Serving God & Country

Del Brown, 87, sits in his office with his dog, a Shih Tzu named Chloe, at their home. Brown, a retired army chaplain veteran, became a pastor after accepting Jesus in college and was eventually deployed to Vietnam. Daily Record photos by Denise Cathey

First United Methodist Church

Del Brown’s profile is a bit of a departure from what you are accustomed to seeing in this space. His career is behind him, but he is by no means spending all his days in a rocking chair in front of the TV.

My personal experience and observation of Brown is that his energy, interest and activity belie his 87 years. He is retired, but he is not retiring. That statement is based on my observation of him and his activity with the First United Methodist Church in San Marcos.

I asked him to “Tell me about yourself.”

After a moment of silence, a quizzical look, and a sort of a bashful smile, he began, “I was born March 3, 1931, the same day the United States named the Star Spangled Banner as our national anthem. I was born in Seville, Ohio, 45 miles south of Cleveland. My father was also in the ministry.”

I haven’t told you that Brown is a chaplain, retired from the U. S. Army after 20 years of service.

The youngest of four children, he is the sole survivor among his siblings.

As he continued with the description of his family, “One sister died at the age of 96, my older brother died at age 90,” Del said as he recounted that his mother was a stay at home housewife and his father was a prototypical helpmate.

“As a minister’s family, we moved a lot. My dad was in the Northeast Ohio Conference of the Methodist Church in Ohio. One of my early memories, at about age five, is while sitting in the pew as my father was preaching, I suddenly responded to a strange urge, so I walked down the aisle, climbed into the pulpit and said, ‘Dad, why are you yelling?’ My memory is that my father was stunned and my mother was very upset.

“I think that event affected my own preaching many years later.”

Del Brown looks at the wall of his office he has covered with many framed photos of his family, children and grandchildren from over the years in his San Marcos home.

Brown revealed that he has many of his father’s sermons – the notes, no recordings – but he has never resorted to using any of them in his own sermons.

Moving around was common and when his dad was pastor of First United Methodist Church of Granville, Ohio, Brown delivered newspapers. Later in Green Springs, Ohio, when Brown was in first grade, he and a girl of his class had an occasion to dress as George and Martha Washington. As those characters, they danced – in first grade – they danced.

“Many years later, while stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, I met that same girl,” Brown said. “Her name was Ann. For us to meet at Fort Polk, of all places, after all those years was an astonishing coincidence.”

Back to his own family, Brown relates that his younger brother, Ralph, died young, of a cerebral hemorrhage while watching his son pitch in a Little League baseball game. He had a congenital dysfunction in the skull area, but the suddenness of his death was a shock to the family.

“My dad’s last assignment was in Wellington, Ohio, which has a good history for me. That is where I really grew up,” Brown said. “I did not know for sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was influenced by my dad and his profession, but I was far from certain about going into the ministry.

“I graduated from Wellington High School in 1949. That was a good year. Football players did not wear masks.”

I interjected, “Did you play football in high school?”

“I played one time. Made a touchdown. Ran the wrong direction. We decided I was not cut out to be a football player.

“When I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to college at Baldwin Wallace, where my father went. While in college, I attended an intervarsity fellowship and I was moved by what I found there. I had heard my father preach so much about all facets of religion: God, Christ, the Old Testament, the New Testament, but I was not prepared for what the intervarsity fellowship was going to lead me to.”

After attending a Friday night session of the intervarsity fellowship, Brown went to see his counselor the next morning who happened to be a Christian Education professor.

“I told him,” Brown related, “that while I had been around the church all my life, I was confused and unsure of myself. His response was, ‘Delbert, have you ever accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.’ I couldn’t remember. I did not know the answer.”

“Would you like to,” he asked. “‘I believe so,’ I replied. ‘I think I would.’ At that point, I went to my knees and there and then, I accepted Christ.”

It is appropriate here to inform the reader that Brown’s emotions rose to the surface as he related the foregoing. There was a quavering in his voice and tears were poised to dampen his cheeks, but he successfully stifled the outward expression of his inner feelings.

When he went home that evening and told his parents that he had accepted Christ into his life, his mom was ecstatic.

This turn of events was the answer to family prayers for Brown, as his mother related it. He recognized that he made the right choice with the urging of his professor.

Recognizing that he was about 17, when this took place, my question was how could he take a vow of life-long Christian service with no apparent misgivings and doubts of his own power to carry through?

“I went to college to become a veterinarian,” Brown said. “That was what I went for. However, shortly after my experience with the professor, my parents were planning a trip to Indiana. They asked if I preferred going with them and helping with the driving or would I prefer remaining at home and fill the pulpit on Sunday.

“I still had not firmly decided on my path. I responded that I would go with them. I just wasn’t sure about a career path.”

Del Brown rests his arm around his wife, Marie, and their Shi Tzu, Chloe. Brown met his current wife in 2006 after a chance meeting in a grocery store. They have been married for 11 years.

