On the Ship and on the Train

I was 18 months old when my father shipped out for Saipan in the Mariana Islands of the South Pacific in WW II.

My father, the Chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, WW!!.

My father, the Chaplain, leading worship on board ship to Saipan, WW!!.

I don’t remember the ship. But I remember the emotional wake its departure left behind: the memory of my mother crying on a train. The sounds of the clicketty-clack of the wheels rolling down the track and the whistle blowing like a lost child in the night still plunge me into existential loneliness.

Late in her life, I shared with my mother the memory or her crying on the train.

Because I was so young when it happened, she was surprised that I remembered it, She confirmed it in great detail.

Dad felt “a call” to stand with the brave men who were risking their lives in the war against fascism and imperialism. With my mother’s blessing, he resigned his pastorate in Mechanicsburg, PA to enlist as an Army Air Force Chaplain. After six-months in the States, he left my mother and me behind.

While he was preaching on board ship, my mother and I were on a train from Los Angeles, his point of departure, to Boston, the home of my paternal grandparents.

I never saw the photo or thought of him aboard ship until a phone call and subsequent picture arrived by email from a researcher of my father’s unit on Saipan last month.  Dad was tending his “flock” on board ship. I never knew. Some things, like wine, take time.

Not everything is as it seems or feels. We do the best we can and pray it’s good enough.

4 thoughts on “On the Ship and on the Train

  1. I clicked on the picture which made it large enough to fill my screen… I was amazed. Every man’s head was bowed. That brought a realization that they all knew what they were headed towards. Profound.


    • Karin, That’s a great comment. Every head was bowed. “The all knew what they were headed towards” and it wasn’t where anyone in a right mind would ever dream of going. They were not professional soldiers. They were boys and young men on the high seas, moving away from the only land they had ever known, having left wives, fiancees, children, brothers, sisters, parents, and friends with no certainty of ever seeing them again. “Every man’s head was bowed.”


  2. Beautiful. I, too, was about 18 months when my father left for the South Pacific. I think I have a few (very few) memories of those years, but I’m not sure if they are actual memories or just memories of what I heard as I grew older. I have learned that even though I did not always do what I should have done in life, I did the best I could at that time. I also learned that the same was true for my parents.
    I am glad that you have more time for writing now, Gordon. I am enjoying what you write.


    • Cynthia, I like your thoughts about memory. Only late in my mother’s life did I talk with her about the memory of her crying on the train. It was, she said, just as I had remembered it. What I didn’t remember was she had me in a “harness” in the train station. I must have been pretty hyperactive! Or maybe my mother thought I was a horse.


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