The honeymooners celebrate eighteen months 4500 miles apart
In the first few days after the attack it appeared I would soon be sent to sea on another ship. Morena was alert for some way to help in the war effort. Blood donors were needed so she lined up to donate blood along with Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiians, and other nationalities. I wasn't permitted to move back home but we were able to meet a few times. When she told me she had given blood, I asked if her name and address were recorded. She said the technicians didn't keep any records . They just drew blood.
The place where we were married was named Kokokaki. In Hawaiian it means "of one blood." It was an interdenominational Christian Conference Center for all nationalities. In his famous address to the Athenians at Mars Hill the apostle Paul informed his listeners that God had made, "of one blood:" all nations that dwell on the earth. I realized, then, that the technicians would type the blood "A" or "B" but it mattered not what race or nationality they were from when it came to giving a person needing a transfusion.
One of the challenging tasks for the entire Islands was preparing blackout windows and screens and visors for the vehicles permitted to run at night.
At night the only lighted area at the Receiving Station was the basement of the large building housing the offices, kitchen, and dining facilities.
Many of the displaced men gathered there every evening. It looked like a great place for an evangelistic Bible Study. I asked the District Chaplain for permission to hold classes there but he was not responsive. I then went to the Executive Officer who approved the idea. Every evening we had a large attendance and many who did not sit in the class heard all of it second hand since the area was so crowded.
All civilian personnel not vital to the war effort were asked to leave Hawaii since most of the food and other living requirements had to be shipped in
With my future being uncertain we decided it was best for Morena to return to the mainland. She left for Los Angeles on the luxury liner Lurline, now being converted to a troop ship, The day of departure was Christmas Day, 1941. For secrecy of movement purposes the time of departure was not disclosed but the time to board the ship was early afternoon.
All military personnel were on full alert Christmas Day so I could not take her to the ship. She was able to drive a friend's car to the base where we said our good byes not knowing if we would ever see each other again. It was the saddest moment in our lives to date.
It proved to be a good decision. I was able to hold Bible Studies every night for about six months. We moved the class into an underground air raid shelter Our class was the only evening activity so we had no problem with attendance.
Morena stopped in Los Angeles for a few days with her friends and Navigator colaborers and then drove our 37 Chevrolet to Little Rock to be with her parents. Since gasoline was rationed to three gallons per week she had to get special gas coupons for the trip.
Some of her friends were a little skeptical about her being married since they had never seen me. They gave her credit for manufacturing a good story.
The entire country took up the challenge of selling war bonds to finance the war. For public rallies in Arkansas the promoters need a celebrity. Morena became that celebrity. She sent me pictures of her speaking at luncheons and banquets. The headlines in the newspaper captioning her picture said: SHE WAS THERE. HER HUSBAND FOUGHT AT PEARL HARBOR. SHE GAVE BLOOD TO THE WOUNDED.
Naval Intelligence officers had briefed the returning civilians as to what they were at liberty to say about the attack so her description of the action was limited to what had been released to the press.
Soon she got permission from the Superintendent of the Women's State Prison of Arkansas to hold Bible Studies in the prison. It was a very fruitful ministry and gave her a compassion for women prisoners which resulted in her starting a ministry at the Colorado State Prison for Women in later years.. It was a very effective ministry which she led for many years. It was eventually taken over by Colson's Prison Fellowship.
As we built up a new crew for the West Virginia we were able to assemble a new team for Bible Study, discipling, and outreach.. In addition to colaboring with Navigator Director DeGroff and the fleet Navigators, I also taught Sunday morning classes at the high school level Honolulu Bible Training School.
After the battle of the Coral Sea the badly damaged Aircraft carrier Yorktown came into Pearl Harbor for repairs. As I met with the leader of the Navigator ministry he told me how they looked forward to a long period of less stress and fellowship while the ship was being repaired. But Admiral Nimitz had other plans. Over the weekend the holes in the flight deck were repaired with 8 inch by 8 inch wood timbers and within 72 hours the Yorktown left Pearl Harbor to engage in the Battle of Midway where she was sunk.
