1943-1946---Family and Ministry.
When we arrived in Washington, D.C. it was like a short lull before leaving Morena, pregnant with Marobeth, for an indefinite period as I went back to the fleet. Upon being selected to serve as an instructor, it appeared we could count on being stable for at least two years.
I had contacted a Christian musician, Julius Whitinger, who played wind instruments with the US Navy Band. We met to pray every noon and soon had a few more involved with us.
The Navigator's contact person in Washington, D.C. was Mrs. Helen Miller who opened her home to servicemen. Her home was strategically located at 811 Taylor St. NW. She was glad to have me exercise whatever leadership I desired.
As I went through downtown Washington every day two needs appeared to stand out prominently. Hundreds of servicemen were walking the streets. Many were from the Embarkation Station at Fort Meade and were on their last visit to the city before being shipped overseas where they would be in combat in the trenches in Europe within ten days.
There needed to be an aggressive evangelistic effort to reach them with the Gospel. There were many USO like agencies serving the servicemen. Between the Army, Marines, Coast Guard and Navy there were thousands of service women who worked for the military during the day and were in hotels and apartments at night. They ventured out on the streets but were not integrated with the men.
How could we do something about both needs? Every day I rode the street car down Georgia Ave which merged with 7th St. NW terminating at 7th and Pennsylvania. I walked across the street and in front of the FBI Headquarters caught a bus to the Naval Gun factory where my school was located.
A few yards from the place where I got off the street car I would see the historic Central Union Mission. It's facility consisted of two seven story buildings joined like a giant V. The north building was used as a Children's Temporary Emergency Home. Since there were so many jobs available, the south building was no longer needed for transients and was used to provide overnight lodging for service men for 25 cents a night. There was no scheduled activity for the military men except some food and a reading room. There was no specifically spiritual emphasis.
(Josephus Daniels was Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1921. He personally approved the selection of Navy Chaplains. As a part of his interview he made arrangements for the candidate to preach the Gospel to the transients at the Central Union Mission. He listened to their presentation and made his decision based on his evaluation of how well the candidate did)
I looked over the facility and decided it would be an ideal center for what we had in mind. The USO type activity was originally started by a couple. The husband had recently died unexpectedly. I learned this from Laura Orebaugh, the lady temporarily in charge. I explained what I had in mind. She warmly agreed with the idea and said I would have to see the Board of Directors.
I had a meeting with the two men who were the interim Executive Committee of the Board. After explaining my vision, they quizzed me for about two hours. They said they would have to take it up with the full Board and get back with me. A few days later they called me and we got together again. They told me the Board heartily endorsed our vision and would turn over the buildings and staff to me with no restrictions.
It was a high point in my Christian life. My previous ministry was linked to some one who shared the responsibility. Now I had a direct mission from God and was responsible to Him alone. A team of four other fellows had been praying with me about the prospect of having the facility. When it became available they pledged their support and agreed to be on the team to make it happen.
Our first target was the men who stayed overnight. As they got off the elevator we invited them into the auditorium for coffee and doughnuts. We then invited them to stay for Gospel services held at 9:30 for the earlier risers and at 11:00 for those who slept in longer. In addition a number of the fellows went out inviting men off the streets. We used our 37 chevy to transport those from more remote areas. It didn't take long to fill up the car, drop them off at the Center, and then go back again and again for others. Every meeting was well attended.
It was a conducive atmosphere and every service several would indicate their desire to receive Christ. We followed up the best we could and gave them verses of Scripture to memorize. (Navigator "B" Rations.") The verse pack had a blank card to order additional verses to memorize. For months nearly every mail brought requests for verses. Most came from the front lines in Europe.
We had some Christain Officers who were involved in our activities, a Major Nicol, Ensign Dick Mack and Lt. Bill Oncken. There was a fourth whose name I do not recall. They felt a little awkward among us as did the enlisted men among them also.
A few years earlier I had joined the Enlisted Men's Christian Union of the British Navy. It counterpart among British Christian Officers was the OFFICERS CHRISTIAN UNION.
A member of the British OCU, Wing Commander De Griuther was on duty at the Pentagon and an acquaintance of Mrs. Miller. We arranged a meeting with him and the officers mentioned for the Wing Commander to explain the workings of the British OCU. After hearing about it the officers responded and had their organizational meeting to form the American OCU. Morena was the note taker for the meeting. As an enlisted man I had called the meeting but kept in the background.
I believe the official records of the American OCU, now called the OFFICERS CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP, tell of another pocket of interest in organizing an American OCU. Later the interested factions merged.
To meet the needs of the women we took a giant leap of faith. I called on a Relator and found they had a house which had not yet been listed but was to come on the market soon. It was such a desirable house they would be flooded with inquires since housing was so scarce. I signed a lease on the spot. The furnished house was located at 1214 Madison Avenue NW. Rent controls were in effect so the rent was frozen at $120.00 per month. It had four bedrooms upstairs, an attic room and a basement room with half bath and a large living room and big fenced back yard. A main bus line was four blocks away and the street car downtown was half a block away.
