Chaplains On The Wall

It was a weekend. A lot of people were there. And by “a lot,” I mean folks were standing two or three deep.

It’s one of the most popular sites in D.C. Maybe the hottest spot in the whole town period. The tourist magazines don’t tell you this, but it’s true.

You can keep your trolley tours. Each year, about 5 million people visit 5 Henry Bacon Drive NW to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Otherwise known as The Wall.

They come in throngs. You see all kinds. Average suburban Midwesterners, Northern tourists and people with Florida tags, all doing vicious battle over precious parking spots.

People crawl out of trucks, SUVs, and rust-covered economy cars. Old men in battleship hats. Harley guys with military patches. School buses full of kids.

The first thing you’ll be greeted with are signs telling you to download the Wall tour mobile app. Which you’ll want to do. Because, chances are, if you’re here, you’re looking for a name on this Wall.

Last time I visited was six months ago. I was in town for work. I toured in relative silence, reading the names of the fallen.

There, I met a guy who was praying at the wall. He was tall. Skin like mocha. Wearing a white clergyman’s collar. He was crossing himself.

Catholic, I was guessing. Maybe Episcopalian?

He was placing little pink flowers against the wall.

“Lot of people forget about the chaplains in the Vietnam War,” he said. “I come here to honor the chaplains. There are 58,000 engraved names on this wall. Sixteen are chaplains.”

He crossed himself then used his phone to locate the next name.

Meir Engel was the name. A Jewish chaplain who died at age 50.

“He must’ve been like a grandpa over there,” said my new friend, searching for the name. “Fifty years old, dealing with teenage soldiers. They were babies.”

The youngest serviceman to be killed in Vietnam was 15 years old. Chaplains were like surrogate parents to high-school-age soldiers, far from home.

We finally found the name. My friend read a brief biography about Engel. Chaplain Engel was born in Israel, he immigrated to the United States. He left behind two sons.

My friend placed a pink flower at the wall and prayed.

“Military chaplains are overlooked veterans,” said the priest. “We honor the frontline heroes, officers and even rear-echelon guys. But we forget about the holy Joes.”

There were a lot of them in Vietnam.

There was Phillip Nichols. Army. A guitar playing chaplain. Assembly of God. Guys loved him. You didn’t get too many opportunities to sing “Amazing Grace” out in the bush, but Phillip made sure you did. He was killed by a booby trap while traveling between units.

William Barragy. Roman Catholic priest. He was meeting with the 101st Airborne Division. Offering comfort. Distributing the Eucharist. He was killed when the CH-47 he was riding in crashed. He was from Waterloo, Iowa.

Michael Quealy. Army. His superiors advised him not to go, but he did. He had to go. He was a priest, and that’s what you did.

Quealy flew into a hot zone near Saigon. He probably knew he was going to die. He was comforting bloodied soldiers, administering last rites to dying men when he was killed by incoming fire.

And lest we forget Chaplain James Johnson. Army. The only Black chaplain on the list. A special guy.

There were chaplains in Vietnam who accompanied their men, unarmed, on daily combat operations. Who did all this against the recommendations of his superiors because they took orders from a Higher Power.

You would have found them in the fields alongside soldiers every day, listening to young men vent, letting teenage soldiers cry into their chests. Praying with them.

Chaplains followed dying boys onto battlefields, weaponless. Went into hospitals with them, tramped through rice paddies, boarded ships and waded through knee-deep mud alongside them. Some performed baptisms in the yellow water of the Mekong River.

Other chaplains on the Wall I haven’t named are: Don Bartley, Robert Brett, Merle Brown, Vincent Cappodanno, William Feaster, William Garrity Jr., Ambrosio Grandea, Roger Heinz, Aloysius McGonigal, Morton Singer and Charles Watters.

As our tour came to a close, the priest placed the last of his flowers against the wall. “These were good men,” he said.

“It’s a tragedy,” I said.

The priest looked at me. “Tragedy? What do you mean?”

“All these good chaplains, dying like they did.”

He smiled. “Oh, these men aren’t dead, brother. Nobody on this wall is.”


