Sunday, November 11, 2018

(210) Medal of Honor Recipient U.S. Army Chaplain Major Fr. Charles Joseph Watters Made Parachute Jumps With His Men in Combat During the Vietnam War

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John  15:13).  This persona Christi followed in the footsteps of his master, Jesus Christ.

Fr. Major Charles Joseph Watters offering Mass in the field shortly before he was killed in action on November 19, 1967.  He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery beyond the call of duty.

       Since the Civil War, five Chaplains received the U.S. Military’s highest award for bravery, the Congressional Medal of Honor.  All five of them were Catholic priests.  In addition, Fr. Emmeran Bliemel, O.S.B., another Catholic Chaplain, a native of the South, received the equivalent Southern Cross of Honor of the Confederacy.  Four of them can be found on my blog at in November of the past four years.  Catholic priests are called to give themselves completely to God and thus His Church and His people…….serving wherever and however He wills.
Each Veteran’s Day, St. Louis Church Gallipolis, Ohio honors a heroic military chaplain in an article as a bulletin insert.  You will see that chaplains fill an indispensable role in the military for their church services, counseling, and moral support.  The generals appreciate their contributions to troop morale.  Nevertheless, secularists are trying to eliminate them entirely.  When Catholic priests are attacked as corrupt, point out the many good and holy priests, including the heroic Catholic chaplains who gave their all for God and Country.
Charles Joseph Watters was born on January 17, 1927 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He’s a product of  Seton Hall Prep and Seton Hall University and was ordained in 1953.  While serving in four parishes in the Newark Diocese, he became a private pilot and flew all the way down to Argentina.  He joined the Air National Guard and became their chaplain.

In 1964 his bishop allowed him to join the U.S. Army as a chaplain.  After his first 12 month tour in Vietnam, he extended for an additional 6 months.  During his military career he earned the Air Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star for valor.   Chaplain Watters also made the parachute drop in Operation Junction City, in February of 1967 at the age of 40. 

The Battle of Dak To. In November of that year, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) poured 7,000 plus troops into Dak To, determined to rid the Central Highlands of American Special Forces. An entire Green Beret unit was found dead in the area after being missing for 4 days. The U.S. presence there created a roadblock on the Ho Chi Minh trail, the North’s main supply route into South Vietnam. The Americans reacted by launching Operation MacArthur. The 173rd, with 3,200 paratroopers, including Fr. Watters, made the assault into Dak To, known as the wildest terrain in all of Southeast Asia.

         Vietnam Magazine described it as a merciless land of steep limestone ridges, some as high as 4000 feet, with a tight web of jungle canopies that blocks daylight from penetrating on the brightest sunny day. It is laced with vines and thorns, and in it live diverse snakes, a million leeches and about half the mosquitoes in the world. Airborne assault was the only avenue of entry due to the hostile terrain. The enormity of the challenge would dwarf the previous Junction City operation. The Battle of Dak To — November 3-23, 1967 — was one of the fiercest fights of the Vietnam conflict.
Celebrating Mass during the war in Vietnam.
Father Watters believed his place was always with the fighting men — in the combat zone
On November 19 Chaplain Waters’ unit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was involved in close combat.  After ministering day and night to the men of the 2nd battalion, 503d Infantry in a battle that was to rage for 12 days, the heroic priest was killed while helping to care for the wounded.  It was due to a stray American 500 pound bomb.

The official U.S. Dept. of Defense Citation reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Chaplain Watters distinguished himself during an assault in the vicinity of Dak To. Chaplain Watters was moving with one of the companies when it engaged a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged and the casualties mounted, Chaplain Watters, with complete disregard for his safety, rushed forward to the line of contact. Unarmed and completely exposed, he moved among, as well as in front of the advancing troops, giving aid to the wounded, assisting in their evacuation, giving words of encouragement, and administering the last rites to the dying.

When a wounded paratrooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Chaplain Watters ran forward, picked the man up on his shoulders and carried him to safety. As the troopers battled to the first enemy entrenchment, Chaplain Watters ran through the intense enemy fire to the front of the entrenchment to aid a fallen comrade. A short time later, the paratroopers pulled back in preparation for a second assault. Chaplain Watters exposed himself to both friendly and enemy fire between the two forces in order to recover two wounded soldiers.

Later, when the battalion was forced to pull back into a perimeter, Chaplain Watters noticed that several wounded soldiers were lying outside the newly formed perimeter. Without hesitation and ignoring attempts to restrain him, Chaplain Watters left the perimeter three times in the face of small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire to carry and to assist the injured troopers to safety. Satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he began aiding the medics--applying field bandages to open wounds, obtaining and serving food and water, giving spiritual and mental strength and comfort.

During his ministering, he moved out to the perimeter from position to position redistributing food and water, and tending to the needs of his men. Chaplain Watters was giving aid to the wounded when he himself was mortally wounded. Chaplain Watters' unyielding perseverance and selfless devotion to his comrades was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”

Fr. Major Charles Joseph Watters
Chaplain Watters was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1969 by then Vice President Spiro Agnew.  He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Recalling Chaplain Watters' sacrifice, a former Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Major General) Gerhardt W. Hyatt (deceased) said:  “The Army did not tell him to be on the battlefield that day.  He could have been back in a safe area.  But, it was his investment of his life that he must be with his men.  Then when the battle raged and the wounded were lying on the field, repeatedly he risked his life to bring them in and give them help.”  Later “I was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and a young soldier asked that he might be my driver for that day because he wanted to tell me that he was one of the men on the battlefield that day whose life Charlie Watters had saved.  It was one man's investment of his profession and of himself, and that investment is still paying spiritual dividends through the lives of the grateful men whose lives he saved.”  

“He was always there” according to U. S. Army Chaplain Ministry in the Vietnam Conflict, Henry F. Ackerman, Office of the Chief of Chaplains, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C. 1989, p.171.  In 2007 the U. S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Ft. Jackson, S.C. was renamed in his honor...Watters Hall.

Other Sources - “Chaplain Charles Joseph Watters” - “The Chaplain Was a Sky Soldier” - Chaplain (MAJ) Charles J. Watters - a video on Chaplain (Maj) Charles Watters - Tomb of Chaplain Fr. Major Charles Watters - Chaplain’s School at Ft. Jackson, SC renamed Waters Hall in 2007. - Dak To 1967: ‘33 Days of Violent, Sustained Combat’.  It was in this battle that Fr. Watters exhibited extraordinary heroism.

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