MY HOME, SWEET HOME
The San Diego area had really become home to us, since it was here that I was fresh-caught, and Coronado had proved to be almost an ideal place for Rosie and the boys, since they were among friends, and in a good environment. I think I have mentioned that I had left Leland still almost singing soprano, and found him singing bass in the choir. He had not only not given his mother cause for concern during these adolescent years’, but had been a big help in the home — in many ways. Leonard, who was now eight and a half, had become quite a lad, too, and had not caused his mother much concern — except for a little dilly-dallying here and there — now and then. I was as proud as a husband and father possibly could have been of these three companeros, who played the game one-hundred percent — plus — having been with me all the way.
So, when we descended the hill toward that silver gate it was a real homecoming indeed. Then I could really sing “There’s no place like home”, and “God Bless America, my home sweet home!” There was the experience of crossing the bay to Coronado by ferry again, and viewing some of the developments which had taken place, and the realization of how much this area had contributed to the huge and almost miraculous war effort. Incidentally, those ferries will give way to a beautiful new bridge just a couple of days from the time I am writing this. This is causing much nostalgia, but as we crossed on that ferry, any nostalgia we might have had was overshadowed by the joy and exhilaration of going home together! That big palm tree in front of our house had become bigger and more beautiful than ever, and stood as a welcoming beacon to that beckoning threshold and warm hearth, which I had not seen for three and a half years. This was the moment I had longed and prayed for during those anxious hours, months and years, which would have been mere existence had it not been for that Friend that sticketh closer than a brother, and the love represented by home, including not only family, but church, country, and understanding friends — including Brownie.
Our family had indeed increased while I was away, and Brownie had become the fifth member of it. Before anybody gets excited, I must tell you that Brownie was a dog, but he never did — in all his fifteen years — find it out, even though he was a registered cocker spaniel. Leland bought him during the war — when he was just a pup, and this little liver-brown character never did get very big; in fact, his adult weight was only about twenty pounds, while their show weight is about four pounds more than that. But that suited Brownie (and us) just fine, since our “exceptional” canine didn’t care to associate with other four-legged critters; he just wanted to be with his “own” family. In fact, that’s why he was added to the family in the first place. He was about a year and a half old when I got back, so he was a full-fledged member of the clan by then — and governed himself accordingly. Evidently he had been told about the “other” family member — the one with the prison record — but was persuaded to give the old boy (who might not be so bad, after all) a chance, and to make a special effort to accept him — graciously, if possible. So, to make a long (unnecessary) story short, Brownie did accept me quite readily, and we became real good buddies for about thirteen and a half years.’ Naturally, this took some psychology on my part — I went out of my way to take him for walks and rides, which he loved, /and we developed a good mutual understanding.
Perhaps it will be in order now for me to talk about Rosie and the boys. It didn’t take me long to find out, and it didn’t surprise me, that Rosie had not only borne her own burden during these troubled years, but had carried out the Scriptural admonition to help bear the burdens of others — some of whom had a much lighter burden to bear. How proud it made me feel when person after person went out of their way to tell me how she kept on smiling; there were some bad moments and tears at times, of course. Naturally, to hear these comments made me even prouder than before, although already I was- about as proud as a man could be of his life-long partner, and the mother of his sons. Adding to my pride was the knowledge that she had become (with no previous training) proficient enough as a medical office assistant and receptionist to release a registered nurse from this job in a local medical clinic……………..to serve in the armed forces. Among other things, she took special training in lab work, and was able to give shots, etc. It had been understood, however, that this important activity would cease when her special, private patient appeared on the scene. She figured that the care of this patient would require all her time — for a while — and it did!
Leland had worked at a local flower shop, a drug store, and had set pins (no machines) at the local bowling alley — to help with family finances, in addition to his school work, and extra-curricular activities, which included playing the heavy tuba in the school band, and singing bass in the church choir. So, if he had wanted to hang around an alley pool-hall (I don’t think there was one in Coronado) he wouldn’t have had much chance. He deserved, and got a “well done” from his Dad, whose place he filled so well. His mother says a hearty “amen” to that, although she isn’t the shouting type! Before leaving the subject of our number one son, perhaps a pleasant surprise to us not long after getting home might be of interest. The music department of Coronado High’ School was scheduled to present its annual concert, and as parents of one of the band members we were among the guests with choice seats. Leland appeared not only as a member of the band and chorus, but also as a surprise soloist — playing his tuba.’ I think it is the only tuba solo I’ve ever heard, but if there had been others — this one would have been the best. We were not only surprised, but pleased, and mighty proud — as we have been ever since.
