The sins which American society has visited upon her youth are in many respects the very sins which American servicemen in turn tend to visit upon society.

To catalog the virtues and vices of military personnel authentically presupposes an omniscience which we surely cannot and would not claim. In a very real sense each man—including the serviceman—is the responsible guardian of his own soul and decides his moral destiny. The assessment offered here is based, rather, on hundreds of replies from personnel at military bases at home and abroad to an inquiry by CHRISTIANITY TODAY. The findings are instructive and illuminating.

The American serviceman, insists Lieutenant Commander Frank C. Collins, Jr., U.S. Navy, executive officer aboard the U.S.S. “Shields,” is not “some peculiar creature conceived for a life of immorality as portrayed in the paid killer and ravager of social decency. Rather, he is the high school football hero, the serious science student, or the kid who drops out of school in his junior year due to lack of aptitude or interest. He is a person who enlists because of a sincere patriotic desire, or in order to learn a trade, or to fulfill his bent for adventure, or perhaps to complete his military obligation and thus clear the path for further education or a career.… He struggles to maintain individualism in a sea of uniformity.”

Patriotism is ascribed more frequently than any other virtue to U.S. military personnel. This fact is highly significant; it gives wholesome perspective to the easy ascribing of sagging moral and spiritual ideals to those who regard military service as “a necessary evil” due to compulsory draft, or who enlist only to escape civilian frustration. Despite those who are merely “putting in time” to fulfill their military obligation, many serve conscientiously in a dedicated professional way with the ideal of public service. Although the serviceman seldom enunciates patriotism as the first motivation for his role in the military, he reflects love of country in numerous ways. The great majority of men are willing and proud to be in the services. The career officer, asserts Captain James W. Wold, March Air Force Base, Riverside, California, “feels he is generally last man on the totem pole in pay raises and legislation in contrast with other government employees, and realizes he will never be a rich man, but finds compensation in the nature of his duty; he is somewhat humble in the opportunity to serve his country.” Nor are those who make a career of the military the only ones “quite dedicated to the defense of their country,” although First Lieutenant John Boaz, U.S. Air Force police officer stationed at Niagara Falls, N.Y., would single out this group especially. “A patriotic youngster,” says Lieutenant (j.g.) Mike Bishop, Protestant lay leader for the staff of the Seventh Fleet and for the U.S.S. “Providence,” is a tribute that applies to the American serviceman generally. “On the surface he is skeptical about patriotism,” writes Chaplain Robert T. Deming, attached to Headquarters of the First Air Base Group at Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan, “but he will make real sacrifices if called on to do so.” Naval Reserve officer Lieutenant Commander George E. Howell of Arlington, Virginia, presently on inactive duty, declares American servicemen to be “capable, should the need arise, of defending this country or carrying its share of responsibility in standing up for the rights of the free nations in this greedy and very dangerous present world.”

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Another chaplain, attached to an Air Force reconnaissance squadron but preferring anonymity, volunteered that the sense of patriotism is threatened often by the serviceman’s disposition to do “only what he has to, or can’t escape from doing.” But more serious as a diluting factor to the quality of patriotism, as we shall note later, is what Chaplain Philip N. Smith (Maj.), a Conservative Baptist pastor in Colorado Springs also serving a mobilization assignment at Ent Air Force Base, pictures as the serviceman’s ideological lack: “Well cared for by the government, he doesn’t appreciate his benefits, freedoms, and liberties; he lacks understanding of patriotism and of the principles on which our country was founded.”

Next to patriotism the trait most frequently ascribed to American service personnel is self-reliance. It is popular to caricature the military as a realm wherein buck privates suspend all personal decision until they resume civilian life. But Colonel Thomas I. Edgar, U.S. Army (ret.), of Roanoke, Virginia, inverts the picture: it is “the average civilian who has developed the ‘herd instinct’ to a high degree in recent years and lives in pretty much of a rut of conformity. I sincerely believe that the average serviceman is more inclined to think for himself and to display greater initiative and to be more self-reliant.” A Naval lieutenant who maintains an alert Christian witness on a Pacific fleet flagship of 1,100 men adds that “independence, self-reliance, and deep love for country” are qualities cherished by many servicemen today.

