Besides the greatness of the camaraderie that comes from the closeness and the danger in the military there is something else that I have appreciated. That is that “authority” and “obedience” are good words. The recognition of our mortality is also a great asset.
I have not been the best at showing up at reunions, so many of you do not know me or even recognize my name.
Here is a little background. I was in the 13th and then 19th companies in the fourth battalion. I rowed crew for most of four years, but never got into a varsity boat except for the first boat in plebe year.
Most of us who are still alive have had narrow escapes in Korea, Viet Nam, or the Cold War. I had one remarkable event three months after commissioning. That is the time when the gunnery officer told me to leave my battle station in Gunnery Plot and come up to the Main Battery Director. We were at GQ. We were off Tanchon on the east coast of Korea, closing range to destroy some R.R. cars. I left the Chief Fire Controlman in charge of Plot and proceeded to the Main Battery Director. When I got up to the Director he did not know why he had me come up there. While I was there we hit a mine on the port side. The explosion obliterated Gunnery Plot and flooded the forward fire room. We lost sixteen men, six in the fire room, five in Plot, four overboard, and one died from burns in the hospital. That evening I conducted the funeral when we buried the chief at sea. He died in place of me. That was on the Brush. Then I spent thirty months on Brinkley Bass, including three two-week stints in Wonsan Harbor in ’51, ’52, and ’53, on the first of which we lost a man on the bridge from shrapnel from a near miss by .75mm.
Now we are 79. I read in the Wall Street Journal that the average life span of an American is 77.6 years. That means that we are now ahead of the average by about 1 year.
In 1956 I resigned my commission in order to represent the Officers’ Christian Fellowship at all of the service academies. I did this for five years then spent an additional seven years at the Naval Academy. Consequently I know men from classes ’57 to ’72, and classes since then, but not as well.
Three major events led to that decision:
My own conversion to Christ during my youngster year.
My battle station men dying, with me not having told them the Good News.
Not a few officers and men receiving Christ on the ships and stations I was on. I realized I had a gift to communicate the Good News in an effective way.
I have been remiss in not telling you. Many of you already know the Father. Some of you do not know for certain where you will go when you die. Some of you are formally and maybe nominally Christian, some of you are anti-religion, some of you will get angry with me for bringing up the subject, and some of you will really want to know what I am writing about.
Whatever the response or lack thereof, here is, hopefully, an adequate explanation of how to go to Heaven when we die. It is possible that some of you will not understand. It will sound like foolishness to you.
I will start by sharing with you my own experience.
My father was born in 1899. My mother was born in 1900. She and my father were married in 1924. They had six sons, born between 1925 and 1943. I was number two. We were a close, poor, moral, non-religious family. Our parents had very strong convictions which they passed on to their sons in two different ways: teaching by our mother and requirements by our father. The result in us was a sense of superiority which today would be called “self-righteousness” or “holier than thou.” I did not know the terms, but certainly I thought I was better than other kids. I did not use bad language, profanity or slang. Neither did I smoke (everyone else did), drink, or run around. I did not think I was a “sinner.” I had reserved that word for the real bad guys. Because of this “goody-goody” reputation I got in several fist fights in the eighth grade and a final one in the eleventh grade. By my senior year in high school I became a little more accepting of my classmates.
World War II started for the US in the December of my freshman year in high school and ended in the August after my graduation in 1945. I had been very eager to enlist, so on May 7, 1945, I enlisted. It was the day Germany surrendered. I was not called to active duty until September of ’45. Japan had surrendered in August the same year. During my last year in high school my older brother Leonard had given me two books, one of which was titled Room to Swing a Cat. In one of the two books—I don’t remember which one stated that the Navy selected one hundred enlisted men from the fleet every year to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. I made up my mind to attend the Naval Academy and this book told me how to get there.
While I was in boot camp I saw the notice for the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS) and immediately applied. After an interview with a board of officers I was selected for NAPS. In January 1946 I arrived at Camp Peary, VA, a former Sea Bee training base. The school had been in session since the fall, so the group that arrived with me was behind. In the spring, 1,200 of us took the entrance exam; 330 of us passed. I barely passed. The Naval Academy accepted all 330 of us with Secretary of the Navy and congressional and presidential appointments. I entered the Naval Academy in June of ’46.
At Camp Peary; I was not a happy camper. I was moral in one sense and insubordinate in another sense. I would argue disrespectfully with commissioned officers. I would jump chow lines with a friend. I did not have many friends. This was the reason I thought I was unhappy. My explanation to myself was that I did not have friends because I did not get drunk or “laid.” I was not willing to compromise my morals in order to have friends.
