WORLD WAR II
PEARL HARBOR - On Sunday December 7, 1941 I was preaching in the Courtland Church. It was after church before we heard the news of Pearl Harbor. I knew then that I would have to decide what role I would play inside, or outside, the armed services. During the two plus years after leaving the seminary I had read a few significant books that covered the events during years between World War I and World War II. The most significant of those books was Days of our Years by Perrie van Paassen. He tells the sordid story of those years as well as Howard K. Smith was to tell the equally sordid story of the first five years after World War II in his book The State of Europe.firstname.lastname@example.org
On December 7th, 1941 my knowledge of the history of my world was rather limited. I knew enough to understand that all angels, if any, were not on one side. In addition, I could recognize some of his sneaky first cousins on the other side. For me it was not a choice between devils and saints. We were all guilty, devils fighting among ourselves for the spoils of victory.
It was one sentence in an editorial of the Christian Century that helped me to make the decision I made. "War is hell and when you are in hell you have no choice but to engage in hellish business". The logic of that statement made it impossible for me to choose between hellish work and heavenly work. Whatever I did would be hellish work. I assumed we would still be in some kind of hell when the war was over. The only choice before me was to try to choose the kind of hellish work I could sincerely believe would make for the best of all possible hells after one side had defeated the other. I could believe the world would be better if Hitler and his camp followers were defeated. On the inspiration of that faint hope I offered to serve in the Army as a chaplain. I resolved that if my offer were accepted I would do my best to be a good soldier, in that I would ask for no assignment or try to shun any order. I would simply go wherever I was ordered and do whatever was expected of me as a chaplain. What I did as a chaplain to defeat Hitler, if honestly judged on a scale between zero and ten, the grad would most likely be nearer zero than one.
In due course of time I received a request to report to the military base at Hampton, Virginia for a medical examination. The glanced at both ends and asked about the scar on my right leg. They took x-rays and sent me home to wait for a report. The report came in the form of an order to report for limited service only to the Chaplain School at Harvard University on a given day early in November of 1942. I was informed that meant I would not serve in a combat zone; that I would serve in this country wherever I was needed.
On the set date, after a long train ride, broken by a long cab ride across New York City at the crack of dawn, I arrived at the proper building on the campus of Harvard. There I was drilled and gassed (tear gas) and taught a few things the Army expected of chaplains.
One Sunday two of my classmates and I went to Plymouth, Massachusetts. We caught an early train and were there shortly after breakfast time. We had the town to ourselves. We rambled around town. Seeing an iron picket fence in the edge of the ocean we investigated and discovered it was Plymouth Rock. What a disappointment! It was hardly larger than a big piece of gravel.
Looking up a short street that dead-ended at the front door of an old stone church we found a Unitarian Church. Being too early for church we explored the graveyard just behind the church on a hill almost as high as the roof of the church. Looking at some of the head stones, some leaning this way and others leaning that way, gave us some sense of history. Back down the hill we wondered about white frame building sitting on the last block of the dead end street, almost in the front door of the stone building.
The small sign out front informed us this was the Congregational Church. It was some years later that I learned why these two churches stood, almost, at each other front doors. More than one hundred and fifty years ago, when Unitarian churches were springing up like crab grass in New England, a goodly number of Congregational Churches, by majority vote, joined the Unitarian movement. The Congregational church in Plymouth was one of those churches. The minority, who did not like the idea, built the frame building for their meetinghouse.
We had heard of a Congregational church, but this Unitarian was something strange to us. To extend our knowledge of different religions we decided to attend the Unitarian Church. I don't remember a word the preacher said. He said nothing to disturb the peace of mind of a country Southern Baptist preacher so he must have been a very conservative Unitarian minister. The offering baskets were fastened to handles some four feet in length. The ushers never let go of those handles. Don't think that by sitting in the middle of the pew you would escape being confronted by those baskets. By just stretching a little they could reach you from both ends. Being dressed in our military garb the usher skipped us. Neither of us registered a protest for such discrimination.
After the service two sisters, well beyond middle age, invited us to their home for dinner. After a delicious meal they took us for a ride through the mole hills near the beach and showed us some of the historical sites which we had not seen earlier, dropping us of at the train station in time for us to get back to the dormitory before bed check. The gracious hospitality extended to us by the two sisters is hardly more than what you can expect from the people of New England, if my experiences during my brief visits among them are typical. They don't seem to mind gong out of their way to be hospitable to strangers. They do so, it appears, for the fun of it rather than as a duty.
