Monday, May 30, 2011

The Minister's Son

Lest one get the mistaken impression that the crews aboard these ships came only from the wrong side of the tracks, let us look for a moment at someone who clearly did not.  I don’t remember his name at this distance of time, but I do recall that he was a young naval officer, another lieutenant, assigned to make a round trip voyage between Charleston and Scotland aboard the Victoria.  Of course, he was not unique.  There were a great many good, honest, sober, clean-living family men aboard every ship in our fleet.  They went about their business and did their work and caused no trouble.  They did not become intoxicated or beat up taxi drivers or get arrested.  But this one young naval lieutenant stood out in the crowd, probably because of the notoriety he achieved by behaving like a gentleman.

This young man was the son of a clergyman.  His father was the pastor of a Lutheran parish in the American Midwest.  He therefore grew up with strong moral values, and as an adult he remained faithful to them and held himself to a high standard.  He did not drink or smoke or take drugs.  He used only clean and wholesome language, spoke respectfully to everyone regardless of rank, and never took the Lord’s name in vain.  He also never made disparaging remarks about other people in their absence.  He was not married, although he was of marriageable age.  I think he was about twenty-five or so.  Aboard the Victoria, he supervised a small group of Navy enlisted men.  He was assisted by a chief petty officer.  None of them had much work to do.

When the Victoria arrived in Greenock, Scotland, the lieutenant had some free time to spend ashore.  A friend of a friend introduced him to a young lady about his own age.  She, too, was a Christian, although I don’t remember if she was a Lutheran specifically.  Anyway, they liked each other, and she agreed to go out with him.  While the rest of us remained aboard ship and worked, the lieutenant and his escort enjoyed a leisurely afternoon and evening ashore.

When he returned to the ship several hours later, everyone naturally wanted to hear all about his adventures.  The most curious of all were the Navy enlisted men whom he supervised.  As the lieutenant related to them the events of his time ashore, they became keenly disappointed.  He’d spent the afternoon shopping and sightseeing with his lady friend.  For dinner, they went to an inexpensive local restaurant.  After that, they rode the train into Glasgow and walked around the city.  When they were all finished with their activities, the lieutenant saw her to her home.  On her front steps they exchanged addresses and wished each other well.  He thanked her for the time and attention she had given him, and she reciprocated.  Then they said good-bye and shook hands, and she went inside, alone.  The lieutenant then returned to the Victoria, alone.  The occasion was thus remarkable for its innocence.

Because of this innocence, disappointment prevailed among this young man’s naval colleagues.  The chief petty officer was the most vocal of the group, and he repeatedly let everyone know what he thought of the lieutenant’s behavior whether they wanted to hear it or not.  “I been in the Navy twenty years,” he would start.  “I been around the world a dozen times.  I been to every continent.  I been to fifty different countries.  I seen it all and I done it all, but I ain’t never seen nothing like this!  I can’t understand that lieutenant!  How could he spend all that time with a beautiful girl and then just shake hands and walk away?  What’s wrong with him?  Where did they find him?”  And so on and so forth.  These diatribes went on longer than everyone else wanted to hear them.  Finally, someone in the merchant crew told the chief to simmer down: “He’s just a good guy.  He acts like a gentleman.  It’s nice to see that for a change.”  Others agreed, and the ranting and raving ceased.  Several of the crewmen had daughters the lieutenant’s age.  On the basis of his reported conduct with the Scottish girl, he was just the kind of young man they wanted their daughters to marry.  They would be safe with someone like him.

In a profession not universally noted for the moral purity of its members, this young lieutenant stood out because of his moral purity.  Not that he sought to draw attention to himself, though.  Alma asked rhetorically regarding the day of judgment, “I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands?  I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” (Alma 5:19).  If his personal conduct during the time of his assignment to the Victoria was representative, then the lieutenant’s answer to Alma’s questions must be yes.  And despite a fitting sense of Christian modesty, he would know this.  For “the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity” (2 Nephi 9:14). 

In language that the lieutenant as a Lutheran would recognize and understand, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).  I might add that others will see God in them, too.  Given this young man’s high moral standards and righteous conduct, it was easy to see God in him and recognize that he was worthy of and enjoyed the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  I did not think of it in these words at the time, but it truly showed that he had “the image of God engraven upon [his] countenance” (Alma 5:19).  Undoubtedly both his Father in Heaven and his father the Lutheran minister were proud to have him as their son.  And I was pleased to have him as a shipmate.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Jail Bird

That was not his real name, of course, but the appellation fit him.  I sailed with him aboard the Waccamaw.  JB joined the ship shortly after I did.  He replaced another seaman who had been on my watch but had gone home on vacation.  This was a great loss to me as a mate in charge of a watch.  The first fellow was an outstanding seaman; this new guy would prove to be the exact opposite.

This change of personnel took place in Napoli, on the Italian west coast.  When the Waccamaw sailed, she made several rendezvous with naval ships for at sea refueling, and after a while she put into port at Soudha Bay on the island of Crete.  The problems with JB started early on this voyage.

The first of these problems involved his work ethic, or more accurately, his lack of a work ethic.  When he was assigned to any maintenance project on deck, he sorely tried the patience of the bosun who supervised him.  He consistently failed to finish the work assigned to him; sometimes he even failed to start it.  On the bridge he had to be watched constantly, a task that the mates aboard a busy ship just don’t have the time to do.  Besides that, it shouldn’t be necessary. 

One afternoon, following a refueling session with several Navy ships, Captain Aspiotis was conning the Waccamaw clear of the fleet and setting her on course for the next destination.  JB was steering.  The rudder was hard left, and the ship was turning to port, away from the other traffic.  Out of the clear blue, JB calmly announced, “Rudder is hard right, Captain.” 

I was aghast.  The Captain was furious.  No one had told him to shift the rudder.  On inquiry, JB asserted, “But Captain, you said to shift the rudder.”  The Captain exploded, “I did not!  I said no such thing!”  Turning to me he asked, “Did you hear me tell him to shift the rudder?”

 “Of course not,” I replied.  “No one told him to do that.” 

“Then why would he just do that on his own?”  the Captain asked rhetorically.  “He’s going to get us all killed”  Then to JB, “Is that what you want?  Cause a wreck with a ship full of oil?  You want us all to go boom?”  In the course of this exchange, the order was promptly given to return the rudder to hard left.  “And leave it there this time!” the Captain shouted.  “Don’t move it again until I tell you to!”