As far as eight and one-half year old Leonard was concerned, his teacher had told his mother that he had become quite a different boy at school since learning that his Pop had been released and was returning home. His teacher had told Rosie (who already knew) how Leonard would sit and dream — and perhaps brood — after I was reported missing — until my release. The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts, which can become dreams — and sometimes veritable nightmares. Leonard and I had had a pretty good understanding, I think, during those pre-school years, as I believe had, also been the case with his older brother, and the shock of his Dad’s being a POW must have produced quite a trauma in this sensitive young son. Although this contributed to his getting a rather poor start in school, Leonard has long since regained his lost ground, and, as I write, is about to receive his PhD in Philosophy/ and will be a member of the faculty in that department at Southern Illinois University during the ensuing year. We are proud of our number two son, too.
After arriving home it didn’t take me long to carry out my threat (one of many) to get Leonard that bike I wanted him to have. So, we went over to the bicycle shop together, and picked out a nice red and white job about his size, and then we had the added fun (and work) of teaching him to ride this two-wheeled vehicle. In the process I think I probably got more exercise than Len did — but it was fun. To be able to resume family activities again was an indescribable thrill.
It didn’t take me long, either, to get some of the things for Rosie that I had been wanting to get her for some time. However, the thing that meant’the most to us was the opportunity just to be together again. If you should wonder how I was able to get around like this when I was .supposed to be a patient at the Naval Hospital over in San Diego well, I can explain everything; you gee, it was like this: I did-report to the hospital on 15 April, and was even assigned a bed in S.O.Q. (sick officers quarters), but since I didn’t seem to be very sick I was almost immediately allowed to subsist at home. They didn’t seem to know just what to do with me, since they hadn’t had POW patients before — so, I guess they played it by ear. Naturally, I wanted to help them all I could, so, realizing the crowded • condition of this huge hospital, which had had to use buildings in adjoining Balboa Park, I began on the first afternoon, to work on my ward medical officer — to persuade him to let me go subsist at home — just across the bay. At first he sounded one hundred percent against it, saying that such a thing was unheard of — that a new patient had to stay aboard at’least a couple of nights before such an arrangement could be considered — and that was that! However, I had been away from home too long to take that -as a final word — unless I had to. So, when the doctor came by later in the afternoon — after preliminary routine tests had evidently indicated that I would not endanger myself or others by subsisting at home — I spoke to him again.» Now I had sized him up enough to figure that his back was worse than his bite (which is the case with many of us), and that I could use a little different approach with him. So, among other things, I told him that I understood they were terribly crowded, and that I didn’t want to be selfish and occupy a bed that somebody else might need worse, etc. Finally, this doctor, who knew he was being conned, looked at me with a knowing grin, and said, “Aw, O.K. Chaplain, get the hell out of here, and go on home where you belong!”
So, I didn’t spend a single night in the hospital during the next eight months that I was listed as a patient there. This was not supposed to mean that I was free to roam at will, although, in effect, it almost amounted to that. There were probably two reasons for this. First, as I have mention ed, a POW was something of a curiosity, since they had not had any such patients previously, and were not acquainted with the procedure. Second, after essential examinations and tests were completed, the consensus must have been that the best therapy for me was normal living, including plenty of good food, relaxation and sunshine. Considerable time was spent at the
hospital especially during the first couple of months, in meeting appointments, including a number of sessions at dental service — mostly for prosthetic work. I had had virtually, no dental care for three years, and . there was plenty to be done. As far as my general physical condition was concerned, it was surprisingly good — everything considered. I have mentioned that evidently I was immune to malaria, for which I was thankful. While all of us had experienced some G.I. runs at times, evidently I didn’t, really have dysentery, since no such bugs were found during these post-imprisonment tests — nor since.
I mentioned earlier that Rosie and I wrote quite a number of letters to the next of kin of people I had known — most of whom were not to return. In connection with, and between my hospital appointments I dictated some letters (perhaps as many as a hundred) to Red Cross stenographers attached to that office at the hospital. Between appointments and on weekends, as well as evenings, there was time to be spent with Rosie and the boys and our parents in Long Beach, as well as other relatives and friends. It was during this period, also, that I accepted (without too much enthusiasm on Rosie’s part) several invitations to preach and give talks. The churches were the three that I had served during the thirties and several served by minister friends of mine in Southern California. Talks were given at a couple of schools and service clubs.
