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Military Traditions

May 10, 2018 By Les Westling

My First Pastoral Act at Sea

When the draft was summoning my buddies to the Korean Conflict, I was in college but also pre-enrolled in theological seminary. It was hard for me to take that deferment; I did so with the personal commitment that I would volunteer for the Armed Forces in a time of national emergency as a priest to be a chaplain. Wanting to contribute in some way, I joined the Coast Reserve as a fireman and attended weekly drills of the Port Security Unit at Treasure Island and two weeks of active duty for training each summer between semesters.

My first assignment was to the engine department of the buoy tender Magnolia anchored on its coffee grounds at Yerba Buena Island. Our weekly “deployment” was to replenish supplies at the Farallon Islands lighthouse, all of four miles from Cliff House at San Francisco. We would lay-to on the leeward east side of the island, where hundreds of breeding seals lived and millions of flies multiplied on their backs. When we were there, the old ship’s ventilators harvested mounds of dead flies throughout the ship.

The head cook in the galley of the Magnolia doubled as the baker and was very proud of his raisin bread and muffins. Yet he complained (within hearing of this reserve fireman apprentice) that he felt unappreciated because his favorite recipe was neglected by the crew. I took it upon myself to offer him a quiet bit of counsel: “If you would bake and serve your raisin bread on Wednesdays (the day before our weekly journey to the Farallons), I think it would be eagerly consumed.”

He did, and it was. Guess why. As a result, we both were then encouraged to continue the pursuit of our chosen vocations.

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