For Rosie and Cathy
“Barbed-wire Chaplain” is not fiction; it is composed of facts and observations from my own experience over a period of five years. This period includes the years of World War II, beginning a year before Pearl Harbor — when I was fresh-caught in San Diego, and ending near the close of 1945 — after having enjoyed “my home sweet home” in Coronado for several months.
The first part of the book is designed to provide a background for the three years behind barbed-wire, which is the heart of my story. Although this is not a travelogue, I have tried in the first chapters to picture the chaplain in different and varied situations, with which most people may not be familiar.
Although this is a serious book, I did not want it to be too morbid or grim and have gone out of my way to tell of amusing incidents…as well as those more touching…and some which had to be quite morbid and grim.
This book is not designed to be history. Although I have used facts rather than fiction, and have tried to be accurate, I have not engaged completely in the kind of research characteristic of a PhD dissertation. Any mistakes –of omission, as well as commission — are of the head, rather than the heart, you may be assured.
It may seem to some that at times I have been pretty hard on our captors; maybe I have been hard, but I trust that I have been fair, which I have aimed to be. If I didn’t dislike the expression, I would say “I have told it like it was”. The fact is, an even more brutally realistic picture could have been drawn.
This account has been written in appreciation of my fellow prisoners of war, and primarily for my family and friends, without whom I would not have been able to tell the story.
Earl R. Brewster
Chaplain, USN (Ret.)
Alpine, California Sept. 1969
There I was — stranded on that waterfront — looking out across the bay, which had become a graveyard for ships and men. My own ship had fled the bombings, barely getting away alive and unhurt. So I had no “home”, no friends, nowhere to go. I was an orphan in a strange land, and felt something like a lost soul must feel on judgment day. It was almost a feeling of nakedness …in a frightened city … beginning to be ravaged by the hell of war. I was really “up the creek”, with no visible means of propulsion.
Never had I experienced such a feeling of futility and frustration. How had I gotten here? What was I doing here? And what was going to happen to me now? In order to offer answers to these questions, and many others, the following true story has been written.
After the final surrender of the Philippines, I was interned at the prison camp number 1 at Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, P. I. I met Chaplain Brewster for the first time in this camp and was immediately struck by his splendid example of courage and fortitude under the stress of the terrible circumstances in which we found ourselves. In this camp all Naval and Marine Corps personnel, seeking to keep together as much as possible, had managed to be quartered in the same portion of the camp. It was difficult to maintain faith and hope in these horrible circumstances, but it was made easier for all of us by the moral and spiritual leadership of Chaplain Brewster. He was our friend and counselor and a constant source of good cheer and hope. He ministered to the sick, organized a daily Bible class for us which benefited all of us greatly, and every Sunday he delivered a sermon to us which was absolutely inspiring. His efforts were endless even though his physical strength ebbed constantly as a result of the starvation we were enduring.
Finally, a group of prisoners numbering 1,000 were sent to camp number 2 at the former Davao Penal Colony in Mindanao. Chaplain Brewster and I were in this group. We all suffered terribly from exposure and the unbelievably crowded and filthy conditions on the Japanese ship during the 11-day trip to Davao. Upon our arrival there, we were forced to march about 20 miles, which, in our weakened condition, was almost beyond the limits of our endurance. It was not long after our arrival in this new camp that Chaplain Brewster developed beri-beri, the disease which caused untold suffering among the prisoners. The chaplains condition was very serious. He suffered endless, stabbing pain in his feet and legs and he was not able to get up from his bed in our crude hospital. He was very thin. Sleep for him was almost impossible since there were no sedatives and the pain never stopped, not even for a minute. He once told me, “Jack, I never knew such suffering was possible on this earth. But I will never give up.”
Col. Jack Hawkins, USMC (Ret.)
FRESH CAUGHT IN SAN DIEGO
“Welcome aboard, Chaplain”, said the Captain. “Thank you Sir,” replied the preacher. The Captain was the Commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Training Station (now Center) at San Diego; the preacher was still the pastor of the Methodist Church in Santa Paula, California. The time was early in December of 1940. The occasion was an interview, at the request of the Captain, to look me over and see if I would do as the number two Protestant Chaplain at this training center for the Western half of the country. Although I had not yet received my commission as a Lt. (j.g.) in the Naval Reserve, it was in the mill, and word had come that it would be effected by the end of the year. Since I had been recommended by the District Chaplain, H. S. Dyer, whom I had known for several years, it was a foregone conclusion that this would be it … if I passed the Skipper’s “inspection.”
