CHAPTER 14

1950-1952 MERCHANT MARINE ACADEMY

LONG ISLAND LIVING AND MINISTRY

The United States Merchant Marine Academy is located on the former Walter Chrysler Estate on Long Island about 40 miles from downtown New York City. At the Academy we didn't have all of the luxury that Chrysler had. He would leave the mansion in his robe, walk the short distance to the boat landing and go aboard his yacht. The yacht got underway while he took a shower and shaved. By the time he had been served a hot breakfast he had arrived downtown at the boat landing and a chauffeur picked him up to take him to his office. He was escaping some of the traffic problem he had helped create.

The Merchant Marine Academy exists to train Merchant Marine officers. It is fully funded by the U.S.Government. It's military and academic requirements are high and it is sometimes called the fourth service academy.

The students are called cadet-midshipmen. Upon their graduation they need a basket to carry their diplomas. They receive a Bachelors degree, a 3rd Mate or Engineer's license, US Merchant Marine commission and a US Naval Reserve commission. Their second year is spent at sea where they learn navigation, seamanship and other practical subjects.

The Navy provides ten Naval Officers to teach the same Naval Science subjects taught at the US Naval Academy. I was one of the ten with academic rank of Assistant Professor. During the two years I taught Ordnance and Gunnery, Seamanship, Military Law and Justice and Naval History which included all Naval Battles since the Greeks defeated the Persians in the battle of Salamis in 622 B.C.

We had no military duties. All we had to do was meet our classes and hand in our grades. One semester I was through at 10:00 AM four days a week and had no classes on Wednesday.

Four of us lived in the same vicinity and car pooled the 22 miles to the Academy. Prior to coming to New York we had visited the family in Missouri where we traded our green Chevrolet for a 1947 Buick.

In addition to teaching I arranged to have Bible Classes for the Cadet-Midshipmen once each week. They were so regimented to course study the attendance was poor.

My classes made such high grades it was embarrassing. It took me several months to figure out why. I had a habit of saying, "Now listen carefully; this is really important." They would make a note of it and be sure they were prepared for the examination. My tests and exams inevitably covered the points I thought were most important. I tried to be less revealing but it didn't help much.

They sat in their seats and psychoanalyzed me and would watch my emphasis and predict with a high degree of accuracy what the examination would cover. They were a sharp bunch of students.

I picked up my favorite story from one of the Merchant Marine Officers. (During the war promotion could be earned in one year at sea) that is a second Mate could become a First mate after serving as a Second Mate for a year.

An officer presented his record to the proper official for promotion. To get a years service he had to count the 20 days he spent on a life raft after his ship was sunk. The promotion was denied. The time spent on the life raft didn't count: Reason "INSUFFICIENT TONNAGE."

Those who have not done classroom teaching may not realize that it is really hard work. Nevertheless it was undoubtedly the easiest two years of my 24 year Naval career.

FAMILY AND MINISTRY

Our ministry during that period was as productive as any such period in our lives. I taught a class at the nearby Conservative Baptist Church. Soon we were in touch with some sharp couples who recruited some of their friends to join the group. Our rallying point was a weekly Bible Study in our home. They were a golden-hearted bunch who bought hook line and sinker every thing we taught them. They developed a powerful outreach. The ones we are in touch with are still having effective ministries. A few years ago we spent a week with one of the couples, Joe and Helen Van Horn, in Albuquerque. Several of the other couples have visited us in Colorado.

Beside that I was Chairman of the Deacon Board and SS Superintendent. We worked with Jack Wyrtzen in his Youth ministry. I will never forget the amazement and greeting I received from one my fellow teachers the day after he saw me on television on Jack's telecast.

On Friday night I went straight from King's Point to the subway and proceed downtown town to teach a night class at the National Bible Institute in downtown Manhattan. I was also listed as the official Navigator Representative for the area.

Our pastor was red headed and had the same name as a cartoon character in children's books. He was very aggressive yet had good rapport with the Presbyterian pastor in the same neighborhood. The Presbyterian pastor, who practiced sprinkling, accused Sam of being so deep down in the water it put the fire out. While repairing the Baptist Church baptistery a welder let some sparks fall in the wrong place and set our church building on fire.. By the time the fire was out quite a crowd including the Presbyterian pastor had arrived. Sam remarked that was the biggest crowd he had ever had at the church. The Presbyterian told him it was the first time there had been any fire there.

