By Kayleen Reusser
I’ve had a quest in the last several years to interview as many World War II veterans as possible. I’ve heard countless stories of soldiers, raised in godly homes, who evidenced God’s hand of protection on them during impossible situations. They’ve all inspired me to believe in God’s timing and plan for our lives.
Protected by Prayers
In fall 1943 American sailors traveled by train to San Diego. There they disembarked on a new destroyer, USS Cushing, to Pearl Harbor. At Pearl Harbor Gareth Wiedekehr of Berne, Indiana, was 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 the Japanese on shore,” he said. “Each of the 50 ships in our convoy had radios so we could keep in contact during battle.”
Wiedekehr’s ship traveled to Leyte, then Luzon in the Philippine Islands. During the invasions at these beaches, the Japanese bombarded his ship with mortars. “Shrapnel hit the steel hull, and I expected at any moment a direct hit on the boat,” he said. “It would have meant death for all onboard.” Yet Wiedekehr didn’t fear death because he felt God speaking to him: “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. Using a knife, he cut the rope that held the ship’s anchor. The engine was gunned and the ship moved out among the battleships, which pounded the beach with large explosives. Wiedekehr later confirmed that the time of the attack and the time his family regularly conducted devotions coincided.
Wiedekehr, raised in a Christian home, felt God spared him on other occasions during the war. While standing along the ship’s rail, he heard a buzzing noise overhead. A Japanese kamikaze plane was nose-diving toward the ship. To Wiedekehr’s relief the ship’s gunners fired on him. “They exploded a shell, knocking him off course,” said Wiedekehr. “He landed in the ocean.”
On a third occasion he was on ship’s deck when general quarters sounded. “That meant all men who were assigned battle stations should report to those areas at once,” said Wiedekehr. He learned the ship’s radar had picked up signals from two Japanese torpedo bombers in the area.
Knowing a strike from the torpedo would mean an explosion, Wiedekehr again bowed his head. “Every second I thought I’d be out of this world,” he said. “I prayed for God’s protection.”
When they avoided an enemy strike, Wiedekehr and every sailor on board cheered. “We were so relieved,” he said. After the war, Wiedekehr arrived safely home in 1946. He married, and he and his wife became missionaries in Africa.
Wiedekehr was not the only veteran who saw God’s protection while serving in the military.
Corporal Eugene Dettmer landed on Utah Beach in June 1944. He later helped to secure Berchtesgaden—nicknamed Eagles Nest and known as one of Hitler’s residences in southern Germany. When Dettmer arrived home in Tocsin, Indiana, on December 29, 1945, it was too late for Christmas but still a joyous occasion. He credits the Lord for his safety. “God placed me with an antiaircraft regiment to protect me,” he said.
World War II Army veteran Bob Foster was put in charge of a platoon for a raid on a town in Belgium in December 1944. It was part of the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest. When the Germans opened fire on Foster’s platoon, a shell critically damaged his captain’s leg. Foster, standing next to the officer, was also injured in the knee and head but tried to help his captain, pressing his hand against the wound to staunch the flow. Unfortunately, his hand was quickly covered in blood. “I wanted to help, but it was obvious I could not,” he said. Sadly, the captain soon died.
Foster, weak from his own blood loss, fell over. Medics rushed him to an aid station. Later he was transferred to hospitals in Paris and England, where he recovered and returned to his unit.
Months later, Foster learned of the prayers of church members at home for him at this time. They had gathered, not knowing of his situation, on the day of his injury to pray for his safety. “Without those prayers I think I would have been killed,” he said.
Hope Seemed Lost
A dramatic air-sea rescue convinced Ed Goetz of Ossian that God listens to prayers. At 0130 hours he and 11 other members of the crew aboard their Super-Fortress B29 were in the midst of a 1,500-mile flight over water from Saipan to the target of Japan. It was March 1945. Goetz served as flight engineer, responsible for maintaining mechanics for the plane. The rest of the crew consisted of a bombardier, a navigator, four gunners, two radar operators, a flight commander, and two pilots. The extra member on board was present to evaluate the bombardier.
The crew was experienced as this was its 22nd bombing mission. As the pilot and copilot guided the big ship on a straight course through the night, the navigator and radar operator kept a close check on the northern islands of the Marianas, floating past a mile below. Goetz carefully checked the engines—all appeared normal.
Suddenly, at 0300 hours, the plane’s propeller lost control. The pilot nosed the plane up to slow it, but the propeller ran faster.
The pilot frantically asked his navigator for directions to return to Saipan. Upon being told the plane was close to the island of Agrihan, north of Saipan, the pilot headed in that direction. The radio operator sent the plane’s location to the Saipan control tower. Suddenly flames shot out from the engine.
The crew quickly donned their chutes and exited the plane. The pilot was the last one to parachute into the darkness from 3,000 feet, seconds before the plane exploded. The dozen airmen dropped into darkness over the ocean, not knowing if anyone had survived.
Goetz’s fear nearly overcame him as he hit the water. He cut the chute’s shroud lines, which had begun encircling his feet, tugging him under. He lost the inflatable life raft but inflated his life vest for support. Goetz scanned the sky and ocean for signs of rescue. Unfortunately, his glasses had flown off during the jump so he could not see, nor did he hear crew members’ shouts in his immediate area. Goetz prayed the plane’s radio signals had been received.
Shortly after daybreak, Goetz spotted a nearby island. He tried to swim toward it, but the early morning current caught his body, throwing him against the boulders, gashing his head. When the waves threatened to suck him under, Goetz, exhausted, gave up trying to reach the beach. He swam away from the rocks, trying to stay afloat. “I prayed my rescue would be soon,” he said.
His prayers were answered a few hours later when a sea plane flew over his location. Goetz and 10 of his crew members were rescued, leaving one member—the plane’s copilot—never found, despite a weeklong search by teams in the ocean and island of Agrihan.
WWII 70th Anniversary
These are just some of the stories World War II veterans have told me about how God saved them during tumultuous military experiences. Of course not every story has a happy ending. I’m convinced these soldiers entered the war believing in God’s providence. If they had lost their lives in service to their country, they would have accepted that as part of their duty and his plan for their lives.
I wrote about these veterans because, as a middle school librarian, wife, and mother of military personnel, I believe we need to teach patriotism and respect for American military to our children. Gareth Wiedekehr summed up my sentiment. “Freedom means a lot,” he said. “But it usually costs somebody something.”
The year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Please find one of our nation’s WWII veterans and thank him or her for their military service.
Kayleen Reusser wrote World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans, with 28 stories of men and women who served.