PTSI: A Chaplain at Khe Sanh

The 22 January 2018 edition of the Washington Post featured a full-page story (page A12) on a Navy chaplain who lived through the 1968 North Vietnamese siege of Khe Sanh. Ray Stubbe survived while many of the Marines he ministered to did not. As reported earlier in this blog, the Marine Corps depends on the Navy to supply it with corpsmen, medical aids, to help the wounded on the battlefield. The Corps also looks to the Navy to provide chaplains. Stubbe was one.

The horrors of the battle of Khe Sanh are legion, and Stubbe endured them. To the Marines he cared for, he often recited Psalm 91, which reads in part:

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.

 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;

 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

And yet, so many of the Marine at Khe Sanh died grisly deaths. Stubbe’s faith was unshaken, but he developed a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), from which he still suffers today. His words are instructive:

“These were mainly nineteen-year-olds . . . [who] had that genuine sense of caring for each other. I’ve really been enriched. I think we’re enriched by the difficulties we pass through as long as they don’t crumble us. For those of us that were there, it isn’t fifty years ago. It was last night.”

Two of Stubbe’s observations move me the most: that men in war care the most for each other, and that the ghastly events of combat are always with us even if they occurred long ago. Yes, those on the battlefield don’t fight for God or country or patriotism. They fight for each other. And the scars to the memory are as fresh today as they were the day they were formed.

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