An “excursion” that I was privileged to take not long after returning might be of some interest to others — as it was to me. I have mentioned my brother Houston’s owning a food market in Pomona, California. While we were visiting there in June my brother asked me if I would like to go with him to a nearby POW camp where a number of German prisoners were interned. He needed to go out there in connection with some foodstuffs (including plenty of meat) he had sold the camp, and naturally I was glad to be able to see what the place looked like. This neat looking, well-manicured camp was established among orange groves (not so many had yet given way to subdivisions), and as we approached the entrance it was not difficult to see the sharp contrast between this and what I had left only a few months earlier. I suppose, among my mixed feelings, at first-there might have been an element of resentment in my reaction to this scene. But, as I noticed (during something of a tour of the place) the we11-kept grounds, the neat buildings, inside and out, the well-fed and clothed young Germans, who were being treated like human beings — then I was glad that my country had a different conception of how victims of war should be treated than the other country with which I had had experience. I was never more proud of my own country, and never so thankful for my heritage. And I was glad that any earlier resentment and even hatred had at least been softened — to make room for gratitude to God and pride in being an American.
Here were these German lads (most of them comparatively young), whose families were not sharing the. anguish our families had experienced. These German families had been notified that their loved ones, had become honorable POWs, and knew that their men were being treated accordingly. These men would not die as a result of having fallen into’ enemy hands, and would be returned home in good shape — to live out their normal lives, and make, we hope, a constructive contribution toward the welfare and peace of the world.
Although Rosie was thinking primarily of my health, I felt almost compelled to return to my former pastorates, a number of members of which had kept in touch with Rosie, and had written to me in the Philippines. I didn’t have to accept these invitations, and those of other fellow-ministers, and 1 suppose my ego was involved, but I did feel that the Lord had given me an important message — about the Friend that had stuck with me — through thick and thin — even closer than a brother. Most of these speaking engagements did not involve too much travel time or expense. The latter item, without any previous understanding, always was more than provided for; this applied also to the fifteen hundred mile round-trip to my two former churches.
This ten day trip, which included some visiting and sightseeing along the way — going and coming,– was scheduled for right after the end of the school term in Coronado — so that our whole family could make this safari together. On this tour we found the church filled (on a week night) at Galt, which was my first appointment fifteen years previously. At Willows, a hundred miles farther up the Sacramento Valley, where we served from 1933 to 1938, the church was not only filled on Sunday morning, but Memorial Hall in this county seat of three thousand people, was about filled to its capacity of nearly a thousand. Hie community gathering had been arranged by a representative committee, and was given considerable publicity by the Willows Journal, which had published several pieces about a former local pastor having become a POW. In this audience were Protestants, Catholics, and Jewish friends, as well as those without a particular church affiliation; a truly ecumenical and mixed group! But, regardless of background, I told them all essentially the same story — about how I was never really alone — even during the darkest, loneliest days out there, because of the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
At Santa Paula, which we had previously visited on a weekend, our former church was filled on Sunday morning, while I had the privilege of speaking at the High School assembly on Monday morning, and a meeting of the combined service clubs of the city that noon. I realize that while because of previous service in most of these places, there was a natural added interest in my return (in the midst of the war) this was a part of the tragic current drama. At Willows we visited with church-member parents of a young Army Lieutenant, who .had been killed on an European battle field. “Toby” had been in our Sunday school — an overgrown, good natured redhead, only a few years older than Leland, with whom he used to play with his trains down on all-fours. These grief-stricken parents, who had aged twenty years in a third as many, knew the tragic drama of war, about which there’s nothing glamorous! In Santa Paula, before I preached on Sunday morning, I had three visitors: They were the father and brothers of my amigo, who had “cobbled” shoes under the hospital at Dapecol. I was not able to tell these fine Americans of Mexican descent whether or not their son and brother was safe, but 1 did offer them all the hope I could, since I remembered that he was on a draft to Japan, which was sent north on a ship which sailed earlier than the last two. In talking with these three anxious men I let them know of our friendship out there, and that they could be justly proud of this lad. It turned out that he was released in August (at war’s end) and returned home to his rejoicing family and friends. I hope he is enjoying life — maybe even with a grandchild or two.