The next weekend we went to Salem. WE saw the restored bridge over which the British marched into the town, triggering off the shot "heard around the world." We saw the home of Emerson, standing on a rise overlooking the bridge. We went to the Unitarian Church where Emerson was once minister. A place in a pew belongs to the person whose name is on the nameplate attached to the top of the pew. I don't remember the name of the person in whose pew I found myself. I suppose he was playing hooky that particular Sunday, in that I was not ordered to move. As in Plymouth I remembered nothing the preacher said. Again I assume he said nothing to disturb my Baptist theology. We had dinner at the inn where we were told the British had their headquarters while occupying the town. We were informed that the floor of the room in which we were eating were the original floor planks of the inn. They looked old enough. No we didn't see or recognize any witches.
When we returned from Salem that evening to the dormitory one of my friends, Chevis Horne, found orders to report at once to a point of embarkation, to be flown to his unit which was already in Africa. He had only completed two weeks of the four-week Chaplain School. His unit fought in Africa, Sicily Italy and Germany. He was wounded twice.
Chaplains are given the rank of First Lieutenant when they enter the service. Horne served in a combat zone during the entire war. He never received a promotion. On the other hand, after four weeks in the Chaplain School I was sent to Camp Sibert, near Gadsden, Alabama, where I was a minister for two years when I was a college student and less than thirty miles from where I was born. I was about as far as one could get from a combat zone and doing little that was worth doing. Yet, six months after entering the service I was promoted to Captain. Why the difference? Horne was in a unit that rated only a Lieutenant. I, by chance, was on a post which rated a Major, one Captain and Lieutenant on the post at the time I was promoted. Fair? Only if all is fair in love and war. I would not try to justify it on any other assumption.
Since I had been told, in writing, that I would not be sent out of the country, Elien and I decided she and Rose would go with me wherever the Army might order me to roam. I went to Alabama by way of Virginia to get Elien, Rose and Mickey, my dog.
The churches graciously offered me a leave of absence for the duration. I greatly appreciated their offer, however, for a number of reasons I believed it would be more practical, for all concerned, if I resigned. It would have been hard for them to get a minister to come under such conditions - not knowing when I might return and push him out in the street. I also could not know when the war would be over, or what the temper of my mind would be at that time. For these reasons I did not want to make a commitment to return. If Elien and I ever returned, I believed it would be wiser to do so by accepting a new invitation from the churches at a time when we would be free to consider such a proposition.
Some of Elien's sisters agreed to kept a few of our household pieces we wanted to keep. We sold the coal oil cook stove. A member of the Sedley church, who owned a small store, talked me into letting him order it for us at wholesale price. According to Mr. Wellons this was no run of the mill oil stove. It had no equal. The display picture mad it look elegant enough. Nevertheless, Elien and I know a coal oil stove is a coal oil stove. We learned the hard way. Regardless of how they look or the name they may wear, without exception, they sink and leak oil.
With Rose Elien's baby bed and carriage sticking out of the trunk of the car we took off for Camp Sibert. A few miles down the road little Rose got car sick, puking all over herself, part of her mother and maybe some on Mickey. We stopped at the home of a stranger to get everybody cleaned up. The rest of the journey was without mishap.
We spent the night in a small hotel in a little town. There we decided, for aesthetic and safety reasons, to ship by rail, everything sticking out of the trunk. For a reasonable sum the janitor of the hotel agreed to package and ship the stuff to the address we gave him. Believe it or not, a few days later everything arrived in good shape.
Our living quarters during the war were not ideal. As I remember it the first place was the worse.
When I arrived in Camp Sibert it was still in the process of being built. The unit to which I was assigned was still in tents, five or more miles from the camp. My chapel was a big tent also used for all kinds of group meetings, from training films to "cultural" activities.
Some time in the late spring of 1943 we moved into the still unfinished Camp. The sidewalks were made of two by fours with slats nailed to them. In muddy weather they could be slick. There were four chapels. Three of them were tarpaper barracks with folding chairs and a pulpit and office space. One was the standard chapel, pictures of which most people have seen. They look like a church inside and out. In the back there were chaplain offices on each side, connected by a walkway. This chapel was finished, except the organ was yet to be installed. I was given an office in this chapel.
