War Stories

The Man with a Cross

by Joe Soga

The Man with a Cross 1969 - By Joe Soga Bravo 2/35th Nam 68-69

During the Vietnam War there were many Chaplains that carried out their vocations and administered to the United States servicemen. I would like to tell you about one of these Chaplains that reached out and did what he could for the men of Bravo Company 2/35th in 1969. The Chaplain's name was Father Devine. How appropriate, that a man of the cloth would have the name Devine. He held the rank of Major.

The first time that I remember meeting Father Devine was when we moved out of the Southern part of II Corp, near Ban Me Thout and moved closer to Pleiku. He came out to Bravo's location on a chopper, hand carrying a small suitcase which contained supplies he needed to perform his job. He quickly set up to serve Mass with us and welcomed others of different denominations to join us in prayer. This was a very uplifting experience at the time for most of us. As you may already know, when times get tough many turn to the word of God. Father Devine would also hand out Prayer cards and Rosary Beads. Many would wear the latter around their necks along with their dog tags. Yep! Those Rosary Beads would get dirty quickly, but they never came off.

I talked to Father Devine once and found out that he had come from the Good Shepard Church in lower Manhattan, New York City. I felt linked to him, because I was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey which is right across the river from New York City.

Well the next time I remember seeing Father Devine was when the 2/35th was ordered into the Chu Prong Mountains in early March 1969, in search of the NVA. On March the 7th, one of our platoons was ambushed. The ensuing fire fight that our Company engaged in lasted off and on into the night. We lost three good men that day. Early the next morning the area was secured and choppers started coming in to supply us. The threat of an NVA attack was still real. On one of those choppers came Father Devine. He served Mass with the men where the fire fight took place. Wearing white vestments he made a highly visible target for the NVA, but he had a job to do and he did it for the men. One of the Officers took a picture which captured this moment in time, this image of Father Devine's devotion to his faith. Father Devine left on a chopper after serving Mass. For me and others this encounter was again uplifting.

On the afternoon of March 14th, we took choppers to the top of one of the highest mountains in the Chu Prong's Range. We were in contact with the NVA off and on from March 15th. through the 17th. We lost two good men during this period. On March 18th, a chopper landed again with supplies and there was Father Devine again with Bravo Company. For some reason there became a shortage of supply choppers and the body of one of our fallen brothers could not be flown out. There was a chopper made available for Father Devine, a Major, but he refused to go. He said that he would not leave until a chopper was available for the body of our fallen brother. Two days later a chopper was available and Father Devine flew out with our fallen brother's body.

The last time I saw Father Devine was on the Battalion Firebase just before the Battalion headed south again, to the Ban Me Thuot area. This time he served Mass with the men wearing camouflage vestments. He was out in the open again, this time on the top of a hill. Again he was an inspiration for me and the other men of the 2/35th.

I thought of him many times after returning to the states and that one day I would try to look him up in New York City. I regret that I never did search for him. I was told by one of our brothers at a recent reunion that Father Devine was no longer with us. In my mind and others the thoughts of him will live on.

I have a request to any 35th Regiment brothers who can remember Father Devine. I would like to hear any stories that you could share with me about him. Send me an email at: rustyyellow@verizon.net. Thanks Brothers, see you at Virginia Beach. Cacti Forever!