JB did as he was told and hung his head, obviously unhappy about this turn of events.  I wondered what was wrong with him.  Did he have a hearing problem and mistake something else that had been said for the command to shift the rudder?  Was he simply not paying attention but daydreaming instead?  Would this happen again?  That was a scary thought.  Seeing first hand how dangerous this fellow could be, I decided then that as long as he was on my watch, he would in the future only take the helm in open water.

But this was just the beginning, really.  In short order, JB’s tongue loosened up and his criticisms of the world became all too well known.  When the Waccamaw put into Soudha, the Greek business started.  JB hated Greece and the Greeks.  He remarked to several of us that Greece was the only place in the world that used the Greek alphabet, that it was different from the alphabet everyone else used and therefore peculiar.  Evidently, he did not realize that in ancient times the Romans had borrowed the alphabet from the Greeks and adapted it to their own purposes.  Someone tried to explain this fact of history to him, but JB wouldn’t have it.  Committing a common fallacy, he asserted that because the Greek alphabet was different, there must be something wrong with it.

One man who was not favorably impressed with this line of reasoning was the Captain.  He was Greek.  Captain Steven M. Aspiotis had family in both Athens and New York, and he spoke both Greek and English fluently.  A ship being like a small town, JB’s disdain for all things and people Greek soon found its circuitous way to Captain Aspiotis’ ears.  He ignored this revelation, but of course, he could not ignore incompetence and laziness.  As long as nothing terrible happened, though, he could be a very patient man.

But the chief mate had less patience.  A crusty old codger of hard bitten New England stock, he grew tired of the problems JB generated, and one day in port placed a telephone call to the personnel office in New Jersey.  The folks there knew all about everyone in every ship’s crew.  The mate asked them who JB was and where he had come from and what sort of a background he had.  The mate received an earful in reply.

JB came from the Deep South.  He had moved to Brooklyn, lived in a bad neighborhood there when he was not at sea, and in general was a tough character.  On his previous shipboard assignment, JB had gone ashore one day in Greece.  Returning to the ship in a severe state of intoxication late at night, he became embroiled in a dispute with the taxi driver over the amount of the fare.  The cabbie required a certain amount of money for payment; JB argued it was too much.  An altercation between them ensued; in the end JB beat up the driver so badly that he needed to be hospitalized.  Someone called the police, and JB was arrested.  He missed his ship when it sailed, and spent the next eight months in a Greek jail.  Through the intervention of the American embassy personnel in Athens, JB was released from jail, put aboard an airplane bound for New York, and returned to the United States.

After his repatriation, JB went to the crewing office in New Jersey looking for another ship.  The folks there assigned him to the Waccamaw, which was overseas and commanded by a Greek Captain.  They gave him an airline ticket to Italy, where he joined the ship.  Upon sailing, the Waccamaw’s first port of call brought JB back to Greece.

“That’s great,” said the chief mate when he’d heard this tale of woe.  “Why did you send him to us?”

“Well, no one else wants him,” came the reply.

“We don’t want him, either,” retorted the chief mate.  Then he thundered, “What idiot had the bright idea to send this guy back to Greece on a ship with a Greek Captain?  Why is this guy still employed here anyway?  He should have been fired when he was in jail!”

Well, JB didn’t get fired, and we had to put up with him.  At least now that we knew his background we knew exactly what to expect from him.  He continued on his merry way, but was always assigned to work where he would do the least damage.  This kept him out of the way for the most part. 

Finally, after criss-crossing the Mediterranean several times, the Waccamaw was scheduled to sail back to the United States.  Her last stop in Europe would be a few days in Rota, Spain.  For many in the crew, this was the last opportunity to live it up before returning home, so to speak.  JB lived it up in a big way in Rota.  We didn’t know what exactly he was up to at the time.  We only knew that he wasn’t on the ship when he should have been.  It was only afterwards that the Spanish police were able to piece the story together.

Like many seamen who had pockets full of cash and no responsibilities at home, JB rented a car and went joy riding and binge drinking through the Spanish countryside.  One morning a farmer some distance inland went out into his fields and found an automobile there with an unconscious driver slumped over the steering wheel.  He called the police.  When the police arrived, they woke up the driver and asked him a lot of questions.  He was still intoxicated, though, and could tell them nothing.  The police looked at his identification, discovered that he was an American, and took him to jail.  Then they investigated the circumstances in which the car was parked.  A traffic expert studied the car, the farmer’s field, and the nearby roadway.  Strangely, there were no tire tracks leading to the spot where the car sat.  A wooden post and rail fence separated the field from the road a moderate distance away.  There was no gate in it, though, and it stood completely undamaged, so obviously the car had not gone through this barrier.  On the other side of the fence, the road came up a hill towards the farm.  At the top of this hill the road leveled off and made a sharp turn to the left.  It was beyond this point that JB’s rental car had been found.

In reconstructing the likely scenario, the Spanish police concluded that in his state of intoxication, JB had driven up the hill so fast that he missed the sharp curve to left, and that at the top of the hill the car became airborne, flew over the fence, and then landed in the farmer’s field.  This would account for the lack of tire tracks leading up to the car and the absence of any damage to the fence.  At some point JB himself lost consciousness, perhaps on landing or possibly while still driving up the hill.  Upon further questioning after he had sobered up, JB claimed to not remember what had happened and stated that he did not know how his car had gotten into the farmer’s field.  He was able to tell them that he was from the Waccamaw, though.

The Spanish police drove down the pier that afternoon and paid a visit to the Waccamaw.  They were not happy.  They asked a lot of questions about JB, and then explained what had happened and where he was.  He would need to appear in court, and in all likelihood this would take place after the ship had sailed.  Until the court appearance, the prisoner would remain in jail.  Some of us were only too happy to hear this, having no desire to sail across the Atlantic with such a shipmate.

