I was an enlisted man in the U.S. Army in the early sixties. I served as a Chaplain’s Assistant for two chaplains.
The Baptist chaplain was young. He was a loving, funny, committed man. He had been in the Army only a few years.
I was in constant hot water with my sergeant because I lacked the ability to keep my uniform looking sharp. In particular, I did not keep a high sheen on my boots. Sometimes, the chaplain would shine my boots for me. I think he did it because it gave him such a good chance to tease me.
One time we were on maneuvers in the state of Washington. Our opponent in the maneuvers was one of the airborne divisions. There were plenty of rumors going around about the brutality of the airborne troops. One story was that they hung one of our men upside down from a tree and beat him with sticks. I believed the rumors.
I was not famous for jumping out of bed the instant an alert was sounded. I had found out that, very often, in the confusion of a dark middle of the night alert, no one would miss me if I did not get up.
However, this night, I did not want to be caught in bed by airborne soldiers for fear of what they might do to me. I slept in my uniform fatigues but without boots.
My pup tent was right next to the chaplain’s large tent,with my tent’s rear wall parallel with the chaplain’s tent rear wall. That meant that my tent opening faced the same direction as the larger tent’s opening, but was a few feet further back.
The instant the alarm sounded, I jumped up grabbed my boots and loaded a clip of blanks in my M-1, and stepped out of my pup tent. I leaned my rifle against the large chaplain’s tent and began lacing my boots. I was bent over facing my tent opening. Therefore my back was toward the front of the chaplain’s tent.
The chaplain had gone to bed fully dressed and in his boots. When he heard the alert call, he jumped up. He was worried that I had not gotten out of bed. He came running out of his tent to make sure I was up.
I heard someone running up behind me. I was still leaning over. In one beautifully trained move, I grabbed my rifle, knelt on one knee, slipped off the safety, whirled and shot off a blank round.
Blanks have a wax paper stopper compressing the gun powder. When a blank is fired, the stopper comes flying out like it is a bullet. It only travels a few feet, but at point blank range, it is very dangerous.
At the sound of the shot, the figure running toward me stopped in a single step. When he stopped, I could see the cross on his helmet reflecting the moonlight. I was really scared.
I asked, ” Is that you Chaplain?”
After a long pause he said, “Nice time to ask.”
Later he told me that he had felt the stopper whiz by his ear. I was very fortunate that he was not wounded.
I was told that the story of the “Chaplain’s Assistant Who Shot the Chaplain”, made the Stars And Stripes, the Army wide newspaper. The chaplain himself, took enormous pleasure re-telling the story to other officers in my presence.
Years later, a young soldier named Larry was in the army stationed in Germany. A nearby Chaplain asked him to come sing and play the guitar for a chapel service.
When he arrived at the chapel, the Chaplain asked him where he was from. Larry told him he was from San Diego.
The Chaplain said, “Let me tell you a story about a Chaplain’s Assistant I once had from San Diego.”
Larry stopped him and said, “Let me tell you the story.” Then Larry told him the story I am telling you.
The Chaplain said, “How did you hear that story?”
Larry said, “George Caywood is my Uncle.”
The chaplain glanced down to see what Larry was carrying and said, “I hope you don’t have a M-1 in that guitar case.”