In celebration of Memorial Day, I am re-posting this story. I have several new readers and followers who were not with me when I originally posted “Sarge, Will You Tell Us About God,” and a number of Marine veterans have now discovered that the book is available. So I’d like to share the story again in the hope that many more people may be blessed by what the Lord did for an entire Marine unit during World War II.
The story itself makes up a small book, published by St. Ellen Press and is available on their website as well. Although it’s my story, and that of the other 321 men in my squadron, it is primarily HIS story.
In the past few years I have shared free copies of the book with hundreds of soldiers who were in the midst of horrible combat overseas. In response, I have received numerous testimonies of how the book strengthened their own faith and helped them experience miracles of protection and deliverance as well. I am grateful to be able to share it here. If you are reading this post and are a member of the armed forces — or you have a loved one who is — you may feel free to copy and print this story so that you can read it whenever you like and share it with others.
I have dedicated the book “Sarge, Will You Tell Us About God?” to my Marine buddy Dominic Cersosimo, better known as “Blackie.” We served together throughout the entire Pacific Campaign, and Blackie was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries resulting from a Kamikaze attack on LST 599 (pictured below the story).
Just this past month, there has been a new development in mine and Blackie’s relationship, and I will tell you about that in the following prologue to the book:
The Visit of a Lifetime
It was 67 years ago that my World War II buddy, Dominic Cersosimo, and I bade each other farewell and headed home at the end of the War. It was several years later when we finally located each other and communicated by mail and telephone. But it was not until May of this year that we finally came together again – as my wife and I drove to his home in Pennsylvania.
I didn’t know what to expect as we went up to his front door and rang the doorbell. The door slowly opened, and for the first time in 67 years, we looked each other in the eye – and guess what – tears began to flow on both sides.
The Cersosimo’s had spare bedrooms, and we moved in for nearly four days of joy, tears, and excitement. We virtually fought again the Pacific campaign against the Japanese, especially the Okinawa landing and capture.
It is amazing how true friendship, especially in war, never ends. Psalm 91 was our trust and support during those horrific times, and in spite of all we experienced and overcame, by God’s grace, not a single man in our unit was lost to enemy action. And I like to think that Marine Fighting Squadron 322 was reborn a week ago at McKee’s Rocks, Pennsylvania.
Now for the story: SARGE, WILL YOU TELL US ABOUT GOD?
IT’S A REAL WAR
It was late fall of 1943. We were in Marine Fighting Squadron 322, training at “war games,” on Parris Island, South Carolina. We were being honed daily. At exactly 11:00 P.M. we were rudely awakened and rousted out of our bunks with the terse command, “Begin packing!”
Marine Fighting Squadron 322 had received sealed orders from the upper echelon command. We were to board a hastily assembled troop train early the next morning.
“Surely one more night wouldn’t make that much difference,” we all mumbled, but in the Marines, orders are orders! The only information we were given was that orders were to move without delay to the West Coast, where we were to disembark for the Pacific Theater of Operations. So that was it! “War games” were now at an end. Our months and months and months of training were now to be put to the real test: honest-to-goodness war!
Ever since my sophomore year in high school, I had wanted to be a Marine. After December 7, 1941, as a senior in high school, I purposefully aimed for that goal. After graduation it took some doing, but I finally convinced my parents to sign the authorization papers permitting me to volunteer for service in the U. S. Marines. I was only seventeen at the time.
On July 3, 1942, in the Federal Building in Chicago, I raised my right hand and was sworn into active duty. My whole world was about to undergo a dramatic change.
The stories of the rigors and brutal lifestyle of Marine Corps Boot Camp are numerous and legend, and probably all true. But the tough, disciplined lifestyle was not my principle problem. Long before I entered the Corps – at the age of 12 – I had given my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ and was born again. At 16, I felt a genuine call to serve Him in ministry and actually preached a couple or three times. I carried that commitment with me into the Marine Corps, and I was soon to learn what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
It was something like walking into a buzz saw. Here was a kid who read his Bible, never spoke a single filthy or curse word, never drank or partied with women while out on liberty. It is a gross understatement to say that I stood out. And since I was in a group of guys who did do all of those things, plus a few more, I became the subject of a lot of teasing. Nobody ever ridiculed my faith, per se, but I was quickly tabbed with the name “preacher.”
I determined that if I were to live through this unwelcome spotlight as a “born-again” Christian, I would have to demonstrate the best qualities of a Marine. So I made sure every task was done to the best of my ability – sometimes overdone – but never shirked. As far as I am concerned, it was done as well as the best and better than most.
ON THE WAY TO DESTINY
Back to the fall of 1943. By 9:00 the morning after we received the new orders, we were all on board the train, and within minutes, we headed west. This Saturday the mood among all the Marines in the unit was a mixed bag. There was excitement, yet a degree of somberness. We couldn’t help but think of what may lie ahead. We traveled under tight security – no one leaving the train under any circumstances. A dining car was attached so we could take our meals on the move.
Sunday morning found us racing through the state of Arkansas. After finishing breakfast, I returned from the dining car and sat passively next to the window, watching the countryside go by. As I looked up to the head of the car, in walked our personnel officer. He stood there looking over the passengers as if he were looking for someone in particular.