A couple of days later, the Waccamaw sailed.  Another seaman had been assigned to my watch, and I was glad to have him.  It would be a relief not to have to put up with a deadbeat for the next ten days.  At the appointed time, the deck force forward and aft started hauling in the mooring lines.  Two more men started working on the gangway.  Then, at the very last minute, a car came speeding down the pier.  It came to a screeching stop, and out of the back seat jumped JB.  As the last mooring line was being pulled on board and as the gangway was being dragged aboard from the pier, JB jumped on it and ran aboard the ship.  He made it with only seconds to spare.  He did not miss the ship after all.  What we had seen as a golden opportunity to get rid of a troublemaker fell apart at the last second.  When he had caught his breath, JB told us that the police chief ordered that he be delivered to the ship before it sailed.  Evidently the police, too, had wanted to get rid of a troublemaker.

The voyage across the Atlantic proceeded very nicely.  The weather was good, and JB behaved himself.  Perhaps he had finally learned his lesson.  Such optimism proved itself misplaced, however, shortly after arrival in Norfolk.  With a new Captain, and soon thereafter a new chief mate, JB resumed his old tricks.  The new bosses did not know him well, and JB took full advantage of their ignorance for as long as it lasted.  Before long, JB was hauled off to jail in Norfolk, too.  To those of us who had been aboard ship with him the longest, this new arrest came as no surprise.  People are true to character, after all, and characters like JB tend to instill cynicism even in the most idealistic of us.

Lest we give up all hope for someone, though, a backward glance through the history of Christianity shows us that some of the greatest sinners went on to become some of the greatest saints.  Perhaps the most famous figure whose life the Gospel turned around is the Apostle Paul.  While making a career out of persecuting Christians, the Lord brought him up short:

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:  And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?  And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest (Acts 9 3-5).

Following his repentance and conversion, Paul went on to become one of the most influential Christian missionaries, writers, and apologists of all time.  Fourteen of his epistles grace the pages of the New Testament.  We know he wrote more, but unfortunately these have been lost.  Of course, Paul was chosen for the work he was to do; nonetheless, if he can convert and change the course of his life for the better, so can anyone else.  It is in this belief that we send missionaries by the tens of thousands out into the world.  That the Gospel contains the power to change lives and thereby bring about immeasurable good is well known.  Those who have listened to the missionaries, followed their counsel, and accepted the Gospel in its fullness can all attest to this.  If only more people would listen, though, and not simply slam doors in the missionaries’ faces!

As I look back upon my voyages aboard the Waccamaw, I wonder how different it all would have been if this man whom I call JB had met with the missionaries ashore instead of pursuing his less noble activities.  How different his life could have been—sober and peaceful, with useful work conscientiously done; above all, with the sense of purpose that comes from knowing he is a child of God and which would enable him to become a better person.  Then he would be, as Paul said, “sometimes darkness, but now light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8).  And that light, aboard the small town that is a ship, would radiate outward upon all his shipmates and never go unnoticed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Maiden

A new experience for most of us aboard the Waccamaw was sailing with a female shipmate.  Women were just beginning to enter the historically all male sanctuary of the Merchant Marine, and many of the old timers did not like it.  Some of the younger fellows did not like it, either.  Except when sailing as fare-paying passengers, women aboard ship were looked upon as evil omens, and it was commonly held that nothing good could possibly come from having them aboard a ship at sea.  But times were changing, and Miss M, the second mate, was already on board when I joined the Waccamaw.

Miss M was 30 years old and unmarried but not maidenly.  Besides her work, the activity that she pursued most involved soliciting lascivious attention from her shipmates.  As the only woman aboard, she had a more than ample audience—or so it would seem.  Most of the men had absolutely no interest in this sort of behavior.  Instead, they had families to support with wives and children whom they loved and cared about.  There were a few exceptions to this rule, of course, but only a few, and they ranked among those who made the Waccamaw the Wicky Wacky, as Captain Rigobello would nickname the ship.

Miss M, however, made the mistake of acting as though everyone wanted to play her game.  To this end, she would carry on in ways that would now be considered harassment.  In the early 1980s, though, it was just regarded as pesty and juvenile.  Her nonsense would continue as long as it was tolerated; patience and politeness did nothing to dispel it.  She only stopped and left one alone when she was bluntly told to stop.  This happened on more than one occasion.

Of the three third mates who served with Miss M aboard the Waccamaw, two successfully rebuffed her advances verbally in front of witnesses.  Both were married men; I was one of them.  Afterwards, she modified her behavior and left us alone.  The other third mate, young and single, reacted more forcefully.  Impulsively, he made a fist and took a swing at her.  Fortunately, she ducked and he missed.  He agreed afterwards that it was a good thing that his punch fell flat.  If he had hit her, she would have had grounds to file a grievance, and he could have been fired for assaulting a woman.  Miss M got the message, though, even without a bloody nose, and afterwards she left him alone, too.

Miss M’s best performances always came when the Waccamaw was conducting an at-sea refueling of a Navy ship.  Once the two vessels were alongside of each other with the hoses connected and the oil flowing, Miss M would walk out onto the bridge wing where she would perform in full view of the Navy crews.  Leaning back against the gyro compass repeater, which stood about four feet high, she would begin preening.  She would tilt her head back, let her long reddish hair tumble down, and comb it through and through many times.  She would square her shoulders, thrust her chest forward, wiggle her hips, and dance slightly in one direction or another as she carefully combed her long hair.  With quick, nonchalant glances toward the Navy ship, she would check up on her audience and make slight adjustments to her performance.  To those of us aboard the Waccamaw who had witnessed this act many times, it became old.  With each Navy ship that came alongside for refueling, however, there also came a fresh audience to entertain.  Typically, when the refueling for each Navy ship started, only a small number of personnel would be watching Miss M.  As time went on, though, dozens and dozens of young men would appear on the Navy ship, binoculars in hand, and watch the show.  And the show continued as long as the refueling operation lasted.

These performances took place when Captain Aspiotis was in charge.  He laughed at Miss M’s antics and turned a blind eye to the fact that she was not doing her work.  But when he went on vacation and Captain Rigobello took command of the Waccamaw, things changed.

The first refueling operation with the new boss was a memorable one.  Miss M went out on the bridge wing, took up her customary position, and started her act.  She stood no more than three feet away from Captain Rigobello.  Unlike his predecessor, however, he did not see anything amusing in what she was doing.  Intervening immediately, he spoke to her in his quiet but firm manner.  His remarks sent Miss M scurrying into the bridge.  Red in the face, she got busy with her work, stayed out of sight, and never again put on her show for the Navy.