We had to use a filed organ - the kind you fold up and carry like a suitcase. The keyboard could not have been more than four octaves. A good organist, however, could get a lot of music out of one. The soldier who played for my service could make a lot of beautiful music with that small pump organ. One Sunday, after the service, a civilian asked what kind of organ the soldier was playing. She found it hard to believe me when I told her. For a time the other chaplain in the Chapel was a Catholic, approaching fifty. He had been a missionary in China for some years. During this time I was reading Upton Sinclair's historical novels. The main character in the novels was Lanny Budd. Lanny is fourteen years old when Sinclair picks up his story in 1914. The first volume, "World's End," covers the years between 1914 and 1920. The second volume, "Between Two World's: tells the story up to the stock market crash in 1929. "Dragon's Teeth," tells what Lanny Budd was doing between 1929 and 1933. I don't remember the title of the fourth volume but it covered the events between 1933 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The fifth volume, "Presidential Agent," covers most of the war years. That was the last volume I read. By the time later volumes were written I was engaged in other things and have yet to take the time to read them.
Today I don't know how I would rate those books as literature or as having historical significance. At the time I found them to be more than interesting. True or false, Sinclair took some of the historical facts and wove a living story around them, revealing what he believed to be the temper of the mind of the Western world. For example, during one stretch of time, Lanny Budd had a mistress in France. He was a guest in the home when he was in France. She was married and the mother of two boys. Lanny and the boys were good friends. They looked forward to his visits as eagerly as did their mother. There was no animosity between the two men. Of course the husband had his own mistress. There were no secrets about these relationships and no fuss. Sinclair observed such to be a common practice among the rich in predominant Catholic countries.
One day the Catholic Chaplain came storming into my office, madder than hops. His tale of woe had to do with a Catholic soldier getting his non-Catholic girl friend pregnant. The soldier had asked the Chaplain to marry them. The Chaplain did not think well of the idea. When the soldier in insisted the Chaplain threw all the delaying rules in the book at him: rules that included a two week waiting period, plus other rules that would take more time to carry out. Fed up with such tactics the soldier and friend got a protestant minister downtown to marry them. It was that bit of news that sent him into my office fit to be tied. After condemning the minister, with unprintable adjectives, for marrying the couple, he raved on about the sin of divorce and other "sins" between the sexes.
I would not say he cried on my shoulder but rather used my office as his cursing room. When he got it all off his chest I said, "Chaplain, I have heard that in predominant Catholic countries it is a common practice, among the wealthy, for both husband and wife to have a sweetheart on the side while living together as husband and wife. Is that true?"
After a brief silence the Chaplain answered, "Yes, yes - but we keep the family together!"
Another Chaplain who shared that chapel with me was an orthodox Rabbi, Chaplain Engleburg. Before he got married he shared with me a two-bedroom apartment in a barracks. It was heated by a potbellied coal stove.
The Sabbath, it seemed to me, was a miserable day for the Rabbi. Chaplain Engleburg, on the Sabbath, could not turn on or off a light, build a fire, answer the phone, ride in any vehicle, nor smoke his pipe. When I was not there it must have been miserable for him when it was cold. He could not start a fire but he could sit by those I built and use the lights I turned on. Engleburg would get restless in the shank of the Sabbath afternoon. He would pace the floor waiting for the sun to go down so he could light up his pipe. He would often visit with me for a spell while he nervously waited for the Sabbath to end. On one such visit the phone rang. I answered. The caller wanted to speak to Chaplain Engleburg. "This is the Sabbath," I said, "He does not answer the phone on the Sabbath". The caller thanked me and hung up. After an awkward pause the Rabbi said, "You should not have said that."
"What should I have said?" I asked.
He never did answer that question.
After he married he would leave his Buick in front of the chapel after the Jewish service on Friday evenings, and walk the three or four miles home in rain, sleet or snow. He was sent over seas. How he managed about his food in a combat zone must have been very difficult. It was far from being easy at Camp Sibert. A month or so before the end of the war he showed up at Camp Croft, South Carolina, where I was stationed. He was the same old orthodox Rabbi I knew at Camp Sibert.