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The spirit of self-reliance is widely threatened, however, by the many conforming pressures that characterize military life. The desire to be “accepted by his peers” leads in many directions. As Captain Arthur E. Dewey, stationed with the First Aviation Company in Korat, Thailand, comments: “The man of draft age is seldom sure of where he is going. In military life, as in most group experiences, he will follow the road the group seems to be traveling, whether it leads to a bar or to a house of worship. The group norm tempts him to do less than his best and often places individual excellence under suspicion. This man tends to take on the image of his leaders. The question of whether this image is right or wrong is subordinate to an instinctive feeling that this is the easiest way to get along.” Chaplain James H. Morrison (Capt.), U.S. Army, now on the staff of First Presbyterian Church of San Diego, California, reinforces this emphasis after three years with the parachute “jump school” of the 101st Airborne Division: “The young paratrooper is not unlike the usual high school graduate, for most of them are just that. It is my firm conviction that the large majority of them do the things they would do at home if it were not for the social restraint and mores of the society in which they grow up. Many who would not normally do these things in civilian society and yet do them in the Army are subject to tremendous pressure from their peer group to be promiscuous with women, in drinking, and in other ways. Frequently it is ‘go out on the town with the boys’ or remain behind and be bored (there is little to do, and most posts are not near large cities) and receive the disapproval of their ‘buddies.’ ” “Aboard our ship,” writes Ensign James D. Prout of the U.S. Coast Guard’s “Eastwind,” “ ‘public opinion’ has prevented many from taking part in activities at which the Gospel is heard,” despite the fact that “a very large percentage come from church backgrounds and church groups.” Even the maintenance of spiritual values is thus jeopardized by negative group pressures. Much depends, as Major John A. Foster of Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, notes, on how determined the serviceman is “not to fit in with the crowd by doing something that sets him apart as being different.” If he wants more than anything else to be “one of the gang” and willingly sacrifices deeply inculcated principles to gain acceptance by his peers, he is easily headed for a break with all that he has cherished in life. This rejection is then rationalized, as a chaplain aboard the U.S.S. “St. Paul” mirrors it, in the notion that “the rapidly changing world scene along with the growing materialism and deteriorating ethical standards make it nigh impossible for his parents (the older generation) to really understand him and his needs. He longs to be understood by the older generation—believes he has tried every way possible to communicate his beliefs and feelings—but often thinks the barrier between generations is too great to penetrate.” Young non-career personnel away from home for the first time, and who seemingly have no goals and purpose in life, are the most vulnerable target for pressures to shun spiritual emphases. The basically immature and insecure youngster, who searches only for acceptance in his new environment and who has no dedication to permanent values of any kind, will do even what he knows is wrong just to become a member of the group. Conformity is part of his training—“a mill of group dynamics,” Lieutenant S. A. Fink of the Navy calls it, in which “he is disciplined to do things in concert: marching, dressing, responding to commands in unison.” Conformity will define his credo as well. He “despises discipline, detests authority, desires a military democracy (but does not understand what democracy involves)” adds Chaplain Paul P. Everett (Capt.), with the U.S. Army’s First Missile Battalion, 60th Artillery, in Gary, Indiana. “Morally he responds like a jack-in-the-box when released from the environment of home and church and becomes involved with wine, women, and song.”

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The serviceman’s image: pleasure-seeking, somewhat immoral and irresponsible while off duty—but ready and capable of fighting to the death to preserve his homeland and fulfill his duties. He is covertly religious normally, openly so when he seeks strength for himself and his buddies—basically a good average American boy trying to adjust to what may be a trying life away from home. Servicemen often wrongly feel that overt expression of religious beliefs conflicts with the magnitude of their manhood. In time of battle they often realize the truth—it takes a better man to be a Christian, and a Christian is a far better and greater man.—First Lieutenant DAVID A. HENRY, student officer, U.S. Army Reserve School, Spokane, Washington.

Alongside the industry, competence, initiative, and dedication that characterize American service personnel, therefore, must be ranged that whole gamut of weaknesses to which they are easily vulnerable in the face of temptation. Separation from home and family exposes our young servicemen to moral letdowns despite the fact that America is a church-going nation and many young people have some training in or at least knowledge of Christianity. The great majority of draftees for whom outwardly “anything goes” nonetheless retain “inner qualms about the things they were brought up not to do,” says David R. Reid of Williamstown, Massachusetts, First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Reserve. On the other hand, he does not “discipline himself the way he disciplines others,” comments a Marine Corps captain. There remains therefore the sense of violated conscience, alongside the shattered framework of an inherited morality and the obvious duality in any demonstration of the Christian ethic and the American Creed.

