RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

When StoryCorps listens into Americans talking with loved ones across the country, conversations often turn to time spent in the military. Looking ahead to Memorial Day, today we hear a veteran talk about witnessing the line between life and death.

Bob Harllee was an Army chaplain for 18 years. Here with his daughter Carol, Bob Harllee remembers ministering to soldiers at war.

Ms. CAROL HARLLEE: What was it like being a chaplain at war in Vietnam?

Mr. BOB HARLLEE: Well, I think chaplains have to have it firmly in mind who they are and what they're all about, and that they're there 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 themselves.

You know, you talk about being with people in their spiritual journey. Well, when that journey is they've been seriously wounded and they don't know whether they're going to live or die and you're there working with them, that's where the challenge is really there: Do you have something worthwhile to say to somebody in their last moments?

Many young men would be talking about their mothers. That's the most common experience of all was that the blood would drain out and as they would get weaker and go into shock, it's like regressing into childhood almost. It really does things to you to be there.

And most of those men I had known at Fort Campbell before we ever left and I knew their families. I knew that this 1st sergeant had five teenage boys back home, and he was shot by a sniper and killed. So those sorts of things really tend to drag you down, but you can't show depression, so you just kind of suck it up.

And as long as I kept in mind that I was not there to be a cheerleader - to make the guys want to kill, kill, kill sort of thing, which is something that everybody seems to want, then I was all right.

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MONTAGNE: Bob Harllee with his daughter Carol in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Their StoryCorps conversation, and all the others, are archived at the Library of Congress.

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MONTAGNE: You should know, this interview took place last summer and, in January, Bob Harllee passed away. He was 73. Carol Harllee says it happened so quickly, there wasn't time for any last words. Instead, we are comforted by the words of those who knew him.

You can see what one soldier writes about Chaplain Harllee at npr.org.

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