The Skipper was a gruff-looking “old-timer” with a deep voice, whose bark was worse than his bite. This is true, not only of some of the military, but a1so of certain civilians whom I have encountered along the way. In dealing with such individuals it is usually a good idea to appear not to stand in awe of them — if you can. So, if you’re afraid of them you try not to show it. Consequently, when the time came for my appointment I tried to look my most formidable. Of course, I hadn’t learned enough of the Navy “lingo” to reply “glad to be aboard, Sir,” but naturally, the Captain knew that I was “fresh-caught,” and he was very considerate. After twenty-eight years I don’t remember much of the conversation, although I do recall the “John L. Lewis” eyebrows, the bald head, and that deep, raspy voice — as he said, “Well, Chaplain, you may wonder why I asked you to come two hundred miles to see me, but I wanted to be sure and get the right kind of man for this important job of helping to train these young men for the Navy. I wanted to be sure you weren’t too young and immature, and also that you didn’t have a long, white beard.” He indicated that I might do, so I went back to Santa Paula anticipating new experiences in a new world.
Leaving the pastorate to become a Navy chaplain was not a new, sudden thought or decision on my part. For several years increasingly I had wondered if this should not be my field of ministry, so, after talking it over with my wife and a couple of veteran chaplains, who were members of my Methodist Conference, I decided to apply for a regular Navy commission during the winter of 1937-38, when I was still under the age limit of thirty-four. I got as far as a preliminary physical exam at the Vallejo Naval Shipyard, the nearest point to my pastorate at Willows, in the Sacramento Valley. Here everything was all right except my eyes, which were not 20/20 without glasses. I applied for a waiver on my eyes, but in those days the Navy was very strict about such things — even for Chaplains — and, also the need was not great, since the Navy was not large at that time. In fact, there were under one hundred chaplains (all regular Navy) on duty. So, I went back to my church, where I was not unhappy, feeling that probably it wasn’t meant for me to become a Chaplain after all.
After a couple of years, however, having moved to Ventura County’s beautiful little Santa Clara Valley, where I was enjoying serving the church in Santa Paula, the matter of the Navy chaplaincy came up again. In the summer of 1940 my friend, the District Chaplain (11th Naval District, San Diego) wrote me about applying for a Reserve Commission, indicating that if and when it came through I could go on active duty right away, since there was an increasing need for chaplains due to the build-up of personnel because of the world situation. Since I was still interested in serving in the Navy, after talking it over with my wife we decided that I should try again. As my credentials were still a matter of record it didn’t take so long for my application to be processed, but still there was the matter of a physical, which would bring up the question of my eyes. For the physical I was requested to report to the Reserve Armory in Chavez Ravine, which is now the site of the Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball Park. I’m sure my eyes were no better than they had been a couple of years earlier, but somehow they squeezed me by, and I didn’t memorize the letters on the eye charts, either. I suppose that sometimes the matter of “necessity being the mother of invention”, and also the law of supply and demand enter into such situations. Also, I am a believer in guidance, to the extent that even the course of larger events may be changed. But “leave” us not try to become too philosophical or “preachy” just now.
In the Fall of ’40 I did get word that my Reserve Commission would be forthcoming, and to be prepared to report for duty by the first of the year. This gave me time to notify my District Superintendent and Bishop that I would not be able to finish the church year ending the following June. This probably didn’t give them too much time to secure a replacement; but I felt that there was a greater shortage in the chaplaincy than in the pastorate. I have felt right along that during the war the shortage in the pastorate was not as serious as that in the chaplaincy, since most civilians were never very far from some minister, whereas in many military situations personnel did not have access to a chaplain until ministers responded to the call.
