A Chaplain’s Legacy – Capt. Beach

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in Military Prayer | 1 comment

September 2013
by Mike DiCicco


Chaplain David Todd, the Officer Candidates School chaplain, said he had to jump on the chance to bring retired Navy Capt. Stanley Beach to speak at Quantico when he heard that Beach would be in the area.

“He is a hero in the chaplain corps,” Todd said. “He’s a very important part of the heritage and legacy of chaplains, especially chaplains who minister to Marines.”

Todd said Beach is especially renowned for his “ministry of presence,” a style of spiritual leadership that cost the 35-year Navy chaplain a leg and, nearly, his life during his service in Vietnam.

About two dozen chaplains from around the region, including Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, chaplain of the Marine Corps, gathered at the Clubs at Quantico on Aug. 27 to hear Beach, whose name is now on the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center’s top leadership award, as well as one of the school’s buildings, speak about his experience as a wartime chaplain.

“If you’re not visible to the troops, you don’t need to be available — they won’t look for you,” Beach said, summing up the idea of “ministry of presence.” A chaplain must be on the battlefield, showing that he’s overcome his fear and is committed to his troops, he said. “That means the world to these guys.”

In Vietnam, Beach’s “guys” were the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Division, whom he accompanied during operations around Mutter’s Ridge, just south of the demilitarized zone, where fighting was heavy.

He described days without food or water, taking cover with the Marines in bomb craters during firefights and pulling the dead and wounded to safety without discriminating between the two.

“It was never, ‘Is he OK? Is he alive?’” Beach recalled. “’Did we get him out?’ That’s all they wanted to know.”

He remembered keeping a Marine who’d been shot through the face awake all night in attempt to save his life, and he recalled the time he picked up a rifle despite his noncombatant status after noticing he and a few wounded Marines were being flanked. A Marine remedied the situation with a grenade before Beach had to fire.

Troops feel safer in battle with a chaplain present, he said. “You’re the cosmic rabbit’s foot.”

He remembered helping a Marine who’d been shot through the hand and leg to get to safety and asking him if he wanted to pray. Yes, the Marine said. “And he started praying — praying for me: ‘Protect the chaplain, we need our chaplain,’” Beach recalled. “That’s the kind of people you never forget.”

By the time he was wounded in Operation Prairie, Beach hadn’t eaten in days, he said, and walking was difficult. Having finally received water, he sat next to a spider hole and started reading scripture when everything suddenly “went very silent,” he said. The smell of gunpowder filled his nose, and he noticed his boot lying near his belt.

As he waited to be medically evacuated, lying on a stretcher in a landing zone, his troops had the opportunity to return the dedication he’d shown them. He started to take enemy fire, and a Marine and a corpsman leapt from their foxhole and covered him. One took a piece of shrapnel to the back of his head and is now legally blind.

“If they wouldn’t have come out of their foxhole and covered me …” he trailed off.

“Just the courage, the sacrifice, the compassion — it really makes a mark on your life,” he said.

While he lay in triage, he was comforted just to find that one of his men was also there with him, Beach said. “We make an impact, and you leave an impact. But they make an impact on you, too.”

Now that the military has a better understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, chaplains are asked to develop healing rituals to help troops returning from deployment to make sense of their experiences.

“Combat is like a defining moment. It clarifies what you already were,” he said, adding, though, that not everyone handles such a moment in the same way. “The chaplain can make the difference. Not every chaplain will make the difference, but you can make the difference.”

Calling Beach “one of our icons in the chaplain corps,” Kibben remembered her first acquaintance with the chaplain, saying her impression of him then was that “this is what a chaplain should be — pastoral, present, intellectual, able to engage at all different levels.”

That was when she arrived as a student at the Naval Chaplaincy School, where Beach was then the director. It was only later, she said, that she learned of his wartime heroism.


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One Comment

  1. Our Military needs our Chaplains. We want our chaplains. We have the freedom to have our chaplains. God bless our Chaplains. Our Priest is a reserve army chaplain. Thank God for him.