Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories honoring veterans prior to Sunday, Veteran’s Day.
MIAMI (BP)–A green 20-year-old infantry private in November of 1944, Wendell King was marching away from a German town his company had just captured when a machine gun opened fire.
Scared, but knowing he had a job to do, King followed orders. As bullets hit the pavement and whizzed by, the man in front of him caught one, then the man behind him got two, King said. He left the battle unscathed.
“The Lord just protected me. I had some hair-raising close calls,” King quipped, “but the Lord looked after me. I can’t thank Him enough.”
King, 83, the oldest of three brothers who are World War II veterans, is the only one who saw overseas action more than six decades ago. Twins Emerson and Emory King, 81, joined the Navy and Navy Reserve, and never left Florida. Their youngest brother, Quenton, 77, was too young to join before the war ended.
Drafted into the Army in July of 1943 at age 19, Wendell said he was in military service for 32 months. Of the 190 men in his company who went to the front lines, Wendell said he was one of only 12 men from that original group who were not wounded.
“I just thank the Lord that He looked after me as good as He did,” Wendell, a deacon at Wayside Baptist Church in Miami, said. He earned two bronze stars for meritorious service during the war. “It sure just strengthened my faith when I saw how good He was to me. I can never thank Him enough.”
Emerson said God protected him by keeping him home when he joined the Navy as a cook. He recalled learning to cook while his mother worked and cared for the brothers, but he also remembered his mother baking cookies to send to Wendell while he was overseas.
When their father died of double pneumonia, leaving behind a wife and four young boys, Emerson and his twin brother Emory agreed that the then 10-year-old Wendell became the leader of the King family.
Although a leader at home, the young Army private did have an occasional lapse in judgment, Wendell admitted. Recalling his first night stationed on the front lines, Wendell said he took his turn on sentry duty rotating between sleeping and keeping guard with three other soldiers dug into a foxhole. Making the cramped quarters worse, a continuous stream of water from a natural spring poured into their accommodation.
Soaked through by morning, his first thought on waking was to dry his clothes. Using his tent rope, Wendell made a clothes line between two trees. Soon after, when his uniform was happily flapping on the line, Wendell’s company lieutenant came by and started berating the “stupid jerk” who had decided to hang out his uniform on the front line.
Much to their dismay, the officer’s lecture was cut short by an anti-aircraft shell going off. When he and the lieutenant emerged from the foxhole, shrapnel had shredded all of Wendell’s clothes.
“Not one of my better judgments my wife [Wynell] said,” Wendell acknowledged wryly. “One of my worst judgments.”
Wendell’s family is heavily involved at Wayside Baptist. His grandson, David, is a deacon, and his son, Brian, is chairman of the deacons this year. His brother, Emerson, also attends Wayside, while Emory is a member of Mill St. Baptist Church in St. Augustine.
Kevin Parker, Wayside Baptist’s minister of adult education and discipleship, said he admires the family’s servanthood.
“You think of legacy and families. You see generations following the Lord and just great men and women and children, that’s what I think when I think of the Kings,” Parker said. “They’re just an incredible family and men of integrity.”
Emerson, part of the legacy at Wayside, said he didn’t become a Christian until he was 21. After serving in the Navy for two and a half years from 1944 to 1947, Emerson said he was ready to get married, but for some reason his girlfriend, Mildred, kept saying “no.” That soon changed, when he got his spiritual life in order.
One night at a revival, Emerson said he began to understand that his parents couldn’t make his spiritual decisions for him, but that he had to decide to accept Christ as his Savior personally, on his own.
Telling Mildred that he had made the decision to do so and had become a believer in Christ, he said he was surprised when she asked him when he was going to propose to her again.
“I’m tired of asking you,” Emerson recalled telling Mildred. “You keep telling me ‘no.'”
“Well, try again,” Emerson remembers Mildred telling him.
He tried again.
“[Mildred] wouldn’t marry me until I was a Christian, and I didn’t know this,” Emerson said. “She didn’t tell me. I might not have got her if I hadn’t accepted Christ, which I’m glad I did. We’re both Christians.”
Next year on June 6 Emerson and Mildred will celebrate their 60th anniversary and the 64th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy — D-Day.
Emerson still laughs about the fact he didn’t participate in any military action.
“I joined the Navy to see the world and I didn’t even leave the State of Florida,” Emerson said, chuckling.
Emory, like Emerson, stayed in Florida during his tour of duty. Emory was 17 when he joined the Navy Reserve and served two years, two months, and 21 days. He got out a few months early because he and his wife, Catherine, were expecting a baby, he added.
“They were going to get me anyhow,” Emory said of the military. He was a year away from being old enough to be drafted and he figured that if he volunteered he would have a choice of which branch to join, Emory said.
Emory and Emerson both said they admire their brother Wendell for his strong faith and raising his children to trust in God.
“To follow [Wendell] as he follows Christ, you won’t go wrong,” Emory said.
Wendell said he learned to trust in God early into his war experiences.
Alone and on an errand for his commander, Wendell remembered nearing the edge of a town one evening. As he drew closer, Wendell said it seemed like God spoke to him in a small voice telling him not to go down the middle of the path. So, he carefully trudged along the side to meet his fellow soldiers. When it became light the next morning, he saw chickens walking down the path. Suddenly, the chickens blew up, victims of shoe mines, Wendell said.
“What I’ve learned in my life is to trust in the Lord and He’ll take care of you,” Wendell said. “You can’t out-give the Lord and you can’t out-do the Lord.”
Eva Wolever is a writer for the Florida Baptist Witness.