The scriptures tell us very clearly, “I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women” (Jacob 2:28).   While Miss M’s routine of entertaining the troops aboard the Navy ships did not violate the letter of the law of chastity, they did seem to violate the spirit of the law.  Those of us who shared the bridge duties with her all sensed that something about these performances was just not kosher.  The whole show seemed inappropriate, unprofessional, and unvirtuous.  What woman with any sense of decency would want to set herself up as an object of many dozens of young men’s lustful fantasies?  This and other rhetorical questions were repeated often aboard the Waccamaw.  No one had a ready answer, though.

One day, several of the deck seamen were discussing this subject after lunch.  They were all family men who went about their work diligently and never caused any trouble.  One normally quiet fellow named George became particularly outspoken.  George had several children, most of them daughters, and he thoroughly disapproved of Miss M’s behavior.  He belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church, he explained, and the values and morals that the Church taught were important to him.  He wanted his children to grow up with these values and morals.  They would enable his children to be good Christians, to stay out of trouble, and to lead good lives.  What Miss M did aboard the Waccamaw was an affront to everything that he believed in.  Unlike Captain Rigobello, however, George was not in a position to put a stop to it.

Being much younger than these gentlemen, I was only recently married and not yet a parent during my time aboard the Waccamaw.  Nonetheless, I completely agreed with them. Now, however, as the father of three sons and one daughter, I agree with them all the more.  Like the one seaman who sought to instill values and morals into his children, my wife and I have gone to great lengths to achieve the same result.  While acknowledging that no one is perfect because “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41), we have striven to teach our children to “cleanse [them]selves from all filthiness of the flesh” (2 Cor. 7:1).   What a shame that Miss M had not acquired these values and morals!

Her lack of values and morals was conspicuous, and her propositioning of several of the married men—the two third mates and others as well—constituted a direct attack on their marriages.  She sought to undermine one of the most fundamental of all moral precepts.  She had no respect for the sanctity of marriage, procreation, or the family unit.  Even more than the heavy drinking or the wild parties or the bar fights or the drug abuse, her attempts at home wrecking met with a strong sense of outrage.  It was the stuff of which soap operas were made.  It had no place among family men who were working far from home to support their families.  They had no interest in this “filthiness of the flesh.” It threatened everything that they valued most in life, and they did not believe in it.

When the Waccamaw returned to the United States, Miss M went on vacation.  Being readily available with the required license, I took her place as second mate.

Months later, Miss M came back to visit.  She was wearing a diamond ring, having become engaged to Mr. G, a former cargo officer of the Waccamaw and one who had succumbed to her less than maidenly airs.  The wedding needed to be delayed, however, until Mr. G divested himself of his original marriage.  Then Miss M would become the new Mrs. G.

The other men, who had voiced such strong disapproval of these goings-on, rotated ashore as their assignments on board were finished.  While aboard the Waccamaw, they had “let virtue garnish [their] thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45), and they went home to their families, still held safely intact by church-taught values and morals.  These fellows enjoyed the best reward of all.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Nurse

The tanker Waccamaw had left Rota, Spain, and was sailing westbound across the Atlantic.  The early September weather was mild, and the ship plowed easily through a gentle sea under a mostly blue sky.  After months of short runs in the Mediterranean, a ten days long transatlantic voyage seemed quite leisurely, especially in such good weather.  But beneath this calm veneer there lurked a cankerworm.

I was very young back then, and I had the appetite to prove it.  Despite being on the 12:00 midnight to 4:00am watch every night, I had the energy to get up for a big breakfast after only a few hours’ sleep every morning.  I would sit down in the mess hall about 8:00am, after most of the other officers had finished, and consume a large, cholesterol-laden breakfast of scrambled eggs, French toast, sausage, bacon, fried potatoes, and orange juice, with second servings of everything.  I’ll admit that good-tasting food was my vice, and at age twenty-something I could never get enough of it.  Later on at home, my family physician would scold me for eating “way too much cholesterol,” but aboard the Waccamaw this reprimand lay far in the future and I merrily consumed everything in sight.  When I was finished eating this huge meal, I would go back to bed and sleep it off.

One morning a few days out of Rota, I was quite startled to see the chief steward up and about and filling in for the messmen.  He was a late sleeper and had always let his subordinates take care of breakfast.  In my surprise I asked him why he was out of bed so early.  He gave me a sleepy and vague answer about someone being sick and then went back into the galley.  Then the nurse, Mel Reppert, came along.  He normally ate earlier, but this morning he had been tending several patients and so came to breakfast late.  He joined me at the table, held his head in his hands, and let out a big sigh.  Something was clearly not right, and after a moment he explained.

The reason why the chief steward was out of bed and working at 8:00am was that half of his crew had gotten sick.  As carriers of an infectious disease, they were prohibited by company regulations from handling food.  The two cooks were still healthy and so remained on the job, but the nurse had found most of the messmen and utilitymen unfit for duty.  I naively wondered what illness could have simultaneously incapacitated several men like this and hoped that I would not get it.

The nurse, clearly frustrated at the situation and becoming more agitated as he spoke, continued.  Over the weekend that the Waccamaw had been docked in Rota, all these fellows who were now sick had gone into nearby Cadiz for a night out on the town.  Momentarily envious, I recalled how I had wanted to visit Cadiz and see the old historical city with its cobblestone streets and magnificent cathedral, but had been unable to do so.  These fellows had different interests, however, and had gone sightseeing in another section of the city.  They had gone into town as a group, stayed together for their entire time there, patronized the same business establishment together, and were all attended to by the same customer service specialist.  Then they returned to the ship together.  At sea a few days afterwards, they were all diagnosed with the same disease which in their togetherness they had received from the same source.

“What were these guys thinking?” asked the exasperated nurse.  “Or were they even thinking at all?  They just blindly followed each other along—blindly and dumbly—and now they’re paying for it.  They had fifteen minutes of fun and games, and now they can’t work and they’re losing pay that they can’t afford to lose.  And then they get mad at me for telling them that they can’t handle food until the infection is cleared up!  They act like I’m out to get them!  I didn’t make this rule, but I have to enforce it.  They don’t want to hear that, though.”  The poor fellow seemed at his wit’s end.  It was only 8:00 o’clock, and he’d already had a rough morning.