Camp Sibert was a training camp for chemical warfare, which covers a multitude of sins. One regiment trained units in the fine art of laying down a smoke screen. One battalion trained units in the handling and offensive use of debilitating gases. Special units, such as medical units for combat services, were sent to Sibert for special training in caring for gas victims. Through it's chaplain I learned something about one such medical unit. The chaplain was a New England Congregational minister. The commanding officer of the unit was a strict Catholic. I only knew the chaplain's side of the story. I have evidence that the commanding officer had been crying on the shoulder of the post chaplain. As told by the chaplain the commanding officer was a tyrant. He expected the chaplain to be like a Catholic priest. It was the contention of the chaplain that it would be impossible to work with that commanding officer for the duration.
During the time this medical unit was on the post I finished a special assignment and was waiting for another. One day the post chaplain asked me if I would be interested in being the chaplain of the medical unit to which the congregational minister was now assigned.
"Chaplain," I said, "the present chaplain has talked to me at length of the problem his is having with the commanding officer of that unit. Knowing his story I have to say I am not interested in the job. I cannot volunteer for the position. If I am ordered to take it I will, but otherwise my answer is no." Some two weeks later I was ordered to report for duty at Camp Croft, South Carolina. That was a close call. I could have gotten myself into a sticky mess. I have often wondered what became of the poor chaplain of the unit. I was not good enough to go the second mile by taking his place. However, if what he told me was true, only a Catholic Chaplain could have worked with that unit. The chaplain, of which I spoke earlier, would have had the commanding officer going to mass three times a day and more if he did not shape up to the chaplain's expectation.
It was toward the end of January of 1944 when I was ordered to go to Camp Croft. For two reasons this move came at a bad time for us. We had moved four times before finding a good place to live that was close to the Camp. Now we would have to start over again in a new community. Also, we were expecting who turned out to be Mary Beth in April. This meant I would have to leave the family in Attalla until after Mary Beth arrived. However, they were among friends and managed very well without me, believe it or not.
But I am getting ahead of the story. For some months before moving to Attalla, we had live in Albertville, twenty miles west on Sand Mountain, just eight miles from where I was born. There we lived in the home of a soldier, whose wife was with him. The only problem was the distance.
One of the more vivid memories of my life concerned an experience while we lived in Albertville. One Sunday morning I was either on my way to camp, or having a Sunday off, was going to church with Elien and Rose. The Baptist church in Albertville sat back from the street some fifty yards, on a plot of about four lots. The lawn was well sodded and kept. On the lawn some fifty yards west of the church there stood a small frame building, painted snow white, with two walkways leading to it - one from the church and the other from the street. This charming and beautiful house was for only the children of kindergarten age. Rose called it her church.
It was in the summer of l943, which made Rose not much more or less than two years old. We stopped the car in front of the walkway leading to the little house. No, Rose did not need either of us to go with her. She stepped out of the car, dressed in a beautiful summer outfit her mother had made, hat and all. We watched her as she, proudly and without fear, walked the fifty yards to her church without looking back.
The absolute beauty and peacefulness of the scene, and the fact that Rose was my daughter, had a lot to do in making this small event such a vivid memory for me to this day. However, there was another dimension to my emotional reaction that made it an unforgettable experience. As the scene was being acted out I was only conscious of the feeling of a perfect moment - a moment of peace, contentment and happiness. But on the subconscious level I had to know at that moment children, just as beautiful as Rose and loved as much as she was loved, were being blown to bits by bombs of war, thus making me feel guilty for being so privileged to experience a perfectly lovely moment amid such horror.
Camp Sibert was racially segregated. There was a training regiment for Blacks at the southwest end of the camp, and a training battalion for Blacks north east of the Black regiment. When the first Black soldiers arrived there were no Black chaplains on the post. I was asked to serve the Black units until a Black chaplain arrived. I moved my office from the big chapel to the barrack chapel in the Black regiment. I took my meals at the staff table in the officers' mess of the regiment. I must have moved my sleeping quarters also but memory fails to uncover any descriptive record of my new sleeping quarters.
They gave me a master sergeant for an assistant. He was a great help to me. He was sincere and held the respect of the soldiers of all ranks. One Sunday night he played a major role in preventing the beginnings of a race riot from erupting into violence. He wanted to be a Chaplain. I got favorable recommendations from the commanding officer of the regiment, the post chaplain and other high-ranking officers on the post that knew him and admired his work. However, the big brass in Washington turned down his application.
