Answering the Call to Arms

Published 7:22 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Three things happened the day Stanley J Watson received his marching orders to report to the Army Camp Gruber in 1945 for his swearing in. It was his third wedding anniversary, the Sears kitchen cabinet which he had secured with many nails came crashing down and his two year old son bit off a piece of a Coca Cola glass at the drug store.

It took most of the morning to clean up all the shattered dishes, most regrettably the china set that was an inheritance from Johnie Watson’s Aunt Bessie. Then Watson checked the post where he discovered his marching papers. They motored over to Muskogee, a small town nestled in the dry Cookson Hills of Oklahoma, so he could be sworn in to the Army.

They stopped for something cold to drink where his son took a bite out of a Coke glass. Watson and his wife rinsed and swabbed and cleared all slivers of glass from the young child’s mouth.

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“The swearing in went smoothly until the young man in charge dropped a cigarette butt in the trash can that blazed up. Someone brought an extinguisher and sprayed the blaze out,” Watson said.

“I had applied to the Navy in 1944, but they turned me down because I had an eye that was very weak. I signed a waiver for the Army and they didn’t seem to mind,” Watson laughed. “They needed warm bodies, I guess.”

Watson was sent to Newport News, Virginia to the big center there.

“I remember I was standing in line for breakfast, and I read where Harry had dropped the bomb. I said to myself, this is going to be over with. But, I had signed up so I went on to chaplain school at Fort Olglethorpe, Ga.”

Watson was 24 years old at the time. He was ordained at the age of 18 and had been a pastor of a little church for three years. That was the requirement for being a chaplain. After chaplain school, he was assigned to Port Hospital in Los Angeles.

He had three things to do while there: To preach, which he was pretty good at; to counsel with those men coming back from Japanese prisoner of war camps and the battles in the Pacific; and to visit in the wards of the hospital. Watson did most of his counseling at the bedsides of the war wounded.

“I liked my work at the hospital very much,” Watson said. “It was quite different from pasturing. In the matter of counseling, I was totally without a clue. As far as I knew, someone had a problem and came to the chaplain. He would listen to it and then told the person how to handle it.

“But, I must have done something right because chapel attendance increased from around 20 to more than 50,” he added.

Watson’s method of visitation changed after a conversation with Frank Slaughter. Slaughter wrote numerous novels and some nonfiction. His works made the best seller list several times. Slaughter advised Watson about Carl Rogers’ work.

“His theory of counseling says that all you need to do is listening and a person will work out his own solution to his problem,” Slaughter told Watson.

“Sounds too easy,” Watson responded. “Are you sure that’s all there is to it?”

“I’m sure there is something more, but, no kidding, that’s at the center of his theory. He has a book about it,” Slaughter said.

That book became a center piece of Watson’s ministry and later in his teaching at New Orleans Baptist Seminary. It was Rogers’ view of respect based on the New Testament agape that captivated Watson. It was the view that every person deserves to be treated with unconditional, positive regard.

“The heart of Carl Rogers’ theory is this: If you respect a person enough to listen earnestly to him, his self esteem will rise and he will devise his own plan for dealing with his problems,” Watson added.

The months spent in ministry at the Los Angeles Port Hospital molded Watson’s life after the war. He discovered a deep love for counseling families. Many of the men had received Dear John letters from their sweethearts and wives. Some couples had married hastily without getting to know each other, but vowing to love, honor and cherish until death did part them. Then the men were shipped out for months and years. The women had to make decisions by themselves and some had to work even while having one or a couple of children.

The families were devastated.

The children were babies when the father’s went off to war and were grown beyond recognition when they returned home. The fathers and husbands were wretched with sickness and broken bodies, but they were also mentally confused and some were emotionally ill, Watson said.

His job was to “jump-start an interpersonal communication” between the two halves of a couple. Each couple had been apart for several years, and since they might not have known each other well before the war, they now had to over come the personality changes the war had caused, both at home and overseas.