Mel and I continued to chat over breakfast and covered a variety of subjects.  Before we parted, though, he let out one final burst of exasperation.  He had demonstrably little patience for the “herd instinct” in humans, as several pioneering psychologists had described it, and he favored the use of intelligence in thought and action.  Little wonder.  Our nurse was one of the most well-educated men on the ship.  He did not make it through college and graduate school and medical training by blindly following the crowd and failing to link actions and consequences.

In every General Conference we hear the General Authorities of the Church issue the warning that we cannot choose the consequences of our actions.  We can only choose our actions.  Hence the need to choose our actions carefully, to make good choices that will in all likelihood lead to good consequences and not to bad consequences.  One of our most fundamental choices is that of selecting our social companions.  Good friends will help us use our God-given intelligence to think things through and avoid making bad decisions.  Bad friends, however, won’t stop to think but will go straight to the bad decisions.  The messmen and utilitymen ashore in Cadiz from the Waccamaw made a bad decision and suffered unpleasant medical and financial consequences.

It seems that the Lord foresaw that such things would happen, for he counseled us, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).  As in everything that the Lord said and did, he sought to raise people up from the level of the flesh to the realm of the spirit.  This does not mean that the flesh is bad; on the contrary, the human body is “the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 6:19).  A compelling reason, then, to treat it respectfully.  Part of this respect involves the understanding that some aspects of life are too sacrosanct to trifle with and should be saved for the proper time, place, and circumstances, such as marriage.  Temptation notwithstanding, this is possible by simply following the adage of mind over matter.

I had been momentarily envious when I learned that these fellows had the free time to visit Cadiz during the Waccamaw’s short stay in Rota.  When I found out what they did there, however, I felt mildly annoyed.  What a wasted opportunity!  Given the same time ashore, I would have feasted on narrow cobblestone streets, wide airy plazas, stately baroque architecture, and irresistible Spanish desserts.  Mel the nurse agreed.  He would have been happy to go with me, he said, but he also had too little free time during the Waccamaw’s stay in Rota.  Then, ever the medical professional, he cautioned me about consuming too many Spanish desserts and too many cholesterol-laden breakfasts.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Chaplain

The Reverend Father Raymond Auger made every voyage aboard the State of Maine.  A very well-educated and cultured man, he enjoyed traveling and visiting the various countries of the world while tending to the spiritual needs of the seamen in training.  Despite a chronic inclination toward seasickness, the good Father never wavered in sailing with his flock.  In a calm sea he did just fine.  When the Atlantic kicked up even mildly, though, he suffered terribly.  He couldn’t eat; he couldn’t sleep; sometimes he could barely stand up.  But the man had guts, and he never let this condition get the better of him.  He just said a prayer and kept going.

Father Auger’s home base was not at sea but close to it.  Originally from Biddeford, on the coast of Maine, he received his education inland at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont and Le Grand Seminaire de Montreal in Quebec.  Of French-Canadian heritage, he was bilingual in French and English.  In the time that I knew him, he was serving in two small parishes in Castine and Stonington, farther northeast on the Maine coast.  Beautiful but isolated places, Stonington was a fishing port, and Castine was the site of the school that trained prospective mates and engineers for the Merchant Marine.  In May, June, and July of each year, the training ship State of Maine ventured forth from her berth in Castine and took a contingent of these mates- and engineers-to-be with her.  Father Auger went with them and served as the chaplain aboard ship, and a substitute priest took his place temporarily in the two shoreside parishes.

Everyone loved Father Auger.  A Catholic priest, he had a certain way about him, a gift for striking up friendships with all people regardless of their stations in life or their religious affiliations.  Shipboard personnel of all faiths or of no faith at all were drawn to him.  He had a naturally outgoing and charismatic personality which attracted others.  More significantly, however, everyone recognized that regardless of denominational differences, Father Auger represented something good, something of a higher and better nature, something to which all people could aspire, and something that would reach out to them and raise them up.  In a social environment that too often encompassed much of the seamy side of life, Father Auger stood out as the proverbial light that shone in the darkness.  Even the crustiest of the old salts had to give him his due.  As David Lipsky, a Jewish friend of mine, expressed it, “That priest of yours—he sure is a great guy.  He’s super nice to everyone, no matter who they are or what religion they are.  He almost makes me wish I wasn’t Jewish!”

Because everyone loved Father Auger, their hearts went out to him when the ocean gave him a hard time.  Empathy and admiration intertwined with one another when his flock saw the good Father persevering through a bad day.  One Sunday during a transatlantic voyage, Father Auger was offering Mass for the off-duty personnel.  The table which he used as an altar was, of course, welded to the deck.  As the State of Maine rolled alternately to port and then to starboard, Father Auger, with a pained expression on his face, paused in his prayers, leaned forward, and gripped the edges of the table.  When the rolling eased off, he straightened up and resumed the service, but the pained expression remained.  During the Prayer of the Faithful, in which the congregation’s petitions are offered to the Almighty, Father Auger prayed almost in exasperation, “Let us ask God in his mercy to please make these seas calm down!  A glance out the window revealed a moderate following sea with some whitecaps—not that bad, really.  This professional analysis aside, Father Auger’s prayer was answered.  The State of Maine outran the weather, and the voyage became more tranquil.

When not conducting services or taking his meals, Father Auger would often roam the ship.  He seemed to especially enjoy visiting the bridge and chartroom.  He would study the navigational plot and watch with admiration as a legion of apprentice navigators took stars at twilight and then worked out their myriad calculations.  He seemed to especially like watching the sun set at sea, too.  When the weather permitted, sunrise and sunset were always momentous and artful occasions.  They were also good opportunities for taking amplitudes and calculating compass error.  Father Auger visited the engine room, too, but never lingered in the heat and noise of “the pit” the way he did on the bridge.  As much as he admired the skill and determination of the engineers that got boilers, steam turbines, reduction gears, and propeller shafts to work in harmony and move the vessel through the water, it was not the same thing.  No one lingered in the engine room to admire the view.

Wherever he went, though, Father Auger always checked up on his boys.  “How’s it going, fellas?” he would greet everyone.  “Are you getting all your work done?”  Then he would joke,  “What’s the weather forecast?  Is the sea going to stay calm like this?  I sure don’t want to go through more of the rough stuff we had the other day!”  Sometimes he chatted merrily with the guys on watch.  At other times, though, he gazed silently upon the water with an expression of wonderment on his face.  I think that the good Father, as a committed man of God, must have felt the Spirit in those quiet moments.  Perhaps the still small voice came to him over the sea when it was calm.