After three or four months two Black chaplains arrived and were assigned to the Black units. I returned to the big chapel, unassigned except to a special company of misfits for which the Army could find no use. One, I remember, was almost blind. How he got into the Army to start with should have been looked into. But he was fighting to stay in, not to get out. The Army would have been glad to let him go. Another man had only one eye. He was fighting for his right to stay with his combat unit, refusing to accept any desk, or stay at home job offered him. Yes, there were others who were bucking equally as hard to get out of the Army, by every conceivable means. One was a bed wetter. He had me convinced that he was honest about it. The company commander did not agree. He said I was not skeptical enough to deal with such gold bricks. I set out to prove the company commander wrong. I began by writing the boy's parents. The letter I received from his parent said in substance that their son's bed wetting was news to them. He had never had that problem after he got out of his diapers. I capitulated.
You had to have liability insurance to drive your car on the post at Sibert. When the Black chaplains arrived they could not find an insurance company to sell them such insurance. I was sure my company would write them coverage. I fired off a letter to the national headquarters of the company, explaining the problem. The answer I received was disappointing. The experience of the company showed that when there was a car accident in the south between a black driver and a white driver the claim courts nearly always found the black driver to be responsible for the accident. For that reason they could not afford to insure southern black drivers. They assured me the company had its own method of detecting high risk drivers, be they black or white, but they could not trust the courts to be fair in judging whose at fault in accidents where blacks and whites are involved. In time a company did insure the black chaplains at an outrageous price.
One day after leaving the battalion headquarters I was overtaken by a second lieutenant. After saluting me sharply he said, "Sir, the major ordered me to inform you that you have your belt on backwards."
After thanking him I said, "You tell the major I am left handed." I am not sure if that was a joke the major was playing on the second lieutenant or not. That was the first and last time I heard of an Army regulation on how to wear your belt.
It was my most embarrassing moment at Camp Sibert. There was to be a welcoming ceremony for a battalion of new recruits. No less than a one or two star general was to address the troops. I was on the program to give the invocation. Yes, I forgot about this meaningless ritual. Two, three, maybe four minutes before the show was to begin my phone rang. The person in charge wanted to know why I was not on the platform. I jumped on my G.I. bike. Halfway there a jeep picked me up. There in the blazing sun stood troops, all the dignitaries, general and all, silently waiting for the chaplain to mount the platform and say his meaningless words.
In his comments the general made a few critical remarks about some of the things he had observed on the post ending his derogatory remarks by saying, "and the chaplain has the creeps."
The general, however, was the only one I ever heard even hint at what might be a rational justification of the saluting ritual in the armed forces. After observing how poorly the saluting regulation was being observed on post he said, "You guys would not last two hours in a combat zone." Before or after that I never heard anyone defending saluting on the grounds that it got you into the habit of being alert as to who was approaching.
CAMP CROFT, SOUTH CAROLINA
Camp Croft was located five miles south east of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Most of the buildings were two stories and weather boarded with white composition shingles. The camp is spread out over rolling hills with paved streets and side walks. Compared with Camp Croft one would have to say that Camp Sibert was a slum camp of the Army.
There were four regular chapels, complete with electric organs. I was assigned to chapel one. It stood on a small hill just inside the main gate to the camp. On a rise a block west stood the camp headquarters, the mail P.SX. and the camp library. The hospital was just beyond and the officers club near by.
I was the chaplain of the First Battalion. Camp Croft was a training camp for foot soldiers - soldiers who actually aimed and fired their guns at "enemies" they could see, while being shot at by their enemies' counterpart. We turned out a new batch of soldiers, who could do such things, every seventeen weeks. Before coming to Croft some of them had never had a gun in their hands. Even a greater number had never shot anything. When they left Croft they were ready to kill and be killed.
The seventeen weeks training was capped off by a two week maneuver period. The staging area was some miles from camp. There we lived in tents and the war games were with live ammunition. For one day you had to make do with one canteen of water. This was really hard in the summer time. For two days you had only emergency food, C and K rations.
The battalion marched to the staging area. Two weeks later, leaving the staging area at twelve midnight we made a twenty-mile forced march back to camp. I was not required to go on these maneuvers but I always did, marching with the troops both ways. Mickey, my dog, and I always brought up the rear.
