1955 - 1956


"Where have you been? So you finally got here. I have been standing your watches."

Such was my reception by the officers at the Fleet Anti Aircraft Training center at Dam Neck, Virginia. Since I had thirty days leave plus travel time from Hawaii they thought I was never coming. The officer I replaced was already gone so they had to double up to cover for me.

This Navy facility is located on the ocean seven miles down coast from Virginia Beach, Virginia. The mission was to train gun crews in maintaining, repair and firing all types of Anti Aircraft guns then installed on Navy ships. We had guns of every caliber mounted along the beach so we could fire out over the ocean. We also had a six inch forty seven caliber rapid fire gun for which we trained gun crews.

All Hydrographic Office charts used by ships and aircraft had a large area marked off in red designating our area as a danger zone in which they were forbidden to enter.

My job did not require actual classroom instruction. The three dozen enlisted instructors were organized into two divisions. I had half of them in the First Division of which I was Division Officer.

If a ship's captain did not think his gun crews had adequate experience in firing their weapons he would schedule instruction and refresher training with us to keep his gun crews sharp. There were so many ships to serve we were scheduled weeks in advance. The United States had sold many Navy ships to friendly nations and we also taught their gun crews.

Most courses were for one day. Typically the entire gun crews of a ship would arrive by eight o'clock in the morning. They would spend the morning in the class rooms reviewing or being taught the theory and characteristics of their weapons. Then they would have simulated loading, operating and firing training on "dummy" guns with dummy ammunition.

By mid afternoon they were ready for the real thing ---FIRING USING LIVE AMMUNITION.

The two Division Officers took turns as Range Officers conducting the firing. We had a 100 foot high control tower with communication with all of the gun mounts. During my turn I first determined if the range was clear of ships and planes. For a target we had an airplane towing a large red cloth sleeve.

If and when the range was clear, I would receive manned and ready reports from all the batteries firing that day. As soon as the target came in sight I would give the order to COMMENCE TRACKING and when the target was at the appropriate angle order COMMENCE FIRING.

There was a supply of cotton available to plug our ears in the tower but I felt it was too restrictive to use it. Had I had better medical advice I would not have damaged my hearing. When I took my retirement physical examination two years later, the doctor asked me if I had ever been around heavy gunfire.

When I answered ,"Yes, how did you know?" he replied, "you have no hearing above the 2000 decibel range."

Towing a target for our gun crews was not a job aviators competed for. They were afraid our green gun crews who, while at sea, practiced tracking planes instead of sleeves might revert to their old experience and shoot at their plane. The officer at the gun mount was responsible to see that they were on target. I never knew where the guns were pointed until they began firing.

If the projectiles exploded between the towing plane and the target, the pilot began giving me a hard time.

One day a large Navy repair ship wandered into our area after we had started firing. The first I knew it was there was his big search light started flashing. Some of our uxexploded shells had fallen perilously close to the ship. In a few days we received a strong written protest from the captain of the ship. He pointed out that he was not in the target area when the shells fell near his ship.

I made a personal investigation and found that the limiting stops of some of our gun mounts were incorrectly set allowing some guns to fire out side the restricted area. That error was slyly corrected by our Gunnery Officer without anyone other than he and the two Division Officers knowing about it. The captain of the repair ship was right. We had fired out of the restricted area.

From 4:00 PM until 8:00 the next day two officers stood watch to be in charge of the base overnight. We had beds in the command post and could turn in at midnight. I had the watch once or sometimes twice a week. Until midnight one of us toured the base by military jeep once every hour.

One night my partner failed to return from his tour. I sent someone to locate him. He was very irate walking from a remote part of the 100 acre base. He was looking for the person who had stolen the key out of his jeep when he parked it to check on something he thought deserved looking into. When he came back to the jeep the key was missing. When he got back to the command post we found the jeep key hanging on the key rack where it was kept when the jeep was not in use. He was even more infuriated to find that the trickster had not only taken the jeep key but returned it to the key rack.

It had to be one of us. We got him cooled off after trying his personal car key in the jeep ignition. It fit perfectly. It turned out that when he got ready to take his tour he absent mindedly used his own car key but didn't think of trying to use it when he found the jeep key missing. His face was redder from his embarrassment than his anger.

One night there was an injury accident on one of our parking lots. Before going to the scene I phoned the Hospital Corpsman on duty and told him bring his first aid kit and meet me at the parking lot. The following conversation ensued:

"I can't come to the parking lot. I have to stay at my post at the Dispensary in case of an emergency"

Me: "I have news for you. The emergency you are waiting for has occurred. Get to the parking lot with your first aid kit on the double."

