Military Mail Bag

Vacations are on the way (how I wish I were having mine), but work is always waiting, so we find it time again to pound out all the swell letters you fel­lows have so willingly(?) sent. The first one is from Harry Geelhoed, from Creston, who claims he isn’t ‘very good at this sort of thing’, but we’ll let the rest of you be the judge:

“I’m not very good at this sort of thing, I mean writing a letter to a maga­zine, but here goes. I am on a 72-hour pass and have just arrived at Rev. Doezema’s house a few hours ago. First, I might say that I have been transferred from Great Lakes to Port Huenema, Calif. That explains my presence in Bell­flower, so now to go on. Rev. Doezema picked me up at the electric train sta­tion and upon entering his house, I not­iced the new Beacon Lights. I have just finished reading the ‘Military Mail Bag’ and seeing others have written, it is high time that I do so, too.

“I took my basic training at Great Lakes, which ended April 18th. I then went home for two weeks, which went altogether too fast to suit me. On May 2nd I was back to the grind again. Af­ter sticking around Great Lakes for a few more days, I boarded a train to come out here. This was my first trip this far west, and I really enjoyed it. The flat lands, deserts, mountains, all show God’s handiwork. Someday, if I stay well, I plan to come back and enjoy it more fully. Even though I have been in California only a few days I like it here very much. The snapdragons (every­body seems to have them) are in full bloom while at home things were just beginning to get green.

“I am going to school here to learn construction driving in the Seabees. This school lasts three months. Then I will either receive advanced training or be shipped overseas. I like the Navy ex­cept for the spiritual life in it, of which there is very little. It is as the rest of the boys say, ‘A little singing, a short 5 or 10 minute talk, and chapel services are over’. That is why I am grateful to be able to come to Bellflower once in a while. I say once in a while, because it is about a good 75 mile trip one way. “Before this paper is full, I want to say thank you very much for sending Beacon Lights to me and I will be looking for­ward to receiving it in the future. I, and I think I speak for all the service boys, really and truly enjoy reading it, ever so much more than when we were home perhaps. The paper is full now, so until later,

Yours in Christ,

Harold R. Geelhoed, S.A. 304-02-75 Co. E., U.S.N.C.B C., Port Hueneme, California.”

Thanks for writing, Harry, and we’d like to hear more about your training, so why not write again?

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Another sailor has taken a few minutes to write us this time from First Church, and thanks for the plug, Sid.

“It’s Sunday morning, and since no services are held on this ship, I have been reading the church papers. After reading the Beacon Lights and reading some of the letters, I thought I’d take some time out and also write one.

“First of all, I want to thank the staff for sending the Beacon Lights. It’s really appreciated, because as I men­tioned before, due to the size of the ship, there is no chaplain, and therefore no services are ever held. If we are near to a ship where services are held on Sun­day, they do let us go over on a boat.

“So far I have been fortunate in the fact that I have been able to attend Chr. Ref. Churches quite regularly. While we were in Phil., I went to Paterson, New Jersey, and now that we are in Newport, R. I., I am able to go to Whitinsville, Mass. These churches are about 120 miles from the ports that I men­tioned, but since transportation connec­tions are good, it doesn’t take long to get there.

“It really seems good, after being among the worldly all week long, to spend a day with the people of God. One doesn’t realize this fact until actual­ly taken out of the sphere of the cove­nant.

“This ship will stay in the States until the middle of June, at which time it will leave for different European ports. Since it’s a surveying ship, it goes to a lot of places other ships never go. We’ll re­turn around the middle of September to our home port, Philadelphia.

“Once again, thanks for the Beacon Lights and keep up the good work. How about a few more of you servicemen tak­ing some time off and dropping the Beacon Lights a letter, so we can all know where you are and what you’re doing.

Sydney Cammenga, S.A. 304-00-76 U.S.S. Rehoboth, A.G.S. 50 Fleet Post Office, New York, New York.