Just after breakfast on April 27th, 1944, I was informed by long distance that your youngest daughter, Mary Beth, had arrived in good shape. Wish I could have been there to give her a fatherly welcome and hear her first comments. They were loud enough, I later learned, if not too clear. She was such a beautiful day old baby that the hospital took pictures of her to use in their advertising literature to prove what beautiful babies were born in the hospital. I found a place for the family to live in Spartanburg. As soon as they were able I fetched them. It was blazing hot the day we made the trip, tiresome for all of us.
At Camp Sibert there had been a good library. At Croft there was an even better one. By the time I had arrived at Camp Croft I had decided the three great powers that would emerge from the war would be China, Russia, and the United States. I wanted to believe if those three countries could agree to work together toward creating a decent and peaceful world community the rest of the peoples of the earth would follow. I set out to inform myself about the history of China and Russia and to make some kind of objective evaluation of our own way of life.
Ancient China had little, as far as I could see, to recommend itself as an example of the new world of my dreams. It was the same old story of poverty and ignorance for the masses and plenty and leisure for the few. I learned that during the seventeen and eighteen hundred China was abused, plundered and robbed by the western nations; that the significant reforms inspired by Sun Yet Sen had been sabotaged by Chian Kai-Shek, with the help of war lords and land owners. The more I learned about China at the time the more I had to agree with those who believed that if we came out of the war in China on the side of Chiang Kai-shek we would be on the losing side. I have followed, with much interest, the events in China since the revolution in 1948, but that was some years after the story of my life in Camp Croft in 1944-45.
The picture of life in Russia before 1917, which I got from the books I read, was not significantly better than life in ancient China - poverty and ignorance for the many; plenty, leisure and culture for the few. There were a number of books in the Croft library about Russia after 1917. Some of them seemed to have been written by people who tried to be objective in their evaluation of the communist society in Russia. I could not identify with the political dictatorship in Russia but I found the economic democracy they preached to be inspiring
After making a stab at comparing the philosophy and practices of the communists in Russia with the philosophy and practices in the United States, I got the inspiration to try to combine the two systems in an effort to form a more universal and just social order than either. In fact I set out to write a book on the subject. If I remember correctly I wrote two lengthy chapters before I ran out of steam.
I reached two conclusions at that time that I still hold to be valid. The idea of political democracy preached in this country - a government of, by and for the people" - is a better idea than the political dictatorship preached in Russia; and that the economic democracy preached in Russia was a better idea than the competitive practices in this country that forces everyone to compete with everybody else, in a dog eat dog scramble for bread. It seemed to me then, as now, that the Communist slogan - "for each according to his ability, to each according to his need" - was far more human and just than our own slogan that is not preached out loud - "go everyone, go forth and get all you can for yourself and give in return as little as the traffic will bear."
As I saw it then, and still do, the Russian political dictatorship makes it impossible for them to practice economic democracy they preached, while our undemocratic and barbaric economic system makes it impossible for us to practice the political democracy we preach. My dream book was going to explain all this so that even those on the run could read, understand and be convinced. Also, the book would contain the basic assumptions for a political and economic social order for a human world of peace and plenty for all. The dream was noble enough. My knowledge and ability to write such a book was too, too, little.
I had a sermon I gave to each new battalion of troops. It began with the contention that war is hell and when you are in hell you have no choice but to engage in hellish business. I confessed that I could believe the peoples of the world would have a better chance to create a better world after the war if the Allies won. However, I made it clear I would not try to do the impossible - to justify our military activities by the ethics of the Christian religion. Silently, that seemed to be the position of all the Chaplains I knew. No soldier ever heard me pray for victory, or to make any claim that God was on our side, or that our cause was altogether just. I did not pretend the war was a holy war.
I pointed out that on the law of averages more than ninety-five percent of us would survive the war and would have a chance to help reshape the post war world. I encouraged them, while they were engaged in the hellish business of fighting the war, to be preparing themselves intellectually and ethically to engage in the non hellish business of creating a decent human world after the war.
We had a Chaplain magazine, published monthly, on the order of the Reader's Digest only a little thinner. One month John D. Rockefeller Jr. had an article in "The Chaplain." The article was a plea for the cooperation on the part of churches and sects. At one point he asserted: "cooperation must replace competition." He spoke of small communities trying to support four or five small churches, neither of which had the personnel or resources to provide an adequate religious program. He contended that what the people of such communities should do was to pool their resources and build a community church that could meet the religious needs of the people. It was his conviction that what the people wanted was a religion that would help them get on with living a good life and they could care less if it be called Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran or what have you.