After the “conference” with the “Old Man” at the Training Center Mrs. Brewster and I made a trip to the San Diego area to secure a place to live, since my Commission had come through — with orders to report for duty on December 31, 1940. We were able to find a suitable place in Coronado, which necessitated crossing the Bay each day, involving extra time and money. But this proved to be a good place during the war for a mother and two boys, who were then eleven and four. I mustn’t tell my wife’s age! We had our hands full, what with winding up our church program, which included various Christmas activities, plus getting ready to move. But the move was made soon after Christmas, and we were on our way to experiences in a new world — at least it was new to us.
I had met the senior Chaplain, Grady Gatlin, at the Training Station in connection with my visit to the Commanding Officer earlier in the month, but now (on December 31) I reported to him for duty, and got a very friendly reception — not only because he was that kind of man, but also because he needed help, what with the expansion, which was gaining momentum every day. He was very generous in giving me plenty time off to help get “squared away” at home, and continued to be patient and long-suffering with this tender-foot Chaplain. In the absence of any Chaplain’s School (the first one was started after World War II began) we few fresh-caught Chaplains were assigned for about six months to an installation in San Diego, Norfolk, or Great Lakes — before being assigned to independent duty.
There were varied things a Chaplain was called upon to do. In those days the new chaplains learned largely by doing, which is, after all, very often the best way. Also, we were required to complete certain correspondence courses to acquaint us with the ways of the Navy. I might say in passing that in recent years Navy Chaplains, who also serve with the Marines, have been relieved of many of the collateral duties they used to perform in the “old days.” Now they are allowed and expected to concentrate on their primary duties such as conducting Divine Services, counseling personnel and their families, and acting as a consultant to the Commanding Officer on matters of morale and morals. The Moral Guidance Program of the Navy was initiated by the Chaplains Corps a number of years ago, and the Chaplain is still the moving spirit in this important program.
One of the first things to be done, even before I reported for duty was to secure a Naval officer’s uniforms. This doesn’t take very long in a Naval center such as San Diego. Even the expense is not a great problem, since an initial uniform allowance is granted each officer … but, after that you’re on your own … you pay for your uniforms out of your salary. Speaking of uniforms for “green” Chaplains, I am reminded of a story, which came out of Chaplains School during the war. It seems that one of the young “theologs” who reported to this school came from quite a wealthy family. The story could end right here and still be unusual, since it is usually the poor boys who go into the ministry. Evidently the Good Lord doesn’t call many of the rich ones — or, maybe they are deaf to the call. At any rate, when the time came for these Chaplains School trainees to go to the uniform shop our “hero” had plenty of the coin of the realm available so, he bought accordingly. When he came to the glass case displaying the officers caps he spied the ones with the gold “scrambled eggs” on the visor and said “Let me have a couple of those,” pointing to the ones for commanders, captains and admirals. So, of course, he was “out of uniform” — to say the least. You don’t have to have been in the military to realize what happened — until he was given the “word”, and for a while thereafter.
There were lectures by the Chaplains in connection with our Sunday evening programs produced and directed by the program director of the San Diego Army and Navy (now Armed Services) “Y”. These “Happy Hours” for the recruits consisted of entertainment, and a lecture (no more than a half hour) by a Chaplain. The entertainment included instrumental music, singing (including community singing), etc. The Chaplains may have had a captive audience, but it seemed to work quite well. Also it gave us an opportunity for wider coverage for some indoctrinating time during the busy schedule of boot training.
Fahy Johnson, the “Y” program director, and in recent years the Executive Secretary, was a fine talent scout and also a gifted master of ceremonies. He always had a well prepared group of entertainers, who gave of their best to these servicemen, most of whom had never been away from home before. This was a very notable labor of love. Fahy used to warm the boys up with questions such as where they were from, how many had sweethearts who were blondes, brunettes, redheads, school teachers, stenographers, etc. One of his favorite stunts was to hold up a silver dollar (worth more then) and offer it to the lad with the most brothers and sisters. The catch was that the guy had to come on the stage and name all these siblings in order to get the dollar. So, Fahy would start out asking for a show of hands of those having just one. As he increased the number each time there would be fewer and fewer raised hands — until there was just one hand raised. This particular lad presumably had at least a dozen others at home, and was able, more or less, to name them all. But as Fahy gave him the dollar he asked the lad if he was sure that was all. When the winner nodded his head,
Fahy replied, “You can’t be sure what might have happened since you left home, but I think you deserve the dollar.”
