Story by Clint Kelly

Photos by Steven Boitano, Steve Janssen and archives

The collegiate Gunhus graduated from Seattle Pacific College in 1962.


On April 20, 2001, SPU's Alumnus of the Year, Chaplain (Major General) G.T. Gunhus, will host alumni for a personal tour of the Pentagon and lunch in the Executive Dining Room. Lunch begins at 12:00 noon, with the tour at 1:30 p.m. For more information, or to make reservations,
call 206/281-ALUM.

Reflecting on his fallen comrades, Gunhus pauses at the Vietnam War Memorial in
Washington, D.C.

SPU Honors U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains
As the 2001 Alumnus of the Year

The Pentagon, headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense, is virtually a city of 23,000 employees. Somewhere along 17.5 miles of highly polished corridors is a door leading to the office of Major General Gaylord T. Gunhus. The chief of chaplains for the U.S. Army, he is a man at the nerve center of the "best-trained, best-equipped fighting force on earth."

For Gunhus to hold that position, it was necessary for the President of the United States to "repose special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities" he possesses. Along with that trust came a promotion to two-star general and the oversight and care of 2,323 active duty, National Guard and reserve chaplains worldwide.

Because of his contribution to countless American soldiers in more than three decades of service, Seattle Pacific University has also awarded G.T. Gunhus, Class of 1962, its highest honor: Alumnus of the Year for 2001. Gunhus and his family will be special guests during SPU's Homecoming celebrations in February. At several venues, including Homecoming Chapel on February 1, the chaplain plans to relate the keys to his successful rise in the military ranks. "The principles of faith, as taught at Seattle Pacific, can never steer us wrong," says the certified paratrooper, father of three and grandfather of six. "I will challenge students to live by those values. They are what hold us steady. By them, graduates will spread throughout the world and become beacon lights. That is the significant impact of SPU. That is what has lasting and eternal effect."

"When General Gunhus talks about the influence of SPU alumni, I listen," says President Philip Eaton. "He embodies the University's vision for preparing graduates of competence and character who go on to change the world. I'm so pleased that we are honoring his achievements in this way."

Time and again in a career spanning the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, and multiple peacekeeping missions to The Balkans and elsewhere, Gunhus has seen the Christian gospel make a difference. During the height of the Vietnam War, except for his own combat tour, the former Centurion and resident of Moyer Hall was stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The central processing facility for new draftees on their way to the war zone, Ft. Lewis was a sea of frightened faces looking toward an uncertain future. It was a war to which the nation was not fully committed, and the raw recruits did not want to die for an unpopular cause."They were lined up from six in the morning until nine at night getting processed," Gunhus remembers. "There were three of us chaplains to minister to this unusual community. We might have them for six or seven days at most, then a new batch took their place.

"They needed assurance, so we talked to them and prayed with them. Many were looking for a way out, but we prayed for their courage. The next time we'd see them was a year later when we'd do a discharge service for them upon their return. They had survived by the grace of God. They would ask, 'Remember me? You listened to me and heard my pain. You prayed with me. You were the only thing that stood between me and going AWOL and a dishonorable discharge.'"

Optimism and grace in difficult circumstances is what drew SPU Alumni Director Doug Taylor to Gunhus. Taylor flew to Fort Myer, Virginia, in 1999 to attend the confirmation ceremony that placed Gunhus at the head of Army chaplains. "It takes a kind, approachable person of great fortitude to minister to the needs of soldiers," says Taylor. "G.T. is the consummate diplomat, and the other chaplains at the ceremony expressed a tremendous respect for the man."

Donald Demaray, the Senior Beeson Professor of Biblical Preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary, was Gunhus' former professor and dean of the School of Religion at Seattle Pacific. Thirty-eight years later, he continues to send Gunhus occasional letters of encouragement. "He is marked by integrity and care in work, and enjoys a happy family life," says Demaray. "He is thoroughly dedicated to the Lord and his kingdom. I am so proud of him."