Shortly after signing the lease, I got an upsetting phone call from the owner of the Real Estate Company. Another agent had promised the house to another person and they wanted me to break the lease. Believing it was a miraculous provision, I refused.
When I was promoted from Chief Gunner's mate to Ensign my pay decreased by $5.00 per month to a net salary $319.00 a month. Our budget far exceeded our income but those in our ministry .gave generously and when the war was over we had more than three thousand dollars in the Bank.
The previous renter had a telephone instrument It was plugged into the wall connector but not to the phone company switchboard. We did not qualify for the priority needed to have it connected. We had to be put on a waiting list with no prospect of getting connected during the war. The Sixth Presbyterian Church was located only a few blocks away. We made friends in the church and had some of them in a Bible study. They also helped in the ministry downtown. Since the baby was soon due one of the men saw that we really need a phone in case of emergency. Soon afterward the disconnected phone rang. It was the phone company.. The man I talked to said him the White House had told them we needed a phone connected. What kind of service did we want? Party line service was practically mandatory, but we were given a private line
The house was heated with a coal fired hot water system. When I called several coal companies for coal they all told me they were not taking any new customers. I told my friend of the problem. Soon thereafter I got a call from a coal company asking when it would be convenient to deliver coal and how much did I want. We had deliveries as often as needed for the duration. My friend never acknowledged helping us. I learned from others that his brother was chief of protocol at the White House.
Morena was in charge of the women's ministry. It met a great need and grew tremendously. Fifty three years later we still get letters from some of those involved.
The Navigator's men's ministry operating out of the Miller home and the women's ministry blended perfectly as we labored together at the downtown center.
One afternoon while at the Miller home a discouraged young man showed up. I learned he had left his position as a faculty member at Bob Jones University to join the Navy with the promise of a commission. He didn't realize he would have to go through recruit training as a seaman. He had been undergoing that "boot camp" training at the Naval Training Station at Bainbridge Maryland. He was on his first liberty. After some good fellowship and relaxation he felt better. His name was Clyde Narramore.
After being commissioned he was stationed in New York and for a time lived in the Navigator home manned by Ken and Vivian Watters. When he got married Morena was invited to sing at the wedding.
The Board of Directors of the Mission hired Herbert and Mabel Eberhardt to be full time directors of the Center When they arrived from Indianapolis to take charge they were impressed at how the facility was being used and enthusiastically backed our activities.
In addition to the Sunday services we had big Saturday night rallies. Dale Crowley, a local radio speaker, had a program called BIBLE QUIZ.
It was sometimes originated from our auditorium on Saturday nights. One of the pictures I have of those days is of a panel including some US Congressmen being contestants in BIBLE QUIZ.
Crowley had a 15 minute devotional radio program on station WWDC. He occasionally asked me to be the speaker. One morning when I arrived he was not at the studio. About three minutes before air time, the phone rang. He told me he was too tired to come down, that I knew the ropes, and was to go on with the broadcast . I quickly selected some records from the library for the music and went ahead with the program including the pitch for contributions. After doing the same thing a few times, he would give me dates ahead of time he wanted me to do the program.
On February 9, 1944 Marobeth was born. She was a breech baby and poor Morena spent 26 hours in labor. In those war days hospitals were overcrowded. When it came time for delivery, the Doctor would phone all the hospitals until he found a vacancy. He then told the prospective mother where to report. (Glad we had a telephone) Marobeth was born in Providence Hospital.
After delivery there was no room available so her bed was rolled out of the delivery room into the hallway. That is where I first visited her. After the visitors left nurses brought the babies out of the nursery to their mothers. I was still in the hall when a nurse brought Marobeth to Morena. When the nurse saw me she gave me a dressing down I will never forget. She let me know I was covered with filthy germs, that I had no respect for life and had probably infected all of the babies in the hospital. She had a few more well chosen words to describe my uncleanness. It was a preview of what a sinner would feel like in heaven.
One of the Saturday night activities was a drawing for a service man to make a free phone call home.
One Saturday night the winner was Bob Baker from Louisiana. When he called home his parents were a little groggy. There was a gas leak in the house and if they had not been aroused by his call hey would have soon been dead.
One of the Washingtonites who hung out with us was the religious editor of the Washington Post. He used our activities as a fishing ground for articles. His write up of the Baker event was on the front page.
Two of the men from the West Virginia, John Prince and Jack Armstrong had been transferred to New York to go aboard new ships under construction. They met and became deeply involved in the Times Square and radio ministry of youth leader Jack Wyrtzen. Jack Armstrong once wrote me, "Don't bother to come to New York. I have preached all of you messages."
