Vietnam War Chaplain and his Assistant Reunite After 44 Years
Chaplain Jerry Martin and his assistant Charlie Miller were not your typical Vietnam War soldiers. They fought their battles not with guns and armory, but with prayer, faith and open communication centered on love and trust.
They traveled with the “Golden Dragons”, the Army’s 1st Battalion, 14th infantry. They risked their lives along with the soldiers they serviced, all to provide comfort, faith and peace to the men who were fighting for their country so far from home.
Jerry would routinely pray with the soldiers and hold memorial services right in the jungle where battles would commence. He imparted faith and hope to soldiers who were afraid they wouldn’t see tomorrow. Though he was Baptist, he put his religion aside and ministered to Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. His assistant, Charlie, was also a Methodist, but the soldiers only knew the duo for their love and support.
Charlie was assigned to protect Jerry and drive the jeep that carried him. He also relayed information about the soldiers to keep everyone informed. Jerry respected and loved Charlie for the support he gave him during the tough times of the war.
Jerry says referring to Charlie, “He didn’t work for me. He worked with me, and was equal to me. He wasn’t a minister, but he performed a vital ministry.”
It was a dangerous environment for Jerry and Charlie, none carrying weapons to defend themselves. Jerry’s helmet contained a cross created to protect him from enemy fire, a provision from the Geneva Convention. However, this did not protect the previous chaplain who was killed in the line of duty.
On May 4, 1968, Jerry and Charlie heard the sounds of battle rushing towards them in the middle of the night. Jerry suffered shrapnel wounds in his hip and arm. He was evacuated to a hospital in Pleiku where he met Charlie who had brought his belongings. After treatment, Jerry returned back to the States to rejoin his wife Adell and two young sons. The hospital meeting was the last time the friends saw each other for more than four decades.
Charlie, before Vietnam, attended Concord College and chaplaincy school. He was a chaplain at Arlington National Cemetery before he was drafted. After Vietnam, he enjoyed a successful career in sales and marketing. He married his wife, Yerda, and had two children and three grandchildren.
Jerry attended Murray State University and was drafted while in seminary, but he was delayed until graduation. He also went to chaplaincy school. After the war, Jerry continued his service as an Army chaplain for 20 years and became a pastor in 1986 after retirement. He led a church in the Washington D.C. area for the next 14 years. He and his wife Adell are still married after 52 years and had three children and five grandchildren.
Both men had thought about reuniting but it never materialized until Charlie decided to use technology to find his beloved friend. Charlie searched LinkedIn for retired Army chaplains. He found someone named Jerry and sent him the message, “I hope I have found you.”
Charlie had found his old Army chaplain and spent many days communicating via email. They organized a trip for both couples to meet at Jerry’s home for a four-day visit. The couples enjoyed local music and attended a service at the Community Baptist Church. Charlie pulled out a little black book that was more than 40 years old. In it were journal entries describing every service in Vietnam. Stuck between the pages was also a photograph of a young Jerry, in fatigues, standing in front of a chapel.
The men reminisced and shared stories with their wives. They enjoyed Adell’s sweet tea as they remembered the good times during the war. They recalled the music tape Charlie’s DJ brother made them and how they used to sing along to the song, “Everyone Knows It’s Wendy.”
Jerry and Charlie relived the joys, the hard times, and the wonderful memories they will never forget. Thought the world would call them friends, in their hearts they were brothers. As they said good-bye, they would never let that much time separate them again.
Charlie said, “We’ve got this good phase started, and we’ll figure it out.”