  1. PSC - November 12, 2022 6:50 am

    Truly touching. My deceased pastor-father volunteered as a chaplain in 1942 right after Pearl Harbor. He was 38 with a wife and two kids. His superiors tried to talk him out of volunteering, but as Sean said, “He had to go.” He served until peace was restored. Most of his time was in the Central and South Pacific, more often than not in combat zones. Yes, chaplains are unsung heroes. Blessings to all who served, and prayers for their families who waited — especially for those who did not return.

  2. Lucretia Jones - November 12, 2022 7:07 am


  3. mccutchen52 - November 12, 2022 9:31 am

    I leave my prayers.

  4. Rhett Talbert - November 12, 2022 10:25 am

    That’s right.

  5. Leigh Amiot - November 12, 2022 10:30 am

    “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”—John 15:13
    For believers, it truly is a wondrous thing to grasp that when one’s last breath has been exhaled, life continues without interruption. The deceased are gone to us in this leg of life’s body and presence, but as the priest said, “…these men aren’t dead…”. In Christ, the hope and belief of seeing them again remains.

    • Richard Baker - November 13, 2022 4:27 pm


  6. Gordon Walden - November 12, 2022 10:51 am

    Thanks for this wonderful story on a special day.The Wall is a very sacred spot.My brother and I both made it home from VN and I was fortunate to make my first visit to the Wall side by side with him! Very special moments.

    • Richard Baker - November 13, 2022 4:28 pm

      Thanks to you both for your service!

  7. Mary Dietrich-Kauflin - November 12, 2022 11:56 am

    Thank you for remembering the forgotten.

  8. LBJ - November 12, 2022 11:59 am


  9. Melissa Brown - November 12, 2022 11:59 am

    Only dead to the world we live in !!!

  10. Julia - November 12, 2022 12:11 pm

    Thank you Sean.

  11. Marcia - November 12, 2022 12:31 pm

    They are so not dead but with our Lord forever!🙌🏻 God bless their families.
    Thank you to all who have served.

  12. Debbie Schmidt - November 12, 2022 12:32 pm


  13. Durand - November 12, 2022 12:36 pm

    My dad’s 20 year old brother’s name is engraved on the wall. Ray Houston Woods. I will be sharing this with him today. Thank you. 🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻

  14. SheilaG - November 12, 2022 12:47 pm

    Thank you for this remembrance of the chaplains. One of my friends was widowed by Vietnam…her beloved husband was one of the first men you named here, I won’t say which one in order to protect her privacy. She lived bravely as a single mother for a long time and met another lovely man later in life. I have always admired her for her ability to keep forging ahead without becoming bitter about her loss. God bless all who served, whether on the battlefield or at home.

  15. Joy Jacobs - November 12, 2022 1:25 pm

    I wouldn’t say the Viet Nam Memorial is my favorite stop in DC but being 70 years old it is very much in my heart. Our last visit included our granddaughter and we took our picture in front of the place where my hubby’s ROTC high school classmate’s name was. He had barely graduated high school when he was killed in Viet Nam. So sad.

  16. Diana - November 12, 2022 1:33 pm


  17. Jennifer - November 12, 2022 1:55 pm

    Thank you for sharing the names of the sixteen chaplains whose names are on The Wall. I never thought about how many died while serving others.❤️🇺🇸❤️

  18. Becky Capps - November 12, 2022 1:56 pm

    Loved this tribute❤️
    I’m a Chaplain at a VA (Veterans) hospital in Illinois. While I didn’t serve in the military, I serve those who did. What an honor!

  19. David - November 12, 2022 1:57 pm

    For those of us who may never make it to D.C., there’s a “traveling” replica that brings the wall to us. See which currently includes their schedule for the remainder of 2022 and all next year. Many communities and States have their own memorials as well.

  20. Deacon Nick - November 12, 2022 2:09 pm

    Amen! There souls are in an better place!

  21. Sharon - November 12, 2022 2:13 pm


  22. Pat Thomason - November 12, 2022 2:31 pm

    Thank you. I will forevermore remember the chaplains that died in our wars. I just wasn’t aware of how many of those special veterans who died in war, weaponless.

  23. David - November 12, 2022 2:35 pm

    Thanks for recognizing these great men!

  24. suzfrew - November 12, 2022 2:36 pm

    Thank you Sean, for this reminder…please lift a young chaplain serving right now on a ship out there somewhere, Chris Terrell, Navy. Amen.

