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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Fearful (08/23/07)

TITLE: Through the Valley
By Coleene VanTilburg


We have been out to sea now six weeks. I have been on duty down here in this engine room of my Merchant Marine ship for five hours on this night. It is a brutal job, but I am hoping to see the world, even if it is during wartime. The engine room is nothing but noise and even with my earplugs; I can barely hear the thoughts in my own head.

Those German U-boats had better keep their distance. I know we have some escort ships out there somewhere, but I really have not seen them close by lately. Our mission is to get these onboard supplies to the Chinese via the "Burma Road", aiding our troops and allies as the fight for freedom and democracy rages globally.

I know I am not an "official" soldier, being a Merchant Marine, but that is OK, I still feel like one and I know I am helping to do my part. Next week, July 11th, 1941, will be my 21st birthday. I am hoping we will be sailing into port by then, because I would really like to get a message home.

Suddenly, I hear above the noise of the ship's engine, a powerful explosion and vibration that knocks me at least ten feet on my backside against the steam pipes. I can feel my skin sizzle and melt as the ships steam pipes burn through my uniform and skin. The ship is listing to the port side and I can barely make out the sirens.

I gather myself up off the floor and make my way up the stairs climbing on my belly and pulling myself up the handrails with what upper body strength I can muster. The terror and fear sets in that an enemy torpedo has probably hit my ship. Seawater is now dripping around me as I continue to climb. I can no longer feel the backside of me, but I can smell my burnt flesh. My uniform shirt is almost gone now off my body. My head feels like a pressure gauge ready to explode.

Then, once again, that vibration and sound shocks and reverberates through my body; another hit.

“God, I must be brave. Help us Lord! Be with us God!"

Dawn lies in wait maybe an hour or so, but there are fires that light the deck. Massive caves puncture the once smooth surface of the deck. I continue to crawl on my belly towards some shipmates I see in the shadows of my failing consciousness. I see the lifeboat they are preparing to board. The ship is sinking fast and the sea is ever so close.

I can make out a few lifeboats in the sea already but they look in danger of being sucked back into the gaping hole on the side of the ship. I am beginning to breathe toxic gases and I can feel my lungs burning. An arm reaches and pulls me into the lifeboat as consciousness begins to wane.

Cool water at my lips brings me back to a reality I am not sure I want to know. Along with five other crewmembers, we have survived here in the Indian Ocean for two days now. Our ship and my fellow shipmates lost.

The Nazi sub, a stealth-like demon destroyed everything but our souls. Those belong to our Country and Our God. I can barely make out the face in front of me. I can see his mouth move, but I hear no sound. My head is peaceful; no engine noise, no sound of sirens and explosions and screams.

I can only hear my Momma's voice saying, "Memorize this verse, son. Keep it close to you..."

The Holy Spirit whispers those precious words of scripture to me.

Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely, goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Author’s Note: the United States Merchant Marines have served in all wars since the American Revolution. In WWII, these sailors rendered the largest but uncelebrated function between our soldiers at stateside and the actual fighting troops. These were the sailors of the Liberty Ships, the Victory ships, and the Tankers. They supplied our troops and braved danger from every form of war weaponry. It is estimated that during WWII, we lost over 8600 merchant marines at sea. It has not been until just recently that these brave men were recognized officially by Congress to receive all the accolades and benefits as true members of our military.

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This article has been read 586 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Rhonda Clark08/31/07
This is a great story. Love the way you used 1st person. I could feel the sense of urgency.

Way to go.

Joanne Sher 09/07/07
Congratulations, Coleene. Your entry has placed 7th in Level 1. With so many entries in this level, you've really done well. The Lists for the Top 15 in each Level and the Top 40 overall is available in the Weekly Results and Highest Rankings forum of our Faithwriters Message Boards.