Essays on Faith: Seeking shelter in a hiding place

“Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance” (Psalms 32:7).

During the Cold War, my Navy ship, the USS Wright (CC-2), was a National Command Communications ship designated as an escape for the president and top government officials, had a nuclear attack upon the United States occurred. Two officers aboard the Wright had orders to be present if the top secret authentication codes for nuclear war orders were handled. Each officer knew the code to one of the two combination locks that secured the launch codes.

The ship’s mission was to handle communications and command data for the direction of military operations worldwide. The ships, operated under the SIOP (Single Integrated Operational Plan — the plan for nuclear war), and were always ready for the president (with special presidential quarters). The USS Wright had access to White House Situation Room classified information.

Men from each branch of the military service, as well as CIA personnel, were assigned to the ship. Also, many government officials and high-ranking military officers from all branches of service frequently visited the ship. The ship was kept “spit-shined” from stem to stern.

Life aboard ship was tedious and stressful for the entire crew, but my circumstances compounded the misery. Part of Navy life for a lowly, unskilled enlisted man on a ship involved duty of extremely long hours and hard work on the Deck Force (the real sailors) or the Mess Deck (the chow hall of a ship). As soon as I went aboard the USS Wright, I was assigned to the latter. To make matters worse, the ship was involved in a Navy worldwide competition for the best mess (food service). Shortly after starting as a mess cook, I got into a fight and was “sentenced” to the galley deep sink. Some would say that was worse than the brig. Imagine, scrubbing pots and pans for a crew of over 1,000 guys!

There were highly restricted areas where only those with appropriate security clearances were allowed to enter. Also, there were parts of the ship called “voids” that were small areas that had no use other than as part of the ship’s structure. A couple of those voids became hiding places for me and a mess cook friend. There were no other places where we could get away from the petty officers who seemed to enjoy making our lives miserable. Reveille at 0430 (occasionally, at sea, 0330) and often getting in our racks (beds) after 2300. The racks were thin mattresses lying on pieces of canvas stretched between tubular metal frames and stacked three high. I have a photo on my website (http://www.insectman.us/testimony/uss-wright.htm). We literally would nap standing in the chow line.

When the ship went to General Quarters (Battle Stations), my friend and I did not have GQ stations. As soon as we heard the alarm start to sound, we headed to another hiding place — the Garbage Locker. There, we shut the hatch, which was not allowed to be opened during GQ, and napped on the bags of garbage. Yes, we once got a loud chewing out by a petty officer who doubted our excuse that we “just happened” to be in there when GQ sounded.

Eventually, our mess duty ended and Navy life got a little more bearable, but we will never forget those hiding places, which became our shelter from shipboard stress.

For many years, after becoming a born-again Christian, I have found shelter from the strife of life by going to God’s word. As the hymn so aptly describes: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.”

“For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy” (Psalms 61:3).

Essays on Faith may be submitted to gazette@wvgazettemail.com.

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Funerals for Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Abner, James - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Black, Thomas - 11 a.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Bowcott, Doris - 1 p.m., Mt. Union Church, Pliny.

Dolin, Clayton - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Harper, Brandon - 1 p.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Hively, Thomas - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.

Kirk, William - 8 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

McDonald, Jeremy - 11 a.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Rollins, Melvin - 1 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Short, Elizabeth - 1:30 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Simpkins, Anthony - 1 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Stone Jr., Darrell - 2 p.m., Smith Cemetery, Leon.

Thorne, Thomas - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.