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"We talked until the lights went out in his eyes." (Video interview, 41:38).

   David W. Polhemus
Image of David W. Polhemus
David Polehemus [detail from video]
War: Korean War, 1950-1953; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 82nd Airborne Division
Service Location: Fort Bliss, Texas; Korea; also:
Rank: Colonel
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The son of a Methodist minister who served as a military chaplain during World War II, Colonel David Polhemus always felt drawn to the role of counseling troops. Acting as the chaplain to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he explains, is when he learned the difference that a chaplain could make in the lives of the soldiers around him. He terms his approach a “ministry of presence”—that his simple presence could do more for ailing soldiers than any sermon from the pulpit. He continued to employ this method during his time in Vietnam, though he remains haunted by the things that he witnessed in country. Following his military service, he became a counselor to soldiers who, like himself, struggle with post traumatic stress disorder.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (4 clips)
»Complete Interview  
Download: video (91 min.)
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»Vietnam War: Looking Back
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (4 items)
As an Army chaplain, had a lot of leeway to express his own opinion; expressed antiwar sentiments from the pulpit; Army expected him to speak on the moral/ethical issues of the time. (00:42) Serving as chaplain in Vietnam; attending to dying soldiers; talking with them about home; a particular patient who died in front of him. (02:03) Spending four years at the Academy of Health Services; developing a course on medical ethics. (02:38)
Was awarded a doctorate in Pastoral Counseling; wrote his thesis on Vietnam veterans and post-traumatic stress disorder; set up a counseling group for Vietnam vets; realizing he had PTSD himself; PTSD is treatable but you can never be cured. (01:29)  
  
 
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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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