A little more than three months after Joe was born we discovered that Morena was pregnant.

She received pre natal care at St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens. On one of her check ups her blood pressure was high, so she was hospitalized. One of the doctors had a knack for discovering twins. He bet another Doctor $5.00 that Morena had twins. Dangerous as it was then, they x-rayed her to settle the bet. I was talking with a nurse just after the film was developed and asked her if it was twins. She said she couldn't disclose the information but the look on her face betrayed what she knew. There was too little time to prepare for two instead of one.

When her labor pains became steady I drove her to the hospital over slick roads on a snowy day January 31, 1951. Being a veteran mother Morena gave birth to the twins quickly. I went to a pay phone and put in my nickel to call home. It wouldn't work. That was the day local phone calls went up from a nickel to a dime

When we brought the twins, Donald and David, home a few days later we had to hire a girl o help us during the day. You who are mothers must have as great appreciation as I do for Morena caring for six preschoolers three of which were in diapers. In the fall of 1951 Marobeth started kindergarten and Jonathan a year later.

Shortly after the twins were born, our next door neighbors had a baby boy. An older brother Jimmy's age was rather silent about the new baby. One day his mother asked, well, how do you like the baby?" His reply, "He is OK but where is the other one." From observing us he apparently thought babies came in pairs.

By starting to get ready two hours before church time we got everyone to church every Sunday. On Saturday nights I shined or cleaned twenty pairs of shoes.

Those in our Bible Study were very supportive and helpful with the children. Marobeth had a knack for entertaining her younger brothers by drawing cartoons and making her own comic strips.

We bought our first television as a survival measure. The only programs for children were Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody.

Morena's parents came to visit during the summer. To give Morena’s father, Frank Holmes, some talking points about New York, I drove the family up Broadway through Manhattan to Central Park during rush hour. Between 34th and 42nd street we stopped at a red traffic light. When it turned green there were so many pedestrians ignoring the light we couldn't move. After several series of light changes a burly policeman came over to the car and told me, "When the light turns green blow your horn and plough ahead. They'll get out of the way." I did and they did. This gave Mr. Holmes the story he wanted.

Our greatest sight seeing scare came when we visited the Statue of Liberty as a family. Jon and Jim thought we were too slow and ran up the steps ahead of us and out of sight. They went all the way to the torch. I didn't know how high the walls were up there and pictured them climbing up and falling over. I was really huffing and puffing when I caught up with them.

One year a huge storm knocked out the electricity on the opposite side of our street, Southberry Lane. I strung a cable across our street from our fuse box to my neighbor’s his so they could keep warm. Both of our winters in New York were severe.

Almost two years to the day I went to King's Point, I got orders to go to Japan and take command of USS PATAPSCO. We sold our house for $22,000 dollars and had the Navy pack and ship our household goods to Hawaii.

Early in August we loaded up the Buick with our family and headed for Little Rock where the family would live until joining me in Pearl Harbor Christmas week. Enroute the four older children sat in the back seat and Morena and I held the twins in our laps. Looking back I can hardly believe I held Don on my lap with his hands on the steering wheel. No seat belts then. I think David's first word was "me". Once we stopped for ice cream cones along the way. Morena had David on her lap with her left arm around him eating from the cone in her right hand. Every time she lifted the cone to her mouth I could see David open his mouth. Of course Morena couldn't see it. Pretty soon he began to say, "Me Me Me."

Morena's brother had rented a house in Little Rock for us. We moved in and a few days later I took the train to San Francisco. After waiting two weeks there room was found for me on a chartered Pan Am DC 4 and I took off for Hawaii, Wake Island and Tokyo. I then flew by Military Plane to Atsugi Naval Air Station and then the train to Sasebo. On August 22, 1952 we had the proper change of Command ceremony which included a day at sea so the new captain could certify that the crew was trained and ready for war and that the ship was seaworthy.

The events of the day were so packed, I didn't realize until a week later that I had passed my 39th birthday.

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James W. Downing
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Colorado Springs, CO 80919
Ph/fax 719 598 1461
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