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In Perils Of The Sea

In Perils Of The Sea poster

The Rev. R.H. Smith, who gave several informative messages on India at our last Foreign Missionary Rally, tells of his exciting experiences returning to the field, where he intends to resume teaching in the short term Bible Schools of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

From heaven did the Lord behold the earth…to loose those that are appointed to death—Psalm 102:19, 20

We bear witness to the truth of the words of this Psalm as experienced in the past months on our journey to India. After postponements and cancellations of sailing, we finally embarked on a Dutch steamer from San Francisco, the first of December, 1941. There were about two dozen missionaries in the party headed for India. The fact that we could so easily have been shut out and yet did get accommodation was a source of courage to us in hard places, for it seemed that the Lord arranged the trip for us, and wanted us to start for India. Of the score of ocean liners I have sailed on in the past 25 years, this one was the most unsteady, and even in a light swell, it rolled and pitched.

Pearl Harbor

Six days of sailing brought us to Honolulu on Sunday morning, December 7th. While having our eight o’clock breakfast, some one noticed some flecks of white in the sky, suggesting that there was parachute drill on. The pilot came on board nonchalantly while we watched the smoke patches increase and turn to black as they drifted away. Great pillars of pearl-gray smoke rose from the direction of Pearl Harbor and planes were visible darting here and there. The rattling of guns came across the glittering waves as the smoke rose in great billows. We all crowded the rail to watch what we thought were intensified manoeuvres, and a tremendous sight it was! As we passed through the narrow channel towards the docks, a shore battery opened up its anti-aircraft guns with tremendous blasts and flashes, while on the other side a naval Bessel blazed away. Just outside the harbor a cruiser raced madly back and forth, turning quickly in its course, with white dashes of foam at prow and stern. On shore sirens were blowing madly as cars dashed hither and yon, although no panic was visible. Planes were diving over Pearl Harbor with an occasional formation flying over us. Several bombs dropped near our boat as it leisurely proceeded on its way. Later we realized that the Japanese were attempting to bomb us in order to close the narrow harbor mouth. We were appointed to death that morning, but the Lord loosed us. While life and death played hide and seek, the surf broke on the outer reef in long white swells and nature lay serene in its glorious beauty.

After we had leisurely tied up to a dock near the famous Aloha Tower, the ship’s agent came aboard and calling us all together, said, “The Japanese have started an undeclared war against the United States. You must leave the ship and proceed into the city away from the water front. Come back at five o’clock this afternoon and we will have further word for you.” As we started down the gang-plank the officers hurried us off, for the Japanese planes were visible just overhead. We waited in the warehouse until they were gone, but while going along the road they again appeared, so we scooted into a store, poor protection if a bomb should fall, but at least protection from splinters. We knew not where to go, but had to go somewhere, in twos and threes, and we were challenged again and again as we went along. There was a Salvation Army nurse in our party, so someone suggested the Salvation Army and we headed for there. Outside their citadel they already had a picture of the shepherds and the angels singing “Peace on earth.” What a paradox it seemed. But as we entered the beautiful auditorium it indeed seemed a haven of refuge, a peaceful spot in the storm. With one accord we stood and sang the Doxology. The Lord had loosed those appointed to death. We understood how refugees felt when fleeing from the enemy, and how David felt when he said, “Thou art my rock and my fortress.”

Salvation Army Kindness

Brigadier Brewer, the commanding officer of the Salvation Army soon came to give us a hearty welcome and, wonderful to us, was able to provide us with a good dinner. We were also promised some sort of accommodation for the night, so when toward evening we went back to the boat and were told to take things with us for a few days’ stay and to get away again, we were thankful for the Salvation Army. I shall never see the uniform again without being grateful all over again. Darkness had fallen by the time we returned to the citadel. A number of us crowded into a station wagon in the darkness, with everything blacked-out along the way and only dim lights on the car, and started for the Girls’ School, about five miles away near the outskirts of the city. It was an eerie ride. The Japanese had made another attack late in the afternoon, and we knew not what the night might hold. Arrived at the school we stumbled around in the darkness, as the only lights were flashlights covered with blue paper, and after a late supper, found ourselves in the school gym with camp cots to sleep on, but no bedding of any kind. The ram sprayed in on us in the night and the mosquitos made a blitz attack, but anything was better than lying at the bottom of Honolulu harbor. The next night we had some bedding, but my face bore for many days the marks the mosquitos had left that first strange night in Hawaii. The newspaper reports have given you an idea of the losses inflicted at Honolulu that day.