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Also a letter from Peter Bos, from First Church:

“Have just finished reading the May issue of the Beacon Lights and found it interesting, especially “Schuiler”, and the part on communion for the servicemen far from home. I’m about 1230 miles from Grand Rapids. However, we have three good Protestant chaplains and one Catholic. Although the sermons are far from being like the ones I’m used to hearing by Revs. Hoeksema, Hanko, and De Wolf, they are quite adequate under the circumstances. I sing in the choir here. We have three services on Sunday, and a Sunday school talk, which some­times gets quite deep. I have just started my training today (May 28) in the Aviation Cadets. We get up at 5 a.m., and lights are out at 10:00 p.m. Our first 4 weeks are pre-flight, and the next 6 are 4th class—just like basic all over again, but a lot more rugged. So I’ll be quite busy, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to write again, but the issues of Beacon Lights are very much appre­ciated.


A/C Peter J. Bos, A.D. 16363859 Cadet P. O. Box 711 Sherman Air Force Base Sherman, Texas.”

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We know all you fellows are being kept pretty busy, but we do want to let you know your letters are very much ap­preciated. We hope you will all continue to keep on writing.

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A letter from a fellow who has just had his picture in Beacon Lights, but we thought the rest of you might like to read the letter Carl has written. Glad to see that someone takes our hints:

“I received another copy of Beacon Lights, and each month I can hardly wait till the next copy reaches me. I enjoy reading the magazine and not only speak­ing for myself, but all the rest of the fellows of our churches who are in Ser­vice. The article called “the Military Mail Bag” is a wonderful idea to publish in this Prot. Ref. magazine. It not only makes us fellows feel good to know our churches are thinking of us, but also it helps us all to keep in closer contact with each other.

“The weather is very warm in Cali­fornia but the nights are cool, so we are able to sleep good. The base I am sta­tioned at is 125 miles from San Francisco and 300 miles from Los Angeles. The chow is very good, but not like Mom’s cooking. There are four fellows from Grand Rapids stationed at Castle.

“My work consists of packing para­chutes, adjusting them, checking life rafts, and checking oxygen for the pilots and crew of a plane. Drop testing para­chutes every three or four months. We have to be very careful with that type of work, because a mistake may cost a life.

Your Christian friend,

Cpl. Carl Idema, A.F. 57503064 93rd Maintenance Sqd., Castle Air Force Base Merced, California.”

Carl is also a member of First Church, and thanks for writing Carl. Your work is more interesting than what we had it figured out to be.

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And now another Manhattanite, who is faithful in writing. We’d like to thank you, Al Visser, for writing:

“I received the Beacon Lights a couple of days ago, and I just about have most of it read. I enjoy Beacon Lights very much and it also is nice to know where some of the other fellows are stationed,” etc. I figured I could just as well put a letter in there, too.

“We have been out in the field now for three weeks. We hope to be back in the near future again. We have been stationed out in the Washington desert near Yakima for 2 weeks. A week from today we move again, and they won’t tell us where we are going, Military Secret, I guess. It sure is going to feel good to get back, and be able to take a shower again. I am beginning to believe Washington is dry. I hope the Washtonians don’t mind the razzing, I still don’t like Washington. I suppose it is a lot better here than it is in Korea. We got our orders and we have to leave in about eight weeks. They told us before we leave that we will get to go home for a few days. It is going to be good to get home, and get out of this routine.

So until next time,

Pvt. Albert P. Visser, U.S. 56092759, Btry “B” 9th AAA Gun Bn., Fort Lewis, Washington.”

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And now some news that might inter­est all of you, especially since Ernie was a staff writer for Beacon Lights:

“Dear Friends:

“Just dropping you a card to let you know my new address. I arrived in Korea June 3rd, and am well and fine. I hope to be getting Beacon Lights again soon. My new address:

Pvt. Ernest A. Van Weelden, U.S. 55068052, 25th M.P. Co., A.P.O. 25 c/o P.M. San Francisco, Calif.

Thanks for sending us your address, Ernie, and we are going to do our best to see that Beacon Lights reaches you.

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We’d like to thank Mrs. Kooienga for sending us some information about Floyd and also hope that Floyd will drop us a letter for the servicemen’s column.

Floyd left for service October 10th and was stationed at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He was placed in the Medics, and was trained for first aid. Being sta­tioned here was ideal, for it was possible for him to come home on a pass oc­casionally, and could attend one service in his own church. After about 5-1/2 months of training, he was on the list to go overseas to Korea. But God’s will was different, as Floyd became very ill with spinal meningitis. So, while the boys from his company left for overseas he was home on convalescent leave. He has recovered almost completely without any affects, for which we are very thank­ful. He was home the latter part of April on delay-in-route to Ft. Benning, Ga. From there he left with the 4th Inf. Div. for Germany. Floyd arrived in Germany, and the camp is situated a little ways out of the city of Mannheim, on a 40 acre farm. He told us that the farmer drives sheep through the camp morning and evening, and that he feels very much at home. They are living in tents. His address is:

Pfc. Floyd Kooienga, 55-024-615 Med. Co. 12th Inf. Ragt., A.P.O. 39, c/o Postmaster New York, New York.

