SABBATICAL, WEST POINT EXAMINATION, AND SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
Shortly after being assigned to turret 2, my division officer, LT Hilyer Gearing, took a special interest in me. He asked me why I didn't go to the Naval Academy. He said I should be an officer.
When I joined the Navy, I may have known that there were both officers and enlisted men but didn't know where the officers came from.
LT Gearing asked if I had any political influence. Since dad had been elected to the state legislature. and was a close friend and ally of our Congressman, M.A. Romjue the answer was yes. Dad had campaigned for Romjue and the two of them were political friends. But at age 19, I was past the entrance age limit to apply for entrance to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
LT Gearing was persistent. How about the U.S.Military academy at West Point? Upon investigating we found the age limit for entrance was 22. Gearing urged me to apply for West Point.
My dad talked with Congressman Romjue and soon I had a principal nomination to West Point for the beginning class of 1935.
The next requirement was to prepare for and pass an entrance examination.
Lt. Gearing arranged for me to be free from all duties for the next year amounting to a sort of Sabbatical from work. . The Executive Officer of the ship, Commander J. B. Oldendorf, later famous for his victory over the Japanese in he Battle of Suriguya Straits as Admiral, thought it would be a feather in the cap of the Navy to have a sailor enter West Point. He helped me get copies of the entrance examinations for the past ten years so I would know what to study. Further he appointed the Chaplain and two Ensigns to tutor me.
I had a quiet place to study in the turret and occasionally studied all night. When the time came to take the entrance exam I was probably one of the best prepared candidates ever to take the examination..
The Army and Navy arranged for me to go to Ft. Lewis, Washington to take the various, physical and psychological interviews. Since I was in Navy uniform, I was very conspicuous on this army post.
There were six or eight of us who eventually sat around the long tables to take the written examination.
The first two periods were a disaster. Although being very familiar with the subjects on which I was being examined, I was unable to concentrate. I got panicky and the harder I tried to concentrate the more confused I got. In the next chapter I will explain what I accept as Divine intervention.
The papers I handed in were practically blank.
When we came back after lunch, I had no difficulty and breezed through the final four subjects with high marks.
But I knew I had blown the first two exams and was very disappointed. As I left Ft. Lewis and spent the night in a hotel in Tacoma, I seriously thought about throwing myself in front of a car and ending it all.
Back aboard ship I resumed my duties. I also wrote Congressman Romjue thanking him for the nomination and apologizing for not passing the exam. He wrote back telling me I probably underestimated my grade. But a few weeks later I got the official news. I had failed the first two exams and made high marks on the last four.
I previously mentioned meeting Lester Spencer. On two occasions he had confronted me in a spiritual manner. On my first Christmas at home (1932) my mother gave me a Bible. I kept it in my locker hiding my loose currency between its pages. One day a friend asked me to loan him $5.00. Lester was standing in line to get his dishpan and coffee pot and saw me take the money out of the Bible and give to my friend. When he came face to face with me he said, "That Bible is good for something other than to keep your money in. You should read it."
A few weeks later he showed up with a black eye. I told him that if he would keep out of the bars he wouldn't get beat up. His response, "I didn't get that black eye in a bar. I got it playing football. I am a Christian. I don't go to the bars." It was the most direct testimony I had ever heard up to that point in my life.
One of the men in the "drag company" at Great Lakes was Ed Goodrick from Appleton, Wisconsin. We used to play chess while in training and went aboard the West Virginia together but were assigned to different divisions. Ed was an intellectual and our discussions were on that level. I generally attended the Sunday Divine Service aboard ship and urged Ed to come with me. He professed to be an atheist. He agreed to go with me if we would attend both the Protestant and Catholic service which we did a few times.
Lester Spencer was persistent in my spiritual interest .In December 1933 he persuaded me to go with him to the home of Dawson and Lila Trotman in San Pedro, California.
In the early afternoon we got some physical exercise and afterward Dawson took me aside for a private conversation. It was clear that he had a sincere interest in my eternal welfare. He opened the Bible often but the only thing I remember about the conversation was that he used the word, iniquities". I had never head the word. Apparently he was showing me Isaiah 53:5,6. "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all."