After another night we were recalled to the steamer. Rumors were rife about another attack, about Japanese planes and subs (the two-men subs were a reality) and sinking of vessels, but as a group of us prayed together before leaving the quiet beauty of the school, we felt the Lord would have us keep moving towards India as long as we could. Our stay in harbor was almost two weeks, but finally one day we moved out into the perilous Pacific. We learned later that bombers were near as we sailed, and a raider destroyed a steamer about 25 miles away from us, but providentially there was poor visibility at those times, and our boat was a fast one. After wandering in the Pacific, we knew not where, for the ships’ officers gave us no information at all, one morning we awoke to gaze again on beautiful mountains and green fields after almost three weeks with nothing to see but sea. When the pilot boat came alongside, we learned we were in New Zealand, and that it was one day later than we thought, as we had crossed the international Date Line. After a few days in this decidedly English spot in a far corner of the earth, we were on the bounding main again, destination still unknown, but evidently we went far to the south of Australia, through rough and cold waters, until we entered tropic seas again and finally after two weeks of uncertainty, cast anchor in a port in Java. Java, is a beautiful island with its towering mountain peaks and vivid green rice fields, but next to Singapore and the Philippines, the hot spot in the war.

Burial of American Soldiers in Java

One morning, while lying at anchor, we went ashore in the company’s launch, landing at the main dock where a naval vessel was berthed. As we put foot on shore, they were bringing casket after casket from this boat. The flag was flying at half-mast, the sailors were standing at every vantage point on the ship, while several rows of them were drawn up as a guard of honour on the wharf. The ship’s band was playing the old familiar and comforting hymns of the church such as “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Nearer my God to Thee” and “Abide with Me.” As each casket was brought out from the ship and placed in trucks furnished by the Dutch government, everyone stood at attention. The pile of caskets grew and grew until it seemed it would never end. After the last one came, the chaplain of the cruiser read the Scriptures and offered a simple and comforting prayer, and an unsteady bugler played taps for his comrades. How our hearts ached for the men who were left as well as for the men who had gone. Some were in tears as they saluted their departed buddies, and we were not ashamed of the tears in our own eyes. Several of the women in our party were crying openly; so although far from home, those boys had a woman’s tear shed for them amid the rites of church and state.

As the funeral cortege moved away at the slow Dead March, we went around another way to the cemetery. Here the procession at last appeared, the band playing the sad, sweet strains of Chopin’s Funeral March. One after another the caskets were again handled and lowered into the hastily dug graves, the guards holding an American flag over each grave until the funeral ceremonies were completed. The usual three volleys were fired over the graves and taps again played. Almost fifty of our lads lay at rest in a part of Java that will be forever America. There were wreaths from the Dutch authorities, and a guard of honour of their green-clad troops, Dutch and Javan, but I think that the three of us, the only other Americans there aside from the soldiers, were a guard of honour, too, to represent the sorrowing ones at home who would receive word of these casualties. They would have given much to stand where we stood that day to pay last respects to these American lads laid away on a foreign shore. The cemetery was beautifully green from the recent rains, with palms and pines growing amid the graves, and many-hued crotons adding their touch of color; while tropical birds twittered in the trees and the moan of the surf, not far away, sounded a requiem for our noble dead. Formations were made again, and as the men marched away the band struck up the lively “Washington Post March.” Some time later as we went back to the boat in a shower of rain, the flag was flying on the ship, no longer at half-mast. The flag still flies!