However, that was not the real reason.
Around January of ’46 I received a letter addressed to a Jim Wilson Seaman First Class, Radio Technician, Del Monte, California. I was puzzled since I had never been to California. It quickly became apparent that I did not know the correspondent- there must be another Jim Wilson. I do not remember the content of the letter other than that there were Bible quotations in the letter. This embarrassed me. I considered myself moral, but not religious. I sent it back to the originator with an apology for opening it. A few days or a few weeks later a sailor came into the barracks and asked for Jim Wilson. I identified myself. He then said that he was also Jim Wilson Seaman First Class, Radio Technician, and that he had just arrived from Del Monte, California. He had some of my mail. Of course we got to know each other.
I had a real problem with the friendship. Up until I met him I had compared myself with everyone I had ever met and came out on the best end of the comparison. This included my older brother and my father. I admired and respected them very much, their intelligence and integrity, but still I thought I was better. I really was self-righteous.
This other Jim Wilson had me beat. He was more moral and lived it with less effort. He had many friends. He seemed to be happy. He was a brain. He was an athlete. He came from a wealthy, sophisticated home. I felt inferior around him and thought that he was putting me down. He wasn’t, but I thought he was.
For two summers in high school I worked all night in the open air at the Omaha, Nebraska stockyards. I became fascinated with the stars and learned a little about them. So in order to be up on him in something I decided to spend an evening with him in the open naming the stars to him. He did not need to know their names, but my ego needed a boost, so I bragged.
In the middle of my teaching him he interrupted me. It went something like this:
Other Jim: “Jim, are you going to Heaven?” No one had ever asked me that before.
ME: “I don’t know. I will wait and find out.”
Other Jim: “What do you think about it?”
ME: “I think I will go to Heaven.”
Other Jim: “Why do you think so?”
I then told him how good I was and how bad I wasn’t. If I did not make it, Heaven was going to be thinly populated. I was not trying to be funny. He had asked a serious question and I had answered it seriously.
However, he laughed. I thought he was putting me down. I got angry and retorted that if he was so smart, did he know that he was going to Heaven?
Well, he replied that he did know that he was going to Heaven. He said it with such assurance I could not say that he did not know. I asked him how he knew. He told me of his experience with Christ. He also told me, as I remember, that salvation was not a product of being good or not being bad. It was a gift. He also told me that people who thought they would go to Heaven because of their good works would not get there because of their boasting. I had been boasting.
In the ensuing discussion I am sure Jim told me the good news of the deity of Jesus, His death for sinners, and His resurrection from the grave. I did not understand much of what he said. What I thought I understood, I rejected. I think I had fourteen reasons but I can only remember two. (I am writing this 59 years later.)
1. I did not think I was a “sinner.” I had reserved that word for the real bad guys.
2. If salvation was a gift then the real bad guys could get in just as quickly as a nice guy like me. That did not seem right to me.
Having voiced my rejection I was still intrigued with his life. I asked him where he got all this information. He told me it was in the New Testament. I found one, a pocket-sized King James Version. I began to read it diligently. It made no sense to me. I kept reading it. The war was over; Jim got out of the Navy and entered Columbia University while I entered the Naval Academy. Freshman year was like boot camp with a full academic schedule. I did not try to break rules but I did talk back to upperclassmen. The result was that I accumulated many demerits. I forget how many was the limit before a compulsory resignation from the Academy, but I was close to the limit.
In January of my Plebe year a classmate, Caryll Whipple, saw me with my New Testament. He invited me to a Bible study group. It seemed to me to be a means of understanding what I was reading. I told him that I wanted to attend. Then he told me it met at 0545 in the morning. Suddenly I did not want to attend. That was 30 minutes before reveille. When I gave excuses of not waking up he told me that he would wake me up.
The small group met in a janitor’s broom closet. In this group I met other men like the other Jim Wilson. One of them was Willard (Pete) Peterson 49. He had been a Christian about a year. This group met seven days a week. I went to it for the next 3 ½ years. Sometimes I would argue and sometimes I would try to fake being a Christian. In the meantime my moral will power was running out. I was a goody-goody to my classmates but this pre-reveille group knew I was not a Christian.
