For this week’s Veterans page, I chose to interview a very interesting and delightful fellow. Meet Chaplain Amos E. Clemmons, retired Colonel – US Army. We must have talked for over 5 hours exchanging life’s experiences hence we managed only part of his interview. This will be Chapter I.
Along Came Ernestene
Amos was born on September 25, 1939 in Great Falls, Montana, but his Father landed a job in Seattle, Washington, after WWII began so Amos spent his early years there. After the war, his family returned to Montana settling in Polson adjacent to Flathead Lake and he graduated from Polson Public High School in 1957. Afterwards, Amos moved to Los Angeles to pursue his theology career hence he attended LA’s Baptist Theological Seminary. While attending college he worked for Bullock’s Department Store and Sears, Roebuck and Company, but more importantly, he met the love of his life, Ernestene James.
A dorm housemother assigned Ernestene and several young ladies to make beds and prepare college dorm rooms for newly arriving male students, so they decided it was prudent to short sheet one bed. Turns out, that bed would be Amos’ bed so on his very first night he became the brunt of their monkey business. Everyone laughed about the prank but who exactly committed this caper was kept under wraps. Later, when Amos and Ernestene met in the dining hall he was instantly attracted to her and they began dating which led her to confessing that she was the short sheet ring leader. As their relationship blossomed, Amos proposed to Ernestene leading him to seek her Father’s permission for her hand in marriage. Ernestene said yes but with one caveat, she did not want a wedding ring, which did not deter Amos. They planned to announce their engagement as a surprise during a Friday the 13th Party and Amos surprised her with a ring. I reckon that was a short sheet payback. Amos said, “I purchased your ring at Sears on a time loan and figuring the cost at four dollars per year, so if we stay married 50 years that will cover it”.
Really Quiet Neighbors
On December 17, 1960, Amos and Ernestene were married at Pasadena’s Chapel of the Roses and they promptly moved into a $45 per month furnished apartment in Glendale right next to Forrest Lawn Memorial Park. Amos said, “Our neighbors were really quiet”. They lived there eight months but when LA Baptist Theological Seminary moved to Newhall, they moved to 27206 Marchland Avenue in Saugus (now Canyon Country). Amos made a down payment of $295 towards their $12,995 brand new home. Life was wonderful for Amos and Ernestene, especially when Amos graduated with his Masters of Divinity Degree in June 1964.
Realizing that they relocated to a bedroom community with young families being so prominent and believing a new church was required, they began conducting Sunday services in their very own garage with about twenty parishioners. The First Baptist Church of Saugus began on November 19, 1961 under the leadership of Amos Clemmons. Soon, they outgrew their garage so they began using a school for Sunday services on Soledad, where Edwards Theater now sits. Meanwhile, they purchased 5 acres in Sand Canyon intending to build their new church however building requirements rendered that option far too expensive. This led to pursuing a property swap, of which Ernestene participated and helped consummate a fine deal on Luther Drive in Saugus. She participated with other Church members in the ground breaking ceremony because Amos had received word on May 4, 1966 from a United States Army recruiter informing him that he was enlisted.
Amos had spent much time and effort for several months applying with the Army to become a Chaplain. Never-the-less when Amos informed Ernestene that he would soon leave for the Army, she was so outraged that she refused to speak to him for four days. You see, their second daughter would be born just days later on May 12th, so Ernestene had much on her mind raising a three year old and now a new born baby. Amos was dedicated to his family and to ensure that he could adequately provide for them was his premise for beginning the arduous process of becoming an Army Chaplain. Once Ernestene wrapped her mind around this momentous decision, she embraced it fully. On July 5, 1966, Amos reported to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York for Chaplain Officer Basic Training. Training included military orientation, physical training, field training and bivouac, live fire drills (crawling under machine gun fire), and night navigation.
Following Basic Training, Amos came home for a two week leave absence when he drove his family in their 1963 Volkswagon to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he became Stockade Chaplain. Soon, Amos began serving the prisoners and he listened intently to their pleas for him to get them out of there because they were wrongly accused. As a rookie Chaplain he felt sorry for them and he sought justice, until he read their files and learned of their transgressions. Most of these men would do anything to evade military service. Later, Amos was ordered to McGregor Guided Missile Range, New Mexico where he served until August 1967 at which time he was ordered to South Vietnam.
On August 18, 1967, Amos flew aboard a Boeing 707 to Oahu, then Guam, then Clarke Air Force Base, Manila before landing at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport. However, there was one unnerving hiccup in route. Soon after lift off out of Oahu, due to mechanical issues the pilot returned to Oahu where they were delayed for several hours.
Big Red One
Once in-country, Amos was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division nicknamed The Big Red One and he reported to Lai Khe Base Camp near Bien Hoa.
Part II Coming Next Week
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.