Chaplain recalls worship on blood-soaked hillcomment (0)
November 7, 2013
Chaplain Parker Thompson can recall the moment — more than 60 years ago — he knew he was where God wanted him as an Army chaplain in the Korean War.
With the war’s end in sight in the summer of 1953, fighting grew furious as the two sides hammered out an agreement over the transfer of prisoners of war.
On the backside of a blood-soaked hill near some of the deadliest fighting of the war, Thompson waited for 10 to 20 troops — whoever could make it — to join him for an impromptu worship service. In those moments, with life and death “tenuous” he would later say, the young Army chaplain stopped to ponder his calling.
“A peace came over me,” said Thompson, a Southern Baptist chaplain who was then 27. “This is my place. I wouldn’t trade this hillside for any church or pulpit in America. That never left me.”
He is one of an estimated 120 Southern Baptist chaplains who served during the Korean War.
“Chaplain Parker Thompson is truly one of our nation’s heroes, one of our last remaining military chaplains who brought the presence of the Lord to our troops on the blood-soaked battlefields of the Korean War,” said Doug Carver, executive director of the North American Mission Board’s chaplaincy team and a former U.S. Army two-star general.
Born into a family with a long and distinguished history of military service, Thompson wanted to be a soldier as long as he can remember. But as Thompson began to read his Bible and become active in Calvary Baptist Church, St. Louis, Mo., he sensed a growing call to ministry, then specifically chaplaincy.
“It just came over me: Do you want to spend your life as an Army officer or do you want to share what God has given you?” Thompson recounted.
War broke out in Korea in June 1950, and just four days after his May 1951 seminary graduation, Thompson began his paperwork for entrance into the Chaplain Corps. After a short stint in the reserves, he began serving on active duty as an endorsed chaplain of the Southern Baptist Convention. He arrived in Korea in November 1952.
Besides the obvious dangers and encumbrances of war — he was wounded five times during combat — ministry during much of the Korean War wasn’t much different than a civilian pastorate, Thompson said. He spent much of his time planning worship services, counseling soldiers and getting to know the troops.
“Most of my sermons were evangelistic in nature,” Thompson said. “The soldiers were facing life-and-death situations.”
Because chaplains were expected to minister on the front lines of the war, they faced many of the same challenges fellow soldiers faced, but without the aid of firearms.
“I can honestly say without reservation, if I knew then what I know now, I’d do it all over again,” Thompson said.
“It was the greatest experience not only being a chaplain to our young men and women, but then to come back enriched from that experience and being able to serve as a pastor for 31 years in two different Baptist churches.”