War Stories


by Father Kevin Devine-Chaplain 4


On rare occasions during my tour, a word dropped by a grunt or a phrase written on a helmet or a motto painted on a sign so caught my attention that it remained riveted indelibly on my memory.

I've jotted down the most unforgettable phrases, in hopes you might be interested.

1. The simplest expression of a grunt's religious faith:
"God is my point man!"

2. The highest tribute a grunt can pay a commander:
"He's got his sierra in lima!"

3. The catchiest anti-war phrase I've heard from a grunt:
"Killing for peace is like screwing for virginity."

4. The most appropriate comment on a situation: as we were being hit by
machine-gun fire, AK rounds, B-40 rockets and mortars, while responding
ourselves with 50 cals and close in artillery, a grunt whispered:
"This is a hell of a way to settle an argument!"

5. The most eloquent tribute to our dead - on a plaque in Memorial Chapel at Camp
"In simple obedience to duty these men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all
and died."

6. The cleverest motto-painted on a sign in 4th Division AV area-seems best to apply to Cobra pilots:
"Live by luck,
Love by nature,
Death on Call"

7. Phrases on helmets that I've remembered:

But don't get caught!"

"Though I fly through the valley of death,
I shall fear no evil,
For I'm flying at 10,000 ft.
And climbing!"
(On a chopper pilot's)

"If it's peace you find in dying,
Then let my time be near!"

"Somehow I feel I'm cheating...
Not taking part in Mr. Nixon's withdrawal program.
Whatever that is!"

8. The best advice ever given to commanders-by General Melvin Zais, when he
was commanding the 101st Airborne Division:

"The day I assumed command of this division, I enjoined the leaders to take
are of their men. I have reiterated this statement many times since then. Even
so, I again find it necessary to call this matter to your attention. Taking care of
your men includes food, shelter, pay, clothing, mail and recreation, but even
more important is your attitude.
*You cannot expect a soldier to be a proud soldier if you humiliate him.
*You cannot expect him to be brave if you abuse him.
*You cannot expect him to be strong if you break him.
*You cannot ask for respect or obedience and willingness to assault hot LZ's,
hump back breaking ridges, destroy dug in emplacements if your soldier has
not been treated with the respect and dignity which fosters unit esprit and
personal pride.
The line between firmness and harshness, between strong leadership and bullying, between discipline and chicken - is a fine one. It is difficult to define, but those of us who are professionals and also have accepted as a career the leadership of men, must find that line. It is because judgments and people and human relationships are involved in leadership that only men can lead man, and not computers. I enjoin you to be ever alert to the pitfalls of too much authority. For the very junior leader beware that you do not fall in the category of the little man with a little job with a big head. In essence, be considerate. Treat your subordinates right and they will literally die if you."

9. The most heart rending: A poem found among the effects of an officer killed in action. A poem written by his 12 year-old daughter:


It is sweet and becoming to die for one's country
The patriotic say:
If only they knew
How to go without shoes
And be lame without hope every day.

To stagger and fall in the mud behind others
And left to die by the way
To be shot or be stabbed
To be kidnapped or grabbed
Or be tortured like hundreds each day.

If there only was peace and had always been so
And blood had never been shed.
While time went on
Full of promise and song
And so many were not lying dead.

These are the WORDS that have most registered on my mind. I'd like to hear what's
made an impression on yours.

Kevin A. Devine
First Brigade Chaplain
Vietnam 1969-1970