I Once Was A Preacher

by John C. Westervelt

My children and grandchildren will be as surprised as you to see this story title over my byline. In May of 1950, I graduated from Oklahoma University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. I was commissioned as an Ensign in the U. S. Navy immediately following my graduation. Early in June, I traveled by train to Treasure Island naval base off the coast of San Francisco to attend a three-month naval electronics school. Classes had barely begun when the Korean War broke out.

My ship, the USS Tucker, a destroyer, arrived in Tokyo Bay just before Christmas 1950. After antisubmarine training off the coast of Japan, my unit joined the Fast Carrier Task Force 77 in the waters bordering 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 were to become lifelong friends. One of the things we shared was our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Four destroyers made up a division. Our division, with other destroyer divisions, escorted the aircraft carriers. A chaplain was assigned to each destroyer division. Once a month the chaplain would ride a bucket seat across a rope strung between ships to hold church services on our ship.

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

On the three Sundays when the chaplain was on one of the other three destroyers, the sailors missed not having a church service. Paul and I therefore decided we could conduct a service, even though we had no formal training. With the approval of the chaplain and the shipís captain, we began. With no district superintendent monitoring our theology or the order of worship, I would preach one Sunday and Paul would preach the next. The sermons I preached were the lessons I had learned in Methodist Youth Fellowship at Wesley church in Oklahoma City under the tutelage of Grace Garten, Youth Director, and Nuell Crain, Pastor. The sailors, who were younger than I, didnít mind my preaching; for they were merely grateful to have a church service to attend.

So, let me direct your attention to the title of my story. Well, maybe I wasnít a real preacher, but now you understand.

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