I have had mild asthmatic symptoms from my youth. At Dam Neck I found it increasingly difficult to climb to the top of the control tower or perform difficult physical tasks due to shortness of breath. The Dam Neck doctor thought it was serious enough to have me surveyed out of the Navy on a physical disability discharge. He so recommended and started the administrative wheels in action. In the meantime I was hospitalized at the Portsmouth, Virginia Naval Hospital for fifty five days

I eventually faced a Survey Board made up of both line and staff officers who queried me for hours.

The line officers did not want to let me be surveyed out but the medical and staff officers prevailed in the vote and administrative procedures were set in motion to force me to retire on 30% physical disability effective October 31, 1956.

In the spring of 1956 Dawson Trotman was with Billy Graham conducting a campaign in Richmond, VA. Trotman invited Morena and me, as well as Lester and Martha Spencer to join them and stay in the same hotel.

Dawson cornered me in the lobby and twisted my arm relentlessly about leaving the Navy and joining Navigator staff. I was at the height of my career having been selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander and scheduled to be given command of a large ship. I reminded him that 20 years ago we had had a similar conversation and agreed that the best way I could further the Navigator ministry was to make a career of the Navy. I told him of my fruitful ministry and career. As always he was quick on the trigger and quoted John 15:2, "Every branch in me which bears fruit He prunes it so that it may bring forth more fruit." He had no hesitation about me being pruned from the Navy. At this point my health had not yet deteriorated noticeably.

After the evening evangelistic meeting Dawson set up a late dinner for us along with Lester and Martha Spencer, and some of the Graham and Navigator staff members. I particularly remember meeting Lorne Sanny for the first time. I also met Don Rosenberger, and Doug Coe. Doug was Dawson's right hand man during the campaign.

At the close of the dinner he asked those present to pray that I would soon leave the Navy and Morena and I join the staff in Colorado. He had a way of emphasizing his point and told them, "If it is a matter of money I almost feel like I should take a full time job and turn the money earned over to them so they could come with us full time."

He had told me privately that there was a ten year age gap between him and the older staff and that he had to have my help with them.

I learned later that one "Glen Eyrie night" he had asked the gang to pray that I would leave the Navy and join the staff. The following week he asked for a show of hands as to how many had prayed. Only a few hands were raised. He gave them an exhortation those present said it was not easy to forget.

We returned to our happy home and career in Oceana without giving him an answer. Shortly thereafter my fifty five day hospital stay began.

One day Morena said to me, "You are not ever going to get out of the hospital until you accept Dawson's invitation."

I took her advice seriously. I decided I would accept retirement and leave the Navy after 24 years. Almost immediately my health began to improve and I resumed normal exercise and work. The survey Board looked more at my past record than my present condition or I would not have been surveyed out of the Navy.

During the week of June 15th (1956) Lila Trotman, Dawaon’s wife,and some girls traveling with her came to see us at Oceana. I did not realize until later that she was on a spy mission to observe us and our large family to see if we were in good spiritual health. If we were why wouldn't we respond to his invitation? Trotman once told me that I was the only person he knew who had not followed his counsel that the Lord continued to bless.

We had made arrangements for Lila and her party to stay with families in Virginia Beach.

As Lila was getting acquainted with Joe and the twins we told the girls about Joe having to give up his bed when we found out we were going to have two babies instead of one. Joe looking at the party of several, and not knowing we had made arrangement for them elsewhere remarked, "It looks like it is going to happen again tonight".

I told Lila to tell Dawson I would be coming to Schroon Lake Tuesday , June 19, to talk with him but did not tell her why I wanted to see him. MY PLAN WAS TO TELL HIM WE HAD DECIDED THE LORD WANTED US TO ACCEPT HIS INVITATION AND WANTED TO WORK OUT ARRANGEMENTS AND A TIMETABLE.

I took a week's leave and Monday afternoon June 17, Ross Baldwin, director of the Portsmouth Servicemen's Center and I started to Schroon Lake driving all night arriving at 6:30 AM.

Although there were several conferees standing around no one even spoke to us. I interrupted one of the conferees having a quiet time and said, "Is this a Navigator Conference? It doesn't look like it to me. Where is all the life and enthusiasm?"

Soberly he replied, "It may be because of the accident yesterday. A man drowned."

When I asked who, he replied. "I don't know his name but he seemed to be in charge here."

I asked, "Was it Dawson Trotman?" He said "yes, how did you know?"

I told Ross, "I've got to walk this off and spend some time alone."

