My armored cavalry platoon stretched like a discarded broken string of pearls someone tossed on the ground. Armored personnel carriers and Sheridan tanks wiggled around gullies and capped pieces of high ground along the west end of the Khe Sanh
“Skypilot inbound,” the radio crackled. “Pop smoke. Pop smoke.”
The late-March day was clear and warmer than most we had experienced in this mountainous region of South Vietnam. I stepped from my APC. Threw a red smoke grenade into an open area behind our defensive line and waited for the helicopter to land.
Two chaplains exited the choppers and headed toward me. We nodded and shook hands. No one saluted in the field. I quickly designated one area for Protestant services and another for Catholics. I went with the Protestants.
As we walked to the site where we would have church, I asked the chaplain about his denomination. He told me, but it was a sect I had never heard of before or since. I think it was a group out of California.
My skepto-meter tached toward the red line. The 1971 invasion of Laos was beginning to unravel. Our mission to keep the supply road open to the coast and to protect the Khe Sanh air strip had rumbled on for nearly two months. We were tan, dirty, lean, sleep deprived, and operating on caffeine and cigarettes.
A Sunday School lesson was not on our things to do list for that day.
But we got one.
The chaplain offered a short homily. I don’t remember the words, but I don’t think he said anything new. Then he invited us to share communion.
We stood in a sun-drenched semi-circle. The minister approached each soldier with the chalice. He would dip the wafer in the wine and place it on our tongues.
As we stood waiting to be fed like baby birds, he would whisper in our ears. Only you and the man next to you could hear.
“The body of Christ.”
Then at the next man, “The blood of Christ.”
I could not know if I would return home uninjured…
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