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.

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