The 1960s were an interesting and sometimes controversial era in the United States. By 1964 the U.S. Army was drafting eligible young men shortly after they turned 18. Rocky Gale and his cousin, Joe Johnston, were among the many young Americans who wondered if their next piece of mail would be an invitation from Uncle Sam to participate in a war in Vietnam.
“My cousin Joe and I anticipated being drafted, and knowing that most young men our age were being sent to Vietnam, we decided to join,” states Rocky Gale, who after the war studied for the ministry and served as a pastor in Oregon.
“We talked to the recruiters, and they promised that if we joined, we could pick where we wanted to go. With that guarantee in mind, we joined the Army so we could ‘see the world,’ namely Germany, not Vietnam.”
The recruiters also assured the young men that the Army would honor their religious convictions and that they would have Sabbaths off. Being adolescents, and honest themselves, they took the recruiters at their words, fully confident that they could serve their country and their God without abandoning their principles.
Listed as “conscientious objectors,” Rocky and Joe were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for nine weeks of basic training. From there they were sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, for medical training. Upon completion of their courses, they were given leave and told to report to New York where they would board a transport ship to Germany.
Is My Name Written There?
“Joe and I were in this giant building, from where we could see the gangplank that led up to a troop transport named Geiger. The ship would take us from Brooklyn and deliver us to Bremerhaven, Germany,” remembers Gale. “We listened as they called out names for two basic lines. One line was for personnel going to Germany; the other line was for those going to Vietnam.”
Miles away from home, and uncertain of the events that lay ahead, Rocky and Joe waited for hours with their duffel bags, listening for their names to be announced. Finally they heard their names called, but they were being summoned to join the line that would take them to Vietnam!
The cousins looked at each other with disbelief. Their recruiter had guaranteed that they would go to Germany. Their orders said they were destined for Germany. What would happen if they were sent to Vietnam and didn’t report as their orders directed? Had someone in the Army made a mistake, or had they been naive enough to believe that their deployment to Germany was guaranteed?
They prayed, asking God to guide them in their dilemma, and found an officer in charge. They showed him their orders, and he told them to wait. At the end of the day, when the lines were empty, their names were called again, this time for Germany.
Nearer, My God, to Thee
Overjoyed at the outcome, and relieved that the misunderstanding had been corrected, the pair grabbed their gear and headed toward the ship. As they walked up the boat’s ramp, they were stopped and told that there was no room for them on the ship. They produced their orders again and showed the officer. He loudly announced that the ship was completely full and that there was “absolutely no room” left on the ship.
“My cousin and I had prayed, asking the Lord to take care of the problem,” Gale recalls. “That’s when a nearby corporal overheard the conversation, interrupted, and said, ‘I believe there’s room for two down in the brig.’ With that the officer waved us on, and we knew that God had answered the fervent prayer of two anxious boys.”
Rocky and Joe grabbed their duffel bags again and walked up the ramp. They were led into the bottom of the ship. Although their accommodations weren’t what they expected, they had a new appreciation for Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish.
“Actually, we were spared from all the work being done by everyone topside: scrubbing decks, cleaning, and painting,” explains Gale. “For 14 days we slept, prayed, read the Bible; we even had our meals delivered.”
When the ship arrived at Bremerhaven, a different officer asked them who they were. Rocky and Joe showed him their orders. His immediate reaction was to demand an explanation about where they had been and why he hadn’t seen them before.
“Sir, we’ve been in the brig for the whole trip and, believe me, being in jail was a pleasure,” Gale says. “Looking back, I can attest that when you travel with God, He leads you through interesting events and in interesting ways.”
S. R. Morris is a freelance writer writing from the Philippines. This article was published June 28, 2012.