Jack Wyrtzen once told me why he had not been drafted into the military service. When his draft board called him in for a pre-induction interview he was asked what his occupation was. He answered. "Preacher of the Gospel." He was then asked," .Where?" He replied, "Anywhere." The recording secretary dutifully wrote down , "Anywhere". As a result of the interview he was classified 4F.
Jack had great vision. His Word of Life Ministries became International in scope. Big Youth rallies in New York and Washington, D.C. were his stock in trade tool. He once rented Madison Square Garden for a Youth rally. I was invited to give my testimony at the rally to the overflow crowd.. It was the largest crowd I ever spoke to face to face. I doubt if Marobeth remembers attending the rally in Morena's arms.
Another well known Washingtonite was Abraham Vereide. He was just beginning to establish the House and Senate weekly prayer meetings and the annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
One day Dawson Trotman came to town to visit us. Vereide had arranged a breakfast in a private room at the Capitol sponsored by Senator McClellan for senior military officers. Congressman Brooks Hayes from Arkansas was the MC. (Brooks was the Will Rogers of the House. He was the only unordained person to ever be president of the Southern Baptist Association) I still remember the jokes he told.
Dawson was the speaker. Vereide introduced him as a five star citizen. Among those attending were the Chief of Naval Operations, and General Hershey, head of the Military draft and several other Generals and Admirals. My Ensign gold braid was overshadowed and very inconspicuous among so many admirals.
Also attending was Congressman Andrew May from Kentucky, He was on the House Appropriations Committee and my have been Chairman. He was asked by Hays to give a testimony. It was pretty weak. He didn't mention Christ but talked about how diligent he was in attending church. It was later revealed that he had set up some dummy corporations and was sending phony bills for work done for the government and pocketing the money. He was convicted and served a sentence in Federal Prison.
After the meeting Trotman, Vereide, and I had coffee together. Dawson asked for an evaluation of his talk. Vereide fastened his steely blue eyes on him and said, "It was good but couple of times you preached."
Afterward Vereide often involved me in more luncheons, breakfasts, and banquets than I can count. I think it was because I was fearless in my testimony which sometimes was the only spiritual activity in the event. If my testimony was not well received by those who felt they had been deceived as to what the meeting was about, Vereide would scowl at me and keep himself disassociated from the negative. If the testimony was well received, he beamed. He was a great diplomat who knew how to use many forums for getting the Gospel to many people including those in the upper levels of politics and society
I recall one Sunday afternoon toward the end of the war, the forum was led by a Congresswoman. The subject being discussed was how to reorient the returning service men into society..
I had taken a sharp young Marine Corps Officer Candidate with me whose name was Bob Suttie. The Congresswoman postulated that it was very important that the returning service men know why they had fought and what they had won. She turned to Bob and said, "Young man, why was World War II fought? Mischievous Bob embarrassed all of us as he stood to his feet, waved his arms and almost shouted, "FOR THE GLORY OF THE MARINE CORPS."
On April 6th, 1945 Jonathan was born at the Columbia Hospital for women. A nurse put a sailor hat on him. He was so handsome all the nurses started flirting with him. When I first saw him his square jaw, he reminded me of Jack Dempsey.
A few days after his birth the Germans surrendered ending the European War. Perhaps their intelligence learned of his birth and decided to give up.
At the end of the war we had a Navigator Conference to bring together some of those involved in the Navigator ministry on the east coast. We used the facilities of the Mission for the Conference. Jack Wyrtzen and Dawson Trotman were the main speakers. When I contacted Jack he asked, "Will the crowd be mostly Christians or non Christians?" He then went on to say, "I only have two messages, one for Christians and one for non Christians."
One of those attending the Conference was the Chief of the White House Secret Service. About midnight Sunday night after the Conference he took Jack Wyrtzen, Dawson Trotman, and Morena and me for a 2 1/2 half tour of the White House. It was fun to take turns sitting in the president's chair in the Oval Office The time was a few days after Truman had become president. He had cleared all Roosevelt's trinkets off the desk and put them in a book case except one placard left on his desk, "THE BUCK STOPS HERE."
We sat down in the Cabinet Room for a mock high level meeting. I was tempted to take as a souvenir a note pad with notes scribbled by Defense Secretary James Forrestal.
I was impressed by the depth of security. At night every room off the halls was locked and guarded by a sentry. Since our host was boss we were let in all the places we wanted to see except, of course, the Presidents private living quarters.
As demobilization proceeded, our ministry and activities tapered off and we prepared for our next assignment in Rio De Janeiro.
All rights reserved
James W. Downing
2650 Stoneridge Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80919
Ph/fax 719 598 1461
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org
May be reproduced for entertainment
or educational purposes but not for
Copyright ©2000-2021 James W. Downing and USSWestVirginia.org. All rights reserved.