After my father-in-law passed away in 2011, we brought home a couple of boxes of his personal effects, and they stayed in a closet until recently when my wife decided to go through them. She came across a book called, “We Thought We Heard The Angels Sing.” The book was written in 1942 by a Lieutenant James C. Whitaker, U.S. Army Air Corps Transport Command. On the title page is the following description: The complete epic story of the ordeal and rescue of those who were with Eddie Rickenbacker on the plane lost in the Pacific.
For those of you not familiar with the history, Eddie Rickenbacker was World a War I fighter pilot. He was credited with shooting down 26 German aircraft, more than other American fighter pilot, and his 26 victories stood as a record until World War II. When America became involved in the Second World War, Rickenbacker supported the war effort as a civilian adviser. He often visited soldiers who were stationed at the front lines to review living conditions, check on the availability of necessary equipment, and to give assessments of the overall operations of combat units. Afterwards he would make his report and send his findings back to Washington. During one such trip to the south Pacific in 1942, the plane on which Rickenbacker and his aide had hitched a ride, an older B-17 bomber, was forced to ditch in the ocean. Rickenbacker and the aircrew spent the next 24 days in life rafts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The book by Lieutenant Whitaker tells the story of their ordeal.
When my wife found the book, she asked if I’d ever heard of it. Of course I hadn’t but I was curious about the book’s title. So I began reading it and found it to be one of the most amazing testimonies of God’s protection and deliverance that I’ve ever read outside the Bible. We recently studied Acts chapter 9 and examined two miracles that God worked through the Apostle Peter. The question that came up during that study was, “Do miracles still happen today?” In his book, Lieutenant Whitaker recorded several modern day miracles that he credits for saving the lives of him and Rickenbacker and all but one of the air crewmen who were aboard the ill-fated B-17 bomber. According to Whitaker, there was no other explanation for the lifesaving miracles other than the hand of God.
At the front of the book I found this prayer/poem written as a dedication by Chicago Tribune reporter John Hooks when the book was published in 1943. Hooks began his dedication with a quote from one of the chapters in the book and followed that with the words of his prayer/poem. It reads as follows and keep in mind it was written at the height of World War II, before the outcome of the war was known:
“The receding curtain of rain….began moving back toward us, against the wind……as if a great and omnipotent hand moved it.”
They learn man’s impotence, who long adrift
In loneliness of space and find seas and skies
To charts unknown, where sullen dawns are swift
But bring no hope to aching, straining eyes;
Yet they found faith to ask for rain to heal
Their thirst, and saw how passing clouds were stayed
As if God stooped to heed their faint appeal
And the waters heard and the waves obeyed.
Father, we plead that peace may come like rain
In Thy good time to our beloved land;
Grant us the strength to work, and thus sustain
The faith to know a mighty, unseen hand
Still guides our destiny; and as we pray
May rain’s soft mercy bring a better day.
Those words were dedicated to the airmen who had been lost at sea and were all but given up for dead. There is no shortage of lost and confused and misguided people in America today. We are a land and a people in need of prayer and these words could just as easily apply to us today: “Father, we plead that peace may come like rain in Thy good time to our beloved land. Grant us the strength to know a mighty, unseen hand still guides our destiny.” God is still in control.
The experience brought Whitaker into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and the story is as much about his journey to becoming a Christian as it is about the ordeal he and his companions endured. As a Memorial Day tribute, I’d like to share with you the author’s accounts of the miracles that not only saved the lives of him and his companions, but also brought him into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is my intent to honor our veterans by retelling this story, in a condensed form, and to bring honor and glory to God.
In part 2, the first of the miracles……………………………