Count me as one of those Americans who grieves the fact that most of our World War II veterans are gone now. These are the men who impacted my life in so many ways, and America is diminished without them. So on this Memorial weekend, let me share a story from a surprising email I received just a few weeks ago.
The email came via our church’s website. It came from Michael Hurst, a Canadian, a Christian, businessman and historian who has lived and worked in Taiwan since 1997. He’s devoted the past 17 years of his life to researching the story of the Allied prisoners of war held captive by the Japanese in Taiwan during World War II. In the last 17 years, Michael has found and contacted more than 500 of the former 4,375 POWs who were held in camps there. He wants their sacrifices and their stories to be told.
As he interviewed these former POWs, he kept hearing a particular name over and over again. That name is Kenneth Scott. Ken served aboard the Escort Carrier USS Santee, ship involved in rescuing and evacuating POWs from Taiwan in September, 1945. Michael had been searching for Ken more than 15 years. He finally found what he hoped was a connection through First Baptist Church of Hot Springs, Arkansas—thus, the shot-in-the-dark email.
That shot-in-the-dark hit the bulls-eye. Ken had been a member of our church from 2001 until his death just after this past Christmas. Michael wanted to find Ken so he could tell Ken what a profound difference he had made in the lives of so many of those POWs. Numbers of those POWs told Michael that as they were on their way to Manila from Taiwan on the Santee, they received a visit from Kenneth Scott. He came around to visit them and gave them a little Gideon’s New Testament and Psalms with a blue cover. They were so moved at this act of kindness, and it brought them such comfort and encouragement to know someone cared for them. Most of the men had lost all their possessions as POWs, and this was the first new thing they had to begin their new life as free men. Some were helped greatly through the trauma they had to endure post-war as there was no PTSD counselling available back then.
Michael shared a couple of stories. Here’s the first one:
Very early on in my work, one POW contacted me who had received the Testament and was still so thrilled that he cherished it and wanted to return it to either Kenneth or his family in memory of what he had done for him. At first the POW sent me a photocopy of the cover and the inside page of the Testament to me help me trace Kenneth. Later he personally gave me the Testament for our POW Museum collection and I have it and cherish it even more now. When I visit schools and put on displays, I always include Kenneth's Testament in the display and tell the story of how this sailor gave it to one of the POWs after rescue. People are always moved and blessed by the story.
And here’s the second:
I had another contact from the daughter of a former POW who had passed away in recent years and she told me that her father was not a particularly religious man but that he kept that Testament and cherished it dearly because of the act of kindness and love shown by Kenneth in giving it to him. Later I received other notes and photocopies of Testaments and pages from other Santee POWs and they all had Kenneth's name written inside of them with exactly the same stamp and information.
Michael assumed Kenneth must have been a chaplain. He was not. He was a simple sailor. Kenneth told me some about his war experiences. His ship, the Santee, was among the ships involved in the first Japanese kamikaze attacks on American naval forces. Ken said, “When those planes started diving right toward our ship, we really had to screw up our courage and just try to keep doing our jobs.” He told me some stories, but he never said one word about giving the New Testament. Not one word. I don’t think his family knew anything about it either.
I suspect that Kenneth just did that because he was a Christian man trying to follow Jesus’ command to do for others what you would have them do for you. He must have figured a New Testament would help mend his life had he been broken every way a man can be broken in a Japanese prison camp. So he gave the Testaments. Knowing Ken, I am confident he did it with no fanfare or search for notoriety. He was just trying to share a witness of the love of God for men whose experience must have surely made so many of them doubt it. And what an impact Ken’s small act of kindness made on so many of those men!
Now here’s the kicker: I don’t think Ken ever had a clue God had used his life to do such good and to give such hope to broken men.
Well, he does now. Ken died at the end of this past December. And what a thrill and surprise he must have experienced when waiting at the gate to greet him were many of those POWs who had preceded him there. I can imagine the conversation:
“That New Testament changed the course of my life.”
“God used the message of that Testament to help mend my broken places.”
“When you gave me that Bible I had assumed everyone except my mother had forgotten me. But you didn’t. And God didn’t. And trusting in the Jesus in that New Testament is why I’m here today.”
Wow! It must have been incredible. I can see Ken with a look of shock and surprise, quietly turning attention away from himself to the Lord who had come to greet him too. And I can see Ken whispering to Jesus, “I didn’t have a clue. I never even knew.” To which Jesus smiled a broad smile and whispered back, “But I knew, Ken. I knew. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!”
Not all veteran stories are of military exploits and heroics. Some are just Christian people acting like Christians in the midst of the violence and the death and the brokenness of war. That’s Kenneth’s story.
What was it Paul wrote to the Corinthians?
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:57).
For more information on Michael Hurst’s work check out his website: www.powtaiwan.org