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In this context of moral compromise, however, one also finds a sense of compassion in the military man who has not discarded all his Christian influences. “One may indeed be proud of the ease with which integration of the Armed Forces is being accomplished,” notes Commander William H. Hibbs, U.S. Navy (ret.), of Tucson, Arizona. The American serviceman is basically friendly and honest. One Navy chaplain describes him as “one of the most honest persons in our society.” He is thoroughgoing in what he does—“when he works, he works hard; when he plays, he plays hard.” Physically fit and virile, he enjoys athletics and respects the true athlete. He enjoys land or sea maneuvers, but seldom admits the fact. He has an uncanny way of rising to a situation when the pressure is on. On his serious side he studies hard to improve technical skills, hopes for promotion, and takes off-duty educational courses to further his career even when in doubt whether that career will be military or civilian. He looks forward to self-support, security, and a family.

It is significant, however, that these traits no longer emerge as a conscious reflex of Christian commitment; they co-exist, rather, as a diluted aspect of Christian heritage in a nebulous framework of ideals. Thought of in terms of median, suggests Commander Hibbs, the serviceman is “sincere, dedicated, and realistic, with a pragmatic orientation.” Therefore, while he is “respectful of authority,” as noted by Captain Richard B. Stuart of White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, he has no sure sense of ultimate authority in life, so that even the soundest convictions he shares about the treachery of the Communist philosophy tend to float about on a sea of concern with no fixed anchor. As a result, according to Staff Sergeant Henry W. Elliott, U.S. Army, of the Headquarters Battery of the 212th Artillery Group in Hanau, Germany, the remaining regard for customs, traditions, or authority is inconstant and often wobbly, since it lacks discipline and control. While he is usually well informed on international situations, says Lieutenant (j.g.) James R. Bair, U.S. Navy, of Norfolk, Virginia, he completely accepts “the relative truth philosophy in morals and ethics; therefore, he embraces a double standard in these areas.” The “standards” that determine his life tend to become nothing more than the impulses of his group. He may be fully dedicated, as Second Lieutenant Howard Graves, a U.S. Army engineer attending Oxford University, comments, to “resisting Communism and to the preservation of our country,” and is wholly confident of our nation’s ability to cope with any crisis on a large scale. But, complains Chaplain Paul P. Everett of Gary, Indiana, this same serviceman “prefers a vague philosophy to a personal commitment to God.” “Typical of young America, he doesn’t know what he wants or where he is going,” says Captain William Armerding of Burlington, Massachusetts, now in the U.S. Army Reserve. “He lacks background,” adds Lieutenant (j.g.) William Robert Porter, Jr., U.S. Naval Reserve, of Muncie, Indiana, formerly assigned to the U.S.S. “Bexar,” “in different religious, moral, social, political, and economic concepts.… He has been spoon-fed an ill-defined concept of loyalty to God and country and a ‘worldly’ concept of what it is to be a man. The result is a lack of firmly established values for his life. God is not a relevant being to him, but someone to be considered at a later date.”

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The current serviceman is a civilian who has put on a uniform. Any recruit brings with him spiritual training his church and family life have given him. A cross-section sampling of servicemen will show a startling ignorance of spiritual things. Some can witness, as John Glenn has, to a firsthand experience with God. Too often, however, the serviceman is the product of a confused, increasingly materialistic society. He is often given unbelievable responsibilities and is often called upon to make sacrifices that would not be expected of him in civilian life. The outdated concept of the military man who “cannot face life on the outside” is now being replaced by one of technological genius fighting a cold war with digital computers and space vehicles. He is tense, overworked, yet surprisingly often a dedicated public servant.—Captain ROY N. MINOR, missile officer, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.

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It is this lack of ultimate spiritual commitment that in turn jeopardizes the stability and certainty of personal dedication in the life of the military, and which makes the serviceman a vulnerable defender of national ideals and an unstable bearer of traditional values. Today’s serviceman is young and impressionable, and for the most part has led a life that demanded little discipline and loyalty. In the service he becomes the target of every conceivable vagrant view of life.

