In 1950 I got a letter from U.S. president Harry Truman saying that my friends and neighbors wanted me to serve in the Army. With friends like that, I thought, who needs enemies?
When I was inducted, I met Ted, another Seventh-day Adventist. The two of us didn’t know much of each other until that morning, but we got acquainted, and we decided to stick together.
The Army sent us to Fort Lewis, Washington, where we took a battery of tests, were issued clothes, and had orientation.
Soon after we arrived we went to the sergeant and told him that we were Seventh-day Adventists and that we would like to be excused from Sabbath duties.
He said, “There’s another one of you fellows around here somewhere.”
Yeah, probably a Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, or something, we thought. They always get us confused. The next morning at breakfast, after Ted and I got our trays, we looked for a place to sit together in the mess hall, which was large enough to hold about 250 men. When we sat down, we noticed that the fellow next to Ted blessed his food and didn’t have bacon on his tray.
“Here’s the other Adventist,” I told Ted. Sure enough, Richard was a graduate of Walla Walla College, a fine young man. So there were now three of us. And we got that first Sabbath off. We had to stay in the barracks, but we were excused from all our work. That was miracle number one.
About a week later we were transferred to where we would take our basic training. They divided us up into groups, and the group we were supposed to be with had four other guys. Naturally I asked them, “Are you Seventh-day Adventists?”
One said, “I’m a Seventh-day Adventist.”
Another said, “I’m a Mennonite. But I’m a conscientious objector.” He had a friend from the United Brethren who was also a conscientious objector. The fourth man’s name was Bob. I asked if he was a Seventh-day Adventist. He said, “Yeah, you could say that.” He didn’t tell me that the previous Friday night he had gone to the post theater for a movie.
So the five of us Adventists went to make arrangements to have Sabbaths off. We got a pass from Sabbath morning until Sunday midnight. After a while the drill sergeant and his buddies called us the “church boys.” They thought they were humiliating us by calling us “church boys,” but they could have called us many other things.
One Friday morning the drill sergeant got up in front of 200 to 250 men and said, “Tomorrow we’re going to have a clothing inspection, and everybody is expected to be there, even the church boys.”
We didn’t know what to do. Richard, Ted, and I had a room of our own. So the five of us Adventists gathered to pray that God would open the way for us. Then we got our Friday-night pass and went to the Missionary Volunteer meeting at the church. We told the pastor what was happening. He said, “Let’s go downstairs and pray about it.”
Afterward he said, “If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about it. The Lord has it all worked out.”
That’s easy for you to say, I thought: You don’t have to meet the sergeant tomorrow!
So the next morning we got all dressed for church and went down and told the sergeant that we couldn’t stand for inspection. We didn’t say we wouldn’t stand—we said we couldn’t stand.
So the sergeant said, “OK, come with me.” He took us to the company commander, who looked right at me and said, “What’s the meaning of this?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I looked to my right. The guy on my right didn’t know what to say, and he looked to his right. It went down to the end of the line where Richard was. Richard didn’t have anyone to look at, so he explained that we were Seventh-day Adventists and that we couldn’t stand for inspection.
“Why aren’t you in the medics?” he asked.
“Well, sir, maybe you could tell us that.”
“Were you enlisted or drafted?” he asked. I felt like saying, “Do we look stupid?” But I didn’t think that would be wise, so I told him, “No, sir. We were all drafted.”
“What do you suppose they would do if this happened in Russia?” he asked.
“I’m sure several people in Russia are dying to serve the Lord,” I said.
“You mean there are Adventists in Russia?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, there are.”
“Well, I’m a Catholic,” he said. “And I have to do things on Sunday I don’t like to do.”
Richard spoke up and said, “That’s your choice, sir.”
I thought, Boy, Richard, you’re really overstepping your boundaries!
Then the sergeant explained: “If you disobey the order to stand for inspection, you will be court-martialed. You may have to stand before a firing squad.”
If I hadn’t been awake before, I was awake then! Then he asked each one of us individually if we knew the consequences of disobeying the order to stand for inspection. He looked right at me (I was first). I said, “Yes, sir, I understand. I would be willing to go through a court-martial.”
He went on down the line and asked each one of us the same question. Finally he said, “OK, go out into the hall and wait. I’m going to get this court-martial started this morning.”
So we went into the hall and did a lot of praying. I told the Lord that if He got me out of this mess I’d serve Him forever—that I’d go to church and always be on time.
We stood out there for about 15 minutes. Pretty soon the sergeant came out and said, “The captain wants to see you again.”
I decided this time I wasn’t going to be the first one in. So when we filed into his office, I was the last one in. But the captain again looked right at me. “I called all the other commanders on this post, and they all said, ‘Go ahead and court-martial them and get it over with. Then you won’t have any more problems.’
“But I’m not going to do that,” he said. “I’m going to give you a pass every Saturday morning. From now on you’ll be guaranteed a pass for Saturday morning, but you’re going to have to be back here Saturday night. How will that be?”
“Well, sir, that’s fine,” I said. “But you may not be aware of the fact that the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday evening. And every Friday night they have a GI party in the barracks.” This GI party is not about balloons, cake, and ice cream; it’s buckets, mops, and brushes to get the barracks clean for Saturday morning inspection. I said, “If we could get our passes on Friday night, we wouldn’t have to worry about that.”
“Just make sure your area is clean, wherever you are,” he said. “You’ll get your pass every Friday at 4:30.” Miracle number two.
About a week later all the men were taking their gear on the rifle range for target practice. Since we didn’t have any guns, they put us on one of the most despised jobs in the army: KP, kitchen police. It started about 5:00 a.m. and went until about 7:00 p.m. We did this all week.
On Friday morning I went to the sergeant in charge of the mess hall and told him that we were Seventh-day Adventists and that the captain assured us we would be excused at 4:30.
“I haven’t heard anything about that,” he said. “But I’ll check into it.” So about 4:00 a group of men came to take our places. Miracle number three.
We were telling a friend of ours in another company about our problems with the Sabbath. He said, “Too bad you can’t be in our outfit. Our company commander likes Adventists. His wife, mother, or somebody is an Adventist, and he likes them.”
The army does things in strange ways (I should say, God does things in strange ways). Soon after that the whole company, about 250 men, was
transferred to this outfit where our friend was. Nobody knew why. The next day everybody was transferred back to the old outfit; everybody, that is, except the seven of us—five Adventists, and two other noncombatants. Miracle number four.
As long as I was in the Army, I never had any more problems keeping the Sabbath.