In Vietnam, Wesley Harrell spread the Lord’s word among his fellow soldiers. He spoke of God often though few seemed to listen until they encountered war’s sudden death.
After one man died, Harrell “announced that we were going to have a Bible study and prayer meeting in the middle of the jungle. I climbed up on a movable fold-up bridge that had been laid out before dark and with an M16 rifle strapped around my shoulder, a Gideon New Testament in one hand and a red filtered flashlight in the other, preached the gospel to over 100 who gathered to study and pray. They needed the gospel they heard that evening. ... I suppose that this shows that there are no atheists in foxholes. At any rate, some heard the gospel for the last time that night.”
Harrell shares this story in his memoir, “A Soldier Called Preacher,” written using his first name, Charles W. Harrell. The book shares how this associate pastor of Naylor Baptist Church came of age in a godly South Georgia family, how he went to war as a young man in Vietnam and how he left the military for the ministry, raising a family and saving souls as he made his way back to home.
The crux of the book is how Wesley Harrell maintained his faith in the face of the horrors of combat. His faith nearly kept him from the war.
Before the military, Harrell faced a conflict within his soul. Given his religious convictions, the young Wesley Harrell wondered what he would do. Could he face a person in combat? Could he do what a soldier must do? “Was I a conscientious objector or not?”
But he joined, assigned to the Black Knights, C Troop of the 3rd Squadron of the 5th Cavalry, 9th Infantry Division, in Vietnam for a year. Harrell writes, “The conflict took on a different level. It was no longer a conflict of the conscience, but became a conflict in flesh and blood, primarily seeking the survival of myself and those in my Army unit as well.”
He often found himself in a leadership position. He always shared the gospel. He faced devastating losses, sustained by faith in situations that sorely tested one’s beliefs.
Harrell talks about an Army friend. “This one fellow I witnessed to on a daily basis.” The friend wanted to know more about God and the Bible. “He said, ‘I think if I don’t know Christ, I’m going to die over here.’”
The friend was at cusp of acceptance until he realized it was nearly the end of his tour of duty. Counting down the days to home, the friend believed he would survive Vietnam. He stopped asking about being saved, believing he would soon be safe at home. Before that day came, Harrell’s friend was killed, in country; he never made it home.
“He was a good friend,” Harrell says.
Though such experiences kept Harrell from continuing to make deep friendships overseas, he did not lose faith in God’s will and God’s plan.
He experienced combat but admits his faith helped him fare better afterwards than some of his fellow veterans. Harrell says he cannot speak for his fellow veterans, only his experiences. It’s how he was raised and he carried this church upbringing to war. Back home, he had people praying for him.
“Mama would tell me there were times she would wake up and sit straight up and immediately pray for me,” Harrell says. “I don’t know what I may have been going through at those moments, but her prayers may have seen me through.”
Leaving the war, returning home, his faith kept him invigorated, provided him a path and mission in life, kept the dark memories of war at bay.
Even decades later, married for years to wife Dianne, having raised two children, Mark Harrell and Dana Ellis, and now a grandfather to five grandchildren, Wesley Harrell says he felt compelled to write his memoir but not as therapy but as a means to share the strength and promise of faith.
“It had been in my head a long time,” he says. “One day, I started writing ... I would take a pad and write by hand.” Harrell wrote of his Berrien County childhood, of Vietnam, of coming home.
As a preacher, he had shared some of his war stories whenever they helped illustrate a sermon. So some of the experiences were not only ingrained but were already prepared mentally as part of a narrative, infused with Scripture, which he also shares in “A Soldier Called Preacher.”
While many writers recall more as they pen their books, Harrell says he’s surprised at how much he didn’t recall until after the book was published. He plans to write a second book that will delve even deeper into his wartime experiences.
He hopes the book reaches people and reveals to them that conflicts are an essential part of life and faith. Harrell also hopes it reaches some of his Army friends who returned from Vietnam but many of whom he has not seen since the days of war so many years ago.
Charles W. (Wesley) Harrell’s “A Soldier Called Preacher” is available through amazon.com, through his Facebook site, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by mailing Wesley Harrell, 8869 Highway 135, Naylor, Ga. 31641. Book costs $15.