As for our lectures at these happy hours they were a part of our general emphasis on helping these lads (mostly 17 and 18 years old) to find their way — not only in the Navy, but on the “outside” as well. I remember a couple of stories included in the lectures of our senior chaplain, Grady Gatlin, a pretty good teller of tales, which were usually quite relevant. To emphasize the point that the Navy is a powerful organization he told of the early days of the old West, and of an old stage coach driver, who had a legendary reputation for his accuracy with his old bull-whip. Passengers vied for the honor of sitting beside him on the driver’s seat. ‘One day, as the story goes, the old boy, with a passenger sitting beside him, was really in fine fettle. As the stage meandered along the wooded countryside the sharpshooter with his whip was really showing off — flicking a leaf here and a bird’s nest there really strutting his stuff. Pretty soon, as they were approaching a certain tree, the passenger nudged the driver and said, “Since you’re so good with that whip let me see what you can do to that hornet’s nest in that tree yonder.” “No siree!” replied the driver, “Not me.” “How come?” said the passenger. “Listen, my friend,” concluded the driver, “Those hornets are organized!”
Another story the lads used to enjoy was about a little old lady (I don’t recall whether or not she wore tennis shoes) who boarded a street car in San Diego one day. She made it a point to sit beside a sailor who was a young petty officer. Shortly after being seated she cleared her throat, tapped the lad on the sleeve and began the conversation. “Young man, 1 wonder if I could ask you a question or two?” “Well, yes ma’m, I would be glad to answer them if I can.” “Well, you see, I’ve been living here in San Diego all these years and have noticed these marks on your sleeves, and it puzzles me. For instance, would you tell me what that means,” pointing to the petty officer’s Eagle, sometimes called the “crow”. “Oh, that … that means that I’m married!” Kell, now, isn’t that wonderful … that so many of our sailor boys are settling down and establishing their own homes,” she replied. “Now, there is just one other question;” pointing to the two slanting hash-marks on his lower left sleeve, which really meant that he had had at least eight years of service, she said, “now what do these mean?” “Oh those — those mean that I have two children,” replied the sailor, as straight-faced as possible. “Mow, isn’t that wonderful,” replied the L.O.L. “It’s so nice that our boys are getting married and raising their families right here in San Diego. I certainly do thank you,” “Glad to oblige, ma’m,” replied the joker, before he disembarked at the next stop. At this stop a rough-looking old “salt” with no “crow” and a half-dozen hash marks came aboard the street car, and, of course, sat down by our L.O.L.’ Looking him over until she got his eye, and shaking her finger under his nose accusingly, she said, “You naughty boy!” I’m not sure just what this story was supposed to illustrate, but, 1 guess the senior chaplain was, and it always went over big.
Still another story, which I hesitate to include because it’s so “messy”, illustrates the folly of procrastination so well that I must not pass it up. This story is about a bull and a bumble-bee. The scene is a real nice lush clover patch. The time is a beautiful spring morning. We find our bull out there among the succulent leaves of clover, which glistered with dew-drops on this invigorating day. Old “Ferdinand” was really enjoying himself as he munched the tender leaves of clover. Our bumble-bee also found himself in the same clover patch, and subsequently, in the course of animal events, they got together. This earth-shaking event occurred when the bumble bee found himself on a choice clover leaf which the bull desired for his breakfast. The horrendous result was that the bee suddenly found himself in the damp, dank, dark stuffiness of Ferdinand’s interior. Imagine, if you will, the contrast between this environment and that of the nice, sparkling clover-patch on that beautiful sunshiny spring morning. Well, the bee immediately recognized his predicament, and he wasn’t happy with it. In fact, he was so unhappy that he decided to wreak vengeance on Ferdinand for this dastardly deed. His anger was so great that he said to himself, “I’m really going to get even with old Ferdinand for what he’s done to me. I’m going to sting the old boy so hard he’ll rue the day he ever swallowed me. But I’ve had a rough experience and I’m tired. Since I want to be at my best and be able to do a really good job on the old boy, I’m going to take a nap.” He proceeded to take his nap — and when he woke up — the bull was gone!
