OH, HE WILL NEVER GET SAVED NOW!
Lillian Davis woke up with a start, on October 25, 1944. The room was dark, but before her mind was a vision of an aircraft carrier on fire and sinking. She envisioned her son, Clyde, struggling in the waves. She had faithfully prayed for his salvation, but as far as she knew, he had not yet turned to the Lord.
This was so true. In April 1943, I joined the Navy, and after basic training went to grain for service on a baby flattop carrier named the USS Midway. I was looking forward to being on my own. I envisioned the action I would see and thought of all the excitement of being in the U. S. Navy. When we arrived at Bremerton Naval Base we learned about the ships we were being trained to fight on that ere designed to cover invasions of the Pacific islands.
After our maiden voyage to Australia and back, we were assigned our first duty. I can still remember our first taste of action which was the invasion of the Island of Saipan. I think that all of us were wondering what action would be like, and I am sure that we all felt a little bit unprepared for what lay ahead. There were times during the Saipan invasion when great numbers of enemy planes came to attack us. At other times, we were attacked by Japanese submarines shooting torpedoes at us. Soon this battle was over and then we went to the Island of Tinian and from there to the Island of Guam. The fighting was at times fierce, but soon the Japanese were defeated and the battle was over in the Mariannas. Then it was off to the Admiralty Islands for rearming and supplies. While leaving the Admiralty Islands, we heard over the radio from Tokyo Rose that there were several carriers and destroyers leaving the Admiralties, and they were never going to come back alive, and advised us to turn around and go back rather than die. These threats were constant, but we didn’t stop; and we went on to cover the invasion of Helamahara and Moratai. The Japanese did try to get us, though; for while coming back to New Guinea for refueling, a Japanese submarine shot two torpedoes at us. Just as the torpedoes reached us, we went over a swell and the torpedoes passed under our fantail and hit and sank a destroyer on the other side of us. However, the enemy submarine didn’t escape and was sunk by one of our planes. I would like to tell you that all of this changed my heart; and though at times I tried to read the Bible, I couldn’t understand it and gave up in despair.
At the conclusion of this engagement, we went back to the admiralty Islands to await the next battle which we knew was not too far in the future. While we were there, the name of our ship was changed for the USS Midway to the USS St Lo. This infuriated some of the older sailors who declared that it was bad luck to change the name of a ship, but since all of this was out of our hands, we just had to accept it.
Soon the suspense as to where we were going to go next was settled, and we found that we were to have part in the invasion of the Philippines. As we started out, we were impressed with the number of ships in our convoy, which was estimated to be over 700 ships of all kinds along with the battleships, cruisers, heavy carriers and baby flattops. Our destination was Leyte Gulf. While going there, we ran into a cyclone with 125 m.p.h winds. All of our ships were being tossed around like so many corks. One anxious moment was when the skipper over the loud speaker announced that the ship might break in two because of the storm. He asked all of the men to go to the forward part of the ship because it would stay afloat longer than the aft end of the ship. We made it through that storm, but our flight desk was buckled from the heavy beating of the storm. Because of that, we couldn’t use the catapults on the forward end of the flight deck. However, we did launch our planes, and they made air attacks on the shores of Leyte Gulf. What surprised me was the fact that there was not more resistance from the enemy.
Looking back, I can now see changes being made in my life that protected me from being killed. These were not of my doing or necessarily of my desire. My general quarters station was in the dining room aboard the ship. I was on the phones and the officer in charge said to me, “You look like you could stand a change in your general quarters station,” because it was hot there being right above the boilers and the engine room. “If you would like, I will give you a general quarters station topside as a stretcher bearer.” Another thing that happened was that on the evening of the 24th, the men were playing and singing to pass the time away. Just as the lights were turned out, this one man with a guitar began to play and sing a hymn. Hearing it made me think of home and the training that I had been taught. As I listened to the song I wept thinking of how far I had strayed from the teaching of home.
The next morning I was on watch in the fire room from 4:00 to 8:00 a.m. After my watch ended, I was on the hanger desk waiting in line to go to breakfast, and I noticed tracers in the morning sky as I looked through the back hanger desk doors onto the fantail of the ship. As I mentioned it to the men standing there, general quarters sounded and we all had to go to our stations. We were hardly settled when the load speaker aboard ship told us that the Japanese fleet was steaming toward us to attack us. We all knew that we could not outrun them for they had the capacity to go 35 knots and hour and we could only do 20; so our six aircraft carriers and the destroyers with us were no match for the foe. Then again, they had 18 inch armor to protect them; we only had 5/8 inch steel to protect us. Where they had 18″and 16″ and 12″ guns, we had one 5″ gun and anti-aircraft guns to protect us. Our only hope was to hide, and this was hard to do on the ocean. However, conveniently, there were a few rain squalls that we could hide in as we ran, and this helped us. All of our ships were commanded to lay down smoke screens also which helped hide us. Even so, the heavy shells were splashing all around our aircraft carriers, and some of the heavy shells found their targets. The White Plains was the first victim to be hit repeatedly by eight inch shells, killing fifteen of her crew. The Kalinin Bay was the next to b e hit by eight inch shells, killing fifteen of her men. One carrier, the Gambier Bay was hit hard and was dead in the water, and a Japanese cruiser cam alongside of her and shelled her to the bottom. On the St. Lo, the chaplain announced the advance of the Japanese Navy, and it was clear that they were gaining on us and we had nowhere to go. Our planes were strafing the bombing the Japanese fleet unmercifully, sinking one Japanese cruiser. Our destroyers were making suicide runs on them and using torpedoes to try to slow them down, but were being destroyed by the enemy’s big guns. During all of this, one fellow asked me to look outside and see how close there were. I opened the hatch and look out, and just then a shell fell 20 or 30 feet away. I closed the hatch and began to pray to myself. “Lord, I know that I am not going to live the day through, but I ask you to save my soul before I get killed.” All of a sudden, I had the most wonderful peace come over my soul that I had ever known. The chaplain came on the loud speaker and told us that if we didn’t have our life jackets on to go to the hanger deck and get one. As we walked across the flight desk to get to the hanger desk, I could hear shells flying over our heads, but I was not afraid because the Lord had given to me peace. As I picked up a life jacket that was laying there and looked off the port side of the ship, I could see the Japanese destroyers there shooting their torpedoes at us. Our anti-aircraft guns were trying to shoot the torpedoes out of the water. Then all of a sudden, the Japanese quit firing, and off our port side, I could see their destroyers turn out to sea. Later, I heard that their Japanese Admiral felt that they were being led into a trap, so the turned out to sea to escape that trap. When they attacked us, the Admiral had ordered a general attack, meaning that each ship was on its own. The admiral wanted to regroup and get in battle formation. This action on their part was one of the mysteries of the war.