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Next is a letter from one of our service­men who visited the Pope:

Dear Readers:—

I have always wanted to visit Europe as I am sure that most of you have, and I’ve finally arrived, even though my visit is under rather different circumstances than I had hoped it would be.

I was recalled into the Navy last Feb­ruary from the local reserve unit in Grand Rapids. Although the Navy’s cogs moved rather slowly at first, once they began in earnest, they moved me com­pletely to the other side of the world.

After a two week stay in Great Lakes for “processing”, I was sent to Norfolk, Virginia, where I caught the U. S. S. Salem, a heavy cruiser, which was des­tined to leave for the Mediterranean area shortly. Exactly three days after my arrival aboard, we weighed anchor and were on our way to the Mediterranean Sixth Fleet for a proposed seven month stay. From that time till now, things have moved so fast, that I’m still catch­ing my breath.

Of course, the sea duty was something entirely new and different and it took some time before I was used to the roll and pitch of the ship. Our trip across was fairly uneventful with the exception of our ship’s participation in the search for the survivors of the large airliner which crashed in mid-Atlantic during the latter part of March . . . perhaps you re­member reading of the incident.

Once we arrived in the Mediterranean, our ship assumed its duties as flagship of the Mediterranean Naval Forces. At the present time, the United States is maintaining a force of some seventy ships in this area. In general, the purpose of this fleet is threefold: First of all, we are supposed to be spreading “good will”, a purpose which I sometimes doubt that we are fulfilling; secondly, we are co­ordinating our forces with those of other “Allied nations” so that in the event of war, we will be able to operate with them at peak battle efficiency; and thirdly, we are “guarding the back door to General Eisenhower’s army in Europe”. The back door idea is rather nebulous and it is difficult to understand just what it entails, but whatever it is, I’m sure that we are doing it.

Seriously, aside from the military angle, I have enjoyed our stay thus far, and I’m quite sure that most of you would have enjoyed it. Our ship has visited the following countries: France. Italy, Greece, the free territory of Trieste, Algeria, and Tunisia. We also visited the rock of Gibraltar and the Is­land of Sicily which belongs to Italy. Such towns as Monte Carlo, Venice, Athens, Algiers, and Nice would delight the eye of any tourist. However, the town in which I found the greatest en­joyment was Rome, and it’s my purpose in this letter to tell you a little of the sights I saw while visiting Rome.

It was while our ship was anchored in the harbor of Naples that some of the ship’s crew were allowed to make a three day tour of Rome. At that time, the communications gang aboard ship, of which I am a member, was not too busy, so I managed to be one of the fortunate members of the tour party.

Our train from Naples to Rome was very modern and was of the “compartment” type, as are most European trains. Our trip inland was extremely interesting since it gave us an oppor­tunity to ride through many towns and districts, observe how the people lived, see what type of work they did, and see what they raised in the farmlands.

Once in Rome, we were greeted by perhaps the largest and surely the most beautiful train depot that I have ever seen. Later I was told that it was built with funds supplied by the Marshall plan. On hand, with large busses, were our Italian guides supplied by the tourist company which was handling the tour. In a very short time, we were situated in one of the best hotels of Rome, our gear “squared away” and sitting down to a delicious supper in the hotel’s dining room. Our supper was a taste of what was to come, since all our meals were equally as delicious and on the whole, our accommodations were excellent.

After a good night’s sleep, we left the following morning to visit the customary tourist sites in Rome. For the entire three days, our time was taken up by visiting such well known “spots” as the Colosseum, Patheon, the Catacombs, and the Vatican City. On our tours we were escorted by a guide whose English had obviously not been acquired at Oxford, but nonetheless, his vivid descriptions of the various places we visited and what had transpired in and about them were enjoyable. Especially interesting was our tour of the Catacombs where many of the vaults of the early Christians who died in Rome can still be found. Equally interesting was the Colosseum where many of the early Christians were sup­posedly thrown to the wild animals. It is slowly deteriorating but it is still pos­sible to see the entrances to the arena, from which both human and animal were led before the cheering or jeering crowds.

