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"Chaplains, if they ever get into a combat position, are really in the way." (Audio Interview, 13:59)

   David E. Lapp
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War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Service Location: Fort Sheridan, Illinois; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Munich and Ansbach, Germany; Fort Monroe, Virginia; Vietnam
Rank: Colonel
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Born in Vienna, Austria in 1931, David Lapp came to America in 1940 with his family, fleeing persecution by Nazi Germany. He volunteered as a rabbi for the Armed Forces in 1957, stating he felt he owed a debt to his adopted country. His first choice was the Navy, but he was persuaded that he would encounter more Jewish personnel in the Army. Though he hadn't taken a chaplain course, his Christian colleagues helped him adjust to Army life. He served one year (1966-7) in Vietnam as a deputy chaplain; his boss was a Catholic priest. He spent much of his time flying to camps around the Central Highlands, always returning to his base for Friday Sabbath. He also worked on building relations with the locals: lecturing at a seminary, helping to build a nursery, and bringing food and clothing to villages. Lapp managed to keep kosher, thanks in part to packages from the States and a vegetarian diet in country.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (37 min.)
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 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Why he enlisted: felt he had a debt to the U.S. since he wasn't born here; wanted to minister to Jewish personnel; how he came to join the Army, not his first choice of service. (00:58) Adjusting to military life; had not gone to chaplain course (did take it later); everything was "strange and difficult;" Christian colleagues helped him get through. (00:34) Assigned to Central Highlands of Vietnam to group of 150,000 men; most traveling by helicopter; meeting with Jewish personnel and others to discuss religion, hold services, share food, do counseling; did not come to Vietnam on military transportation; came from Israel, where he was visiting his wife; was deputy chaplain under a full colonel Catholic priest who took care of him and his food requirements; Fridays he was in his base camp to do Shabat (Sabbath) services and also Saturday morning; Sunday or Monday he would take off on a chopper. (02:58)
Did not encounter combat, though you never knew where the enemy was in an unconventional war. (01:21) Meeting with Jewish personnel in the field; lecturing to a Vietnamese theological seminary, taking questions about the Old Testament; taking food to villages. (01:34) Chaplain is only in the way in a combat situation because he is unarmed; staying in touch with family in Israel by mail, phone, and tape recordings; kept kosher, so he had to depend on food from sources back home; was a vegetarian, got used to it and liked it. (03:08)
Two holidays spent there; all the Jewish personnel gathered at his headquarters for Pesach to eat matzos sent from the Jewish Welfare Board back home; well supplied with candles, kosher wine, holy books; dealing with stress by reading the Book of Psalms. (02:35) At time of interview he was Director of the Jewish Welfare Board Jewish Chaplains Council; endorses rabbis for consideration of commission in armed forces. (00:46) How his time in service affected his life; his children had to move often, but it gave them a broader education and background; they had no difficulties with drugs or alcohol or sex. (01:30)

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  October 26, 2011
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