His eyes finally settled on me, and he walked over. “Sarge,” he began, “the guys wanted me to ask if you would conduct a church service. It’s Sunday you know.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and without thinking I blurted out, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“No, I’m not kidding,” he answered, “and if you will, I would consider it a personal favor.”
Instantly I agreed to do it and began praying, seeking God for the right message and scriptures. Almost immediately, Psalm 91 rose up in my spirit: the perfect word from the Lord for the moment. Later, all of us gathered into one car, and I began to share those comforting words and marvelous promises from the ninety-first Psalm. Other than my voice, the only discernible sound throughout that car was the clicking of the train wheels. I had the complete attention of every man in the unit.
The Lord was directing me as I had asked. Now I don’t recall everything I said, but I do recall assuring my buddies that God meant what He said in that Psalm. I assured them that God truly loved them and that He would be with them in every circumstance – if they would trust Him.
Then I led them in a closing prayer. I remember that we prayed, “Lord, wherever we find ourselves in the weeks and months ahead, may we bring honor to You, to our families, to the Marine Corps, and to our nation. In Your mercy, we ask for Your protection in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
That Sunday morning was to be a turning point in my Marine Corps experience. From that day forward, never again was I teasingly called “preacher,” or taunted for being “religious.” Trust and respect became the hallmark of my treatment by the other men. I have often thought about how different things might have been if, from the beginning, I had tried to just be “one of the guys.” To whom would they have turned on that fateful Sunday morning?
FAITH UNDER FIRE
Our squadron was in the Pacific Theater for a year and a half. We traveled all the way from the South Pacific to the final Pacific campaign – landing on Okinawa. We experienced our most difficult campaign at Okinawa. We read Psalm 91 almost every day, while enduring just about everything that made up the meaning of war: sleepless nights under heavy bombardment, air raids, shelling, snipers, Japanese suicide squads, and a direct Kamikaze hit on our LST as we headed for the beach.
Our Marine unit was on board the Navy landing ship LST 599 on that fateful day, as we headed for that Okinawan beach. Most of our equipment was on the tank deck of that landing vessel, and all of our personnel were equipped with personal gear, ready to land.
We were approximately one mile off-shore when a buddy and I went onto the top deck to survey the situation. As I glanced to the port side, I noticed a four-plane formation flying parallel to the beach. As the planes got closer, I nudged my buddy and said, “Those are not our planes; they are Japs!”
None of the ships in the landing party opened fire, because the general rule prohibited firing on any planes during a beach landing, due to the fact that ordinarily they would be our own planes supporting our landing troops. But, for some reason, the turret gunner on our LST opened fire. After the planes had traveled about ½ mile down the beach, one of them peeled off from the formation and headed directly for our ship. He was a Kamikaze suicide pilot intent on destroying our ship and everybody on board.
At that point, everybody opened fire on him but failed to knock him down. He crashed through the top deck of our LST, through 100 drums of high octane gasoline. The explosion and fire that resulted were almost unbelievable. The main objective at that point, of course, was to fight the fire, and we Marines joined in with the small Navy crew to get it under control.
In a situation like that, protocol dictated that the Navy captain of the LST was to get all the Marines off to safety if at all possible, because technically, we were considered passengers. But our commanding officer refused to leave the Navy crew helpless. So all of our unit stayed on board and fought valiantly.
We lost virtually all of our equipment and weapons, and our landing was delayed about 5 hours. But in spite of the deadly attack, not a single life was lost, and only a few non-life-threatening injuries resulted. After the fire was under control, we boarded another ship and completed our landing. Another Marine unit that had already landed heard of our loss of equipment and weapons and directed a supply of weapons back to us, so the campaign continued.
LST 599 was later beached on an adjoining island to be cleaned out, and during that process, it was discovered that the Japanese plane had also carried a bomb. It was by the grace of God alone that the bomb had not exploded on impact.
After this event, the Navy declared that if it had not been for the Marine unit that stayed aboard to help fight the fire, the LST would have been lost. As a result, our Marine unit was awarded the Navy Unit Citation for endangering our lives and staying aboard to save the ship.
GOD’S WORD WORKS!
Months later, after the island was secured, our replacements arrived, and we boarded a ship to return home on August 6, 1945 – the day the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. It was not until months later, at the time I received my honorable discharge, November 5, 1945, that it dawned on me just how powerfully the Word of God had worked for all of us: Of all the Marines in our unit, not one single man was lost to enemy action.
Praise God! His Word Works!
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God; on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I confidently trust!
For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings shall you trust and find refuge; His trust and His faithfulness are a shield and a buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror of the night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor of the destruction and sudden death that surprise and lay waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near you. Only a spectator shall you be as you witness the reward of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your dwelling place, there shall no evil befall you, nor any plague or calamity come near your tent.
For He will give His angels charge over you, to accompany and defend and preserve you in all your ways. They shall bear you up on their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the serpent shall you trample underfoot.
Because He has set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he knows and understands My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation. (The Amplified Bible).