After having one of Lila's famous chicken dinners, a few more civilians and sailors joined us and we started singing Christian songs. I felt trapped but there was no ready way to escape.
Soon there was a knock on the door. The sound of the singing penetrated the paper thin walls in the small apartment and a couple of neighbors ordered us to knock off the noise. Trotman exercised his first amendment rights and we (they) sang some more. The next knock at the door proved to be by two burly policemen who warned us to honor the complaint or be arrested.
So was my introduction to the Trotmans. I fully expected to end up in jail. I insisted that I be driven back to the Navy landing although I knew that last boat had left for the ship that night. Those at the home knew there were no more boats and urged me to spend the night with them. They honored my request to be taken back to the landing and I spent the rest of the night sleeping on a bench at the Navy's 22nd street landing.
About the middle of the next year I made my second visit to the Trotmans. In the meantime they had moved to Long Beach and rented a house at 33 Surfline, just yards from the beach and adjacent to the amusement park area known as the “Pike.”, Their oldest son Bruce had been born a few months earlier..
The speaker at the meeting Dawson set up was Oscar Zimmerman. He had founded and was director of a mission to reach merchant seaman with the Gospel. He spoke on II Corinthians 9:8,
"And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work." KJV
While he was speaking, Bruce, who had just begun to crawl, had reached up to the window sill and put something in his mouth. It turned out to be a double edged razor blade.. When his dad removed it, there was no cut whatsoever. Dawson had the group unite in praise thanking the Lord for His protection. The meeting proceeded.
I left the home with the impression that God's presence was definitely in the Trotman home.
The first man aboard ship to respond to Spencer's outreach was a seaman radio striker named Gurney Harris. He was a member of the ship's swimming team. In the meantime my friend Ed Goodrick had become pals with a fellow intellectual and agnostic named John Dedrick. They were both on the swimming team with Harris. They were attracted to Harris's quality of life and were soon visiting the Trotman home and having discussions with Dawson.
In our times together Ed told me about these conversations. In the meantime he had become an all Navy swimming champion. At first Ed let me know how he effectively countered Trotman's presentations. Then there was a sudden change in Ed.. He got his ego under control, his arrogance almost disappeared, and his compassion for my life and welfare seemed foremost in his life.
But since I was preoccupied with studying for the West Point exam I held Ed at arms length.
About this time a Christian sailor on the West Virginia by the name of Virgil Hook had joined the quartet of men Trotman was influencing.
Shortly after my year's Sabbatical he and I were on a work detail together. We got up at 3:30 AM, had baked beans and cornbread for breakfast and then were boated to the refrigerated "Provision Ship" to manhandle frozen beef from the cargo hold to our boat. We were part of a crew who man handled a three months supply of frozen meat for the West Virginia's 1500 men..
I was very unhappy. This was definitely not the glamour I had expected in the Navy.
But Virgil had a different response. He had a smile on his face and was humming tunes.
I made an observation. Any inward joy I had experienced up to that point in my life was the result of outward favorable circumstances. If the circumstances were favorable outwardly, I was happy inwardly and vice versa. But here was a Christian man, Hook, who was unmoved by circumstances. He had an Inward Resource which circumstances couldn't touch.
Instinctively I knew he had what I had always wanted. The "quartet" had given me the theology of the Christian Life. Hook lived it and radiated it. I was well on my way to becoming a Christian.
After a year of studying for West Point it was not easy to slack off. I got rid of all of my books except a volume of Shakespeare and the Bible. I set out to read he Bible through. The first message I got was, "He that has ears to hear, let him hear." I know there was something I was supposed to hear I had not yet heard. The I came to Romans 10:9,10 "That if confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
I highlighted the passage and put my Bible on the shelf. That was the message I was supposed to hear. Until I was ready to do that my spiritual journey was on hold.
