't want to use the word fictionalize, but would contrive an argument so that it would, well I'm glad you're gone, well, I'm glad I'm going. But it was really a fictional argument over usually something that was so trivial that it was not a ruptured relationship.
Weeks: An emotion, you know, you know you got to do it. You can't get there, do it, get it over with, get back, you know, soon enough, this kind of thing.
Zarbock: Well, is there anything else you'd like to contribute, chaplain, reminiscence?
Weeks: Well, no, I guess not. I just had a wonderful time. I'd go back tomorrow if I could, but they don't need an old fool like me and, you know, I could still wear my uniforms, all of them, and I do every once in a while when I'm asked to preach or asked to participate in a ceremony, I wear my uniforms. And I plan to be buried in one of them, you know. So I just had a wonderful time in the Navy, and I think it's a great opportunity for a mission. I am very glad that I went in the Navy instead of staying in the parish. I find that in the Navy I was able to really be a clergyman. Really, I had no bars on me, you know, restrictions. I could write services, teach, preach, and do things, and I didn't have to get hung up in building big buildings and doing things that I personally don't consider the Lord would really have been too much interested in. I was out there talking to sailors about the Lord and it was very interesting. I thought that I spent my time well, I really did.
Zarbock: Chaplain, it's a privilege and a pleasure to know you.
Weeks: Thank you, Paul.
Zarbock: I wish you the very best.
Weeks: Thank you, sir.
Zarbock: Thank you.