“Chaplain, sho am comfortin’ to see you there!” The young paratrooper, hugging the sun-baked ground, had spotted his chaplain close by. The entire company lay flat on their faces eating red dust. The Viet Cong, out of sight somewhere beyond, pulled pins on clamore mines extended from bushes and trees. Deadly shrapnel ripped up the area. Automatic weapon fire cut the air. Stand up and you’d die.
Here crouched men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, one of the first full combat units to enter the Viet Nam war. The chaplain was 34-year-old Major John B. Porter, a Southern Baptist from Cordele, Georgia. The assignment: a routine search-and-destroy mission that had penetrated a VC domain. The chaplain was there. He carried no weapon, not even a sidearm, but his presence was indeed a “comfort.” Ask the men—they’ll tell you.
While en route to Viet Nam with the unit last year aboard the troopship U.S.S. “Mann,” Porter found himself with seventeen days at sea—plenty of time, and a restless congregation. He pondered, “What would the Apostle Paul do if he were in my combat boots? He’d preach, no doubt!” Hold number five, a busy thoroughfare deep below, became the “sanctuary.” Seventeen nights, seventeen decisions for Christ.
A one-night liberty at Subic in the Philippines gave cause for concern. How would the new converts fare ashore? One rugged new believer, determined to live for Christ, spotted another new Christian “sinning.” He walked and talked him back on board ship, straight to the chaplain. A bit embarrassed at this kind of brotherly concern, Porter nonetheless knelt with them as the man confessed his sin to God. He took a peek as they prayed. There was the husky trooper, right arm over the shoulder of his penitent buddy, left arm ...1
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