God Aboard a Navy Ship

 

by John C. Westervelt

 

†††† In May of 1950, I graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Oklahoma University and was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy.

†††† My orders called for me to report aboard the destroyer USS Henry W. Tucker DDR 875 in San Diego.† But first, twenty other NROTC (Naval Reserve Officersí Training Corps) electrical engineering graduates from universities west of the Mississippi and I were to report for a three month naval electronics school at Treasure Island near San Francisco.† In the second week of school, the Korean War broke out.

†††† My ship arrived in Tokyo Bay just before Christmas 1950.† Soon thereafter, we joined the Fast Carrier Task Force 77 in the Sea of Japan off Korea.† The navy pilots were flying missions to support our troops, who were being driven back across North Korea by an avalanche of Chinese soldiers.

†††† Paul David Olson graduated from the Naval Academy in May of 1951.† In June, with the Tucker in port in Japan, he reported for duty and was assigned as my roommate.† We would become lifelong friends.† One of the things we shared in common was our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.

†††† Four destroyers made up a division.† Our division, with three other destroyer divisions, escorted two aircraft carriers in the waters off Korea.† A chaplain was assigned to each destroyer division.† Once a month the chaplain would ride in a bucket seat across a rope strung between ships and hold a church service on our ship.

†††† It didnít matter that Chaplain Riley was a Catholic priest; his natural, Irish smile won me over, and we became fast friends.† Paul Olson and I, along with about twenty-five sailors, were regular attendees at church held in the shipís mess hall.† One sailor played a small pump organ during the singing of hymns before the chaplain preached his sermon.

†††† On the three Sundays that the chaplain was on one of the other destroyers, the sailors talked about missing church service.† Paul and I decided we could conduct a service, even though we had no formal religious training.† With the approval of the chaplain and the captain of the ship, we began.

†††† With no district superintendent monitoring our theology, I would preach one Sunday and Paul would preach the next.† The sermons I preached were Bible lessons I had learned in Sunday school and Methodist Youth Fellowship at Wesley UMC in Oklahoma City under the guidance of Grace Garten, Youth Director, and Nuell Crain, Pastor.† The sailors, who were mostly younger than I, didnít mind our preaching, for they were grateful to have a church service to attend.† All of us felt like God was aboard our ship in the open sea off Korea.

 

 

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