So, you see, we tried various ways to loosen the lads up — to get their attention, try to keep it, and to seek to indoctrinate them with some of the facts of life. In the process we tried to suggest a high-level reaction to some of the people and things they would encounter as and when they went ashore — pointing out that they could find whatever they were looking for — the good, bad, and indifferent. Most of these lads needed plenty of guidance, and the chaplain had many opportunities for individual counseling. But, our lecture program, along with our Divine Services, at which we had a maximum attendance, we felt were of prime importance during recruit training.
Some people have the idea that military service has a tendency to demoralize a.young man — that the environment and his associates are such as to drag him down morally and spiritually. I have always felt that this depends on the individual and reveals his home environment and training. In other words, I think that military, or any other experience away from home, will largely bring out what the young person really is inside. This reminds me of an incident I heard about some time ago. The daughter of this religious family went away from home to college some distance away. After she had been there for awhile her parents became rather apprehensive about her moral and spiritual environment, and also about doubts that might be raised by some of her professors. The young lady wrote back to her parents, “Don’t worry, God has been a member of our family too long for me to forsake Him now.”
They “let” me preach as early as January 19th — less than three weeks after I had reported for duty. This was before I started giving insurance or happy hour lectures. I had been preaching for ten years, and should have learned something about it, while other facets of my new job were almost entirely new to me. The chaplain has a free hand in his Divine services, and tries to arrange them according to the needs of the people he is serving at the time. Our sermons are usually shorter than those in civilian churches. There is a saying among some chaplains to the effect that there are no souls saved after the first fifteen minutes. At a training center there are two principal reasons for large attendance at Divine Services: First, the large number of people aboard, and also because it is considered a part of the training program. This does not mean that attendance is compulsory, but that definite provision is made for it. If a lad does not choose to attend Divine services he is expected to do something constructive during that period. Some of the men no doubt attended because it was a break in and a change from the rigorous routine of the week. So, the chaplain sees some people in services, who have not attended church much, if any, at home. This presents a wide opportunity and a consequent awesome responsibility.
During most of the time I served at the Training Center it was necessary for us to have four services (at 0800, 0900, 1000 and 1100) each Sunday, because of the size of the “old South Unit chapel”, which seated no more than a thousand. Masses were held at the Catholic Chapel, and also services were provided for Jewish personnel. Other groups were not neglected.
You may have wondered about the insurance lectures. Earlier I mentioned the various collateral duties chaplains were responsible for until recent years. At the Training Center these included the selling and processing of the N.S.L.I. (National Service Life Insurance) or G.I. insurance. The chaplains office was provided extra clerical help for this purpose. We had a Chief Yeoman and a First Class Storekeeper, who really knew their stuff, and were invaluable to the chaplains in this department. Early in their training the recruits were given the opportunity to secure’ this invaluable protection, which continues to be a God-send to widows and families in times of need. This was the term insurance, which could be bought in amounts up to $10,000.00 at a very low rate, and later converted into permanent insurance, which, in many cases, has formed the foundation for a family insurance program. I was glad to have a part in such a worthwhile project.
Another collateral duty which used to be in the province of chaplains was administering the funds of the Navy Relief Society. This is the Navy’s own organization (no Government funds appropriated) for helping its own to meet emergency needs that arise from time to time in the case of individuals and their families. Funds are raised for the Society by annual contributions of individuals throughout the Navy, and also by carnivals and other projects. In some cases funds are granted, and in others no-interest loans, to be re-paid by monthly allotments, are made. As the Society has grown the chaplains still do some of the interviewing and screening, but the paper work is done by civilians. The Military still has supervision, while chaplains act as advisors and consultants. Volunteer assistance is provided by wives of Naval personnel, who not only help with interviewing, but with thrift shops, etc. Chaplains have a justifiable pride in the part they have had, and still have, in this activity, which helps people to help themselves.
Still another related activity, with which the chaplain is associated, is the American Red Cross. This agency is to be found wherever there are military installations, and is tremendously helpful in meeting emergency needs of personnel. The chaplain, of course, has a close association with this well-known organization, which has a working arrangement with Navy Relief.