In addition to letters to next of kin I visited (in their homes and ours) anxious wives and mothers, most of whose husbands and sons did not return. We couldn’t know for sure however, until war’s end, so I offered them all the hope I could. We met several times with an organized group of .the next of kin of POWs in San Diego. It was also my sad and difficult privi lege to conduct a Memorial service for those who did not return.
I suppose I used my imagination, and I can truthfully say that I know of no reason to have had any guilt feelings, but from time to time I did ask myself if perhaps some of these people wondered how and why the chaplain got back, while their loved ones did not. It was a rather haunting question, coupled with the one I have asked myself many times: Why was I spared when the bodies off better men than I were left in shallow, watery graves?
Now, of course, I could say that God had plans for me — that perhaps my work had not been finished, etc., but, could not the same thing be said in relation to these other men? I believe that God has plans for all of us — even though many of us do not listen enough to His voice, nor do we always heed His guiding hand. Maybe some of us need to stay around longer than others in order to do some maturing. I do not mean to be morbid here; 1 know that we can only go so far in answering, or even asking why, which is a universal and eternal question. We need to take a long-range view, and let God take care of the rest; He does, indeed, move in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform!
Of the friends whom I have mentioned by name in this narrative only Warren G. was not spared. It was my privilege to visit with his mother, and to tell her of our association out there. 1 was glad to be able to tell her how Warren had found anew his frame of reference in the Friend that stick- eth closer than a brother, and how he had been an inspiration to me, and a help to others, some of whom got back on their feet due to his self-taught therapy. I also told this fine mother how her son greeted me each day with “Chaplain, God is good to us” — even when everything was at its lowest ebb, and we were all hitting rock bottom. After meeting and talking with his mother it was no puzzle to me why Warren returned to the fold. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”. (Pro. 22:6) There may be apparent exceptions to this rule, but, as a general thing, it applies.
One of the characters aboard the Holland called me up not long after I returned to the San Diego area. I suppose Mr. “Dooley”, our Chief Boatswain, had seen a story or two, with pictures, in the local papers, and decided to do something, which he probably did very infrequently: Initiate a
phone call. My old shipmate said that they had missed me aboard, and wanted to let me know he was glad I had survived. I thanked hip for his part in making our release possible, and.he said, “Aw, think nothing of it,Padre”. He was between assignments, having left the Holland some time earlier, and soon was going out (probably at his request) to join another ship. He said “Yeah, Chaplain, the first team is going back out there, and wind this thing up”. And they did — within a few months. Mr. Dooley was the only former Holland shipmate I was in touch with this soon, although I have been in contact with a few others since. I have mentioned that my old Skipper and Exec, had written nice letters to both Rosie and my mother while I was in the Philippines. They were greatly appreciated.
After I had accepted several invitations for talks and sermons, and after we had made our swing to northern California, I found that I didn’t have all the stamina that I seemed to think I had. I suppose that lowered resistance was at least partly responsible for my contracting a heavy cold, which marked the end of such activities. It was then that Rosie, who had been concerned all along, gave me “the word”, which resulted in our deciding to relax and enjoy the’beach, and benefit from the therapeutic value of the water, sun, and fresh sea breezes. So, during that summer we spent many happy and beneficial hours on the beach — almost under the shadow of the old and famous Del Coronado Hotel — or, “the Del” — as local residents called it, and still do. As an evidence of my lack of judgement, contrasted with Rosie’s good sense, I had the idea (for a while) that we ought to go up to Lake Arrowhead for an extended stay, since my brother Houston owned a cabin there, and it was at our disposal. I will say that it didn’t take Rosie long
to convince me of a couple of things, which indicated that 1 had not thought this matter through. First, while the mountain retreat was intriguing, we already had a shangri-la of our own, at a more relaxing elevation — of only a few feet above sea level. Second, I was reminded that I was still a patient, and although I was subsisting at home, I was supposed to be staying in the vicinity of the hospital for any further tests and/or treatment. The Coronado therapy continued to do its work, and, although it took time, my rehabilitation continued to be more and sore in evidence.
The wounds of war do heal (outwardly) in time; however, underneath some of the hurts and scars remain — to remind us that war is hell, indeed. Several times during the first weeks, or even months, after returning home,
I woke up under tension — to Have Rosie tell me that I had really been giving the “Japs” what-for, and that she wouldn’t dare try to repeat some of the words and expressions I had used in the process. This is only a slight indication of what war can and does do to people, and one of the sad parts about it is that the sins of the fathers are visited upon their children to the fourth generation — and beyond. That is probably the biggest and most tragic result of the hell of war.
