Churchill and My Dad

My father served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Winston Churchill served as Prime Minister of Great Britain. My father served in the Pacific Fleet. Great Britain is in the Atlantic. My father earned the respect of the 120 men he led as skipper of his warship. Churchill earned the respect of millions with his brave leadership against the Axis powers. My father admired Churchill. Churchill never knew that my father existed. “So,” you might be asking, “why is this article is titled the way it is?”

In the providence of God, Winston Churchill made a decision that impacted my father’s life. Churchill was concerned about how Allied Forces could successfully invade European beaches and drive out a well-entrenched enemy. For such an invasion, large numbers of troops would have to land on the beaches of Europe with plenty of tanks, supplies, and artillery. This invasion force could not be airlifted in. All the ships that existed in 1940 were too small to land significant numbers of troops at any one time on an enemy beachhead. Like many great men, Churchill was not limited by what did not exist. In 1940 he stated: “Let there be built great ships which can cast upon a beach, in any weather, large numbers of the heaviest tanks.”

You or I could make such a statement and it would mean little. However, Churchill’s statement became reality. By the end of 1942, twenty-three such great ships were built. By the end of the war, close to a thousand had been launched. They were called Landing Ship Tanks, or LST’s. They were longer than a football field. They were designed to carry large cargoes of men, tanks and other large vehicles, and supplies. Then, when it was time to land, the ships could actually run right up on an enemy beach, open their massive doors and release their cargo directly into the fight. The sailors who served on these ships had another name for the acronym LST: Large Slow Target.

Acts 17:26-28a says:

…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist…

This passage teaches that it is not Winston Churchill or any the other great leaders of mankind who ultimately determine where and when people will live and die. It is God who decides. God used Churchill to order the building of a new class of warship, one that was slow, an easy target, and had little armament. Yet this ship would enable the Allied Forces in the Atlantic and the Pacific to land significant numbers of troops to allow for successful beach invasions. There were over 120,000 sailors who served on those ships in World War II. There were thousands and thousands more who built these ships in new construction yards across the United States. And there were thousands of troops who were carried to their destinations by LST’s. The ship that my father served on, LST 459, was built in Vancouver, Washington. So God used Churchill to change the lives of many thousands of Americans directly and to provide one of the necessary puzzle pieces that would bring victory for the Allied Forces in World War II.

This statement of Churchill’s has made me see the providence of God in a personal way as well. Dad’s LST was one of seven LST’s that were to land an assault force on an island beach. The sea charts for this island did not show the position of a sandbar directly in the path of the advancing ships. Since the invasion was taking place at low tide the sandbar posed an unknown and deadly menace to the approaching vessels.

This island was like many in the Pacific. Large, lush, green hills ran right down to the edge of the beach. Tucked away in these hills were Japanese shore batteries waiting to open fire. The LSTs needed to reach the beach quickly and offload the artillery necessary to take out these batteries. The seven LSTs approached in a reverse V-formation with the flagship being at the point of the V. As each of the outlying LST’s hit the unexpected sandbar it became stuck. They were sitting ducks for the shore batteries.

The Japanese artillery took aim on the flagship in the middle of the V first. The aim was on target. The bridge of the ship took a direct hit, and all of the bridge crew were killed. The helmsman fell forward as he died. His body slammed into the telegraph (the instrument that signaled the engine room how fast the ship was to go), knocking the speed indicator to flank (the fastest speed). The engine room, not knowing that the bridge crew was dead, answered the call for increased speed.

By this time all of the other LST’s had become mired in the sandbar, including my father’s. He knew it was only a matter of time before the Japanese shore battery finished off all of the ships. Then he noticed the flagship speed up, slam into the sandbar and smash through it! The LST flagship with the dead bridge crew made it past the sandbar and raced on to the beach. In God’s providence, this LST was the only one of the seven which carried the artillery necessary to return fire from the Japanese guns. The angle of the shore battery in the hills was too great for them to shoot down at the ship on the beach. The troops in the LST raced down the open bow of the ship, set up their own artillery, and took out the Japanese guns. The ship on the beach had enough men and artillery to hold off the enemy forces on the island until high tide when the other six ships floated free of the sandbar and landed on the beach. If the Japanese had not fired on the flagship and hit the bridge, all of the other ships would have been lost.

My father’s LST and the other LSTs all survived. The island was taken. Years later when my father repeated this story to me, and then to my sons, he noted that it was the hand of God that had protected him when all seemed lost.

Winston Churchill’s brainchild was almost responsible for the death of my father. What I do know is that the providence of God, as Acts 17 says, determined events so that the death of the flagship’s bridge crew meant that all the ships were saved. If the helmsman had not fallen on the telegraph, the flagship would have become wedged into the sandbar just like the others. The enemy guns would have finished off each ship, one by one. The loss of that bridge crew meant life for me and my brothers.

This story is part of the endless story of how God determines the exact places that we live, move and have our being. He does it so that we would bow to Him and His power so that we would remember Him and seek Him. Churchill’s desires became reality. God used Churchill’s plan to help defeat the Axis powers.

Instructing a Child's HeartIn a world where so much is happening, and so often things seem out of control, you can take comfort that God does indeed determine the exact places where we should all live so that we would reach out to Him. Think about the events of your life. Think about all that has happened that is now commemorated this Memorial Day. 

Perhaps these events have touched your life in a personal, more tragic way.  One thing you do know is that God is causing the events of this life to show us who He is. Take comfort that One greater than yourself has taken care to have events proceed according to His purpose.

No, Winston Churchill had no idea who my father was, but he still played an important role in Dad’s life. God used Churchill to determine the exact places where Dad’s feet would travel. He does this in the lives of all people so that they would reach out to find the One in whom we live, move and exist.

Something to remember this Memorial Day and every day!

Shepherd Press