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"This is the unique ministry of the chaplaincy... When you become a chaplain, everybody in your outfit is your responsibility, regardless of their religion." (Video Interview, 1:00:46)

   Willard W. Bartlett
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Willard Bartlett [2005]
War: World War, 1939-1945; Korean War, 1950-1953; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Merchant Marine; Navy; Marine Corps
Service Location: Atlantic; Pacific; Asia
Rank: Commander
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Willard Bartlett had a long career in the military, divided into two terms of service. As a teenager, he joined the Merchant Marines late in World War II. After the war, he finished his studies at the Merchant Marine Academy, sailed for a year, then decided to become a minister. After the Korean War began, he enlisted in the Navy as a chaplain instead of a seaman. He preached not only to his fellow Christians but also to Jews (though he once mistakenly put a cloth with a cross on it over his pulpit for a service). He even invited his ship's atheists to a meeting to compare beliefs. Bartlett was attached to a Marine Corps unit in Vietnam, where he had to answer the eternal question, "Hey Chaplain, did Jesus ever have to go to the bathroom?"

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (72 min.)
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»Chaplains: On a Divine Mission
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Getting a job as a high school student during WWII on an ore boat on the Great Lakes, because he wanted to contribute to the effort; dealing with difficulties aboard ship; after he graduated in 1944, applying to the Merchant Marine Academy; learning to sleep in a hammock at sea; going through training in four months; proud of MM's policy of putting its cadets in harm's way during wartime. (05:10) In Gibraltar Harbor when news of V-E Day broke; about 40 ships were in the harbor; men broke into the pyrotechnic lockers to celebrate. (00:50) Story of brave Merchant Marine and his ship's encounter with German raider and supply ship during war; Germans demanded their surrender, but the captain and his men decided to fight; one cadet, Edwin O'Hara, took over the ship's gun after the crew was wiped out and took down the supply ship before his ship went down; some who survived the sinking told the story later. (01:50)
How he decided to become a minister; went to Colorado College in Colorado Springs and made Phi Beta Kappa; three years of ministry training; Korean War had started; Navy wanted to call him back and he finally resigned the Merchant Marine; two pieces of important advice he got from a chaplain. (04:35) Only student in chaplain school with prior military experience; assigned to ship carrying troops to Korea; telling captain that he could not be put on watch because it was against the Geneva Convention; he was a combination of Captains Queeg and Bligh; the man had not been to sea for ten years--assigned to embassy duty--and was unable emotionally to handle the responsibility; crew's revenge on him; captain's revenge on Bartlett, firing guns during one of his services; medical emergency in mid-ocean; medical evacuation plane flying to them, crashing, crew and doctor rescued. (09:43) Getting ready to sail from Seattle, a voyage that could span Jewish holidays, and he stocked supplies; had to be careful about advertising that wine was included in the service or he would have had mass conversions; Bartlett unwittingly putting a drape with a cross on it over his pulpit. (01:39)
Calling a meeting of atheists for a discussion; mess hall packed; asking if any Christians are present, and those who indicated they were were asked to leave; "the unique ministry of the chaplaincy," that everyone is your outfit is your responsibility, no matter their religion. (02:10) In Vietnam, young soldier snapping, entering a chapel and letting go with an M16, riddling corpsmen's quarters behind the chapel; no one was hurt; working to explain it in the aftermath: "Somebody was awfully mad at God;" Catholic chaplain putting up clever sign about "Eternal Life Insurance" to attract soldiers' attention; priest refusing to wear protection when flying in a chopper; out on patrol, Marine asking question about Jesus going to the bathroom, handling it with humor; coming on not like a clergy person but a human being. (04:17) Summing up his career in the service. (01:26)

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  October 26, 2011
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