We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing by James C. Whittaker

(New York: E.P. Dutton, 1943), 156

An incredible story of suffering and coming to faith on the open Pacific. Reading this shows the inestimable value of Scripture, and helps put our small sufferings into perspective (like Unbroken and Matterhorn).

The Loneliest of Oceans

  • "It is an entrancing ocean, whose beauties and vast distances are best-and most discreetly-viewed from the decks of a luxury liner or from the heights of Darien. Those who would preserve their illusions of its gentleness and amiable charm should take care that they never have to view it 21 days at a stretch from a 7 foot, emergency life raft." (14)

Chapter 1

  • "On that sunny afternoon I was being sped at 200 miles an hour toward the greatest adventure any man can have, that in which he finds his God." (19)

Chapter 2

  • First B-17 ground loops on takeoff, damaging the octant, causing them to miss the destination island

Chapter 3

  • "You can't realize the will power it takes to put a plane into the sea with even a teacup of fuel left in the tanks." (39)
  • Description of the landing procedure (36, cf. Highest Duty)

So far as either of us knew then, no four-motored land plane ever had been set down at sea without casualties. In many cases no member of the crew had lived to tell about it.
When a plane is put into the ocean against the wind, it meets the waves head on. If it touches on a crest, the nose will be plunged into the next wave and cave in. Further, the ship probably will not float an instant, but will continue its dive through the water.
If the plane hits the first crest too hard, it breaks in two and the parts disappear almost immediately. It is inevitable that the crew will be stunned for a few instants by a crash landing and in such a case Davy Jones has ample time to snatch them down.
I suggested, therefore, that we come in cross wind and set the ship down in a trough-the valley between two waves. Bill said this sounded like sense and added:
"I think we ought to do it while we've still got gasoline in the tanks. A power landing is always better than an uncontrolled one."

Chapter 4

  • Into rafts, very small

Chapter 5

  • The first night, and how the sun hangs in the heat and then plunges leaving them cold
  • "It was pocket sized, khaki bound, and had a zipper arrangement that made it waterproof. That last feature saved the little book for us through many a watery day and night to come. I think it would be a great thing if every soldier and sailor boy could be provided with one of those indestructible little volumes. Thousands of our youngsters have pocket Testaments, but war conditions make it difficult to keep them readable. And there are times in this war—in any war—when those kids need something more that just themselves to thang on to." (55)

Chapter 6

  • They get meager food from a bird they catch and the fish that come from that bait.
  • They take solace in Mt-06-34: Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Chapter 7

  • "This is the way we all came to talk to God; just as we would talke to anyone we respected and from whom we craved a boon. WE made it simple. There were no 'thee's' and 'thou's.' There was nothing irreverent or kidding about it. Men don't kid when the chips are down." (67)
  • "Old Master, we called on You for food and You delivered. We ask You now for water. We've done the best we could. If you don't make up Your mind to help us pretty soon, I guess that's all there'll be to it. It looks like the next move is up to You, Old Master." I think now that that prayer, despite its informal wording, has just about everything in it a prayer should have. It presents a petition to God and at the same time it expresses resignation to God's will. Finally, it implies the belief-the faith-that the petition will be granted. (72)
  • They receive rain

Chapter 8

  • "Faith is a fragile thing and elusive." (75)
  • "Few people realize how much the human body can take and still come through." (77)
  • "I could tell more about those prayers; the promises made to God to lead new lives if He should spare them. But it wouldn't be right to identify the men with their supplications. I guess we who were in those rafts know more about one another now than our mothers ever did. And I think it just as well that the mothers didn't." (79)
  • Eddie Rickenbacker: "You, Our Father, know we are not asking You to do it all. We will help ourselves, if You will give us the chance." (80)

Chapter 9

  • "I can tell you now that there can be no atheists in rubber rafts amid whitecaps and sharks in the equatorial Pacific." (82)
  • Alex Kaczmarczyk dies on the night of the 10th day, and DeAngelis recited what he could from the Roman Catholic funeral rite as they buried him at sea: "Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and may eternal light shine upon him." (86)
  • The first miracle: A squall was close but blew away from them. He prayed for rain and the squall moved back toward them against the wind. (87)

Chapter 10

  • "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" came back to him while they were in the doldrums
  • Rickenbacker kept up morale during that time by going off against anyone who was negative: "In those four days, he slung some mighty powerful plain and fancy cussing...I think Rick was using his vocabulary to good cause. It certainly got results." (93)

Chapter 11

  • The scout plane flies over them but they are not seen
  • "During that day, the day after, and the 20th day we were dealt such crushing blows that had it not been for the fortitude built up in hours of prayer I think we all would have abandoned hope. It was my newly found faith in God that sustained me. Of this I am sure." (99)
  • "So it was that I now reviewed mentally the things that God had done for me since that day so long ago when our gallant Flying Fortress disappeared beneath the waves. I thought of the answers I had received to prayer. But most of all I thought of the more important thing-that I had learned to pray. And that I had found my God and had not turned away from Him a stranger." (103)

Chapter 12

  • The three rafts split, and they sight land.
  • "Only a miracle could set our feet on that island, I thought; only a miracle. A miracle! I remembered the miracle of the rain on the 13th day. I remembered other answers to prayer. I remembered my God!" (111)
  • "There were other hands than mine on those oars." (113)

Chapter 13

  • Landfall, and rescue by the natives

Chapter 14

  • Back with the Navy

Chapter 15

  • "Out on the trackless Pacific our little band met the many Rickenbacker the world doesn't know; the human many man, the undoubting leader. I, for one, hope that if ever I have to go through hell like that again, Eddie Rickenbacker or someone like him will be along." (134)
  • "On the night Rick and Bartek were being carried ashore from the rescue boat, Rick had said to him: "Better thank God for that Testament of yours, son. You see now what faith can do for a man." I don't think there was a man of us who didn't thank God for that little khaki covered book. It led us to prayer and prayer led us to safety." (135)
  • "And I told them the story of the rafts; how during those blazing days out there I found my God. I was having an audience such as I may never have again. And I told that story as often as I could. I will tell it again and again, so long as I live. It was the greatest adventure a man can have. It is the greatest story a man can tell." (139)

Topic: WWII


Created: 2024-04-23-Tue
Updated: 2024-05-28-Tue