The Army usually sends its more intelligent soldiers to service schools for training as technicians; the “laboring type,” on the other hand (most of whom did not finish high school), are sent to combat units. First Lieutenant J. C. Hood, combat engineer platoon leader at Tompkins Barracks, Schwetzingen, Germany, therefore describes the “typical GI” as “a two-fisted young man who has finished ten or eleven years of schooling. He thrives on excitement.… In garrison, he tends to go stale and looks for excitement in alcohol and women, especially overseas where women are easy and alcohol is part of the national diet. His money is spent three to five days after payday.”

Lack of discipline leads, in turn, to lack of restraint. Detachment from earlier ties means detachment also from moral patterns. Immature and impressionable, the young serviceman is “easily swayed by leaders within the unit or barracks,” reports Major John T. Derrick of the 35th Artillery Group Headquarters in West Germany. On the lookout for enjoyment, says Chaplain Harry W. Holland, Navy Auxiliary Air Station, Saufley Field, Pensacola, Florida, “the serviceman making his decisions without the help of whatever character-building influences and strong persons he may have depended on prior to entering the service, is easily influenced by older servicemen and civilians who seek to involve him in drinking and immoral acts.” “Away from home and lonely, he is easy to sway,” comments Major Richard E. Slater of Geiger Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, “and he will experiment with evil never attempted near his family.” Those who have never been out on their own are “easily influenced by associates,” and most “follow the crowd to avoid being an ‘outcast’ or ‘different,’ ” says Lieutenant (j.g.) F. E. Phillippi, Jr., gunnery officer aboard the U.S. Navy’s U.S.S. “Orleck.” “They find it ‘necessary,’ ” remarks Chaplain C. Gordon Kyle (Capt.), attached to Headquarters of the Sixth Missile Battalion, 61st Artillery, U.S. Army, “to use the occasional oath and indulge in the questionable thing in order to get along.” The drift away from religion is abetted by those “who are afraid to stand up for their beliefs and do not attend church or chapel services,” notes Lieutenant Colonel Robert K. Schmitz of the Iceland Defense Force.

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Pleasure-seeking, then, becomes a ruling passion for the serviceman. He reaches for companionship in ways that “wouldn’t have entered his mind in the home environment,” comments Lieutenant Commander Philip A. Roe of the Ninth Naval District, Great Lakes, Illinois. He seeks excitement and fun through a diversity of activities usually involving girls, automobiles, and alcohol. The outward sins then multiply. Drinking becomes routine, marital vows are broken, spendthrift habits are formed. An officer aboard the U.S.S. “Sellers” thinks it no exaggeration to say that aboard his ship “about 75 per cent of the enlisted men chase women (the married men are often the worst offenders)” and that among the officers “about 30 per cent are unfaithful to their wives, about 60 per cent chase other women when away from home.” Along with a fondness for alcohol and drinking in excess goes the frequenting of houses of prostitution. Carefree and spendthrift, this type of serviceman is often financially depleted at mid-month and is looking for something to do with his free time.


Very few claim to be atheists or agnostics. Most admit they know what they should do; however, they are usually speaking from a legal or moral rather than biblical point of view. Most have not studied enough to understand Christ’s teachings. The parable of the sower and the wheat still separates each into his class. Perhaps the real trouble is that each wants pleasure, each wants to be one of the crowd, and the crowd follows the wide path. I am happy to say that those who do take a stand for Christ generally make it a firm stand out in the open. Those others who have done little studying of the Scriptures usually try to shy away from the subject. A surprising number like to argue dogmas, wresting Scripture out of context—anything to keep away from the main theme of conversion!—Lieutenant CORBIN WOODWARD, U.S. Navy, supply officer aboard the U.S.S. “Rankin.”

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For the young draftee trying to be “a man of the world,” says First Lieutenant Edward M. Blight, Jr., of the U.S. Army Reserve, Tripler Army Hospital, unrestrained sexual activity, alcoholic excesses, and smutty language come to imply general lack of restraint. Hypocrisy is then almost forced upon him, notes Lieutenant James I. Wilson of the U.S. Naval Reserve: his degeneracy is outwardly concealed because the service requires him to be well dressed, well groomed, and physically fit, and the refusal of parents at home to recognize his immorality constrains him to sustain the illusion of decency. In the spirit of Kipling’s lines, he welcomes a foreign culture where the immoral seems moral:

O ship me somewhere east of Suez

Where the best is like the worst;

Where there ain’t no Ten Commandments

And a man can raise a thirst.