Gunhus' diplomacy is firmly tested by the sheer diversity of faith traditions represented in today's Army. When his father, H.J. Gunhus, was a career Army chaplain in WWII, soldiers were basically Jewish, Orthodox, Roman Catholic or members of one of seven Protestant denominations. Today, G.T. Gunhus works with 238 separate religious affiliations, including Islam."It's become a very complex world and under the First Amendment, we must facilitate the free exercise of religion," he explains. "Each cleric agrees to what we call cooperation without compromise. As a Lutheran Brethren clergyman, I can do sacramental ministry for Protestants, but I can't do mass for Roman Catholics. I must find a priest to do that. And while I wish to win everyone to Jesus Christ, I must make accommodation for the Muslim soldier. We currently have six imams, or Muslim clergy, in the Army."

Sometimes such accommodation can be hard to come by. Gunhus' greatest challenge is the dwindling number of Catholic priests nationwide. While approximately 27 percent of Army soldiers claim to be Roman Catholic, only 8 percent of the chaplains are Roman Catholic. "They work very hard. We have 100 active duty priests when we need 300."

A balance of faith traditions is not the only challenge to today's Army. While recruitment quotas were met in 2000, they fell short in 1999. Since 1989, the total number of Army personnel has dwindled from 785,000 to 485,000. The end of the Cold War, the lack of a unified national resolve such as the country experienced in World War II, and the absence of a central threat to national security are the primary causes."And yet we're being deployed to 10 times the number of places than ever before," Gunhus says. "We now have American soldiers on peacekeeping missions in 66 different nations from Kuwait to East Timor. We're there to preclude warring factions and to help with a return to normalcy. It's a highly fluid, unpredictable environment for the soldier to be in."

It is those uncertainties and the far-flung deployment of troops that keep the chief of chaplains on the move. At the Pentagon, his days typically begin between 7 and 8 a.m. and rarely end before 7 or 8 p.m. He might be "called to the Hill" to testify before Congress, and there are frequent receptions when he must "put my bow tie on" and rub shoulders with the administration, members of Congress or officials from Defense.

Among the casualties for dedicated denizens of the Pentagon like Gunhus is any semblance of free time. Gaylord and his wife, Ann, like the water and soon after arriving in Washington bought a boat in which to cruise the historic Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. But in one year, the boat stayed moored for 363 days and was sold soon after.

The life he leads is consuming. One of Gunhus' primary duties is to visit his flock around the world, to be "a pastor to the pastors." Another is to be a spiritual advisor to the Army's senior leadership. He is chaplain to four-star generals and has immediate access to the highest ranking general in the land.

"It is through God's providence and divine will that I find myself here," he says. His is a position of influence that is limited by statute to a four-year tenure. That suits Gunhus. Laboring in what he calls "the glass fish bowl" is not something he'd want to do forever.

Gunhus credits his wife for the sacrifices she made to hold the family -- two sons and a daughter -- together while his career took him away from home so much of the time. "She's my greatest hero. You can take away the medals on my chest because my greatest credentials are my family. Theirs was a greater sacrifice than mine. They had no choice in the matter." Still the 6'2", 187-pounder he was a generation ago, G.T. Gunhus accepts that his time is not his own. It's a reality that comes with doing what he loves, and he knows that it will one day come to an end. For now, he keeps mind and heart fixed on the lives and eternal destinies of America's warriors.

"Chaplains are the one safe haven soldiers have," he says. "They know it's OK to ask for our help."

Pictured at the June 18, 1999, confirmation ceremony for the new U.S. Army chief of chaplains are (left to right) son Kevin Gunhus '88, G.T. Gunhus, son Michael Gunhus '89, daughter Holly Gunhus Johnson and wife Ann Gunhus.

Gunhus pays his respects at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. G.T.'s father was a chaplain in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

Gunhus is sworn in as chief of chaplains in a ceremony at Fort Myer, Virginia.

Gunhus visits ground troops during a peacekeeping operation to Bosnia.

Home for Gunhus and his wife, Ann, is Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

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