I wrote an open letter to Mr. Rockefeller. After agreeing with his idea of replacing competition with cooperation I pointed out that in the small community in which I lived before the war there were four gas stations, neither of which had enough business to afford the equipment or the trained personnel to provide adequate service. I pointed out that what the people wanted was a gas that would burn, and service that would keep their cars on the road; that they could care less if it was called Standard, Texaco, Gulf or something else. "Suppose, Mr. Rockefeller," I asked, "the churches take you seriously and begin to teach their children from a tender age that competition is an inefficient, cruel and evil way of working together; that the Christian, humane and efficient way of working together is cooperation? What if the churches succeed in turning out a whole generation that actually believe that, what will happen when they leave the shelter of the church and discover competition is the name of the game in every aspect of economic life? What, if anything, are the people in the business community doing to replace competition with cooperation in the work of providing food and other essentials to life and health?
After my letter was published in "The Chaplain" I received a two-line letter from Mr. Rockefeller, saying that he hoped I would not become discouraged and that he wished he had time to tell me what the business community was doing. No, he never found the time to tell me.
Most of the men who took basic training at Croft were from the northeastern states. It was never made clear what the purpose or motive was but the churches of those states sent visiting ministers to Camp Croft. East visitor would stay a month. The chaplains had a weekly meeting on Monday mornings. These visiting ministers were always invited, and given the opportunity to be the guest speaker at one of the meetings.
One of the visiting ministers talked about a serious reading program for ministers. He used his own as an example. Before a book had a chance to be considered to be worth reading it had to be no less than a hundred years old. Most of the books on his reading list ere much more than a hundred years old. I had the same objection to his book list as I had for the list recommended by the Great Books Club. I believed then, and still do, that any serious reading program should begin with the serious writers of the present - the 20th century. I believe the knowledgeable and serious writers of every discipline is more capable of helping me to understand the realities of my world than the ancient writers, however great, who lived and died before my actual world was born.
I remember one other of the dear visiting ministers. He was approaching retirement age, a kind and gentle soul. One day in my office I was trying to pick his brain to see what kind of wisdom he had been taught through his many years of experience and study. I was asking for his opinion and advice concerning the serious economic, political and ethical problems that my generation had to deal with. He did not seem to have much aged wisdom to offer me about such matters. In fact it appeared that he had yet to give much thought to the questions I was asking. He did finally say, "Son, is not sin the cause for all our problems?" That ended the conversation.
Before the war was over I realized I did not fit the traditional mold of a Baptist minister. I gave some serious thought to leaving the ministry when the war was over. One business I toyed around with, did some wishful dreaming about, was owning and operating a bookstore. My idea was to make the book store the intellectual center of the community. There would be one or more small meeting rooms where book clubs could meet, and where there could be formal and informal discussions on important issues. The store would sponsor a series of lectures every year by serious writers who could be persuaded to come our way. The idea never got beyond a vague dream and faint hope.
A poor country boy, born and reared some miles from Spartanburg, through some act of bravery became a war hero over night. His parents were poor tenant farmers. The editor of the daily paper of Spartanburg learned the hero was coming home soon and he and his childhood sweetheart were getting married. The editor of the paper sponsored a movement to raise funds to outfit the young couple with a farm, home and essential farming equipment.
I sent in a small donation for the cause with a note saying, "I would rather contribute more toward helping to create a human society in which it would be possible for every young couple to begin their living together in their own decent home, be they a war hero, soldier or civilian."
The editor published my letter. At that time the relatively short-lived P.M. newspaper in New York was on the make. It was a daily newspaper without ads. The paper sent a writer to Spartanburg to do a feature article on the Hero Story. In that article my letter was quoted in full. A woman in New York read the article and sent me a copy of it, along with a copy of the book "Progress and Poverty," by Henry George printed in 1988. There was a note in the book written by the sender, which said: "I think you will find in this book some helpful suggestions on how we might create the kind of human society of which you dream."
That is how I was introduced to Henry George and came by his greatest book. It is a hundred year old book that is still worth reading. In fact it should be required reading for every high school student, college student and every adult who has not read it twice.
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