For transportation while at Pearl Harbor, I purchased an old car from one of my shipmates for $100.00 . Since tires were only sold by special permit for those engaged in the war effort, I had three bald regular size tires on the car and balloon tire much larger on the other wheel. When I left Pearl Harbor I gave it to Ken Watters who took my place at Honolulu Bible Training School.
Being separated during the entire year of 1942 made it seem like an extraordinary long year.
In May 1943 the ship was sufficiently repaired to successfully complete sea trials and in a few days we zigzagged from Hawaii to Bremerton, Washington under escort of an old destroyer equipped with regular armament and depth charges for fighting any submarine which tried to attack us.
As the time came for us to return to the mainland, I was able, using a code we devised, to let Morena know we were coming. She, accompanied by Elizabeth Chears, drove our 1937 Chevrolet from Little Rock to Los Angeles. Morena and Pat Kelso then drove up the west coast to Bremerton, Washington.. With the only highways being two lanes, narrow and winding it was a long trip. When the West Virginia tied up at the pier in Bremerton there she stood. It was a great but short reunion.
So much mail had accumulated for the crew of several hundred, it took my assistant and I two days to sort and deliver it.
We were able to rent a small apartment. There was not room for the dining table and the bed to be set up at the same time so we had to either be in eating or sleeping mode.
In less than a month, I got orders to report to the New Construction Gunner's Mate School located at the Naval Gun Factory in Washington, D.C. After graduation I would be sent to a new ship.
I quickly wound up my legal affairs as Postmaster and with a certain amount of sadness left the mighty ship which had been home for the past ten years.
Our 1937 two door Chevrolet was big enough to hold all of our belongings. We were given 20 days to make the trip and enough gas ration coupons to keep us fueled.
In the meantime the national speed limit was 35 mph to conserve fuel and rubber tires. Gas stations were only allowed to sell gas during daylight hours. We soon discovered that Morena was pregnant with Marobeth. When we got to Salt Lake City we stopped to eat. We had the car lubed and the oil changed. When we reached the other side of town she was hungry again so we made another food stop.
We stopped in a western Colorado town on Sunday morning to attend church. On the literature table I noticed a red, white, and blue folder entitled SERVICEMEN LOOK AT LIFE which contained my testimony. When the pastor found out he had a celebrity in the congregation they gave us the royal treatment.
Crossing Kansas we were running low on gas one day as darkness approached . We had to park along the way and sleep in the car. It was particularly hard on Morena with an appetite for two and no food in sight.
Early in 1942, I was promoted to Chief Gunners Mate. The change in uniform is radical. Instead of a sailors uniform I now wore a white shirt and coat and tie. Instead of a sailor hat I had a combination cap and 8 brass buttons on my double breasted Navy blue coat.
We had time to stop over with the family in Missouri. My former pastor knew I had the rate of Chief Gunners Mate but spread the word that I was the Chief Officer of the Navy.
When we left the family it was a sad parting since we did not know if we would see each other again. My parents other two sons were both in the military with my older brother Donald being with the Army Air Corps in the Pacific and my younger brother, Andy, a B17 Flying Fortress pilot who eventually completed 35 missions over Germany having been shot down twice.
We eventually completed our 3000 mile journey. Neither of us had been to Washington, D.C. before so were thrilled as the Capitol Dome ,Washington Monument and Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials came into view. We rented a small apartment near the School I would be attending.
Our sojourn in Washington was to last from June 1943 until the spring of 1946 during which time Marobeth was born February 9th, 1944 and first son and second child Jonathan April 6th, 1945.
All rights reserved
James W. Downing
2650 Stoneridge Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80919
Ph/fax 719 598 1461
E mail email@example.com
May be reproduced for entertainment
or educational purposes but not for
Copyright ©2000-2021 James W. Downing and USSWestVirginia.org. All rights reserved.