Spiritual Soldier: A Chaplain's Life in War

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Bob Harllee with his wife, Joyce, and their daughter Carol.

Bob Harllee with his wife, Joyce, and their daughter Carol. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps

In 1965, Bob Harllee's Army brigade was sent to Vietnam, and he had to leave his wife and three children behind. One of those children, Carol, now 47, recently asked her father about his life in those days.

As part of the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Ky., Harllee had to reconcile his role as a spiritual guide within a unit whose job it was to destroy the enemy.

His work presented many challenges, Harllee says. First among them: "Do you have something worthwhile to say to somebody in their last moments?"

In the Army

In uniform: Bob Harllee as a young Army chaplain. i

Bob Harllee as a young Army chaplain. Army Photo/The Harllee Family hide caption

itoggle caption Army Photo/The Harllee Family
In uniform: Bob Harllee as a young Army chaplain.

Bob Harllee as a young Army chaplain.

Army Photo/The Harllee Family
Bob Harllee conducts a service in Vietnam. i

Chaplain Bob Harllee conducts a service in the field. Army Photo/The Harllee Family hide caption

itoggle caption Army Photo/The Harllee Family
Bob Harllee conducts a service in Vietnam.

Chaplain Bob Harllee conducts a service in the field.

Army Photo/The Harllee Family
Bob Harllee conducts a service in Vietnam. i

Chaplain Harllee conducts a service in the field. Army Photo/The Harllee Family hide caption

itoggle caption Army Photo/The Harllee Family
Bob Harllee conducts a service in Vietnam.

Chaplain Harllee conducts a service in the field.

Army Photo/The Harllee Family

And those moments between life and death brought more challenges.

"You can't show depression, so you just kind of suck it up," Harllee says.

That was made even more difficult by the fact that most of the men in the unit had known one another's families back at Fort Campbell.

Still, Harllee says, his task was clear: "to encourage everybody to keep their faith strong, even though they're in the midst of the most terrible thing that mankind can bring upon itself."

Bob Harllee died in Charlottesville, Va., several months after his interview session. He was 73.

A Note from Carol Harllee

My father died on Sunday, January 22, and it happened so quickly that there wasn't time for any last words. Instead, we are comforted by the words of those who knew him.
Jerry Lites, who was with Dad in Vietnam, recently wrote the following to my mother:
"Even now it's still hard for me to call him 'Bob' [instead of Chaplain Harllee]. He was one of the very few spiritual giants in my life. He was there for me when I was facing many challenges — not just Vietnam, but other challenges in my spiritual life."

— Carol Harllee

StoryCorps is the oral history project traveling the country collecting the stories of everyday people. The interviews are archived at the Library of Congress — and excerpts are played each Friday on Morning Edition.

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