Not long after returning I got a letter from Razzie Truitt informing me that the Navy was considering a twenty year minimum retirement for officers (it had been thirty), which would make it possible for some Reserve chaplains, who had enough rank and not too much age, to transfer to the regular Navy — if they wanted to make it a career, and if they met the other requirements. I had talked to Razzie about this, and he offered to write me a recommendation. Rosie and I had talked over the pros and cons, and had decided that If I had the opportunity, I should apply, which I did as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Although, as I have1 mentioned earlier, I seemed to be in relatively good shape –everything considered —
1 did wonder if I would be in good enough shape to pass the physical for the regular Navy, which I figured might be pretty tough. But, surprisingly, I did meet the physical requirements, including my eyes, the standards for which must have been lowered since pre-war days. The physical, however, was only the first hurdle to be cleared in the long process of questionnaires and paper work, which, in the case of such large organizations, must go through many hands, and across various desks — and remain for a while at the bottom of the basket on some. Also, I was required to go before a board, which was made up not only of chaplains, but other staff as well as line officers. Perhaps this was partly for the purpose of determining how much such an applicant might have suffered emotionally, and also as far as appearance and personality were concerned.
So, this whole business went into the mill, and “the mills of the gods grind slowly”. I learned later that in addition to some recommendations that I was aware of, there were several others that went to Washington without my knowledge. These were from at least a couple of Catholics and one Jew, in addition to Protestants — active and nominal. Razzie’s recommendation was a very flattering one — to me. Also, my bronze star citation may have served as an additional recommendation. A new ecclesiastical endorsement was required, and it was forthcoming from the Methodist Commission on Chaplains.
My applying for a regular Navy commission meant that I (we — the four of us) had chosen between the chaplaincy and the pastorate, to which – I could return if my application for a regular commission were not accepted. So, in a sense, I didn’t have too much to lose, and, in my judgement, considerable to gain, since I had a rather deep conviction that it was in the chaplaincy that I could make my best contribution. We had weighed the disadvantages of the chaplaincy — such as the likelihood of being away from home some — against some of the disadvantages, and obviously voted for the latter. I am frank to acknowledge that one of the main factors in the decision in favor of the Navy was the matter of greater security —in regard to retirement — especially in regard to early retirement on account of disability, which subsequently did occur. While this was not the only, or even primary, consideration in the decision, with two sons to educate — it was an important matter to me.
As usual, Rosie was with me on whatever road I felt I should take. As I have indicated previously — Rosie is no “yes” woman, but she was like Ruth to Naomi in the Old Testament story: “Whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” So, after the application, with all of its appendages, was in, there was nothing to do but to wait, as I had been doing for my three promotions and a lot (for me) of back pay. Some of the latter, which was not unwelcome, came even before my first promotion (to full Lieutenant) three or four months after returning. The mills do grind slowly — especially when there is no precedent to go on. In the service — if it has never been done before, don’t do anything — until and unless you’re absolutely sure you’re safe! But the promotions, which bore the same dates of rank as those of my contemporaries, were welcome whenever they came through, and I didn’t lose too much sleep over being one of the grayest-haired one and a half stripers around San Diego or in captivity (I didn’t mean to use that word!) — for that matter.
After I had been home about six weeks I had a very unusual letter, which is self-explanatory to any of you who have managed to stay with me since Santa Scholastica’s school days in Manila. You may remember that I mentioned presenting a New Testament to this devout young Navy doctor. Dr. Lambert was on the staff at Bilibid prison when I was assigned there in the summer of 1944, but was sent out on the December draft, and was lost at sea. The following letter tells hs much of the rest of the story as is known — except by Him Who knows all things, and is concerned by the fall of the least sparrow. “For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” I used to sing that when I was young — and in my prime!
Hq. Sp. Troops, 38th Division,
APO 38, c/o P.M., San Francisco
16 May 1945
Chaplain Earl R. Brewster
My dear Chaplain Brewster:
Recently I saw an item in the church press, saying that you had been released from a prison camp in the Philippines. I am glad to hear it. I don’t know you, but I know something about you which I believe will please you very much
Next day after I made a beach assault in this part of the Philippines a Guerilla Lieutenant handed me a New Testament which had belonged to Lt. Gordon K. Lambert, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy. We do not know whether Lt. Lambert is alive, or where, but I have turned over to Naval intelli- gence some clues obtained from the notations in the New Testament. But the real interesting thing about the Testament is the frequent reference to church services and Scripture lessons read from Sunday to Sunday. The Testament was presented to him by you, Decenter 28, 1941, at Manila. Marginal notes begin with January 25, 1942 and continue until Noventer 12, 1944. Many passages which impressed him because they gave him support and courage are underscored, and occasionally with marginal notations.
