Upon being drafted into the U.S. Navy on August 5, 1943, Gareth Wiedekehr of Berne, Indiana, attended boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois. He received training for Morse code at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and graduated as a Radioman 3rd class, equivalent to a sergeant in the Army. At Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia, he undertook amphibious landing training. “We were told we’d be sent to the South Pacific for invasions,” he said.
After traveling by train to San Diego, the seamen boarded a new destroyer, the USS Cushing, to Pearl Harbor. Wiedekehr’s ship traveled to Leyte, then Luzon in the Philippine Islands. During the invasions at these beaches, Wiedekehr became a crew member on a landing craft, a 40-foot boat that helped with invasions of Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. “We were a floating communications center for combat troops and equipment fighting on shore,” he said. “Each of the 50 ships in our convoy had radios so we could keep in contact with them during battle.”
The Japanese bombarded the Cushing with mortars. “I could hear shrapnel hitting the steel hull,” said Wiedekehr. “I often expected a direct hit, which would have meant death for all onboard.”
During the battle, Wiedekehr, who was raised in a godly home, felt God speaking to him, saying, “I am sparing you and all of your shipmates because your father is conducting family worship at home and praying for you at this time.”
Wiedekehr saw the coxswain on deck run to the bow. With a knife he cut the rope that held the ship’s anchor. The engine was gunned and the ship moved out among the battleships that pounded the beach with explosives. Wiedekehr later learned the time of the ship’s attack and time his family had conducted family devotions coincided.
Another time he was standing along the ship’s rail when he heard a buzzing noise. Wiedekehr looked up to see a Japanese kamikaze plane flying overhead. As the pilot nosedived toward the ship, the ship’s gunners fired on him. “They exploded a shell in front of the diver and knocked him off course so he landed in the ocean,” said Wiedekehr.
On a third occasion Wiedekehr was on deck when ‘general quarters’ sounded. That meant all men who had assigned battle stations reported to those areas at once. “Our radar had picked up two Japanese torpedo bombers,” said Wiedekehr. Knowing a strike to the ship could cause it to explode in a ball of fire, Wiedekehr bowed his head. “Every second I thought I’d be out of this world,” he said. “I prayed for God’s protection.”
When an American plane shot down the enemy planes, every sailor on board the Cushing cheered. “We saw those Japanese fighters nosedive into the ocean and were so relieved,” he said.
Wiedekehr admired another soldier who demonstrated religious faith while serving in the military. “Jack McCurry was a Southern Baptist who served as a signalman with flags,” he said. “When Jack prayed, he did so on his knees beside his bunk. No one made fun of him.” McCurry survived the war and worked for the United States postal service.
After the war, Wiedekehr graduated from Ft Wayne Bible College and became a missionary in Africa with his wife Treva. They became parents to three children. “Freedom means a lot to me,” said Wiedekehr. “It usually costs somebody something.”
(Excerpted from We Fought to Win: American World War II Veterans Share Their Stories).
Thanks to every veteran reading this for your service! We appreciate it!