Father Auger checked up on his boys ashore, too.  He knew that seamen got into more trouble on land than they did on water; hence, an even greater need for a chaplain.  The good Father’s method usually involved a chance encounter with one or two of the guys which then grew into a larger group.  He would typically open up with, “Hey, fellas!  You want to get something to eat?”  Of course, they said “yes” right away.  “Let’s see if we can find some more of the guys from the ship and we can get a nice dinner.  There’s a hotel on the next corner with a good dining room.”  By just walking the street and picking out familiar faces, the dinner group would grow to include a dozen or more of “the guys from the ship,” and the generous Father would treat everyone to a full dinner and dessert.  He would never accept any money for this; at his insistence it was always his treat.

Newcomers to the State of Maine would wonder how a man of the cloth could afford to be so generous.  The answer was quite simple.  Father Auger came from a wealthy family.  He was the only child of parents who had died when he was still a young man, and the inheritance came to him early.  Too early, really.  He described once how to his great dismay both his parents had died only a few months prior to his graduation from the Grand Seminaire and his ordination to the priesthood.  It was a bitter blow at the beginning of his ministry, but he submitted himself to the Lord’s will and carried on.  The money he used for good purposes involving other people.  For himself, he lived a simple and humble lifestyle.  For others, nothing was too good.

One group for whom nothing was too good was the girls.  Father Auger always insisted that his boys behave properly in the presence of young ladies.  At the conclusion of one dinner gathering, in Funchal, Madeira, two of the boys got up to leave when two American girls whom they had met previously came into the hotel dining room.  As they left, the conscientious Father called after them in a tone that was at once good-natured but serious, “Be good!  Behave like gentlemen!  Treat those girls with the respect they deserve!”  The two boys dutifully replied, “Yes, Father.”  The two girls, evidently empowered, replied, “Thank you, Father.  We’ll make sure they behave.”

I made two voyages two years apart from each other with Father Auger aboard the State of Maine.  By the time of my second voyage with him, he had been reassigned from his two parishes in Stonington and Castine to an inland parish in Sanford, Maine.  Nonetheless, he retained the Bishop’s approval to continue his yearly sailings aboard the State of Maine.  At the end of the second voyage he returned to his new assignment in Sanford, and I did not expect to have any further contact with him.

Fortunately, this expectation proved wrong.  I had no occasion to travel to Sanford until after I met Miss Patty, the girl whom I would marry.  On my first visit to this town, I attended Sunday Mass with Miss Patty and her grandmother.  Spotting me in the congregation before the Mass started, the enthusiastic Father introduced me as “one of the boys from Castine” to the entire assembly.  This was the first of many pleasant meetings with him.  The culmination of this relationship came on the 19th of June, 1981, when Father Auger celebrated our wedding Mass in Saint Ignatius Church in Sanford.

As an unmarried priest with no family of his own, Father Auger made a tremendous sacrifice in order to spend his life doing the Lord’s work as he understood it.  He willingly gave up what the rest of us would consider a normal life with a home of his own, a career, a wife, children, and eventually, grandchildren.  When asked about this once, the good Father cited a verse from the scriptures and focused not on sacrifices he made but on blessings he received: 

And everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life (Matt. 19:29).

Father Auger asserted that this promise was “absolutely true” and listed blessings, opportunities, and friendships that had come to him through his priestly vocation.  Furthermore, many of these were made possible only because of his position as a clergyman; otherwise, they never would have come his way.  He counted his opportunity to sail aboard the State of Maine each year as one of these blessings.  Had he not been qualified to serve as chaplain, he would not have had any business aboard the ship and would never have made the annual voyages.  He wrote off his chronic inclination toward seasickness as a small price to pay for such a great opportunity.

This one weakness brings to mind a scriptural verse with which Father Auger might not have been familiar but is fitting nonetheless:

I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).

For those of us who had the honor of knowing him, it was abundantly clear that Father Raymond Auger was a humble man, a grace-filled man, and a faithful man.  He was also a very generous, kind, and patient man whose attentions were always focused on others.  He never asked for anything for himself.  In fact, he seldom talked about himself.  What we learned of his family and educational background he revealed only on direct inquiry.  When the Atlantic Ocean roughed him up and made him feel sick, Father Auger humbled himself before God and prayed for the ability to carry on.  He never complained.  In this way his weakness became his strength and earned him the admiration of everyone on board.  In the straightforward language of the sea, the good Father was a spiritual superstar.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The General

The Mercury had arrived in Wilmington, North Carolina, a few days earlier.  She was moored with her starboard side to the wharf and her large, angled stern ramp lowered so that the Marines could drive their equipment on board.  With four enclosed cargo decks, the Mercury could carry a veritable fleet of military vehicles, and the Marines brought it all aboard.  The biggest and heaviest vehicles such as trailer trucks filled with potable water went to the lowest deck.  Medium size trucks, personnel carriers, and similar-sized equipment went in the tween decks. Lastly, the lightest vehicles such as jeeps and gun trailers went on the highest of the four cargo decks.  The purpose of this arrangement was stability.  A stable ship with a wisely stowed cargo and a low center of gravity would ride comfortably and safely in a seaway.

The Mercury’s sister ship, the Jupiter, was moored at the same pier doing the same work.  Both ships were participating in the buildup of military supplies and personnel that was taking place in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in response to the Iranian hostage crisis of the early 1980s.  As this operation was a highly political issue, it received a lot of publicity.  A photograph of the Mercury loading cargo in Wilmington even appeared in Newsweek along with information concerning both ships’ intended movements.1  Because of the preponderance of politics and publicity, there were also present numerous high-ranking military officers.  Most of these men came and went with little or no fanfare, although for security purposes they were all diligently logged in and out as they came aboard and returned ashore.  One day, however, the really big boss came to visit, and all useful human activity came to a complete standstill to accommodate him.

