Casting Out Devils

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World War II: God Was With Us

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The Four Chaplains of USAT Dorchester

The Four Chaplains of USAT Dorchester

In Honor of D-Day, June 6, 1944

“Now that it is over it seems to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all.  For some of our units it was easy, but in this special sector where I am now our troops faced such odds that our getting ashore was like my whipping Joe Louis down to a pulp.”

~Ernie Pyle

It is common for both sides, as in the Civil War, to claim God’s sanction. In the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln recognized this. Many consider that in WWII, God was on our side against the forces of evil. Whether or not we can always claim God’s approval in our cause, it is clear that the God who regards each sparrow that falls, and will save all who humbly call upon his name, was with “our boys” individually on the battlefield.

Carl Mongrue was a B-17 bomber crewman with the 8th Air Force. Flying long-range bombing missions in broad daylight over Germany, American bombers suffered horrendous losses due to flak and enemy fighters.

Before one particular mission, Carl was fearful and began to pray. According to Carl, “I really did talk to ‘the Man.’ I said, ‘I don’t think I can make this.’ I knew I heard a voice–you don’t have to believe me–but the voice was, ‘Carl, don’t be afraid, because I’m with you, always, even till the end of time.'”

“That made me go. I said, ‘I don’t have to worry. I’m protected'” (“All the Fine Young Men,” NBC, Inc., 1984).

On February 3, 1943, near Greenland, the troop transport Dorchester was torpedoed and began to sink. Four chaplains were aboard the ship:   a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, and two Protestant ministers.

The chaplains began passing out life vests. When the life vests ran out, they gave their own vests away. When last seen, the four men still stood on the sinking vessel, arm in arm, praying together (Reader’s Digest, July 1988).

In this famous act of selfless courage, these four men of God not only demonstrated their faith, but that a faithful God had already proven himself willing and able to meet their every need, even in death and the hereafter.

One serviceman wrote home:

“Dear Dad,

“I am still considering Army life good fortune, no matter what happens. I’m the same fellow you always knew, only a little stronger in my personal convictions. And after being guided through a few recent experiences, I’m inclined to believe that God wants me to return to you again, here on earth.

“With all my love, your son” (from “All the Fine Young Men”).

In November of 1943, ball turret gunner Robert (“Mutt”) Osborne’s B-17 had been badly shot up. The crew had all bailed out except him and the pilot, who was shot in the head and believed killed (though he was actually mortally wounded).

Osborne was about to bail out, but felt something urge him to stay. As he checked on the pilot, he suddenly saw a vision, as if it were reflected in the windscreen. He saw a group of women gathered around a table, praying for him. He recognized the women as his mother and her friends.

Repeatedly, Osborne seemed to hear a voice behind him command him to take the plane back, also giving him the compass heading back to England. When German fighters came after the plane, a dense cumulus cloud suddenly appeared in the path of the plane, enabling him to escape.

Osborne, who was not a pilot, managed to find the airfield and crash-land the big plane. The pilot later died, but for a time regained consciousness. From his deathbed, he recommended Osborne for the Medal of Honor (Guideposts, Feb. 1989).

God is nearer than we often think. God tells his people, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame kindle upon you: for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3).

But what about those who did not return from war unscathed, those who were killed or horribly wounded? It is human nature to ask why. Why didn’t God seem to come through for them? We sometimes blame God, if not for making bad things happen, then for not preventing misfortune. There are no easy answers. But if we believe that God is truly sovereign, in ultimate control of all things, then we must also believe that He alone knows all the answers, and has higher purposes beyond anything our limited minds can imagine.

Around midnight on July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis was returning from a secret mission to deliver a crucial part for the atomic bomb. Struck by a Japanese torpedo, the Indy sank in twelve minutes. But because her mission was secret, no one knew where they were, or that they were in trouble.

About 400 members of the Indy’s crew died in the sinking. The rest resorted to rubber rafts and life vests. There they endured 4-5 days lost at sea. They suffered from their wounds, from thirst and exposure, and many died from shark attack. Some became delirious and swam off toward an imagined island. Of the original 1200 men, only 316 were rescued.

The captain, Charles B. McVay III, was blamed for the sinking and convicted in a court martial, but his sentence was commuted and he returned to duty.  Sadly, McVay committed suicide in 1968.  In 2000, he was exonerated by act of Congress.

Survivors of the Indianapolis gather each year in her namesake city to commemorate the sinking, remember those lost, and relate their experiences.  Of her crew, 93 still survive, at last count.

“I never gave up,” said Loel Dene “L.D.” Cox.  The men that did, they didn’t make it back.  And it was easier to give up than it was to stay alive” (John W. Gonzalez, “Nightmare at Sea,” Houston Chronicle, July 29, 2005, pp. B1, 6).

According to survivor Cletus LeBeau, “I was scared to death and I just said, `Lord, help me.’ And I just heard a voice saying, `Fear not.'”

“Through this experience, I really knew that there was a God, and it sent me to searching,” said seaman Charles McKissick. “I just remembered my mother saying that she knew who could go out there with me, that Jesus could go with me and take care of me–and He did!”

Al Havens considered himself a “modern-day Jonah” who had been running away from God. “That’s what God wanted,” said Havens. “He wanted to lead me into a place where I would say, `All right, it’s out of my hands. Now it’s in yours, totally.”

One survivor added, “He delivered us from the ocean, and I feel like and know that He delivered us for a purpose” (The 700 Club, August 17, 1995).

L.D. Cox is still haunted by a recurring dream of those desperate days in the sea.  “I turn around and [my shipmates are] gone.  I hunt for them, and I may accidentally find one of them, and lose him again.  It’s that way every night.”

Cox returned to Texas A&M to finish his degree, then became a teacher, rancher, and bank director.  “I’m thankful to be alive and I believe in God,” he said.

God does not always choose to deliver us from our valleys. It is in the valleys that we grow and mature, and fight our battles–and it is only through battles that the victory can be won. But if we know him, He will always walk through the valleys with us (see Psalm 23).

Jesus said to his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). That promise holds true for all who have received Christ as Savior and Lord.

When we turn to God, He hears us. In times of trouble, when we might be too agitated and self-concerned to feel his presence, God is with us. Even in death, the souls of all who believe are secure in him for all time.

Dr. Bill Rittenhouse, pastor of Nassau Bay (Texas) Baptist Church, was the pilot of a B-17 bomber shot down over Rumania. His entire crew were Christians, six of whom went on to preach the gospel. While an enemy prisoner, Rittenhouse was interrogated by a man named John Ginga. Ginga is now a deacon in Rittenhouse’s church.

Finally, two stories that complement each other like bookends: In 1942, American B-25 bombers under General Jimmy Doolittle accomplished a remarkable feat. They lauched from the carrier USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo. It was an act of vengeance for Pearl Harbor, a shot in the arm for American morale, and a rude awakening for the Japanese, who had felt secure in their island fortress.

However, Jacob DeShazer, a member of one of the bomber crews, was moved with compassion, and promised God that he would return to Japan one day to preach the gospel. After the war, he started a Christian mission in Japan.

Mitsuo Fuchida was the Japanese pilot who led the raid on Pearl Harbor. He became a hero to his countrymen. After Japan’s defeat, however, Fuchida was one of a minority of Japanese who received the gospel and accepted Christ as Savior and became an evangelist. Ostracized as a traitor to his culture, Fuchida remained steadfast in his faith, finally dying a U.S. citizen in 1976.

In Christ, those who were once bitter enemies in time of war have now become one.

© 1995 Paul A. Hughes


Written by biblequestion

June 5, 2010 at 10:12 PM

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