What delighted me was his frequent reference to “Chaplain Brewster.” He mentions a Mother’s Day sermon on the text, Second Timothy 1:5. And he seemed to be impressed with other sermons, such as one from Psalm 23, and I Cor. 13, and Rom. 8:24. The last reference (“We are saved by hope”) is dated 9-10-44. You were certainly on the beam in your ministry to your men. Just 11 days after that sermon he records the first flight of American bombers over the port area of Manila. Under date of 12-5-42 he underscored, “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh”. He does not say. But I have been thrilled again and again as I have thought of that expression of a hope which he held fast, by the help of his Chaplain, through the weary months.
And at the last you are still preaching, “We are saved by hope”.
The underscored passages in the New Testament have been the inspiration for some of my best sermons for my men who are engaged in the still-tough job of liberating the Philippines. You see, I can say to the men, “Here was a man who had a chance to test his Christian faith, so he has something to say to us. He has won the right to be heard. When he underscores the words: Be not anxious, but in all things by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God he is recommending to us a religion which works when the going is toughest”. Etc., etc.
I have had some rather cautious correspondence with his mother, Mrs. Alice Lambert, 6 Seneca Park Circle, Rochester, N.Y, I use the word “cautious” because I dare not give her false hopes, or give out facts which may still be regarded as contrary to military regulations.
I have participated in some of the tough fighting for the Philippines. In fact, the fighting is not nearly finished, despite the rosey press re- leases. I had the privilege of serving as Graves Registration Officer for the operations on Corregidor and lower Bataan. I located and cleaned up five of the 1942 Bataan cemeteries. I have stood in those cemeteries and traced the evidence of the progress of the war, and have said, “We are not having a tough time at all. Those boys took it on the chin for us.”
Well, my brother Chaplain, I hope this small example of the inestimable value of your ministry to your men gives you the deep satisfaction you so richly deserve. Just the examination of the evidence has encouraged me to carry on till the job is finished, although I might be considered rather old for combat service. I hope it is my good fortune to meet you some day in the dear old’homeland. My wife and three children are “parked” at Manhattan, Kansas, till the glad day when I can see their dear faces again.
(signed) James R. Wonder Chaplain (Capt)
(Central Kansas Conference)
On May 10, 1945, I was able to be hone for my first birthday (my 41st) in four years. This was the occasion that Rosie used to This “wean” me from my security blanket: “That old, beaten-up, musty smelling, dirty thing!” I had a hard time saying farewell to this old companion, which had guarded my valuable possessions for three long years. I had no choice, however, since that woman was sneaky enough to buy me a very important looking V.I.P. attache case — to use in its stead. Some people will do anything! So,-my under arm zipper case, which had served me so well, and could have gotten me into trouble, was no more; but the memory lingers on.
Also, in connection with this birthday celebration, I mentioned earlier that I had conned my twin sister and her husband into taking us ,(including my mother) to the famous Mission Inn in Riverside. I thought this was a natural, since they lived in that beautiful city, and we had never been to the Inn for dinner; so, a good time was had by all. The menu was quite different from those placed-before me on the occasion of * my last three birthdays. Although I hadn’t made it home to begin life anew by my 40th birthday, I did manage to make it — by the Grace of God — while I was still forty; something to be thankful for!
About this time a very special event came my way in San Diego. The Chamber of Commerce sponsored a parade and a program honoring our POWs who had returned, as well as those who had not yet been returned (from Japan), plus those who were never to return. I had the honor of being chosen to represent our Naval personnel, and was proud to do so. This was the first and only time that I have ridden alone in a parade (in the back seat of a convertible), with a blonde gal driving the car. As we proceeded east on Broadway, with people lining the street, I tried to wave and smile — as I have seen “other dignitaries” do. The one event that I remember most involved a small boy — perhaps around ten years old — who evidently knew me; however, I never was able to identify him. This lad was in, or on, a multi-storied building, and as I went by his perch, he repeatedly yelled, “Hi, Chaplain Brewster”. Naturally I waved and returned his greeting, but to this day I don’t know who the boy was. He would probably be in his middle thirties now; wherever he is, I hope he is enjoying a good life.
