Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stonewall's Faith and Fortitude

In honor of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s birthday on this date in 1824, I read his wife’s recollections in the Life and Letters of “Stonewall” Jackson (pp. 56-57). I was particularly heartened at this passage:
“At the time of Major Jackson’s acceptance of this professorship [at Virginia Military Institute] his health was not good, and his eyes, especially, were so weak that he had to exercise great caution in using them, never doing so at night. Thus crippled for his work, a friend asked him if it was not presumption in him to accept the place when he was physically incapacitated to fill it. ‘Not in the least,’ was his prompt answer; ‘the appointment came unsought, and was therefore providential; I knew that if Providence set me a task, he would give me the power to perform it. So I resolved to get well, and you see I have. As to the rest, I knew that what I willed to do, I could do.’”
Of course, as they say, the rest is history. His appointment to the Military Institute was to identify him with the Shenandoah Valley and the brave men who so gladly served under him in defense of their state in the war to follow. Here was an extraordinary leader and godly example to the soldiers he commanded. So effective was his leadership that the war probably only turned against the South due to his untimely death at age 39 (he was mistakenly shot by one of his own men). Jackson himself would undoubtedly agree that even his own death was a special providence. “God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding” (Job 37:5).

"Stonewall” Jackson reminds us that we can indeed trust in Providence to always do what is right. What comfort is ours, standing in the shadow of men of faith before us, to know that every circumstance in our lives serves a larger Divine plan and, therefore, we can truly “will to do,” as Jackson did, what we must in service of our Sovereign.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

From Seaman to Fireman

A little over a month after the Pearl Harbor attack, Dad’s rating was changed to Fireman, 3rd Class. This was a change from Seaman, 2c—in the older designation, a change from a blue stripe on the left to red stripe on the left sleeve. What's amazing about the promotion was the timing.

In service school only a few months earlier, Dad had mastered the fundamentals of welding, shipfitting, pipe work, and foundrywork, but he wanted to advance, to perform more specialized work than what he was assigned in the deck force only. He was in the act of studying for the exam for his Fireman rating when the Japanese began their surprise attack. At 7:53 AM on that fateful morning, December 7, 1941, Dad, off-duty, had found a place in the forward part of his ship, the USS Vestal, to do his studying, while his shipmates were either on leave or asleep. After watching in disbelief the first bombs fall around him, he soon reported to his duty station, the weld shop, below deck. Following the attack, he would visit the foc’sle where he had been studying to discover that a bomb had hit that very spot!

Bomb hole in Vestal's forecastle deck, seen from beneath and
looking to starboard. Dad had been studying here moments
before the bomb hit.

Source: Vestal Bomb Damage Report
In the days ahead, Dad and every available sailor were put to work to save and salvage what was left in the wake of the awful destruction. The preparation for the promotion was put on hold.

But somehow in the chaotic weeks after the attack, Dad got his wish and earned a new rating, F.3c, on this date, in 1942. The change now allowed him to work in the engine and firerooms, new skills that would be essential for the myriad tasks confronting the repair effort to the seriously damaged fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's Service Records; Pearl Harbor As I Remember

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Repairs at Pearl, 1942

The American forces at Pearl Harbor paid a fearful price. There was a total of 2,403 American dead, including 68 civilians. 1,178 military personnel and civilians were wounded. 21 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged. 188 aircraft were destroyed and 159 were damaged.

In the weeks immediately after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, one of history's greatest salvage operations took place. The crew of my dad’s repair ship, Vestal, was called upon for a myriad of jobs to help in the salvage of the fleet. Each of Vestal's crewmen, having been trained in ship repair, immediately began to patch up their own ship with the limited resources at hand. After just a week following the attack, the Vestal, patched and refloated, spent many months of the next year serving as one of the main repair vessels for the sunken battleships pulled from the mud at Pearl Harbor. Much of the work had to be performed in oil-fouled interiors of bombed and torpedoed ships that had been under water for months. A lot of the work had to be carried out in gas masks to guard against the ever-present risk of toxic gasses, and nearly all of it was extremely dirty.

Amazingly, almost all the ships that were damaged or sunk were repaired and returned to service in the war. The battleship Oklahoma was raised and moved, but soon sank at sea beyond recovery. Of course, the battleships Arizona and Utah were damaged beyond repair and were left in the harbor where they sunk.

Source: Dictionary of American Fighting Ships,

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

Today's Scripture reading at church was Romans 12. This passage seems to have resolutions aplenty for me in the new year:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.