The year was finally over. I was in the first boat in the Plebe crew. So while the rest of the Brigade of Midshipmen went to Northern Europe on summer cruise I remained for the National crew races at the Poughkeepsie Regatta. When I finally caught up with the summer cruise fleet it was in Portsmouth, England. I was assigned to the USS Wisconsin, an Iowa class battleship. One of my classmates fixed me up with a blind date. The two girls were from Northern Ireland. They worked in the Hotel Russell laundry, Russell Square, London. Apparently my classmate’s plan (I just followed along. True, but dumb.) was to buy a bottle of wine and feed it to the girls while necking on a park bench in the square. I did not drink but I did help purchase the bottle. The girls got drunk. They did not get friendly drunk. They got nasty. I went back to the ship thanking God I hadn’t lost my virtue with these girls.
There was a daily Bible study at sea. It was on the 011 level (eleven decks above the main deck). I was gradually learning, from the Bible and experience, that I was a sinner.
Back at the Academy my youngster year, I was again attending the daily pre-reveille study and still not a Christian. In early October I turned 20 years old.
It was football season and Navy had a very small stadium. So home games with big time opponents were held in Baltimore. Two of my classmates fixed me and themselves up with a triple blind date that we were to meet on the 30 yard line after the game. (Navy only won two games during my four years there. This was not one of them.) During the game I realized I would be in trouble, morally, if I went on this blind date. I really do not remember whether I showed up and cancelled or just did not show up. In any case I found myself alone in Baltimore on a Saturday night. The section of Baltimore I was in was not very Christian in its entertainment. It may have been the Block. I remembered the Christians had something planned that they were going to but I had no idea where or what. I bought a newspaper and looked at church advertisements. There were many. One of them said Saturday night, corner of North Ave. and St. Paul. I got in a cab and went there. There were two churches on opposite corners. The Baptist Church was locked and the Presbyterian Church was open. It looked like a few hundred people were there. It was a Youth for Christ meeting. I went up the balcony steps to look over the crowd. There were three midshipmen about five rows from the front. I went down the aisle to sit next to them. One of them was Pete Peterson. The other two were Jim Inskeep and John Bajus, all class of ’49. Pete was surprised to see me. The director of the meeting saw us four midshipmen sitting up front and thought we must be Christians. He came down to us and spoke to me and asked if we would like to testify of our faith in Christ. I replied that I had nothing to say. The other three agreed and went to the platform.
I listened to them tell their personal stories. I had a hard time believing them. I wanted to think that they were lying, that they were hypocrites, but I knew better. They lived the way they talked. There was a possibility that they were mistaken. If so they were happy mistaken men. As I said earlier I was not happy. I envied happy people. There was a third alternative, that what they were saying was true and right.
There was singing, which was impressive. Then the main speaker for the evening was introduced. He was a Filipino. His name was Gregorio Tingson. His text was the first few verses of Psalm 40. Here they are:
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3)
I remember, very well, verse 2: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
After the meeting Pete took me into another room and introduced me to a saving relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus. I was now ready. I knew now that I was a sinner and could not save myself. I called upon the Lord. I think that was October 18, 1947. Immediately I had joy and peace that I do not recall ever having had before.
I went back to the Academy that night with a desire to tell everyone of the good news of Jesus Christ. Upon reflection I realized that the Navy would think I was crazy and discharge me. My ambition to tell everyone was reduced to telling my roommate and classmates in my company. Then I realized that they already thought I was too religious (daily pre-reveille Bible study) and goody-goody (no profanity, no drinking). If I then told them that I had just been saved from my sins that would really confuse them. “What sins, Wilson? We’ve been trying to get you to sin all year!” I decided not to tell anyone.
In the meantime there were real changes in me that I could see but I did not think others could see.
1. I had joy and peace.
2. The Bible which I had not been able to understand suddenly made sense.
3. I found I belonged with these pre-reveille fanatics.
4. My conscience was clear.
5. My conscience was more sensitive.
6. I realized I really cared for my roommate (loved him in a Godly way).
Several weeks went by when my roommate, Dick Daykin, asked me what happened. I asked why he had asked. He told me that I had been pleasant for the last several weeks.
About forty some years later I stayed with him in his home in St. Louis. We went out for a prime rib dinner. He asked me to tell his wife what I had told him our youngster year at the Naval Academy when we were 20-years-old. I am now 78-years-old. I now tell you what I told him those many years ago.
You may realize that you are not a Christian. If you are not a Christian then you have a nature that is prone to sin. You need a new nature and you need to get rid of your old nature. This cannot be done by you. It can be done only by God.
Here is your part.
