I don’t remember his name. However, I do remember his extraordinary story. He told it to a small church in the country during revival services. My story teller was a member of the church. He was probably less than twenty at the time of his story. He had joined the Navy and was trained to be a cook on a ship. As I remember, the ship was in the Destroyer Class of fighting vessels, a part of the fleet in the Pacific theater of combat during the second World War. He had not seen any action, other than cleaning pots and pans, preparing meals and keeping the men fed aboard ship. Even though he had not seen any military action to this point, things were about to change for him in a big way.
At some point in his tour of duty, his ship was ordered to provide support for the invasion of the Philippine Islands. Not many years before, the Japanese had invaded the islands and had forced the U.S. troops and their Philippine allies to surrender. General Douglas McArthur had promised the people of the Philippines that one day he would return and retake the islands from the Japanese. This was the day he had promised.
Our young cook from Mississippi had a ringside view of the invasion. That is, until an enemy submarine torpedoed his ship. He was in the galley area of the ship when it struck. The ship was badly damaged and sinking. The order was given to abandon ship. Water was coming in at such a rate that when he tried to open a hatch that would have allowed him to climb up to a safer level, he could not get it to open. All the while the water was rising fast in his compartment. He searched frantically for a way out. In the midst of the chaos he remembered his training and his Lord. He began to pray. He calmed enough to start looking for alternate ways to exit the sinking ship. Finally, he held his breath and dove under the water and swam out the hole created by one of the torpedoes. He swam to shore as fast as possible knowing that he might be killed at any moment by enemy fire.
When he finally made it to shore he found himself in the midst of thousands of soldiers who had already landed and were forming up to continue to march inland to retake the island. He was a little bewildered but thankful that the Lord had saved him while many of his shipmates had gone down with his ship. He realized that he really didn’t know what he was to do next. He had lost his ship and all his personal gear. He didn’t even know whom he was to report to. As he was standing there trying to figure his next move, he heard a voice behind him say, “Sergeant, where is this man’s boots?” Without waiting for an answer the officer directed his next question to the young sailor. “Son, what unit do you belong to, and where are your clothes?” Up to that point it hadn’t occurred to him that he left the ship with only his cap and his skivvies. He finally mustered up the courage to reply, “Sir, everything I had was on that ship that you see sinking in the harbor.” “I don’t have any clothes, or know where I’m supposed to go.”
With that the officer looked at his subordinate and told him to find this young man some clothes, boots and a gun. Then he looked the young sailor in the eyes and said “Welcome to the Army, Son!” Then, General McArthur put his corncob pipe back into his mouth and continued on his way.
My new friend related that he followed General McArthur throughout his campaign to repatriate all the islands of the Philippines. He was there when they liberated our U.S. soldiers from the Japanese death camps after their capture in early 1942. He saw the surrender of the Japanese when the final island was retaken. He told me the Lord kept watch over him the whole time. He was never wounded in battle. He shared that General McArthur was bigger than life. He was a real soldier’s soldier to his men. I've always heard the same praises for McArthur from countless books and biographies about the man. I never met him in person like this young Navy cook from NE Mississippi but to me, my new friend’s story fits that same mold. In my eyes he is a real hero! He is bigger than life! He is a perfect example of so many of the men who gave their all so that we may know freedom today.