We all settled from general quarters and went down to the dining hall for a sandwich and a piece of fruit for we had not eaten that day. After eating a sandwich, another friend and I were walking to the forward end of the ship where our living quarters were. I wanted to deposit my life jacket there on my bunk. Just then, the call came for general quarts again so I kept my jacket on and rand for my station which was across the hanger desk and back aft. Just as I got to the forward elevator shaft something stopped me and told me not to go across that hanger deck, so I climbed the stops to the flight desk instead of running across the hanger desk. About half way up the ladder, the ship shuddered and a loud explosion was heard. By the time I reached the flight desk, I saw a gaping hole in the flight desk with smoke billowing out. I asked another shipmate what happened and he told me that a Japanese plane dived into our flight deck and blew up. The bomb that he was carrying fell down onto the hanger desk and exploded. This was just above the dining hall where I had been stationed before the office in charge changed my General Quarters station.
While we were standing there, one officer told the men to grab the fire hoses and run up onto the flight deck and put out the fire. Since I was right near one of the hoses, I reached for it and had it in my hand and someone grabbed it out of my hand. He and a group of men carried the fire hose up on to the flight deck and called for water. When they turned on the valve, there was no water because the explosion had severed the fire main. Then there was another explosion and those men were flying through the air or were blown to bits. All the torpedoes that were being loaded into the planes and all the bombs began to explode. The Captain ordered abandon ship, so we began to climb down the ropes that would put us in the water. It was a strange feeling swimming in enemy waters. It was shark-infested; and besides this, where were we going to go when we got into the water? One thing necessary right then was to get away from that ship because it was blowing up. About a quarter of a mile away from the ship, I saw it explode and pieces of the ship that I knew were seventy feet long blew so high in the sky that they looked like matchsticks. All of this began to fall into the ocean where we were, but there was nothing else for us to do but hope that they didn’t hit us.
Soon the ship began to sink, and I watched until only the bow of the ship was seen. About that time, there was a huge explosion which sent a concussion through the water that hurt like someone hitting you in the stomach. One half hour after we were hit, the ship was under the waves and we were alone on the ocean. However, a couple of destroyers were sent back by Admiral Sprague to pick up survivors. The group of men around our life raft were not wounded bad, so we didn’t need medical assistance as did some of the other men, so we kept waving the motor whale boats past us to pick up the wounded. I was in the water only two hours, but was so tired from treading water that i was almost too weak to climb up the cargo net they rigged over the side of the destroyer. As soon as we got out of the water, we were ordered to help out on a daisy chain to bail water out of a compartment that had taken a shell. This destroyer had its forward gun turret destroyed and two shell holes on its water line.
There was very little food on the destroyer escort that I was on, for they were already low on food, and had taken 500 survivors on board. So later on we were transferred aboard a troop transport that was heading aback to Pearl harbor.
I got home for Christmas that year on a survivors’ leave, and how good it was to see my family again. The family hadn’t told my mother about my ship sinking even though there was a big picture in the Pittsburgh papers of the St. Lo singing. When I told here happened, she told me this story. On the day that my ship was sinking, my mother was awakened in the middle of the night. She was a vision of my ship sinking and me in the water, and she said to herself, “Oh, he;ll never get saved now.” Then the words came to her, “But God!” There were at least three times that I would have died when my ship went down, and I give God all the glory for sparing my life. If it hadn’t been for God’s intervention those three times and many more, I would have lost my life.
When I was discharged, I cam home, and through a young man inviting me to go to Youth for Christ with him I was brought into contact with some faithful people in a street meeting held by the Northside Alliance Church in Pittsburgh. Through that street meeting, God showed me my need; and when I came home, I knelt down by my bedside and gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ. The change that God made in my life was very evident, for He delivered me from drinking and swearing immediately.
God made such a change in my heart that I thought that I could not spend my life pursuing commercial art that I was studying when I gave my heart to Jesus Christ, so I went to Nyack College and prepared for serving my Lord in the ministry. I have been preaching this gospel now for over fifty years, and God has been so gracious as to give me tow sons and one daughter who have also entered the ministry and are faithfully serving the Lord.
I have always found God to be faithful in the most trying circumstances. The word God gave to y mother over sixty years ago is so true, for when she saw my ship blowing up and me in the water, she thought that all her prayers for her son were in vain until God told her, “But God!” God was faithful in answering prayer for me in many ways down through the years. It would take eternity to tell of all the answered prayer and all that God did for all the good mothers and wives and loved ones who prayed for sons and daughters who served their country in the armed forces.