When he has exhausted the pleasures of the flesh, and discovered their inadequacy, he is not on that account ready to face up to the responsibilities of balanced living. He is an over-confident individual unskilled in the art of solving the maze of problems, observes First Lieutenant Thomas G. Smoak of the U.S. Air Force in Miami, Florida. He finds refuge in a sense of self-sufficiency that springs from his job security, education, or general understanding. Selfish rather than spiritual motivations now contend for mastery. Despite a basic anxiety and unhappiness he is not seriously interested in Christianity—not hostile, adds Lieutenant Thomas J. Manetsch of the U.S. Naval Reserve, Corvallis, Oregon, but indifferent. Self-centered, he remains most interested in the material and physical rewards life can offer him. Rank, station in life, social status, money, and worldly goods remain the dominant ideals. Beyond this there seems little purpose and initiative.

Undeniable, however, are the unexplainable void that vexes the serviceman’s life, the recurring insecurity that springs from the uncertainties of his assignments, and the additional uncertainties that always shadow the serviceman’s career. Under such circumstances his ignorance of spiritual things can be disconcerting; in self-pity he may think that nobody cares about him as an individual. His distress is worsened because, while indeed he may be subjected to more temptations than the average civilian, he nonetheless has the irrefutable conviction—as notes Lieutenant James R. Evans, personnel officer at the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine, that “it is not the service that causes the man to yield; it is the man.” In a sudden confession of inadequacy he acknowledges to himself, as comments Colonel W. M. Tisdale, U.S. Army (ret.), now assistant president of State University College, Albany, New York, that as a man in the military “he needs God perhaps more than the average citizen. His responsibilities in wartime will be tremendous, and he must be prepared to meet his Maker on short notice.”

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Proper military guidance and leadership have been able to shape the rough timber of millions of men into a well-hewn military force. There can be little doubt, therefore, that under proper spiritual and moral controls American youth could “turn the world upside down” in terms of ethical principles and religious values. The tragedy is that service personnel can always point to worse elements in civilian society against which the man or woman in uniform compares quite favorably. Addiction to alcohol, sexual indulgence, and gambling in American society are not limited to any one economic or social level. And the serviceman knows that transient groups (particularly show people and salesmen) tend to practice moral compromises to a greater extent than do more permanently settled persons. “The American serviceman pictures himself as being morally upright in his society; this, he believes, is accounted unto him for righteousness,” remarks Major Russell O. Barney of Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Within walking distance of a chapel where he may learn of the remission of sins and receive new life in Christ Jesus, he commits the cardinal sin of Western society in our time: he refuses to embrace the Saviour and Redeemer of fallen and needy souls. He professes to “believe” in some concept of God, but worships none; he “believes” in prayer, but practices it only when in trouble; he “believes” the Bible, but seldom reads it; and except on very special occasions or “holy days” he doesn’t go to church. Sunday services aboard a Navy aircraft carrier at sea, with 3,000 to 4,000 men aboard, may draw 50 to 100 Protestants, with attendance at Catholic mass somewhat higher. “The Protestant’s information about Christ and His Gospel is tragically fuzzy,” comments First Lieutenant Douglas K. Stewart, U.S. Marine Corps, of Kaneohe, Hawaii; “he generally believes in a sort of salvation by good works, and a ‘hope for the best when it’s all over’ philosophy, if he is concerned about spiritual matters at all.”

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One day on Iwo Jima I knelt beside a wounded Marine whose lips were blue. As I held a bottle of whole blood and the flow continued, the faint throb in his temple grew stronger. Color came back to his lips; he opened his eyes and smiled. Souls of servicemen may become shattered by sin, but the sacrificial love of Jesus will bring new life to those who trust in him.—Chaplain JOHN H. CRAVEN (Capt.), National Naval Medical Center.

Finally then, find your strength in the Lord, in his mighty power. Put on all the armour which God provides, so that you may be able to stand firm against the devices of the devil. For our fight is not against human foes, but against cosmic powers, against the authorities and potentates of this dark world, against the superhuman forces of evil in the heavens. Therefore, take up God’s armour; then you will be able to stand your ground when things are at their worst, to complete every task and still to stand. Stand firm, I say. Buckle on the belt of truth; for coat of mail put on integrity; let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you firm footing; and, with all these, take up the great shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take salvation for helmet; for sword, take that which the Spirit gives you—the words that come from God (Ephesians 6:10–17, New English Bible).

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