‘Sarge, Will You Tell Us About God?’ – The Story of God’s Miraculous Protection of an Entire U. S. Marine Unit

DADMARINEJPG - ED.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

BLACKIE'S PHOTOS_TABLE EDITED
During W W II: I am far left; Blackie is second from right

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.

BLACKIE AND DAD 2

May, 2013: Blackie is on left: I am on right

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.

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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!

THE CALL

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!

LST 599, immediately after the direct Kamikaze hit. Shows Marine Corps Unit 322 fighting, along with the Navy crew, to save the LST and all the men on board.
LST 599, immediately after the direct Kamikaze hit. Shows Marine Corps Unit 322 fighting, along with the Navy crew, to save the LST and all the men on board.

PSALM 91

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).

~

 

 


 

The Day I Forgot To Hate

A Short Story
by

Ted Pavloff

(Even though the characters and events in this story
are fictitious, it was born out of my experiences during
combat in the South Pacific Theater during WWII.)

The gray light of dawn was filtering through the dense leafage when we finally pushed our way out of the heavy undergrowth into the small clearing; Corporal Willmet, PFC Conte, and myself. We three made up one of the frequent patrols to probe the eerie stillness of no-mans-land during the bleak hours of night and early morning.

We had sought out this particular clearing many times before (a queer, growth-free patch, isolated in the midst of solid jungle) to comfortably relax with a cigarette and sort out the results of the current trek.

We were a confident trio, and perhaps our gutsy attitude was justified to a certain degree. Encounters with Japanese patrols and snipers were anything but strange adventure, and the fingers of our hands were not ample to count the number of enemy soldiers we had personally annihilated.

The venomous hatred we shared for the Japanese forged us into a natural combination, and we relished every opportunity to satisfy that bitterness by destroying the enemy. We had come to consider the killing of Japs as a sort of game … a release that made the discomforts of war worthwhile.

The usual mixed sounds of the jungle surrounded us this humid morning as we stretched out on the damp turf. There was little reason to suspect approaching danger, and, carelessly, we dismissed the possibility.

Then it happened. They swept out of the jungle from every side and bayonets were pressing against our stomachs before we could touch our weapons. At first I thought it was a nightmare, and it seemed minutes passed before my mind cleared to the realization that I lay at the mercy of the enemy. I should have been terribly frightened, but whatever measure of fear I might have possessed was totally eclipsed by hate, and I could not detect it.

Desperately I wanted to fight back, but there was small profit in inviting certain death. I ordered my companions to lie motionless and hoped the next few moments would bring the break we would need.

I surveyed the Jap soldiers coldly. They were a poorly clad, hungry looking group and, to my eyes, ripe for the sword. The officer in command was extremely youthful looking and clearly the smallest in stature, but his appearance was deceiving.

His orders poured forth with powerful authority, every word emphasized with vigorous motions of his head and arms. The soldiers reacted instantly, and while three bayonets pinned us in a prone position, the remaining troopers hurriedly appropriated the K-rations in our packs.

Then, with a gesture I considered a mocking insult, the young officer tossed several pieces of Japanese currency at my feet, and turned to rejoin his men. It was at this instant he spotted one of his soldiers who had backed off a few paces, raised his rifle, and carefully aimed at my head. With the agility and speed characteristic of the Japs, the officer threw himself at the would-be killer and dropped him heavily to the ground. The hapless offender suffered several solid lashes across his face before he was finally permitted to join his comrades in a hasty retreat from the clearing.

Obviously pleased over the successful display of his prowess, the officer bowed courteously and smiled, then saluted a farewell.

I did not share his satisfaction. The knowledge that my life had been spared for some inconceivable reason was lost in a hatred that made my stomach ache. Vengefully, I hoped for a future meeting … over the sights of my rifle.

During the week that followed we were spared the relentless torture of night patrol, and the day treks were relatively uneventful. Frequently, and often at unexpected moments, I found myself stabbed by spasms of anger that stemmed from the humiliation of having been successfully snared by the enemy. Even though I had not been harmed physically, I stubbornly refused to be grateful. I was furious that I had been captured at all and vowed revenge upon every Jap I could maneuver into firing range.

Revenge was uppermost in my mind that bright afternoon as we trudged through the jungle on a routine patrol. We were advancing in a widely dispersed position, intent upon sweeping as much terrain as possible with a minimum of commotion.

I was advancing slowly in an oblique path toward a peculiar rise of solid rock, when the figure appeared unexpectedly …. I froze. It was a Jap …. Momentarily, I was mystified over his apparent lack of concern about concealing himself, and also the fact that he was unarmed. He was stripped to the waist and the beads of perspiration on his bronze flesh glistened in the bright streaks of sunlight leaking through the heavy foliage. I crouched low as he stepped to a narrow ledge of the rock and looked about him.

Then it hit me like a blockbuster – it was the youthful officer who had captured and humiliated me in the clearing! Ahhh … finally, I thought, we meet again. I gloated silently and promptly began mental preparations to repay a debt I thought to be long overdue. I studied the situation carefully …. I wanted a clean aim. So with unconscious movements of my body, I urged him toward the near edge of the rock.

As if responding to a spoken command, he leaped from the perch and approached a mound of rock directly in my line of vision, then hastily removed a cluster of loose branches and brush from a small hollow in the base of the mound.

I lined up for the kill. I held my breath. Then just as my finger was closing securely around the trigger, my eyes suddenly spotted the crude wooden cross that had been secured in that hollowed out area.

I peered down the long rifle barrel in confused amazement as he dropped to his knees. His right hand raised to his forehead, moved down to his chest, then to his left shoulder, and across to his right – the Sign of The Cross! My hands grew numb and my arms trembled uncontrollably.

I’m not sure exactly how long the moment lasted. But slowly … surely … as surely as I had taken aim at what would have been a sure target, I felt myself lowering that same rifle and letting it slip from my grip. Without any conscious thought, I bowed my head.

I couldn’t account for my reaction. But a miracle had taken place. My fervent, persistent, burning desire to kill the enemy had melted away.

Within a few seconds I relived every detail of the incident in the clearing, when he and his men had captured us, and suddenly the realization hit me: The Jap officer’s actions in preventing my murder and leaving the money were not prompted by secondary motives. This man was a Christian. Painfully, I contrasted these truths with the hatred that fed my incessant drive to destroy the enemy anywhere I found him, and under any circumstances. Tearfully, I surrendered to my shame.

I cannot be certain of the length of time I remained in a state of remorseful meditation, but when I finally raised my eyes, the Cross was again carefully camouflaged, and the officer had vanished. I lingered only a short while. Then I set out to join Willmet and Conte … strangely happy and refreshed … having been set free from the terrible, unbearable burden of hate.

The End

Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrast

This photo is slightly blurry because it has been scanned from a very old, slightly poor quality original that rests in my World War II album of memories. There is definite contrast between light and dark in the picture itself.  But there is absolutely NO contrast in how that soldier felt during the 1940’s and how our young men and women feel today while courageously doing the job of protecting freedom for the world. The loneliness is the same, whatever name they go by and whatever foreign soil they are standing on.  But something else that is the same — in every generation —  is the courage they exhibit in doing the job and doing it right. My thanks and blessing go out to every one of them who is protecting our freedom today.