A Chaplain Remembers Vietnam by Sam Hopkins, who served with 4th Battalion 60th Artillery (Dusters), is now available.
"From 1966 to 1968, I was privileged to serve with 800 men who were called upon by our country to go to Vietnam and fight against a dedicated and deadly foe. We formed a new unit together, trained for six months together, shipped out together, served our tour of duty together, and came home together. Togetherness is the main theme of our unit's wartime experiences.
"My unit's veterans celebrate these precious bonds to this very day, especially our affections for our former fallen buddies and their surviving families. The National Dusters, Quads, and Searchlight Association actively supports the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization for women who lost their sons in combat. Proceeds from sales of this book will be donated to projects and services that will benefit these ladies. May God add His blessings to these enterprises".
For God and Country,
CH (COL) Samuel W. Hopkins, Jr., Ph.D.
Priced at $19.95, A Chaplain Remembers Vietnam is 294 pages soft cover and features over 80 full-page photos.
Click here (Truman Publishing) for more details, photos, excerpts and ordering information.
Jo Anne Embleton Jacksonville Daily Progress The Jacksonville Daily Progress Sat Nov 09, 2013, 10:17 AM CST
JACKSONVILLE — God's ways are mysterious, something that retired Army chaplain Sam Hopkins knows first-hand: In 2004, he got to accompany a group of Gold Star Mothers to Vietnam, where they retraced the steps of their fallen hero sons.
“You hear about veterans who come back from Vietnam, who look up the families of people they served with and they pay their respects,” but to be able to let these women see where their children spent their last living moments “really is poetic, it's really fulfilling,” he said, adding that it provided a sense of healing for both the mothers and the veterans.
Then his mid-20s, Hopkins was deployed to Vietnam in 1967, where he ministered to some 800 men with the 4th Battlion of the 60th Artillery of the U.S. Army, before completing his assignment a year later.
“My unit came out pretty well – we had about 45 wounded and we lost six or eight,” he said, describing how a strong bond among the group resulted in the creation of a national organization known as the National Dusters, Quads and Searchlights Association.
While it's not uncommon for veterans to want to revisit the areas years after they served there, “we realized that there were a lot of families, in particular, parents – and in particular, mothers who lost sons there, who might want toknow what happened and where,” he said, so association members began a project to raise money to escort Gold Star Mothers to Vietnam.
“We'll take any mother who wants to go – she doesn't even necessarily have to belong to the Gold Star Mothers association,” he said.
The group found a variety of ways to raise funds for the project, and Hopkins, who had kept a pictorial diary of sorts of “my all-expenses paid trip to beautiful Vietnam from Uncle Sam,” hit upon the idea to put together a book after writing a brief history for his group after a call was put out for information for stories about “our tours of duty and what happened in our units.”
His book, “A Chaplain Remembers Vietnam,” was published in 2002 and proceeds of its sales – “they were modest sales,” he grinned – were donated to the association's Gold Star Mother project, which began in 2000.
“All total, my association made five trips to Vietnam, with anywhere from three to six mothers in a group,” he said. “I think we've served a total of 32 mothers, and we would have done more if we could have found more, the mothers are getting so old. The average age of the Vietnam veteran now is in the mid-60s, and their mothers would be an average of 20 years older.”
In 2004, the former Army chaplain was able to see first-hand the kind of healing ministry his group was helping to provide these still-grieving mothers.
That year, a group of four veterans escorted six Gold Star Mothers on a 16-day guided tour “all over Vietnam by bus,” visiting areas that their sons had seen nearly four decades before, Hopkins said.
“We started a little south of Saigon and made it all the way up to the DMZ (near what was then North Vietnam),” he recalled.
The veterans planned a special ceremony for the mothers, which involved setting a spray of flowers and small flags into the ground, in a spot “close to the last place he served,” he said.
“We'd just gathered together and … we'd say something like, 'Pvt. Beetle Baily came over and he was with this unit, and they went there and they did this and he was here, and on this date, unfortunately, we lost him. But we want to celebrate his service for his country and his family.'
“This is the part that was really touching, it was how we finished it: One of the men would come over, and we'd have the mother standing there and he'd take a little trowel and dig up some dirt. Then he'd come over and put his foot print in the dirt, saying, 'You know, your son stepped right here. Mom, come over – put your foot on it.'
“And then we'd dig up the dirt and put it in sack to give to the mom and say, 'You can take this home; you've walked where your son walked,'” Hopkins said.
It was a poignant moment for the group, but “that's the part that did us some good, because it was a remembrance, a celebration years after the funerals,” he said.
“There's always some residual grief, and we didn't want to drag them through that loss again,” he added. “They were a little nervous about (the visit to Vietnam) at first, but as they'd look around, they would say, 'This is a beautiful country … my son used to write home and tell us how pretty it was.' After awhile (on the trip), one would say, 'These people are really friendly,' and we said, 'Yeah, we felt the same way,'” Hopkins said.
Gradually, the loss and pain transformed into something the grieving mothers could embrace with a kind of peace inside.
“They began to identify with what their sons had found worth fighting for – that there were people there who needed help, that you could learn to love and like. That the country was gorgeous, and among other things, they learned to love and like Vietnam like their sons had,” he said. “They weren't sure at first (that) this was going to be a good experience, but it's kind of like when the family gets together at Thanksgiving and talk about Grandma. She's gone (but) we're sharing all these good memories.”
A healing moment also came for veterans who, Hopkins pointed out, still were carrying with them survivor's guilt.
“When you're in the service, you become a band of brothers,” he said, adding that he reminded the women that while 'You lost one son, you've got us,' recalling the gratitude they expressed for those words of assurance.
But the veterans also “were saying in so many ways, 'We're so sorry we couldn't bring 'em all home, because we tried' – and that's survivor's guilt. And these mothers said to us, 'We wouldn't have wanted anything to happen to you, either,'” he recalled.
He's come full circle from conducting funerals for servicemen who returned from Vietnam in caskets, to being able to accompany the mothers of some to a land where their sons last walked, and it's been an uplifting experience.
“To take them back to where we had been, and to be able to share our experiences with them because they knew we knew their boys” has been priceless, he said.