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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Mistaken for Dead

The power of a praying father and mother

By Joel Kilpatrick
Nov. 9, 2014

Reprinted from the June 21, 1998, Pentecostal Evangel

Seventeen-year-old Gordy Frederick enlisted in the Navy in 1943 out of rebellion against his God-fearing father. Though his parents had kept the family together during the Great Depression, Gordy was convinced that things were better outside his home. He persuaded his father to sign the waiver for underaged enlistees and shipped off to join the war effort — his first trip outside of Tacoma, Wash.

The Navy assigned Gordy as a deckhand to clean up the USS California. The ship had been refloated after being sunk in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Though scrappy and tough, he quickly confronted the grim face of war. His first assignment was to don rubber gloves and a mask and go below deck to retrieve the corpses of those killed at Pearl Harbor two years before. He would gather enough parts to make a person, put them in a body bag and mark it “John Doe.” Horrifying as it was, the task had to be done.

Later the California sailed for the front with a new set of aircraft guns. In the Lingayen Gulf of the Philippine Islands, Gordy’s ship encountered a swarm of Japanese kamikazes, one-engine airplanes on a suicide mission to sink U.S. ships. Each of them carried two 500-pound bombs. Their wings were full of gasoline; their cockpits, sealed shut. To young Japanese pilots, dying for their country meant sure entry into heaven.

Gordy was part of a 20-man crew who shot down kamikazes before they hit the ship. As the planes bore down on the California, his crew shot down two, watching them explode and disintegrate into the sea. But the kamikazes were small, and one pilot came through untouched on the starboard side.

“It’s coming!” came the desperate yells. Gordy heard the mad mixture of voices. Then came the explosion as the Japanese plane hit the lookout tower, sending a ball of fire roaring across the deck. The noise was deafening; the heat, scorching and infernal. Gordy smelled the raw gas and gasped as he was blown from the gun quad onto the deck. Instantly, every man on Gordy’s crew was killed. Sixty-three men died in all.

His body seared by the blast, his clothes burnt off, Gordy lay on the deck and realized he was alive. The ship rolled and pitched beneath him. Flames and confusion ripped the air. An ad hoc medical crew scrambled to take bodies below deck. Gordy’s lungs were in excruciating pain; he could not speak as he heard medics checking the bodies.

“He’s dead.”

“This one’s dead.”

“No pulse here.”

They came to Gordy. His eyes were swollen shut; his mouth, face and neck were badly burnt. They probed his neck and chest for a pulse.

“This guy’s dead.”

The unseen medic took the dog tags from Gordy’s neck and tied them around his ankle, signaling that he had been checked.

“Roll him over on his face.”

I’m not dead! Gordy screamed inside his head, but he was shut into a world of terror and silence. It’s over, he thought as they rolled him over to indicate that he was a corpse. No one will know I’m alive.

A crew picked up Gordy’s body and hauled it to a makeshift morgue below deck where bodies were stacked three high. He was thrown in the middle of the pile, with dead men on top of him and below. When the task was complete, the door was shut for three days. Gordy lay in the temporary graveyard, drifting in and out of consciousness. The pain was unbearable. He could neither see nor move, yet he heard his heart pounding and felt himself getting stronger. He knew he had been taken for dead, but could do nothing.

The port side of the California was badly burnt; the guns, useless. The ship limped from the front and radioed for a hospital ship to assist. It felt like a lifetime, but three days later a crew came with body bags to do what Gordy had done when he first enlisted: clean up the dead men below deck. As they opened his door, a shaft of light fell onto the pile of bodies. The deckhands slid a bag under the feet of each corpse, pulled it to the body’s midsection, and stood it up to let the body slide in, stiff from rigor mortis.

Gordy waited in agony, knowing this was his only opportunity to be discovered alive.

Please, let them realize I’m not dead, he prayed.

When they got to him, they slid the body bag under his ankles and up to his middle. But when they stood him up, Gordy’s body bent in half and he fell to the floor. Rigor mortis had not set in.

A deckhand summoned the medics, who felt Gordy’s pulse. For the first time, they realized he was alive. Waves of relief cascaded over his body as they rushed him to the sick bay. Finally, he had broken through.

The pain was so intense they couldn’t lay him in a bed. Morphine took the edge off, and Gordy felt the state of shock receding. I really am alive, he thought.

Doctors worked feverishly, cleaning his throat and eyes with swabs. Finally he could see blurry images. He had sustained third-degree burns over his entire body.

Back in Tacoma, Gordy’s parents, Pentecostal Christians and strong believers in prayer, had kept up a daily vigil for their two children and one son-in-law in the war. The zeal that had driven Gordy away was now employed on his behalf, though his parents did not know of his experience.

In the middle of his pain, Gordy thought about his days at Sunday School. He had been taught to pray. It occurred to him that God might be involved in his recovery. He recalled the letters he’d received while in the service: “We are praying every day for your protection while you are at sea,” his mother had written.

Gordy returned to Washington on Feb. 15, 1945. Overjoyed at his recovery, he placed a telephone call to his father, but the response was icy and distant.

“This isn’t Gordy. Gordy’s dead.”

Unknown to Gordy, a letter from the Navy had been sent informing them that he was killed in action.

“Dad, it’s me. I’m alive!” Gordy insisted.

After a silence, the line erupted with shouts of celebration: “Praise God! Praise God! Thank You, Jesus!”

His parents knew their prayers had been heard. Gordy spent the next few days at home.

Eventually, the Navy sent Gordy back to sea for the final battle of the Pacific, where the Philippines were won back.

Today, 72-year-old Gordy bears no visible scars from his encounter at sea. He made a firm commitment to Christ after going through several years of rebellion. His wife’s example made a strong impact on his life. Gordy’s family attends Life Center (Assemblies of God) in Tacoma, Wash., pastored by Fulton Buntain, where five generations of his family have attended.

Gordy and his parents enjoyed a lifelong friendship. When his father passed away and Gordy moved his mother to another house, he made a not-so-surprising discovery. Near the place where the couch had been for many years were four worn spots on the rug, where a father and mother had knelt every morning and prayed their children through the war.

Today, 54 years later, Gordy continues to praise the Lord for his miraculous recovery. He also carries on the tradition of his father and mother by praying every morning for his children and grandchildren.

JOEL KILPATRICK, former Pentecostal Evangel news editor, is an author and journalist living in Thousand Oaks, Calif.


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