The parade wound up at Balboa Stadium with a program, which included several speakers, of which I was one. I hope I was able to represent our people as they deserved to be remembered. There was quite a turn-out of concerned citizens for this event. It was heartening to note that the American people were aware of what was going on, and were appreciative of the contribution and sacrifice our people were making toward peace.
I was pleased to receive during this period personally signed letters of commendation from President Truman, Secretarty of Defense Forrestal, and Chief of Naval Personnel, Admiral Jacobs. The letter from the Secretary of Defense provided the basis for my being awarded the Bronze Star medal, which I received, realizing that many of my shipmates helped to make possible this recognition, which some of them deserved more than did I. This awards ceremony, which included a number of other patients, as well as our families and friends, was held out of doors at the San Diego Naval hospital – to which we were attached. It was another outstanding day for us.
Rosie and I were basking in the sun on the beach at Coronado one afternoon when suddenly we heard whistles blowing, bells ringing, and people shouting that the war was over. One particular vociferous brother, who appeared on the scene waving his bottle as he shouted victory, must have been anticipating such an event. At any rate, he had obviously been preparing for it — and had gotten a head start. I’m sure it didn’t take some others very long to catch up with this announcer of good news. There were some of us, and many throughout our land and other Nations of the world, who paused to thank God, and to shout praises of peace … hoping that perhaps now swords could be beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks.
During this period of several months of enforced indolence (the enforcement didn’t need to be very rigid) I was not only being rehabilitated, but my three promotions began to come through gradually and slowly, one by one, like the first animals into Noah’s ark — according to the old spiritual, which says, “the animals are cornin’ — one by one, etc.” So, after a few months I was no longer the greyest haired J.G. running around San Diego; now I was among the oldest looking two-stripers to be seen around. But, it didn’t bother me as much as it seemed to bother some of my Chaplain friends and others, who couldn’t figure out why Washington .didn’t give me my Commander’s three stripes all at once. At least a part of the answer lay in the fact that this was something new — and there was no definite procedure for it. My application for a regular Navy commission was also in the mill, and this took even longer to materialize than did the promotions.
Bill McGuire, who had been Pacific Fleet Chaplain, with Headquarters at Pearl Harbor when I was assigned to the Holland there, was now the 11th Naval District Chaplain in San Diego. This warmhearted Irishman was very friendly and helpful to me during this period. He told me not to “volunteer” -to go back to active duty too soon — that I might as well take plenty of time. He and others probably suggested this to Washington, also; since I was not occupying a bed at the hospital, that command evidently was not anxious to get rid of me as a patient — until I was ready for ‘most any kind of duty. Chaplain McGuire told me several times to let him know where I would like to have duty when I was to be re-assigned. I told him that I didn’t feel that I was in any position to try to name my duty station — but I did let him know that I liked it around San Diego, and that my family would like to stay in Coronado during the school year of 1945-1946. From subsequent events, evidently this was all I needed to say.
I had not yet had occasion to be in touch with my friend Chet C. since our days aboard the Holland. It was several months after my happy landing that I saw Chet’s name in the San Diego paper — in the sports section. He was listed as a player on a semi-pro basketball team representing 20th Cen- tury-Fox Studios, which was playing in San Diego that night so we (our family of four) made a date that night, and would have broken ‘most any other engagement, to go to that game. We were- able to see Chet only briefly before the game, but had a pTetty good visit with him at half-time, and said “adios” afterwards. Chet was about twenty-nine at that time, and was not in the same kind .of shape he had maintained at the University, or aboard the Holland, but he played a good part of the game — showing the class that had made him an all-American seven or eight years earlier. Although he came along a generation too soon for pro basketball as we know it today undoubtedly he was of pro caliber. His being a member of this particular team provided him a nice interim job with the company, which evidently enabled him to secure further preparation and experience as a school administrator. As I mentioned earlier, this fine Christian gentleman now is Superintendent of schools in an important northern California district.
Here was a young man (in his fifties now) who didn’t know much more than 1 did (which was less than nothing) about submarines before the war; yet he was sharp enough, and so dedicated that he became a Commander, and before the war was over he was an instructor in submarine warfare. We need more men like Chet these days; thank God for those we do have — they are the salt of the earth.
