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"The responsibility of the chaplain was to get out and serve the people wherever they were. When they were scattered around... Sunday was whenever the chaplain managed to get there." (Video Interview, 17:15)

   Alston Shepherd Kirk
Collection image
Alston Kirk [2006]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Navy
Unit: 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and 3rd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Marine Division; Destroyer Squadron 6; Chaplain Resource Board
Service Location: Naval Station, Washington, DC; Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland; Quantico, and Norfolk, Virginia; Newport Rhode Island; Atlantic; Newfoundland, Canada; Iceland; Vietnam
Rank: Captain
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Five of Alston Kirk's cousins served in the Navy, and he took inspiration from them one step higher: He wanted to be a Navy chaplain. He served for 33 years, and much of his interview deals with his tour of duty in Vietnam, attached to the 3rd Marine Division. The first day he reported to his unit, there was incoming mortar fire, a preview of what was to come for him. Kirk spent much of his time in the field with the men, surviving several deadly ambushes. He preferred getting around on helicopters, a safer mode of transportation in Vietnam than ground vehicles. Kirk saw up close what a "tremendous price" war extracts, at one point giving last rites to 25 young men whose bodies were recovered from a costly firefight in the jungle.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (47 min.)
 Other Materials
»Biographical information for Chaplain Alston S. Kirk (revised 6/10/2005)
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»Chaplains: On a Divine Mission
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Ever since he was a little kid, he wanted to be a Navy chaplain; five of his cousins had been in the Navy in WWII, Korea, and afterwards; his training experiences. (01:53) Assigned to 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam; went there from Camp Pendleton's Field Medical Service School; Chaplain Corps decided to establish its own training program; once in country, got a week or so of indoctrination; assigned to one of the top rifle battalions in country; when he reported to the battalion colonel, incoming mortar fire started up and they had to continue the conversation inside. (03:58) Close call when truck in front of him was hit by artillery fire and destroyed; "got smart after a while" and caught rides on choppers; sweeping down a valley in search of Vietcong and caught in another ambush; 25 killed and 75 wounded; used C ration crackers and medical brandy for Communion. (04:07)
After 6½ months, brought back, supposedly to a safer assignment; but he went to the 3rd Engineer Battalion, which had people scattered around Northern I Corps, including Khe Sanh when it was under siege; sergeant ordering men to go church. (01:56) What's inside a chaplain's kit. (00:21) Three humorous stories: two roommates, both warrant officers who had known each other from Year One, one playing a prank on the other involving a malaria pill; tale of a "borrowed" jeep; anecdote about Marines using foul language near him. (03:44)
People who have been in combat have a better understanding of what it's like and therefore would be more hesitant about involving a nation in war; "When you give last rites to 25 youngsters, one right after another…and you think of what potential those youngsters had, what they might have been--warfare extracts a tremendous price." (01:10)  

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  October 26, 2011
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