Tending His Flock Under Fire: A Chaplain Serving With Tiger Force In Vietnam

Curt Bowers


Chaplain Curt Bowers was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in February 1933. His father worked at Armstrong Lineoleum for 37 years, and during World War II the company produced shells. His mother stayed at home to raise Curt and his two younger brothers. He enjoyed being active in sports and hunting when he was in school and had a 1932 Ford that he liked to drive around. After high school, he experienced a personal crisis and felt like he had a hard time finding himself. In the fall of 1952, during the Korean War, he volunteered for the draft and joined the Army as a tank mechanic. After basic training at Ft. Knox, he was stationed in Bamberg, Germany, with 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment. While traveling to Germany aboard a ship, he and a buddy thought that setting off firecrackers was an appropriate way to celebrate the 4th of July. The ship’s captain disagreed, and Curt spent the rest of the voyage on KP (Kitchen Patrol). He enjoyed the camaraderie he found in 2d ACR and remembers patrolling the East German border. While in Germany, he attended chapel services and Chaplain Van Vorce, who had been a chaplain on Saipan during WWII, inspired him. He became a Christian due to his relationship with Chaplain Van Vorce and his wife. While in Germany, he also met his future wife Doris Shawver, whose father was the post engineer. When his enlistment was about to end, he took a trip to the Alps to pray and try to discern God’s will. He ended his trip deciding to “give it all to the Lord,” and distinctly remembers thinking, “I surrender.” Returning to the states, he attended Asbury College. In 1960, he was ordained an elder in the Church of the Nazarene and decided to rejoin the Army as a chaplain. He had also married Doris and they had their first child. Initially, he was told that there were too many Nazarene Chaplains on active duty and he was told to expect a 7 year wait to be called into the service, which was very discouraging. Fortunately, his wait was not that long, and he began his service in a Signal unit at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. His unit, the 68th Signal Battalion, deployed to Germany and he and Doris returned to Europe. He operated as a circuit-riding chaplain, traveling all over the country in his jeep ministering to the Soldiers. He remembers “lots of preaching and lots of counseling.” Returning from Germany, he reported to Ft. Campbell and was assigned to the 71st Evacuation Hospital, which was a good experience because previously he had been “afraid of hospitals.” During that assignment, a patient recommended he attend airborne school, and at 33 years old, he completed his first of what would become 53 jumps. Returning to Campbell, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry and in short order deployed to Vietnam aboard the General LeRoy T. Eltinge, the same ship he had sailed on to Germany as a Private 14 years earlier. Aboard ship, he addressed the questions and concerns of his Soldiers. In August 1965, the brigade landed at Cam Ranh Bay, which was an idyllic spot, but the brigade soon began its nomadic existence, conducting one operation after another in hot spots around the country. As chaplain, he endeavored to live like the Soldiers lived and experienced “exactly what the troops went through.” In his ministry, he worked hard to identify with the troops and be with them (“walking with them on their own turf”). Frequently he had to minister to Soldiers of different denominations, often under dangerous and stressful conditions, sometimes as they died. On operations, the danger was so real that he occasionally carried a .45 and hand grenades, and a picture snapped by an AP reporter at Ben Cat landed him in hot water. He once came across a dead North Vietnamese Captain and found a picture of the dead man’s family, and he said a prayer for them. On February 7, 1966, during Operation Van Buren near My Canh, Tiger Force (1-327) came to the rescue of a pinned down Platoon, and LT James Gardner was killed after destroying 5 North Vietnamese bunkers (he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor). Chaplain Bowers was at that battle and pulled 11 wounded Soldiers off Tiger Field under fire. Throughout his deployment to Vietnam, he had several close calls and was often under fire. He remembers the sheer delight of being home and seeing his family when his tour ended. Over the course of his career, he served around the country and around the world. After retiring in 1986, he became the Director of Chaplaincy Ministry for the Nazarene and spent 16 years in Kansas City. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his service in the Army, and his faith journey, stating “faith is real and it means everything to me.” He recalls many of the Soldiers he served with during his career and brings them to life with vivid detail. He shares stories of the confusion and chaos of combat and ministering to his flock during terrifying times. Finally, he reflects on what his service to God and his country means to him.


name Curt Bowers
institution Asbury College
service Chaplain
unit 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment; 68th Signal Battalion; 71st Evacuation Hospital; 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division
service dates 1952 1986