In early 1935 the West Virginia went to Bremerton, Washington Naval Shipyard for a three month overhaul. Goodrick, Dedrick, and Hook along with other new Christians had an active ministry ashore in churches and with Young Peoples Groups.
One of their favorite presentations was for each to take a part of the Navigator Wheel Illustration and make a short presentation.. This required five men to speak on that which the hub and spokes of the wheel illustrate: the WORD, PRAYER, WITNESSING, OBEDIENCE, and CHRIST THE CENTER.
One Sunday only four were free from duty to conduct the service.. Ed asked me if I would go along and take the WORD spoke. I agreed and Dedrick briefed me on some background. He gave me some material documenting, How we know the Bible is the Word of God.
I had never doubted the Bible's truthfulness but on the other hand never appreciated that it is the Living Word of the Living God. In the material (prepared by Helen Rittenhouse), the truth that the Bible is really the Word of God came so forcefully I got under conviction for not submitting to it. I was not yet ready to identify with God and the Bible so reneged on the agreement to go with the team and make the presentation..
A few weeks later I was asked to go with the team again but was not asked to participate. That evening the fellows were giving their testimonies at a Presbyterian church in Bremerton. As I sat with them, Ed asked if I would like to give a testimony. I quickly refused saying I did not believe in that stuff. But as I sat on the bench Romans 10:9,10 began occupying my heart and mind. It was a challenge. God promised if I would publicly identify with Christ as Lord I would be saved. I wanted the assurance that I would spend eternity in heaven and this seemed a sure formula. I nudged Ed and said, "I'll do it. Call on me.". My testimony was prenatal. I talked about life before Christ was like going to sea in a sieve and some other hopefully clever stuff. (For Ed's version of this event see VALIANT IN FIGHT page 42.
I returned to the ship that night feeling the best I had ever felt in my life. I realized, this is joy, this is fulfillment, this is for life. Hebrews 66:4-5 became reality. I was enlightened, I had tasted the heavenly gift, I had become partaker of the Holy Spirit, I had tasted the good Word of God, ....
The next morning as I operated a pneumatic chipping hammer it was dusty and noisy but the noise of the chipping hammer was like majestic music. Then the heart full of joy ceased as suddenly as it originated. I wanted it back. One of the reluctance's I had to giving my life to Christ was that He might want me to be a preacher or a missionary.
Instinctively I knew He would overcompensate for any seeming sacrifice I would make.
So on April 8, 1935 at 7:45 AM in turret two aboard the battleship West Virginia, I bowed my head and told the Lord that whatever it meant to be a Christian, that was what I wanted to do--no reservations.
He responded. The joy returned and has been the dominant factor in my life even to this very day.
Although I didn't know much about God, if He had indicated He didn't want me to go to West Point my attitude would have been one of defiance. I attribute to Him that he frustrated my mind while taking the examination. Otherwise I might have become a dead Colonel in WW II.
My benefactor, LT Gearing was eager to help me in my career even if it wasn't West Point. When I told him about my decision to give my life to Christ he exclaimed, "OH NO" and then followed up with a long paragraph of what a great mistake I was making.
My own father's response was similar.
At this point in life I had no intention of making a career of the Navy. In September 1936 I had to make a decision. Would I follow my Christian associates into civilian life or re enlist in the Navy.
As I prayed and counseled with Trotman and others I felt God gave me a clear answer in accordance with Proverbs 3:5,6, "In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path." The future of the Navigators seemed to depend on the presence of an inside man. I was willing to be that man. When I wrote Dawson of the decision, he took the stamp off the envelope and pasted it in his Bible with notation about the significance of the decision as he viewed it.
Trotman was never in the Navy. He felt his responsibility to us was to equip us with knowledge and resources and send us into the spiritual battle.
The minimum tools we needed for being sent forth were.
Schofield Reference Bible
Smith’s Bible Dictionary
Torrey’s Topical Textbook
Evans, Great Doctrines of the Bible
Trotman did not readily respond to every question he was asked. He would often reply to a question, “You have the same Bible I do. Find out for yourself.”