On our last day, we were taken for a tour of the Vatican City, the home of the pope, and the world capitol of Roman Catholicism. This was the crowning point of the tour, since it included an audience with “his holiness”, the Pope.

Before seeing the Pope, our party was taken through Saint Peter’s Cathedral. St. Peter’s is the largest church in the world, a fact which we could not easily forget, since the guide told us at least three times and there were various mark­ers placed on the floor up to the main altar, denoting the comparative lengths of other large churches throughout the world. In spite of the fanfare given all its attractions by our guide, it was truly impressive. The paintings, mosaics, and sculpture are all things which I will never forget.

From the church, we were taken to the Pope’s residence, next door, for our audience. We must have climbed five flights of stairs before being taken into a small but rich tapestried room in which we were to meet the Pope. Our group consisted mainly of sailors although just prior to the Pope’s entrance, a few civil­ians of various nationalities managed to get in. After waiting for about fifteen minutes, hearing small bells ringing faintly in other parts of the house, and smelling the incense which was ever present, we were brought to our senses by some loud “Italian” echoes coming down the corridor. These evidently were made by a little Italian man who pre­sently strode in, unwinding a carpet upon which the Pope was to enter. Short­ly after his arrival, and after he had carefully arranged the carpet to lead up to the throne, the Pope entered. He wore a long white robe and upon his head he had the customary little white hat which he wears in all the pictures taken of him. He stood near the throne and pronounced the benediction in English. Then he came down into the crowd and allowed several catholics among the tour party to kiss his hand. As he went from man to man we could hear him ask var­ious questions in a short, clipped manner. He asked where the men were from, what their ratings were and the like. Then he spent a little time conversing with the civilians present and presently re­turned to the throne. Prior to our ar­rival, we had been given little Catholic medals which he now proceeded to “bless”. This blessing, we were later told, would also cover our loved ones left behind and also our various trinkets and medals left behind in the hotel room. After completing the rounds, he talked briefly of America and of our supposed contribution in the world of religion. He then gave the benediction again and after that, we sailors, led by our chaplain, and according to previous instructions, gave the customary “three cheers” for the Pope.

After our audience we were taken through the Vatican Museum and through the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel houses the room wherein the “new” popes are elected by the college of Cardinals. From an artistic point of view, the chapel was perhaps the most beautiful building that we had an opportunity to see. The entire ceiling and the four walls are painted with scenes which depict man’s travel through the world from creation to the day of judgment. On the ceiling, the pictures range from the fall of man through the coming of Christ. We were told that it took the famous Italian painter, Michelangelo, four years, lying on his back, to complete the work. This work was sup­posedly done when he was relatively young. The back wall depicts the judge­ment day and shows some souls being sent up to heaven while others are being damned to hell. This work, although also done by Michelangelo, was done at a much later time in his life and com­pleted under commission of another pope. We were told a very interesting story by our guide while he was explaining the work on the back wall. It seems that while working on the painting, Michelangelo was bothered every day by a cer­tain Bishop who made himself obnoxious by continually criticizing and asking un­necessary questions. Unbeknownst to the bishop, Michelangelo painted his figure and placed him in the section of the pic­ture denoting the depths of hell. To this day, one can see an anguished face peer­ing from behind the flames, and this figure, according to our guide, is the bishop, who every day, made life miser­able for Michelangelo.

After much walking, listening, seeing, and talking, we were a tired but happy group boarding the train back to Naples on the third night. I’m sure that the experiences we shared during those three days will live for a long time in our memories.

The U.S.S. Salem still has approxi­mately three months left to spend in the Mediterranean. Although I’ll be very happy to return to the United States when the time comes, it will not be with­out a certain regret for I have benefited much by being able to see some of Europe. I only hope that I’ll be able to retain many pleasant memories of people I’ve met, towns I’ve seen, and incidents which happened.

I would be happy to hear from any of you readers who find time to write. My address is:

Burnie Wiersma RMN 3 Division C-R U.S.S. Salem CA 139 c/o FPO New York, N. Y.

Burnie is a member of Second Church, Grand Rapids. We hope to publish his picture in the next issue.

That’s all for now, fellows!