The big boss was Lieutenant General P. X. Kelley, USMC.  The heralds who preceded him decreed that everything and everyone aboard the Mercury must be made spotlessly clean for his visit and that all security protocols must be rigidly observed.  Furthermore, everyone aboard the ship must stand quietly and respectfully to the side when the General came along.  These precautionary steps would make a good impression on the big boss and keep all the underlings out of trouble.  That way, everyone would be happy.  My assigned post for this event was at the stern ramp with Joe, the gangway watchman.  His assignment was to make certain that General Kelley was officially logged in when he came aboard and then logged out when he went ashore.  The chief mate joined us, too, just to keep an extra set of eyes on things.

From head to toe, Joe the gangway watchman looked every inch a homeless person.  Dressed in his vagabond best of torn, dirty, and mismatched clothes and decrepit shoes with broken laces, and with his long hair and beard groomed to park bench standards, Joe was the best security precaution on the ship.  His very appearance would scare away any troublemakers.  In addition to these qualifications, he always performed his duties very conscientiously and followed instructions precisely.  Knowing that General Kelley would be arriving soon, Joe was prepared to greet him when he came aboard.

Presently four jeeps drove up to the Mercury.  They parked on the pier adjacent to the stern ramp and in front of a “No Parking” sign.  General Kelley, riding shotgun in the first jeep, alighted and started walking toward the ship.  He was promptly followed by his chauffeur and two aides who had been sitting in the back seat.  These four men were then followed by twenty or more other Marines who spilled out of the other three jeeps.  The General, with the stars on his collar of his immaculate uniform shining brightly, led this entourage of Marines up the stern ramp and onto the Mercury.  They walked aboard the ship as if they owned it and said nothing to the crewmen watching them.

Then Joe the gangway watchman sprang into action.  Armed with his logbook and a pen, he marched straightaway across the deck toward the General.  None of the Marines took any notice of his coming; they just stared straight ahead as they marched.  Unwilling to let them pass him by, Joe went right to the top.  He turned slightly to approach the General head on.  Having thus gotten in front of the General, he marched right at him.  Just as they were about to collide, Joe held out the open logbook and stuck it right into the General’s gut while simultaneously pushing the pen nearly into his face.  Stopping short, the General looked down at the open logbook with a very startled expression.  Looking upward again, the General saw the brandished pen and heard Joe order him to sign in.  Looking momentarily dumbfounded by this unorthodox security procedure, the General quickly regained his composure.

Glancing to his right, the General pointed to one of his aides as the man whom Joe should approach.  This aide in turn glanced to his right and pointed Joe’s way to yet another aide.  This other aide did likewise.  Finally, a junior Marine emerged from the entourage, reported to Joe, and signed all the Marines into the logbook.  Mission accomplished, Joe returned the book to his little desk by the stern ramp.

General Kelley and his Marines continued on their way.  They conducted a visual inspection of the Mercury which lasted about thirty minutes or so, and then they left.  Once again, the General led the march across the stern ramp, and the same junior Marine who had signed them all in now signed them all out.  The General and his Marines reboarded their fleet of jeeps and hurriedly drove away. 

That was the last that we saw of the General and his entourage, although lesser ranking Marines continued to inhabit the area.  With the head honcho now gone, the loading of cargo aboard the Mercury continued until the ship was filled to capacity, and then she was ready to sail to Diego Garcia.

In a rank-conscious world, it is refreshing to read the Lord’s statement, “I am no respecter of persons” (D&C 38:16), and realize that he is not impressed with shining stars, gold braid, and lofty titles.  It has always seemed ironic to me that in a country which stated boldly in its Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,”  there are those who all but fall on their knees before people of a higher social, professional, or educational level than themselves.  But the Lord holds a different viewpoint:

And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me.  For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?   (D&C 38:24, 26)

The answer to this rhetorical question is clear.  Just as all children are equal in the eyes of their parents, so are all people equal in the sight of God.  Therefore, neither loving parents nor a loving God would arbitrarily elevate one child to the level of robes and demote another to the level of rags.  Instead, both God and the parents would love all their children equally and want what is best for all of them.  It is the secular world that segregates people into social classes, a development that was not part of the divine plan.

Perhaps it is in the temple that we best see the equality of all people before God.  Secular titles are not used at all in the temple.  There are no Generals, Captains, Doctors, Professors, etc.  With the single exception of the Temple President, everyone is addressed as Brother or Sister.  In the one case of the President, he is addressed as such out of respect for the position with which the Lord has entrusted him and not out of any sense of hero-worship or secular adulation.  Furthermore, there are no badges of rank or social status on the temple clothing, nor is the clothing itself of a status-indicating nature.  Plain white carries a simple beauty.  As a noted LDS author explains:

In the temple everyone wears white clothing, which symbolizes purity and cleanliness in the sight of God and each other.  [Furthermore,] it suggests an equality in the sight of God that creates unity and oneness in his children.2

And on this point the Lord has told us, “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine (D&C 38:27).

Quoting Elder John A. Widtsoe, another noted LDS author explains:

The uniform dress symbolizes that before God our Father in heaven all men are equal.  The beggar and the banker, the learned and the unlearned, the prince and the pauper sit side by side in the temple and are of equal importance if they live righteously before the Lord God.3

While others may not have seen it this way, aboard the Mercury that day in Wilmington Joe the gangway watchman and Lieutenant General P.X. Kelley were equal in the sight of God their creator.  Of course they had different jobs to do and carried different burdens of responsibility, and they likely had very different levels of education as well.  Nonetheless, they were both created from the same dust of the Earth and endowed with the same breath of life and the same light of Christ.  Joe seemed not the least bit intimidated by the General’s exalted rank when he approached him with the logbook.  Nor would God be intimidated by the General’s or anyone else’s rank in this world.  In this respect, Joe’s outlook on his fellowmen was more in line with the Gospel than he probably realized.

1 Steven Strasser, et al., “A Big U.S. Buildup in the Gulf,” Newsweek, July 14, 1980, pp. 30-33, 35-36.
2 S. Michael Wilcox, House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1995, p. 24.
3 Andrew C. Skinner, Temple Worship, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2007, p. 33-34.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Ordinary

The range instrumentation vessel General Hoyt S. Vandenberg sailed leisurely across the South Atlantic.  Most of her crew had been aboard for a considerable time, but I had only recently joined the ship at Ascension Island.  One of the old-timers in the unlicensed ranks was Wilbur.  There was something different about him. I could not tell what this was at first, but I sensed that Wilbur would be a high maintenance case.

