Trusting God in War and Peace
An encounter in 1945 has resulted in blessings for children in the Philippines today.
Seventy-three years ago, Melvin Bockelman, currently a member of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Olathe, Kan., had an experience that he says he will “take to his grave.”
At that time, he was a young man — just 17 years old — serving in the Merchant Marine during the last year of World War II. He had left high school to become a mariner the previous year because “the government was calling for young boys to do that. Our troops were not going to get their supplies” without more manpower for the ships, he recalls.
He signed up and was put to work on a ship that delivered aviation fuel to American aircraft carriers in the Pacific.
On a hot day in 1945, his ship docked for repairs in Manila Bay in the Philippines, and he and several crew members were sent ashore, even though there was active fighting nearby.
“There was death and destruction everywhere,” Bockelman recalls. Bombs were still exploding in the distance, and the ground was littered with the bodies of Filipino civilians who had been killed by retreating enemy combatants.
Among the chaos and destruction, Bockelman saw a little boy — maybe 7 or 8 years old — running around crying. He took the boy back to the ship, where he cleaned him up and gave him some food. Although the boy spoke English, he was so “shell-shocked” that Bockelman wasn’t able to learn his name or what had happened to his parents.
“Being young, I wasn’t aware of laws the [U.S. government] had on bringing civilians home,” Bockelman says. He just knew he wanted to take care of the boy. But his captain heard about the situation and directed him to take the boy to the Philippine Red Cross, which he reluctantly did.
A few months later, the war in the Pacific officially ended, and Bockelman returned to high school in his hometown of Concordia, Mo. He went on to serve in the military — attaining the rank of chief master sergeant in the Air Force — married Harriet (née Klingemann) and had three children of his own.
Even so, “I never forgot that little boy, waking up at night off and on,” he says. “I saw this little boy crying for help.”
When Bockelman recently read about Concordia Children’s Services (CCS) in Manila, Philippines, he was eager to show Christ’s mercy to the children there. CCS, which the LCMS helped found in 1983 and for which it still gathers support, provides residential care for abandoned or orphaned infants, while also providing Christ-centered after-school programs for some 120 area children. He sent a donation to LCMS World Relief and Human Care for CCS, along with a handwritten letter sharing his story.
Although Bockelman will never know what happened to that boy in 1945, he trusts the Lord to continue to do His work both in the Philippines and around the world. The encounter with this boy has resulted in blessings for children in the Philippines today. At 90 years old, Bockelman still clings to his baptismal verse, which he often recited during World War II: “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Rev. 3:11).
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