As I mentioned earlier, Ken W., whom I first met in Manila, .and was with both at Cabanatuan and Dapecol, had told me that he wanted me to officiate at his marriage to that “beautiful girl in Fullerton” — after we both got back to Southern California. Naturally, the situation was somewhat “iffy”. The first “if” was whether pr not j>oth of us would get back. This was problematical, if not unlikely, since the odds proved to be about four to one against an individual’s making it. These odds were greatly multiplied, and it really became a matter of geometrical progression when Ken became a member of the last draft to leave Manila for Japan. I have mentioned some of the horrors of this hell-ship and its very few survivors.’ Another “if” lay in the fact that the bride might and should have something to say about who ties the knot. In fact, it is usually the bride’s wedding; the groom is some sort of necessary evil — or just excess baggage, to whom nobody pays much attention.
I had no way of knowing whether Ken had survived-until the fall of 1945 — when the rest of our people were returned from Japan. It wasn’t long after he returned that Ken got in touch with me, saying that “they” wanted me to tie the knot, so both of the “ifs” had been eliminated. Soon thereafter the date was set for early December at the Episcopal churcfi in Fullerton, the home church of the bride’s family. I suggested that the rector of the church should have a part in the ceremony, which is the way most of us ministers like to operate. He was very gracious, and would have been willing and glad to have remained in the background, but both of us together were able to tie a real tight double-knot, which still is securely tied after nearly a quarter of a century. This was one couple that didn’t need lecturing, or even much counselling, as such, since they already had passed some pretty stiff tests, and knew what a successful marriage requires. They were very serious when they each repeated the vows: “I, Kenneth take thee,
Marilyn (and vice versa) to be my wedded wife (or husband); to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s Holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” You don’t raise four children, while moving from place to place in the Navy, without certain problems, but when sacred vows are taken seriously, there is a deep joy and satisfaction in the realization that with God all things are possible. I have mentioned that Ken became a Rear Admiral several years ago, and now is serving in the most important assignments in the Supply Corps. I am proud to have had a part in establishing this home.
The late Marion T., my Navy Lieutenant friend who became a Kentucky Colonel, also was returned about the same time as was Ken, and it wasn’t long before we were communicating between Louisville and San Diego. It was about a year, however, before we got together to talk over old times; while I was on duty at Parris Island, S. C. (1946-48)’*wa got up to Louisville several times and enjoyed that Kentucky hospitality, although we weren’t able to make it at Derby time. Marion and his mother (quite a character), who used to torment him by catching more fish than he did, visited us in Norfolk, where I was on shipboard duty in 1948-49. Marion had a “ham” radio installation in his car, as well as at home, and on his way to visit us he would call another ham — to let us know his E.T.A. This rather intrigued our boys (especially Leonard), as well as us. I saw Marion briefly in a V.A. Hospital not long before he died two or three years ago. The P.O.W. experience had taken its toll; he was a victim of man’s inhumanity to man. I had lost a good, understanding friend, who was also acquainted with “the Friend that sticketh .closer than a brother.”
Well, I began this narrative by telling about being “fresh-caught in San Diego”. I volunteered then, but now they had caught up with me, although I had in effect asked for it by applying for the regular Navy. After eight months of “loafing” I received orders to report about the middle of December to North Island Naval Air Station for duty. So, I didn’t have to commute by ferry, and North Island and Coronado were no longer separated by even a bridge. I reported here as a Lieutenant, and my regular Navy commission would not be forthcoming for several months. So, this nearby assignment kept me out of too much mischief while my other two promotions and my regular Commission came through in that order. The other benefit was that we could stay in Coronado the rest of the school year. In July of 1946 I did get orders (as a regular Navy Commander) to report to Parris Island, S.C. for duty with the Marines. In my various “flash backs” I have related a couple of incidents that took place at this well known recruit depot, and I don’t propose to indulge in any more “sea stories” that took place here, or anywhere else. This narrative has hit the high spots of one chaplain’s experiences during a period of five long years, and that should be enough. If I have not told my story by this time, no more time nor words would help much — if any. I had completed my “round trip to hell”. Praise the Lord, and “hold” the ammunition!
In the midst of my joy at being home with family and friends, I can never forget, and will always remember the friends with whom I was bound together by a peculiar tie — even though I will see the faces of most of them no more. God help us to be true to such friendships and the trust that is ours. “Greater love hath no man than this: That a man lay down ,his life for his friends;” “and there is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”