This proved to be only partially true, because Wilbur’s shipmates all pitched in, so to speak, to take care of him.  Everyone aboard the Vandenberg was very kind to him.  Even some fellows who could not get along with each other made it a point to be nice to Wilbur.  Several of these men had been sailing with him for many years and knew him well.  They had learned what his capabilities and limitations were, and they took pains to accommodate his narrow range of understanding.  Newcomers to the Vandenberg were promptly advised in the ways of Wilbur and how to work with him.

Wilbur sailed as an ordinary seaman.  He had years of experience, but was never able to pass the examination to become an able seaman.  He had never passed the test for a lifeboat certificate, either.  So he remained at the entry-level position in the deck force for his entire career.  But he was not lazy.  On the contrary, Wilbur was extremely industrious.  He paid meticulous attention to his work, and he did even the simplest tasks more carefully and more diligently than some men with twice his ability.  When he was assigned to do something, he remained at it until the results were perfect.  He never skimped on the job, and he never made excuses.  If he had difficulty with something, it was usually because of his innate limitations.  In these situations, which were infrequent, Wilbur would tell the bosun in his Southern drawl, “Ah think Ah just don’t undahstand, suh.”  A brief explanation or a friendly word of advice was all it ever took to get Wilber going again.  Then he would finish his assignment, and as always, the results would be perfect.

Wilbur’s personal habits also made him conspicuous.  He was deeply religious, and he prayed several times every day.  He prayed when he woke up, before every meal, and before going to sleep.  Some of the guys felt uncomfortable about this, but many more respected it and requested his prayers for themselves or members of their families.  Typically they would ask, “Hey, Wilbur, next time ya talk to God, can ya put in a good word for me?  I’m worried about my old lady [or my kid, or my mother, or whatever] and I could use a little help.  Thanks, pal.”  Wilbur was always happy to accommodate these requests, so much so that I think the Vandenberg must have carried the most prayed-for crew in the fleet.

Wilbur always went to church on the Sundays that the Vandenberg was moored at her base in Port Canaveral, Florida.  He worshiped with an Evangelical Christian congregation.  He would emerge from the ship dressed in a jacket and tie and white shirt.  Often a taxi would pick him up and then return him to the ship afterwards, but sometimes he would get a ride from a friend.  He would often talk about church after returning to the ship.  He followed a simple but sincere theology.  It showed not only in his church attendance on Sunday, but also in the way he conducted himself every day.  Wilbur never engaged in any vices. He did not smoke, drink, or use bad language.  He did not criticize people, cheat his employer, or do anything dishonest.  He treated everyone with consistent and unfailing courtesy, always said “please” and “thank you,” always picked up after himself, and always volunteered to help others.
Sometimes when returning from church Wilbur would puzzle over something the minister had said with the gangway watchman.  One concept that proved troublesome for him was people’s choice to do something wrong.  He remarked on this difficulty one Sunday.  “Ah cain’t understand why all those people would shout at Pahlate to crucify ahr Lord.  He nevah did anythin’ wrong ta’all them.  What would they want tah kill him for?  Whah would they want tah be so mean?  The preacher, he trahd tah explain it.  But Ah’m not sure Ah undahstand.”

One of Wilbur’s best friends aboard the Vandenberg was the boss, Captain Robert Broom.  They never went palling around together, of course, but Captain Broom, a Southern gentleman to the core, always saw to it that Wilbur got a fair deal.  When Captain Broom had first met him, Wilbur’s teeth were in terrible condition.  He was a dentist’s nightmare with a mouthful of gum disease and tooth decay.  One day in Port Canaveral, after Captain Broom had gotten to know him a bit, he sent Wilbur to a dentist whom he knew and with whom he had made an arrangement.  The dentist took care of Wilbur’s problems, arresting the gum disease, fixing the teeth that were still viable, and replacing the ones that were not.  This work required several sessions, none of which cost Wilbur any money.  He could never have paid for it anyway.  He did recognize the kindness, though, and it showed whenever he spoke to or about Captain Broom.  The two of them shared a special bond born of mutual respect and affection that had developed over the years.  This especially showed the day that Captain Broom returned to the Vandenberg after a month’s vacation.  Wilbur was as excited as a child at his birthday party that day.

At sea, when I first witnessed the patience and kindness displayed by the deck crewmen as they worked with Wilbur, I thought of the scriptural verse, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).  As is done in the Church, the stronger and smarter ones extended the proverbial hand of fellowship to the weaker one and helped him along.  There were a few, and only a few, crewmen who seemed to not like Wilbur, but even they did not treat him unkindly.  For the most part they left him alone and let the others take care of him.  No one did anything mean or nasty to Wilbur.  I’m sure that his friends who looked after him would not have tolerated that.

For his part, Wilbur brought out the best in others.  He never did things that annoyed anyone; possibly, with his child-like simplicity he did not know how.  For that matter, he might not have realized how he tapped into people’s good sides so much, either.  But he did, and it showed.  Seamen whose personal behavior was anything but saintly, whose moral standards fell far short of his, and whose short tempers reached their limits quickly displayed respect for Wilbur’s religious beliefs, admiration for his personal conduct, and appreciation for his work habits.  The Vandenberg’s crew on the whole displayed a Christ-like level of patience, kindness, and brotherly love toward Wilbur.  He brought out the best in them and made them better people.

We can learn a valuable lesson from Wilbur.  By any secular standard, he was not a wise or learned man.  Yet he brings the words of the Apostle Paul to mind: “a fool for Christ’s sake,” yet “wise in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10).  Whether because of or in spite of his simplicity, Wilbur possessed a discernible degree of wisdom that many smarter men aboard all the ships never displayed.  Again, he calls to mind the words of Paul: “If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:18-19).  By Paul’s standard, Wilbur was a spiritual giant.

With Captain Broom as the permanent Master of the Vandenberg, Wilbur was assured of steady employment, always returning to the ship and not being reassigned elsewhere after vacations.  He was also assured of having his medical needs and any other serious problems taken care of by a responsible person.  Wilbur was very fortunate and very blessed to sail with Captain Broom and many other good-hearted men.  They served as his guardian angels, so to speak, and they took very good care of him.  They blessed Wilbur’s life, and he blessed theirs.