In 1936 I extended my enlistment for another two years and in 1938, re-enlisted for another four years. When this enlistment was completed in 1942 we were at war and no one was being discharged. My career plans had entered onto a new track.
It was during those years that the USS WEST VIRGINIA became the “floating seminary” in action. Spencer and Hook received early discharges, Dedrick and Harris’s enlistments were completed. Goodrick was the only one of the original group evangelized and/or discipled by Trotman.left on the ship. He removed himself from leadership, (see page 44,Valiant in fight for Ed’s account of the change.)
During the 1930s life aboard ship was very uncomplicated. There were no satellites, personal radios, television, newspaper or other detraction. When we went to sea and sailed over the horizon we lost contact with civilization. The Battleship was to prove to be a perfect laboratory, a sort of fiery furnace in which the basics of the Christian life as illustrated by Trotman’s innovative wheel, were tested and refined and became steel threads of Christian character.
The number of persons with whom Dawson had personally shared the “wheel illustration” probably numbered only in the dozens. Now Christians in the US Navy were God’s chosen vehicle to model Scripture Memory, and others basics of the Christian life, now being lived out in the lives of men and women in more than a third of the nations of the world who are reproducing the model.
For the six years from 1935 to 1941 our routine aboard ship at sea had taken shape.
Our core team met for prayer three times during the day, 15 minutes prior to each meal, when the mess decked were cleared for those delivering food.
The normal weekly work day for the ship’s crew was from 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM with an hour free for lunch. Practically every one not on watch attended the evening movie from 7:30 to 9:30 PM weather and training requirements permitting.
Our core team utilized the time available as follows:
3:30 PM – 5:15 PM Personal needs, laundry etc.
5:15 PM 5:30 PM Core Team prayer
5:50 PM 7:30PM Evangelism and/or Follow up and Man to Man time with new Christians.
Since practically no one was available to evangelize the core team met from 7:30 PM until TAPS at 10:00 PM.
We used the time as follows:
Monday Studied a New Testament Chapter using the simple A,B,C, method of selecting:
A. A title for the chapter.
B. Best Verse or basic passage
C. Personal challenge to apply
D. Difficulty, actual or potential
E. Etc., Summary or Outline
Tuesday we had an evangelistic Bible Study for all we could get to attend in the anchor windlass room. The ship’s Public Address system was used each week to announce this meeting to every one of the approximately 1500 men on board.. The requirement for the core team members to attend this meeting was that each had to spend at least 1 ½ hours inviting men to the meeting personally. Each was polled at the beginning of class. If any core member had not met the requirement they were dismissed to get their personal spiritual lives in order.
Wednesday Studied Prayer and engaged in extended prayer.
Thursday Studied an Old Testament chapter using the ABC method.
Friday Spent our 2 ½ hours studying one of the 184 doctrines found in the Bible.
On weekends, if at sea, we often had a mini conference. For a speaker we read the sermons of Moody, Spurgeon, Billy Sunday, R. A. Torrey and others from our Moody Colportage library consisting of a couple of dozen volumes.
This close fellowship and battling spiritually together united us in a David like team in which each was willing to give up their lives for the Cause, their team members, and their leader.
Believing that the best testimony for Christ was to be the best in our profession we supported and helped each other to attain that goal
My early career ambition was to join the Navy for four years, save enough money to complete college, attend law school and become a lawyer as a base for launching a political career believing the highest elective office in the land was a possibility.
PS. About the White House:
During six months while living in Washington, D.C., in 1983-84 I spent an hour in the White House every week with Tom Donnelly, legislative assistant to President Ronald Reagan. We did a Bible Study and prayed together and sometimes ate in the White House dining room. Tom introduced me to several of the people whose pictures I was accustomed to seeing in the newspapers. They were very friendly and seemed to appreciate having guests who did not have a political ax to grind.
Tom was a busy man. His main job was to persuade individual members of Congress to support the legislation President Reagan wanted passed.
Our hour together was without interruption. I once asked him if he had his secretary hold his calls while we were together.. He replied that he didn't and that our times were an "oasis" controlled by God.
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