People in the Service, including dependents, come to the chaplain with their problems and troubles. “Take your troubles to the chaplain” is a well known saying in the Military. In some installations’ashore the chaplain will spend most of his time interviewing personnel and their dependents, who can include wives, parents, sweethearts — and what have you. People seem to have very little hesitancy about telling the chaplain things they would be reluctant to tell their pastor — if they went to see a civilian minister at all.
If you will allow me to get ahead of my story I would like to relate an incident that involved my mother, who was in her eighties at the time, which was around 1950. I had been on duty at the Long Beach Naval Hospital, during which time my mother, who lived in Long Beach, seemed to enjoy going with us to my Sunday services, in the Chapel atop the main building of the hospital. Incidentally, if you want to put yourself on a spot — just try preaching with your mother in the congregation. In spite of the fact she had heard some pretty good preaching in her day, having been a life-long church goer, she was really quite complimentary about my preaching. Apparently it was not difficult for her to realize that I didn’t have much time on my hands at the hospital — what with visiting the sick and attendant duties. Subsequently, I was transferred to the Naval Station on Terminal Island, where Mother also attended services with us. But apparently it wasn’t so easy for her to visualize what I did with all my time there. Maybe she thought that I could be getting into bad company at some alley pool hall, or something. At any rate, one day, out of a clear, blue sky she said, “Earl, what do you do with all your time down at Terminal Island?” Well, at that time I was the only Navy Chaplain left on duty in the whole Long Beach-Los Angeles area, the Naval Hospital and other installations having been closed. This is an area which includes thousands of Navy families, whose loved ones were overseas. So, they came from far and wide to see the chaplain about many, varied and intimate matters. Consequently, my reply to my mother was, “I spend about three-fourths of my time talking to dependents who come to see me.” “What do they come to see you about?” “Well, they come to talk to me about all kinds of things … family problems, domestic difficulties … all kinds of personal, intimate problems.” Of course we chaplains learn not to be shocked at anything, but my Mother was! Her reply (in her soft, southern accent) was, “Well, I’ll declare, you mean to say these utter strangers come and bother you with their own problems that they ought to take care of themselves? Don’t people have any pride any more? I should think they would be ashamed of themselves!” My mother was brought up in a day when people had to take care of their own needs and problems. With seven children and a meager, uncertain income, she really had her problems, too. But with her hard work and that of the whole family, plus a profound trust in a concerned God, almost impossible obstacles were overcome.
Another thing that must be taken into consideration is the fact that the Navy considers itself a large family, and undertakes to take care of its own accordingly. This does not mean that we believe in wholesale handouts, or that we undertake to take care of needs or problems that can and should be resolved by individuals and families. Some of us believe very firmly in the policy of helping people to help themselves. We do not believe that soothing-syrup is good medicine for adults. Sometimes some very strong medicine must be prescribed by the chaplain — if he is going to have any chance of helping with some of the problems that people bring to him — not only by the men themselves — but also by their families and friends. These calls come not only in person, but also by phone and mail. Sometimes the wisdom of Solomon is needed, and not many of us have such wisdom — not even chaplains!
I recall one of the most complicated cases that ever came to my attention. This was not at the Training Center, but years later, at a Base not so very far away. One day a lad was sent to me (some times the chaplain is the last resort) by his ship’s skipper, who didn’t know what to do with his problem-child. His story was that he had three girls pregnant … in different stages and in different places. I had no reason to disbelieve the lad, or to ask him (as I sometimes did) whether he was “bragging” or “confessing”, since he had with him a very timely letter which had come to his Skipper from the lass who was “most” pregnant. What would you have done in such a case? There isn’t much that we chaplains can do in some cases, either, but we can let people know that we are always available, and that we not only represent the church and the Navy, but that we are their friends. With most of the men we do have this kind of relationship. With many of the men (the younger ones especially) we probably represent their parents and their pastors — at least, to some degree. Sometimes they come to see us mostly because they are just plain homesick, which, as some of us know, is no minor illness. Sometimes they come with a problem, which is not their real problem, but an indication or hint, of a much deeper disturbance. The chaplain’s challenge is to diagnose and prescribe accordingly. This is the kind of thing that the chaplain cannot undertake without the expectation of and reliance on Divine Guidance.