  25. Deacon Nick - November 12, 2022 2:40 pm

    To expand a bit on this great column, Father Vincent Capodanno died in action while ministering to wounded Marines during the Vietnam War, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest possible decoration granted a member of the U.S. Military. From April 1966, Grunt Padre as his men called him, spent his first combat tour with his men, and re-enlisted to bring Christ to those who were dying. He was killed on September 4th, 1967, unarmed, wounded and tending to his wounded Marines, giving them last rites.

    • Michael Edwards - November 16, 2022 1:41 am

      There is a deeply moving film documentary about Father Capodanno’s life. I can’t remember exactly, but I think I saw it on Louisiana Public Television or EWTN network. If you ever get a chance to see it, it’s a truly inspiring story of a humble man called by God to love and serve his men with honor and courage.

      • Linda Willson - November 27, 2022 1:45 pm

        Thx for letting us know. I will definitely look up this documentary.

  26. ALLEN - November 12, 2022 2:49 pm

    Forwarding to my pastor!

  27. Melanie - November 12, 2022 2:53 pm

    Thank you Sean. ❤️❤️‍🩹🙏🏻For every soul in every conflict

  28. Patricia Gibson - November 12, 2022 2:58 pm


  29. Sean of the South: Chaplains On The Wall | The Trussville Tribune - November 12, 2022 2:58 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

  30. Al - November 12, 2022 3:06 pm

    Thank you for honoring the Chaplains and also all whose names are on the Wall.

  31. sjhl7 - November 12, 2022 3:17 pm

    Amen and Amen!

  32. Maggie Priestaf - November 12, 2022 3:28 pm

    Thank you, Sean…again.

  33. Janie Johnson - November 12, 2022 3:48 pm

    Thank you Sean for a beautiful Veterans Day tribute.
    My Veterans Day story, my brother Tom was born on Veterans Day 1949. He died in combat in Vietnam on July 4, 1969.
    He was and will always be my hero.

  34. pattymack43 - November 12, 2022 4:00 pm

    As Mom to a Pastor and friend to several Army chaplains, thank you! 🙏❤️🙏

  35. Tensie L. Campbell - November 12, 2022 4:07 pm

    Wow, this is powerful! That wall is sobering to a degree of no other memorial. If I ever visit it again I’d like to find these chaplains names.

  36. Eugene Worley - November 12, 2022 4:16 pm

    Thanks for this note and all the others that you do. You are a special gift to us.
    In this note i especially appreciated the last line.

    He smiled. “Oh, these men aren’t dead, brother. Nobody on this wall is.”

    Very, very thoughtful

  37. LIN ARNOLD - November 12, 2022 4:45 pm

    My Dad was career Army. He enlisted at the age of 16 and was sent to Bora Bora during WWII. Then he spent his stint in Korea. After that, he became a Communications Specialist and worked in the basement of the White House for the White House Communications Agency, traveling the world with Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and part of Johnson. Then they sent him to Viet Nam. He was the “radio man” out on those patrols. He was the prime target with that radio equipment strapped to his back. And he survived it and came home to us at Fort Riley, Kansas on Thanksgiving morning 1967. He was 46. They told him that if he re-enlisted in January, he’d be back in Vietnam by July. He retired. But he was one of the lucky ones. We lived on an Army post. We saw the chaplains and the grief squads calling on the families waiting for their husbands and Dads to come home. Not all of my friends were as lucky as us. God bless and rest in peace to all those that came home in a box. And especially to those that never came home at all.

  38. Naomi - November 12, 2022 4:49 pm

    Lets not forget all of the other wars–WW I, WW II, The Korean War, Pearl Harbor. The Rabbi at the Reform Synagogue in Atlanta was a chaplain during WW II. Also, don’t forget about all of the doctors and nurses who were killed during these wars. My husband served in Japan during the Korean War. He is an ordained Southern Baptist preacher, but he was not a chaplain. He worked with the chaplain; they had a bus, and once a week, they would drive through the fishing villages and pick up anyone who wanted to attend a Bible study. By the time he left, they had started a church. We went to the Punch Bowl (an American military cemetery in Hawaii); They have a wall of all of the men who were MIAs; he found the names of six men who he served with in Japan.