In spite of some indecision, Brown changed his major to religion, when he went back to college. This he saw as a prerequisite to his becoming a minister if that is where fate was to lead.

Brown’s next action was influential in his career path. He joined the Ohio National Guard which was part of the 37th Division.

“The Korean War began and in the guard I was assigned to a tank company and my job was tank driver,” Brown said. “I got along well with all in the guard, but they knew I was studying religion, so I became the preacher’s kid.

“To digress a bit, I met Barbara Robinson – we called her Robin – while in college. She was to later become my wife. In the meantime our unit was activated in May or June – I forget what year. (Author’s note: It was most likely 1950 or 1951.) I do know that I had begun to preach at a little church in Belden, Ohio. I think my father may have exerted some influence on my getting the job.”

“At times I put myself in more danger than I needed to. On one occasion, as I was conducting a service to dedicate a new chapel, it was apparent that a lot of engineering dirt work was underway nearby. Suddenly , a burst of machine gun fire came from the bulldozer. I looked over and saw the bulldozer driver had fired his weapon and momentarily a Viet Cong body fell from a tree on the edge of the clearing. That was my Vietnam.”
-Del Brown

Between the time his unit was activated for duty in Vietnam and the time they were to deploy to Korea, Brown received a deferment based on his preaching at the church.

“I couldn’t understand that action. Why was I not going to Korea with my unit? As it turned out, my unit never deployed to Korea. And I was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. Going back a bit, I was allowed to finish six months of service at Belden before I was called to active duty and sent to Fort Polk for basic training.”

The chaplain of the 146th Regiment found out that Brown was studying religion so he recruited him to his office as chaplain’s assistant. Following the end of the war, Brown was discharged from the army, in about 1953.

He returned to college after his discharge. As he explains, “Finished college in June of 1953; Robin and I married in June of 1954.

“Shortly after Robin and I married, I was appointed to Bryson, about nine miles away from Oberlin, Ohio. I was at this assignment as I was going through seminary. For some reason, I was not overly thrilled with Oberlin. Probably had to do with a professor or professors.

“Always wanted to go to Colorado, so, in 1956, I enrolled in Iliff seminary, near Denver Colorado. There was a small church about 200 miles south of Denver. I pastored the church on weekends and commuted to Denver to seminary during the week. Robin was pregnant with our first child when we got to Colorado and had a healthy birth of a little boy, Daniel. Unfortunately, we lost him to an crib accident. His blanket became wrapped around his throat.

“However Robin became pregnant soon after and had a healthy baby girl.”

Brown’s chaplaincy began almost simultaneously with his ordination, which, incidentally occurred as his father retired from the ministry. During the ordination process, Brown was called to the office of the Army Chaplain in Washington and approached about taking the job. As he explains it, Robin was ecstatic about the prospect.

Joe Jones, a chaplain with a background in combat soldiering during WWII, had a major influence on Brown’s choosing chaplaincy as a career path.

As a chaplain, his first assignment was Fort Slocum, New York in 1956. His next assignment was White Sands Missile Range. That was a joy, according to Brown.

“We were in on post housing and we simply got caught up in the military. Helped build a chapel there.”

Korea was the next assignment. It was there he got a bitter taste of military service. Homesickness; loss of his mother and unable to attend her funeral; missing the birth of a child; abandoning wife and children.

Fort Bliss followed the tour in Korea where Brown had the distinction of serving the first organized, officially recognized Women’s Army Corps. A derivation of WAAC, Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. A tour in Germany followed. There, one of his chapels was once used by Martin Luther King Jr.

Del Brown was a chaplain of and for the troops. As he navigated an obstacle course, used almost exclusively by the lower ranked enlisted people, one of the privates inquired, “Chaplain, why are you doing this?”

“Because you are,” Brown replied.

In 1963, Brown deployed to Vietnam with the 525th Intelligence Group, stationed near Saigon. Brown said he was issued a pistol, but never fired it.

Brown describes the chaplaincy as a nondenominational pursuit.

“You forget that you are a Lutheran, a Methodist, Baptist or whatever. Those distinctions disappeared. I was a Protestant and I did a lot of counseling on individual problems that soldiers were having. I also did a lot of teaching.”

A long discussion ensued about troop attitude, fears and the denial of personal danger.

It was a common occurrence for the young soldier to be afraid, but he was adroit at covering his fear.

“At times I put myself in more danger than I needed to. On one occasion, as I was conducting a service to dedicate a new chapel, it was apparent that a lot of engineering dirt work was underway nearby. Suddenly, a burst of machine gun fire came from the bulldozer. I looked over and saw the bulldozer driver had fired his weapon and momentarily a Viet Cong body fell from a tree on the edge of the clearing. That was my Vietnam.”

Del Brown was and is a man of God, but he is also a man of the troops. He proudly wears a Vietnam veterans’ cap, proclaiming his service in that conflict. But that tells only part of the story. He has served his God by serving our troops and he proclaims that fact with pride.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666