I have indicated emergencies in which the chaplain becomes involved. These are mostly serious illnesses or deaths at home. The chaplain helps in securing emergency leave and sees that the individual gets immediate help with funds and transportation. This usually involves the Navy Relief or Red Cross, and sometimes both. A case in point is one that I had while on duty at the Marine Recruit Depot at Perris Island, S.C. One day I got a call from one of the Battalion Commanders asking me if I would interview a lad at his Battalion Headquarters. When I arrived there I learned that word had been received that this young man had lost eleven members of his family when their home burned in New York State, Included among the victims were his mother, brothers and sisters, sisters-in-law, and their children. His father and a brother or two were away from home at work. The lad was out on the drill field (known as the grinder) with his company, and was sent to the office, where I was to give him this tragic word. He was a chubby, baby faced lad of about seventeen or eighteen. I introduced myself, and had him be seated, not knowing just how to start, while he no doubt wondered why he had been called to see the chaplain. So, I simply told him that I had some very bad news for him. Of course, he was stunned, but took it like a man. Some of his buddies were already getting his gear together, and with the help of the Red Cross we had the lad on his sad journey home in a couple of hours.
It becomes the duty of the Chaplain to conduct funeral services …sometimes under some pretty grim circumstances. The first service, which I was called upon to assist with is one that I still remember quite vividly, even though it was nearly twenty-eight years ago. Chaplain Ray Cook, whom I had known in the pastorate, and who had reported for duty a couple of months before’ I did, was attached to the District Chaplain’s office in San Diego. One morning Ray called and asked me if I could come and help him that afternoon with scattering some ashes at sea. I figured it could be a part of my indoctrination, as well as Ray’s, so we boarded a Navy tug that afternoon — each carrying a small box containing the ashes of an old-timer, who had requested that his ashes be scattered at sea. So, with just two or three of the next of kin aboard we proceeded out of the harbor, past Point Loma, where the tug slowed up enough for us to proceed with a brief committal service as the ashes were scattered on the peaceful waters. This was my first and .last service involving scattering of ashes, but there were other burials at sea — in much less favorable circumstances.
While attached to the Training Station, we had a memorable inspection by the Commanding officer, whom I mentioned at the very beginning of my story. For several months after I reported for duty the chaplains office was at one end of the old library, in an area that was crowded and dark. I’m sure the Skipper had seen this place before, but on this inspection maybe his dyspepsia and/or gout were bothering him. After a few well-chosen words he wound up by barking, in his raspy second-bass voice, “This place is as dark as the black hole of Calcutta!” I had never heard the expression before, but later learned that it was one often used in the Navy. I have not learned whether or not there really is such a place, but it is an expression that comes in handy at times. It is especially appropriate when the little lady of the house insists on having subdued lighting all over the place. On such occasions I quote a portion of Scripture which says, “They love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” I can’t guarantee what might happen to the brave, blustering husband after that, however.
After I had been on duty only six weeks or so Chaplain Gatlin (our Senior Chaplain) told me that he had an additional assignment for me. The word was that a Reserve chaplain was being added to the Staff for a brief period of indoctrination before being assigned elsewhere. The new chaplain was not exactly “fresh-caught”, but was a fifty year old Rabbi, who had had a Reserve Commission for several years, and had never been on active duty. So, I was “volunteered” to take Chaplain S. under ray wing for six weeks. Although it was like the blind leading the semi-blind, I found the experience quite enjoyable and profitable. I can’t speak for Chaplain S. but we seemed to hit it off real well. I had never really had any close association with a Rabbi, and welcomed the experience. 1 doubt, however, if this Rabbi was too typical, or even very Orthodox. One of his stories, for instance, wound by “proving” by a complex, circuitous route that it was not only all right for good Jews to eat ham, but that it was almost obligatory. I still am not sure whether he was “putting me on”, or rationalizing in order to justify the fact that he liked ham. At any rate, our association was an amicable one, and I enjoyed seeing him later in Honolulu where he was attached to the Chaplain’s office of the 14th Naval District. He ministered to the religious needs of Jewish personnel attached to ships at Pearl Harbor as well as to those at shore installations. He also conducted a weekly Happy Hour, which became an outstanding attraction, at the Army and Navy “Y” in Honolulu. A “Brewster-trained man!”
