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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XXXVI — Hawaii on My Mind

We were approaching our fourth Christmas celebration and I invited Norma and Franklyn to have dinner with me on the first Saturday in December, so we could make plans to accommodate the crowds that more than filled Wilshire-Ebell auditorium. They would stay overnight and we’d all go in town together for the eleven o’clock Sunday morning service. We had a pleasant evening, preparing for the candlelighting services, and were feeling relaxed and happy. We were in such agreement about the Christmas plans that it didn’t take very long.

Franklyn went to the Hammond organ and started playing meditatively. I dimmed the lights, and we sat looking out over the Pacific. It looked so calm and peaceful that I thought how great it would be if we could all board the Lurline and have a Hawaiian vacation.

So next morning after we’d gotten underway for town I broached the subject of a vacation trip.

“We’ve been here over three years now, and none of us has had a vacation, unless you could call a trip back to headquarters for a class or conference a vacation.”

This alerted Franklyn. “Great! Where shall we go?”

“I thought we might contact headquarters for a supply speaker and plan some time after the holidays are over. All last evening while you were playing the organ and we were looking out to sea, I was recalling my trips to Hawaii and the wonderful times I’ve had there.”

So we had an animated time of making tentative plans. Neither Franklyn or Norma had been to the Islands, and greeted my description of their beauty with excited responses. We were practically ready to board ship by the time we got to the theater.

All three of us were so stimulated by thoughts of a carefree, idyllic tropical vacation that people seemed to catch our mood and were unusually animated in their comments at the door as they were leaving. Suddenly a young man whom we all knew well came rushing up to me.

“Ernest! Have you heard the news? Pearl Harbor has been bombed!”

“I can’t fall for that. Franklyn must have told you of our plans,”

I laughed.

“What plans? I’m serious. I heard it on my car radio as I was planning to leave for home, and came back to tell you.”

We were stunned. We all started to speak at once, and all stopped abruptly, as if nothing we could say made sense.

Our plans for the day were forgotten. “Norma, come back to the Palisades with Franklyn and me. We’ll get some kind of a meal together, in case we feel like eating, and at least we’ll be together,” I said.

We rode out to the ocean, Franklyn at the wheel. Along the way we saw small encampments of soldiers with what we took to be anti-aircraft guns aimed skyward, the groups partially hidden under available clumps of shrubbery.

None of us had any appetite. Frank, my houseman, even more agitated than we, hastily completed his chores and retreated to his lower floor quarters which offered maximum protection from the possible bomb attack that might occur. We adjourned to Franklyn’s house that he nicknamed “Embezzled Heaven,” and sat with all the radios in the house turned on, to get every scrap of news we could.

I needed to “come to myself.” I excused myself and went next door to stand in my garden. The grass seemed greener, the flowers brighter than ever, the cloudless sky a brighter blue. Over the aircraft factories in Santa Monica I could see anti-aircraft balloons, blimps circled over the coastline.

Although the sun was bright and warm, I suddenly felt a cold chill, and returned to the vigil with my two compatriots, to face the incredible fact that World War II was upon us.

We must gird ourselves with incessant affirmatives to meet the challenges of wartime. There would be no vacation for us for some time to come; but wasn’t it curious that the thought of Hawaii had been so strongly in my thoughts and feelings that night of December sixth and the morning of the seventh, 1941? Coincidence or synchronicity?

The Church in Wartime

Overnight almost everything seemed to change.

Night driving was discouraged. We drove to and from the Palisades with headlights dimmed and hooded. Belatedly on the morning of our midweek evening service we announced on our radio program that the service would be held at 4 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. and asked our listeners to spread the word. Amazingly the word spread to our members so completely that over four hundred people—almost the normal number—appeared, and continued regularly.

We formed a first-aid group of a hundred, many of whom volunteered to play the roll of disaster victims and have Franklyn administer first aid, and were disappointed when he insisted that they work on each other instead of on him.

Gas coupons were at a premium, and reached the point that when we were called on to conduct a funeral service—which averaged three times a week—we had to ask that gas coupons be provided for the processions involved.

Norma called on our prayer groups to supervise the preparation of a Service Flag with a blue star for each member of our church families serving in the armed forces. They totaled over four hundred. By war’s end there were just two gold stars to represent those who did not return.

We sought out the chaplain-colonel of the Fourth Army Command to see if either of us could enlist as chaplains. “I think you are needed right where you are,” he responded.

I joined the civilian speakers bureau and attended a seminar at the university where some scholarly but inept young professors tried to tell us how to reassure the populace in our public utterances, and suggested places where we could help in civic meetings.

Franklyn was avid for doing yet more. He appeared in my study, his eyes aglow with enthusiasm for something more he’d found to do.

He had gone out to the military hospital in West Los Angeles, met the chaplain, and asked what our church could do to help him.

