The Hand of God in Vietnam
By Max Riekse, Army
Writing Type: Prose
By Max Riekse
In 1996. Lt. Col. Les Mitkos, an Army Reserve chaplain and a Lutheran minister in civilian life from Illinois, was asked to give the main Sunday morning sermon at the U.S. Army Infantry Center Chapel on Main Post, Fort Benning, Ga., which he did on Sept. 22.
It was an outstanding sermon from the heart in which he related the combat experience of a close personal friend who had been in Vietnam.
His sermon centered on the Three Ws — Worship, Work and Witness. Chaplain Mitkos’ friend had been an E-6 in the super-secret and mysterious U.S. Army Security Agency and assigned to the Fifth Special Forces in Vietnam. His friend later became a U.S. Army Reserve chaplain and was also one of those called up to support Operation Joint Endeavor.
In his Sunday morning sermon, he related that on one of his friend’s excursions into the fields of Vietnam in late 1970, he was with a unit made up of seven Americans and indigenous personnel in search of a Vietnamese Communist (VC) unit estimated at battalion size. The unit that his friend was with had stopped at a Vietnamese village in search of information on their quarry and was given very good intelligence on where they had gone.
This particular village had a strong Catholic presence with a Catholic priest visiting it upon occasion. Off they went, and before long they had picked up the trail and begun tracking them, only to discover later that the enemy force that they had been pursuing had doubled back and was heading toward the Vietnamese village and the people that had been of such great of help to them.
His friend and the men he was with arrived at the village around two hours too late. The village was destroyed, and it appeared that every man, woman and child in the village had been killed. There was dead silence. Then someone discovered a hole in the ground where a six-year-old girl had been hidden for safe keeping. She started to cry and would not stop. Several men suggested that she be left there as they had a mission to finish, and besides, it would not be a very smart or safe thing to do to try to bring her along with them. Where they were going was no place for small child, and her presence could put everyone’s life in great danger. One man even suggested killing her.
At that point, this six-year-old child walked over to a pair of dead people lying on the cold, hard ground that were presumably her parents and just stood there not crying. One man was heard to make the comment, "Why should we care what happens to them; they don't even cry for their own.” At that point she turned to them and said in broken English that there was no need to cry for them because “my parents knew Jesus.” One American started to cry and then it was contagious. Soon, 40 hard-core trained killers were down on their knees. The indigenous personnel, coming themselves from a spiritual background, had also recognized the spirituality of the moment and wept alongside the Americans.
For most of these men, their lives had been changed forever. The decision was made then and there to do the right thing despite the great risk to themselves. They took the little girl with them to a safe area.