In looking over some items in my limited diary I found the following, which I had forgotten: “Sang at all four Sunday services, also sang at both Happy Hours.” I must have “volunteered myself” for this activity “beyond the call of duty”; otherwise, they would not necessarily have known that I had had some voice training and had done occasional solo work along the way, as well as having sung in choirs and having lead, group singing. I found this experience invaluable especially where there was no choir, no “musical instrument, and no one else to “heist the tunes.”
An item not in my diary occurred during this period at N.T.S. My wife and our two boys and I decided to meet at Balboa Park in San Diego one Saturday noon for a picnic lunch, and to take in the Zoo, as well’ as the other sights in that beautiful setting. I was in uniform at the Training Station that morning, and joined my family so clothed. The park and the zoo were very popular places for Naval personnel to visit, and many of our recruits landed there at their very first opportunity. Their training included instructions to salute officers at all times. They were usually very careful to carry out their part of this military greeting ashore … especially if they had a girl to impress with their military sharpness. So, I had been returning salutes here and there all afternoon. Finally, as the four of us were wending our way along one of the winding tree and shrum-lined paths, I noticed through my peripheral vision, a sailor and his girl seated rather close together on a bench. I whispered to my wife, “I hope that sailor doesn’t see me and think he has to get up and salute.” But, sure enough, he did see me, took his arm from around his gal, stood at attention, and gave me a snappy salute, which would have been almost worthy of a Marine. From force of habit, as the lad stood there, holding his salute, I replied, “Carry on, carry on!” He immediately carried out my order by proceeding to sit down and “carry on” as he had been. I hope they have lived happily ever after, and are now enjoying some grandchildren — as we are. But I had better not get started on that favorite subject. This true incident, embellished somewhat, of course, proved to be one of the most popular stories I have related at lectures and on other occasions.
When I reported for duty at N.T.S. practically at the beginning of 1941 an expanding building program was in progress there. This included not only new barracks, but a new library, which included adequate chaplains offices and a beautiful combination auditorium and theater. This also served as, a chapel until new chapels were built during World War II. This larger capacity made it possible to reduce the number of divine services and lectures, although the number of personnel aboard was increasing steadily. The new auditorium also included facilities and the capacity for enlarged Happy Hours, movies and all kinds of entertainment.
To put this new facility in commission the Station’s recreation department arranged a series of shows to be seen over a period of a couple of weeks, for personnel and their families. Some of the most famous show people of that time, some of whom are still active, were on these programs. To have hired this talent would have cost a fortune, but these patriotic Americans were glad to contribute their talent and time out of a busy schedule — primarily to entertain our young recruits, some of whom within a matter of months gave their lives for our country’s cause’. I recall the following names of some of those who entertained us during this period: Abbott and Costello, Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy), Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, the Andrews Sisters, and a number of others, including several top-notch bands. So, the new auditorium facility was launched in great style, and has continued to serve the hundreds of thousands of young men who have been trained there over the years.
I was aware of the fact that this almost ideal duty could not last beyond a few months, and subsequently received orders to report to the U.S.S. Holland at Pearl Harbor early in July. So, I was detached from N.T.S. on 11 June 1941.
This had been an enjoyable and profitable experience for me, and I hope I was able to have been of a little assistance while learning some of the ways of the Navy. I realize, of course, how green I was when I reported for duty, and that I was far from salty when I was detached. I did learn such things as a floor is a “deck”, a wall is a “bulkhead”, a ceiling is the “overhead”,etc. I remembered the port-side of a ship by recalling that in baseball a left-handed pitcher is called a “port-sider.” In spite of my greenness, Chaplain Gatlin and others were very patient and long-suffering. Chaplain Gatlin, who now lives in Bethesda, Maryland, seems to be glad to •point me out as “a Gatlin trained man” whenever I see him.