I didn't know the camp but followed a path down to the water front. Just as I arrived Jack Wyrtzen was docking his speed boat. We had breakfast together and he explained the details of what had happened 15 hours before.

Monday afternoon he and Dawson decided to take a ride in his speed boat They invited some of the conferees to go along. The boat normally accommodated five people. Norm Larsen got in front with Jack and five other girls were waiting to ride. Dawson and Jack put three in the rear seat. Dawson inquired if any couldn't swim. Two of them had not learned to swim so Trotman had the girls in the rear seat slip forward and he and the two girls who couldn't swim locked arms and sat on the back of the seat

They proceeded out into the cold deep lake. As they were speeding along Jack turned his head and said to Dawson, "Isn't this fun? Let's go back to the dock and get Lila. Dawson nodded , "Yes". Jack spun the wheel controlling the rudder. The fast turning boat hit a large wave with enough force to knock Alene Beck, the girl on Dawson's left, and Dawson into the water. The girl on the right managed to break loose from him and stayed in the boat. Jack didn't think it was serious. They threw over a life ring and Jack turned the boat around to pick up the couple in the water. Dawson, a good swimmer, treaded water holding Alene above the surface. As the boat came alongside those on the boat pulled Alene aboard. As he released her the rescuers saw Dawson's arms slowly spread apart and he started to sink. One of the girls on the boat was a skilled swimmer having qualified for a Life Saving Certificate. She dove over and brought Dawson to the surface. And then, for the first time in her life, she developed stomach and leg cramps and had to release him before the boat was alongside

Jack sped back to the dock to get help.

In the meantime Lila had a premonition that the next time Dawson took an overseas flight the plane would go down and he would die in the water. The premonition was so strong that on Sunday afternoon June 17, they had a four-hour conversation about what she was to do family and other wise. She took shorthand notes of the conversation of which she has revealed very little. One bit she has revealed was that by inference the torch of leadership was to be passed to Lorne Sanny of whom Trotman said, "I have no other man like minded....."

Monday afternoon Lila had gone to a local village to get some cottage cheese for daughter Ruth who with her fiancé George Wortley were at the conference. Ruth was on a special diet. While returning from the store Lila was so burdened for Dawson's safety and so sure his life on earth was going to end soon she pulled off to the side of the road and prayed God would give her the strength to be a good testimony when it happened.

In checking the timing with Lila I learned that the time she pulled off the road to pray was the same moment Dawson had fallen overboard.

When the boat arrived at the dock someone said, "Where is Lila? We have got to tell her." Dottie Anderson was the only one who knew the location of the cabin in which Lila was staying. He rushed to the cabin arriving about the same time as Lila. She blurted out, "Dawson fell overboard and they haven't gotten him back."

Lila calmly replied, "I know."

She was a stalwart testimony to all of us in the week following.

The local sheriff's party were unable to retrieve the body. All of us felt a sense of uncertainty until the body was recovered. There was much prayer for the recovery. A diver traveling through the area saw the report of the drowning in the newspaper and volunteered his services to help. He found the body on his first dive. The conference went on.

On Wednesday Lorne Sanny arrived from the Billy Graham campaign in Oklahoma City and stayed the rest of the week. Dan Piatt, Navigator European Director was arriving by ship in New York. Lorne planned to meet him. We rode together for six hours enroute New York City with w Ross following in our borrowed station wagon.

Lorne told me about his future plans. As I recall Lorne's conversation it was the equivalent of this:

"I have known for some time I would eventually inherit the responsibility for the Navigators. I have already decided that instead of a one man operation it would be a team operation. The Lord has given me the names of the men He wants to help me. You are one of them. I am aware of the negotiations Dawson has been having with you and I reinstate all of them. How soon can you get out of the Navy and move to Colorado?"

This was only the second time I had met Lorne and I did not know how many of Dawson's characteristics he had picked up. One of them was that, if he liked you he wanted you nearby. When the person moved he had a tendency to forget about them and look for someone else to recruit.

I wanted to make sure there was a real need and a real job. It was not real clear in Lorn'e's mind as to what I would do. He told me that, to Dawson, Glen Eyrie was one big fun park. He loved to ride around in his convertible with his two way radio and preside over it.

Lorne wanted me to take Glen Eyrie off his hands as completely as possible.

He then brought up baseball terminology. He talked about the utility fielder who fills the most urgent need . He said he could not give me a job description but liked the general utility fielder concept.

I got out of the Navy as soon as possible and for 22 years we worked together in this relationship. He further refined it as: "I was to do what he should do but couldn't or didn't want to do. He often referred to me as Deputy President.

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James W. Downing
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