World War II Brings Change

April 6, 2009 - 1,051 views

On December 7, 1941 Madeline and I were in a Hornell church rehearsing with an interchurch choir for the performance of MESSIAH during the Christmas season. We were stunned to hear the word passed along from singer to singer, “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!” That was the signal for major changes in our lives as in the lives of most Americans.

Here I must confess how utterly naive I was in my thinking in the days when Hitler’s forces were first attacking the French along the Maginot line. I was strongly convinced that these military operations would not spawn a major conflict. “Mankind has advanced too far toward international understanding and peace to become engaged in all-out war”, I thought. How wrong I was! “The day of infamy” shook me out of any unrealistic optimism.

As the war progressed and young men from our church and community joined the armed forces, I began feeling that I should be involved in the national effort beyond what I was able to do in Second Alfred church. (Calvin Cook was a tail-gunner on a B29 flying bombing raids over Europe.)

When the pressing need for chaplains in the armed services was circulated, I felt a strong sense that my background and experience equipped me to make a contribution in this field. I first thought to apply for service with the paratroopers but Madeline vetoed that idea. She was supportive of me in my intention to enter the chaplaincy even though it would mean great sacrifice for her. I don’t recall any effort on her part to discourage my enlisting.

I moved promptly to complete the paper work and the physical examination required to be accepted in the chaplaincy, applying as a Seventh Day Baptist minister. Imagine my surprise to be informed that Seventh Day Baptist ministers did not qualify because the adult communicants in our denomination totaled less that 50,000.

When I checked with the American Baptists, I learned they could not fill their quota for chaplains and that they would support an application by me under their sponsorship. So I repeated the application procedure, getting a physical at a military installation in Buffalo on New Year Day, 1943. Within a few days word came from the Army that I should arrange my civilian affairs to be prepared for induction in ten days.

I resigned my church pastorate and found an apartment for the family. Then a telephone call from the Surgeon General’s office informed me that because I had been hospitalized within a five year period, a cystoseopic examination would be required before I could be accepted in the chaplaincy. In consultation with Doctor Hitchcock on this development he said, “That examination is dangerous, and if they don’t want you any more than that, stay at home with your family where you belong”. I took his advise and withdrew my application.

Good did come out of my efforts to enter the military chaplaincy. A number of Seventh Day Baptist ministers learned from my experience and were readily successful in entering the chaplaincy during World War II.