1. You need to want to be set free from the guilt and judgment for your sins, and the power of sin.
2. You need to know that you are helpless in this want.
3. You need to know that being good and not being bad will not set you free nor will any other means of self effort.
4. You need to know that God has already accomplished this deliverance in sending the Lord Jesus to Earth in order to die for the ungodly. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6 (NIV)
5. Three days after this death for our sins, the Lord Jesus arose from the dead in order to make us righteous. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Romans 4:25 (NIV)
6. The Holy Spirit is now drawing you to turn from your sin, to call upon the Lord Jesus, trusting Him, His death and resurrection.
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 4:25 (NIV)
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.”
I Corinthians 15: 1-5 (NIV)
Having called upon the Lord Jesus now, thank him for bringing you to the Father, for forgiving your sin, and for giving you everlasting life.
Now, in your joy of your forgiveness tell someone about what God has done for you.
If you would like to know God truly, not just know about him, and would like to be sure that you will go to Heaven when you die, please write to me. I will send you help in the form of books and booklets that will help you grow in the Christian life.
If this has you interested at all I will be glad to correspond with you. If you are interested, but not in writing to me, I suggest that you read the Gospel of John and the first eight chapters of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. You may also call on a pastor or chaplain and talk to a close friend or relative who you think is very clearly a Christian. You are probably right in your estimation.
Respectfully a classmate and friend,
Here is a short synopsis of the 58 years since my entrance into the Kingdom. By the time I was a first classman I was relatively a mature Christian and with several other classmates a leader of this underground Christian movement. As you remember we all went to church or chapel. That did not make us believers.
Since it was peacetime I asked for a ship in the Western Pacific with the idea of being an encouragement to missionaries when we were in port.
During my 30 day graduation leave in a little town in central Nebraska, 25-30 high school and college kids came to Christ. Three of them were my brothers. One adult received Christ; he was my father.
I went on to San Francisco to wait transportation to the USS Brush (DD745), supposedly in the Philippines. While in San Francisco the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel. When the handful of classmates finally got transportation it was close to the middle of July. It seemed everyone wanted to go to Wespac. We landed in Okinawa July 15. We heard a rumor that TF77 was in Buckner Bay. It was true. I came aboard the Brush that day. The Task Force got underway on the 16th. We supported the landing of 1st Cavalry Division in Pohang on the 18th and rode out a typhoon the 19th.
After six weeks in a bent line screen with the carriers, Valley Forge and HMS Triumph, Brush was sent to the front lines of the Pusan Perimeter in Pohang Dong. We spent 20 days there, much of it at GQ, firing most of the time. I remember three such times, one 30 hours, one 26 hours and one 16 hours. We fired not less often than every five minutes. As plotting room officer, I was the one pulling the trigger. After this was the trip north with the Maddox when we hit the mine.
Then there was 30 days in the Yamato’s dry dock in Sasebo. The Brush looked like a small boat in the bottom of the dry dock. During these days and following visits I was able to help start an orphanage in Sasebo.
After the tour in dry dock the Brush went to Yokosuka. While in Yokosuka I looked up Bessie Dodds, a Canadian head mistress to a Bible School for women in Yokahama. Eighteen months later we were married in Yokahama. That was 54 years ago on April 7, 1952.
When the Brush got patched up I requested a transfer to any combatant vessel remaining in the forward area. I got my orders to the Brinkley Bass (DD887) at Midway Island. I flew back to Japan and came aboard the Bass on January 1, 1951 by a high wire in the Sea of Japan right after the Hungnam evacuation.
I had one year at Monterey ‘53-‘54 then back to Japan on the staff of COM NAV FE in Yokosuka for one year and then most of another year at Kamiseya and CarDiv 5 staff.
After leaving the Navy in Nov. 56’ we spent about 2 years in Washington D.C. In November of 58’ we moved to Annapolis.
As a point of contact with midshipman I opened the Christian Bookshop for the Officers Christian Fellowship on Maryland Ave. In addition to traveling to other Academies and other military bases on the East Coast I ran the Christian Bookshop for close to ten years. After we left Annapolis the store moved to Parole where it has been for almost forty years. By the time you receive this it will be closed.
In 1968 I helped open the first of 80 Logos Bookstores. This was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1971 we moved to Moscow, Idaho to open stores in the west. These stores are not primarily business places, but people places. They have all been part of not for profit organizations.
Bessie and I have four children, fifteen grandchildren, eleven great grandchildren and will have thirteen before the year ends.
Our life together has been greatly blessed.
Much of this you do not need to know but some of you requested this sequel.
If you have further interest we have a web page, http://www.ccmbooks.org/ and a blog, http://www.rootsbytheriver.blogspot.com/.
Tomorrow, Matt Meyer's testimony will be posted. He is the new CCM Director.