Selfless Devotion: Chaplain Charles Watters and the Battle of Dak To
Bullets ripped through the air as American forces battled an enemy battalion for Hill 875 near Dak To, Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, on November 19, 1967. In the thick of the action was Chaplain Charles Joseph Watters. With his comrades locked in unforgiving combat against the enemy, American casualties piled up, and Watters rushed toward the frontline to dutifully tend to his flock. Unarmed and braving enemy bullets, the chaplain gave aid to the wounded, helped bring Americans to safety, and administered the Sacrament of Last Rites to those on the brink of death. No matter how intense the struggle became that day, Watters was never far from a fellow soldier in need of help.
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1927, Watters was ordained a Catholic priest in 1953 and went on to serve in several parishes across his home state. In 1962, he became a chaplain in the New Jersey Air National Guard and entered the United States Army as a chaplain in 1964. Assigned to the Republic of Vietnam in July 1966, Watters was attached to the 173d Support Battalion and faithfully stood shoulder to shoulder with American troops as they conducted operations in the field. Although he had completed his twelve-month tour in July 1967, Watters voluntarily extended his tour by another six months.
Back on the ground in the fight for Hill 875, Chaplain Watters was unfazed by the dangers all around him and continued to put himself in harms way to save his fellow Americans. As the Army Historical Foundation records, “Every time his unit began to charge the front line, Watters was ahead picking up the wounded and administering the sacraments to those who had fallen.” He daringly put himself in the way of friendly and enemy gunfire to retrieve the injured and bring them to safety. Among those the chaplain rescued was a paratrooper who was wounded and standing in shock in front of the raging battle lines. Watters dashed forward, placed the man on his shoulders, and carried him back to a more secure position.
Chaplain (Major) Charles J. Watters. (Photo Credit: Arlington National Cemetery)
After hours of fighting, Watters continued to perform brave deeds in the midst of the chaos and confusion. He was so dedicated to helping his fellow comrades that there was no space on the battlefield that was too dangerous for him to race toward. At one point in the fight, Watters’ battalion was forced to pull back into a perimeter, but the chaplain noticed that several wounded soldiers were stranded outside of the area. Despite the attempts of others to restrain him, Watters unhesitatingly bolted forward to assist those men. He left the perimeter three times, encountering enemy small-arms, automatic-weapons, and mortar fire along the way as he carried the wounded troops to safety.
Once Watters was certain that all the wounded were inside the perimeter, his work was far from over. He helped medics apply field bandages to open wounds, distributed food and water to the men, and provided spiritual strength to all in need of it. Helping his comrades until the very end, Chaplain Watters was mortally wounded as he was giving aid to the injured.
Through his fearlessness under fire and his fervent commitment to helping the men around him, Watters saved the lives of many men. For his “conspicuous gallantry…unyielding perseverance and selfless devotion to his comrades,” Chaplain Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the United States military’s highest decoration for valor. He became the first Army chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor since the Civil War and the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School later renamed its building Watters Hall.
Army Historical Foundation: Chaplain (MAJ) Charles J. Watters.
Congressional Medal of Honor Society: Charles J. Watters.
National Medal of Honor Museum: Nine Chaplains Awarded the Medal of Honor.