A Chaplain Remembers Vietnam by Sam Hopkins, who
served with 4th Battalion 60th Artillery (Dusters), is now available.
"From 1966 to 1968, I was privileged to serve with 800 men who
were called upon by our country to go to Vietnam and fight against a
dedicated and deadly foe. We formed a new unit together, trained for six
months together, shipped out together, served our tour of duty together,
and came home together. Togetherness is the main theme of our unit's
"My unit's veterans celebrate these precious bonds to this very day,
especially our affections for our former fallen buddies and their
surviving families. The National Dusters, Quads, and Searchlight
Association actively supports the American Gold Star Mothers, an
organization for women who lost their sons in combat. Proceeds from sales
of this book will be donated to projects and services that will benefit
these ladies. May God add His blessings to these enterprises".
For God and Country,
CH (COL) Samuel W. Hopkins, Jr., Ph.D.
Priced at $19.95, A Chaplain Remembers Vietnam is 294 pages soft
cover and features over 80 full-page photos.
(Truman Publishing) for more details, photos, excerpts and ordering
Jo Anne Embleton Jacksonville Daily
Jacksonville Daily Progress Sat Nov
09, 2013, 10:17 AM CST
JACKSONVILLE — God's ways are mysterious, something that retired Army
chaplain Sam Hopkins knows first-hand: In 2004, he got to accompany a group
of Gold Star Mothers to Vietnam, where they retraced the steps of their
fallen hero sons.
“You hear about veterans who come back from Vietnam, who look up the
families of people they served with and they pay their respects,” but to be
able to let these women see where their children spent their last living
moments “really is poetic, it's really fulfilling,” he said, adding that it
provided a sense of healing for both the mothers and the veterans.
Then his mid-20s, Hopkins was deployed to Vietnam in 1967, where he
ministered to some 800 men with the 4th Battlion
of the 60th Artillery of the U.S. Army, before completing his assignment a
“My unit came out pretty well – we had about 45 wounded and we lost six
or eight,” he said, describing how a strong bond among the group resulted
in the creation of a national organization known as the National Dusters,
Quads and Searchlights Association.
While it's not uncommon for veterans to want to revisit the areas years
after they served there, “we realized that there were a lot of families, in
particular, parents – and in particular, mothers who lost sons there, who
might want toknow what happened and where,” he
said, so association members began a project to raise money to escort Gold
Star Mothers to Vietnam.
“We'll take any mother who wants to go – she doesn't even necessarily
have to belong to the Gold Star Mothers association,” he said.
The group found a variety of ways to raise funds for the project, and
Hopkins, who had kept a pictorial diary of sorts of “my all-expenses paid
trip to beautiful Vietnam from Uncle Sam,” hit upon the idea to put
together a book after writing a brief history for his group after a call
was put out for information for stories about “our tours of duty and what
happened in our units.”
His book, “A Chaplain Remembers Vietnam,” was published in 2002 and
proceeds of its sales – “they were modest sales,” he grinned – were donated
to the association's Gold Star Mother project, which began in 2000.
“All total, my association made five trips to Vietnam, with anywhere
from three to six mothers in a group,” he said. “I think we've served a
total of 32 mothers, and we would have done more if we could have found
more, the mothers are getting so old. The average age of the Vietnam
veteran now is in the mid-60s, and their mothers would be an average of 20
In 2004, the former Army chaplain was able to see first-hand the kind of
healing ministry his group was helping to provide these still-grieving
That year, a group of four veterans escorted six Gold Star Mothers on a
16-day guided tour “all over Vietnam by bus,” visiting areas that their
sons had seen nearly four decades before, Hopkins said.
“We started a little south of Saigon and made it all the way up to the
DMZ (near what was then North Vietnam),” he recalled.
The veterans planned a special ceremony for the mothers, which involved setting a spray of flowers and small
flags into the ground, in a spot “close to the last place he served,” he
“We'd just gathered together and … we'd say something like, 'Pvt. Beetle
Baily came over and he was with this unit, and
they went there and they did this and he was here, and on this date,
unfortunately, we lost him. But we want to celebrate his service for his
country and his family.'
“This is the part that was really touching, it
was how we finished it: One of the men would come over, and we'd have the
mother standing there and he'd take a little trowel and dig up some dirt.
Then he'd come over and put his foot print in the dirt, saying, 'You know,
your son stepped right here. Mom, come over – put your foot on it.'
“And then we'd dig up the dirt and put it in sack to give to the mom and
say, 'You can take this home; you've walked where your son walked,'”
It was a poignant moment for the group, but “that's the part that did us
some good, because it was a remembrance, a celebration years after the
funerals,” he said.
“There's always some residual grief, and we didn't want to drag them
through that loss again,” he added. “They were a little nervous about (the
visit to Vietnam) at first, but as they'd look around, they would say,
'This is a beautiful country … my son used to write home and tell us how
pretty it was.' After awhile (on the trip), one would say, 'These people
are really friendly,' and we said, 'Yeah, we felt the same way,'” Hopkins
Gradually, the loss and pain transformed into something the grieving
mothers could embrace with a kind of peace inside.
“They began to identify with what their sons had found worth fighting
for – that there were people there who needed help, that you could learn to
love and like. That the country was gorgeous, and among other things, they
learned to love and like Vietnam like their sons had,” he said. “They
weren't sure at first (that) this was going to be a good experience, but
it's kind of like when the family gets together at Thanksgiving and talk
about Grandma. She's gone (but) we're sharing all these good memories.”
A healing moment also came for veterans who, Hopkins pointed out, still
were carrying with them survivor's guilt.
“When you're in the service, you become a band of brothers,” he said,
adding that he reminded the women that while 'You lost one son, you've got
us,' recalling the gratitude they expressed for those words of assurance.
But the veterans also “were saying in so many ways, 'We're so sorry we
couldn't bring 'em all home, because we tried' –
and that's survivor's guilt. And these mothers said to us, 'We wouldn't
have wanted anything to happen to you, either,'” he recalled.
He's come full circle from conducting funerals for servicemen who
returned from Vietnam in caskets, to being able to accompany the mothers of
some to a land where their sons last walked, and it's been an uplifting
“To take them back to where we had been, and to be able to share our
experiences with them because they knew we knew their boys” has been
priceless, he said.