  39. Mary - November 12, 2022 5:30 pm

    A tear jerker for sure.They were all God’s warriors. Thank you

  40. Stacey Wallace - November 12, 2022 5:51 pm

    May God bless these men, their families, and all our veterans. They are my heroes. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

  41. Tim Bishop - November 12, 2022 6:24 pm

    Deep. I love seeing the unwavering commitment of these men of God, who saw beyond the politics and the risk to their own wellbeing in service to the Almighty and to those suffering around them. We need the same spirit of bravery in America today, not just with clergy but all believers. It’s time to minister kindness and understanding and to speak the truth with compassion so the perishing can embrace it before their time is up.

    • Marie - November 13, 2022 2:33 am


  42. Tommy - November 12, 2022 7:27 pm

    I went through basic training for the National Guard in 1969. When i finished high school Vietnam was the foremost thought on every young man’s mind. I never kept up with my 2 best buddies from basic, but neither did i find their names on that wall. A few names that i remember – none i found listed on Several from my home area are. Ironically, i have met one chaplain with Combat Infantryman Badge and drill sergeant badge. Have seen pictures of a few chaplains with CIBs; not all were ‘preachers’ all their lives. God bless all those who served.

  43. Sherry Phillips - November 12, 2022 8:35 pm

    Wonderful story. I was in DC a few weeks ago for the OSS Society meeting. OSS preceded CIA so many present had fathers who were killed in Europe but knew they killed hundreds of Nazis

  44. Cindy Anderson - November 12, 2022 9:33 pm

    This is really powerful. I’ve been privileged to see The Wall. It’s very emotional. I hadn’t thought of the Chaplains while I was there. I will think of them from now on.

  45. Irondoor - November 12, 2022 9:55 pm

    At the bases in Thailand before a big mission into N Vietnam, the Chaplain walked the flight line offering blessings to the pilots in their planes. As one pilot said, “I’m not very religious, but I’ll use everything I can”. If they made it back, they were met by their crew chief with a cold towel and a cold beer. Thank God for Chaplains and cold beer.

  46. MAM - November 13, 2022 12:03 am

    Veterans’ Day is always emotional for me. My dad served in WWI and WWII. He died 51 years ago, but I still miss him and think about him often. He is my own personal hero.

  47. Paula Ann Loftis - November 13, 2022 12:04 am

    Thank you Sean for this remembrance.

  48. Melissa - November 13, 2022 12:09 am


  49. Susan Averill - November 13, 2022 12:49 am

    Sean, I am part of the generation that sent our friends and schoolmates to Viet Nam. Thank you for letting me know about the chaplains who were there in field with them

  50. Rosanne Mccullough - November 13, 2022 1:10 am

    I look forward everyday to your writings. God has surely gifted you with a most precious ability. To be able to touch peoples lives. To make them laugh, reminence and yes sometimes cry. Thank you.

  51. Connie - November 13, 2022 12:00 pm


  52. Tom Gonzalez - November 13, 2022 6:15 pm

    During the Second World War three Chaplains were aboard a troop ship in the Pacific when it was torpedoed. The ship sank rapidly, many men didn’t have time to grab a lifejacket before jumping into the sea. Seeing the men struggling to stay alive these three Chaplains gave their lifejackets to three of the swimmers. They stayed together, singing hymns and praying until they died, one by one. They knew their Lord was waiting for them and went to Him unafraid.

  53. Mark Morgan - November 14, 2022 6:42 pm

    Thanks for honoring the fallen chaplains from Vietnam. I currently serve as an Army chaplain, and we still serve alongside or men and women in uniform no matter where they are! God bless you for these encouraging words and for honoring our chaplains!
    Chaplain Mark Morgan, US Army

  54. George Robert Leach - November 14, 2022 7:19 pm

    Excellent description of the Chaplains’ service. We had 2 or 3 come out for services. Liked you complete description of their service to us. I felt relieved when we had a Chaplain. Glad you have pointed this lack of recognition from the past. We appreciate your efforts. Welcome home to those that served.

  55. Lorraine Miller - November 15, 2022 1:24 pm

    My husband and I truly enjoy your posts. You make us laugh and cry. Thank you so much.

  56. Susan W Fitch - November 16, 2022 10:42 pm

    WOW, what more could I write? The Wall speaks to all of us. I’m glad that I could visit and touch this memorial

  57. Renee Welton - July 26, 2023 1:16 pm



Leave a Comment