“What do you want to do? Most of you preachers simply want to take over my services,” the chaplain told him.

“Oh, no. That's your province, and besides, we have plenty of preaching to do in our own church. But if there’s anything you or the men need that with the help of our congregation we can supply, we’d like to do it,” Franklyn said. The chaplain expressed interest.

We Find a Great Friend

So Franklyn told him something about our ministry, and about me, and the visit ended with the chaplain’s invitation for us both to come to lunch with him the next day.

“You’re different from all the other ministers that come to see me,” he confided. “They want to preach to the men, maybe put on a musical program, something like that.”

“No. We thought maybe you needed magazines, jigsaw puzzles, ash trays, cigarets, maybe even radios and lap robes. You name it and we’ll see what we can do.”

As it turned out we did all of these things, with the help of hundreds of willing helpers in the congregation.

As a result, Chaplain Arlie Hurt and we became good friends. His services for the men were early Sunday morning, and pretty soon he and his loving wife began attending our eleven o’clock services. We found that he was a Baptist, that he had been stationed at Fort Ord and transferred to the Los Angeles area as a disciplinary measure following some differences with the Catholic chaplain—which seemed to us out of character for him, whom we found to be a gentle, strong but unassuming man.

Finally, after an especially inspiring Sunday service in our church, he and his wife were waiting for us outside the great iron gates framing the vestibule. The chaplain was in a serious, quiet mood.

“Ernest, I am about to be shipped overseas. I can’t tell you where, though I’ll get in touch with you as soon as I can. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. But you’re the dearest friend I have in the world. Please keep me in your prayers, and when I come back I want you to tell me how I can become a Unity minister. I may never have as great a church as this one, but perhaps there’ll be some place for me.” “Wonderful! I’m sure God will find a place for you, and nothing will delight me more than to see you in Unity, hopefully close by enough so that we can see each other often.”

We impulsively embraced. I felt a lump in my throat as I bade this loving couple farewell, waving them goodbye as they entered their car to return to Sawtelle and he from there to parts unnamed.

But there was a sequel to this.


Usually if I waken in the morning with a different feeling from ordinary I can find a reason for it. I had a particularly vivid dream, perhaps—and then my mind tries to trace the reason for the dream. Or I didn’t sleep well, or I slept specially well. Or a toper called me in the wee small hours, at first imploringly, then accusingly. Something.

But this particular morning, I simply wakened with the feeling that I was about to die, not just to die in the vaguely and hopefully remote future, but soon, like in a week or two. I told myself this was ridiculous, as I would humor the vagaries of a child or a not very bright adult. I probed my thoughts and feelings. Had I heard a morbid radio production? Was there someone on my prayer list whose grim prognosis I had transferred to myself, like the medical student who “takes on” the symptoms of the diseases he is studying about?

I couldn’t come up with any reasons. I tried to dismiss the whole matter yet it kept recurring in my thoughts. “Coming events cast their shadows before,” is an old saying that I’ve found to be true on more than one occasion. Maybe I am going to die, I thought. I didn’t feel unhappy about it. But if I am, there are a few related matters that should be attended to. I was the senior minister of a large congregation. Legal and financial matters should be in the best order. I had to talk to someone about it.

Since Franklyn and I lived so near each other, and gasoline coupons were so hard to come by, we made as many trips together as possible. The rationing board never seemed to realize how many trips we made to Forest Lawn (round trips, I found myself emphasizing) that we had to make. It was after a midweek evening church service, as we were returning to the Palisades together in Franklyn’s car, that I confided my feelings to him. “Franklyn, there’s a notion bugging me that I’ve got to talk about to someone. I guess it’ll have to be you.” “Judas Priest!” he exclaimed. “You’ve been acting like a prophet of doom for the last week. What’s eating you?” He drove to the curb and parked the car.

“Well, it’s nothing really, only that I have a crazy feeling that I’m about to die; and if I am, there are a few things to talk about.”

“I believe you’re really serious about this,” he responded. “Are you emotionally involved with someone, someone who doesn’t appreciate you? Need a shoulder to lean on? I’ll help if I can.”

“You know better than that, but thanks for your sympathy; but give some thought to what my winking out would involve.”

We were both pretty quiet for the rest of the way home. “See you in the morning,” I said as I left him to enter my house and prepare for bed. On the bedroom dresser, propped up against a bud vase, was a star telegram. Hastily I opened it:


I Learn a Lesson

I have no doubt that Arlie would have been thinking about the promise to pray for him, and that in that painful time near his transition he might be sending out a call for our help as well as God's.

The moral? Just this: that if ever again I have the feeling of imminent trouble or death, I pray that I’ll recognize the possibility that somebody's sending out a call for help; and that I’ll be trying to answer the call to prayer instead of thinking about myself. There have, oh, yes, there have been such times. I wonder if Arlie knows. I hope he does.

© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.