The men had seen and done things that are not a normal part of life. Japanese prison camps and going through battles, the death and destruction does something to a person. The wives had become more independent because they had to make crucial decisions, discipline children, work outside the home to pay those ever present bills.

“The family naturally closed together,” Watson explained. “The circle closed leaving the father out, and when he got back home, he felt like an outsider.”

Watson handled his separation from his family by writing and receiving a lot of mail from his wife. They prayed together at the same time of day every day and would read the same scripture at the same time of day.

“I felt a mixture of pity and contempt for the ones who selfishly gave in to the temptation to substitute someone else for the spouse to whom they had promised fidelity. For example, I often went into the officers club because as chaplain, I felt obliged to be available to the officers. They needed a chaplain, too. My presence with the cross on my lapel had its effect. The officers, mostly doctors, would unhand the nurses they were drinking with and move apart. Someone would recognize my presence with a ‘Hello, Chaplain. Would you care for a drink?’

“I would order a Coke, converse a few minutes and leave for other duties. The conduct of these married men and nurses struck me as being immature and shallow. Their show of affection was contrived, empty, and insincere. Genuine intimacy can exist only if the couple has developed a bonded relationship that is exclusive of another party. To try and substitute another woman for a wife simply out of loneliness is an act of futility. It is grossly unfair to the marriage partner, weakens the bond, and generally destroys the marriage.”

Watson described three “dust ups” with the hospital administrators. He complained about the USO entertainment describing it as “has beens, rejects, and underdressed actresses with third rate material.” Perhaps it was coincidental but the entertainment markedly improved after his complaint.

The second concerned the hospital barbers who made the Negro soldiers wait to get their hair cut until after hours. When Watson tried to fix that, he was told those soldiers had venereal disease, and was asked if he’d like his hair cut after a guy that had V.D. Watson had assumed the barbers sterilized utensils after each haircutting. That problem wasn’t pursued further.

When some soldiers rushed into Watson’s office after hours one evening loudly complaining they were being shipped out too close to their discharge. If they were assigned another duty, their discharge would be delayed for months.

Watson picked up the phone and called the Adjutant General who asked some pertinent questions followed by the assertion that the Army was still in charge and could send soldiers anywhere it so desired. Watson received a reprimand the following morning, but the shipping out orders were changed, and Watson was the hero of the day.

One case stands out in Watson’s mind. On his visiting rounds, he came upon a giant of a man who was restrained and diagnosed as a Schizophrenic-paranoid. Watson sat on the bed staying about an hour, asking questions and talking. The man remained mute, starring straight ahead. Undeterred, Watson told him, “I see you are Ralph Walker and you are having some mental and emotional problems. Feel free to discuss them with me.”

The man remained totally still with unwavering gaze.

“Of course, you might not want to talk. That’s okay. Simply take your time and let us know when you feel like it.”

Watson came back a second time armed with hospital information, weather, football and other news. This time the man cleared his throat. That was progress.

The third time, the man was lying on the bed, but when he spoke, his responses didn’t make a lot of sense. He said all his responses were being controlled by a machine that was attached to the top of his head. Watson carried on a three-person conversation, waiting patiently for the man to ask the machine what to say next.

“Hey, Ralph,” Watson finally said, “tell that machine it is nuts and you shouldn’t pay any attention to it.”

Walker listened for a moment and replied, “My machine says you are nuts and I shouldn’t pay any attention to you.” Both of them burst out laughing causing a stir on the hospital floor.

The result of that conversation was the staff of the psych ward wanted Watson to come back and modify his last visit because Walker was driving them crazy. He thought he was sort of a stand up comic, making all kinds of unfunny remarks then laughing hysterically after each one.

Watson’s decision to go back to his little church in Oklahoma was an easy one. With the hospital closing as patients were discharged, he felt he had done his job and it was time to move on. He and his wife went to New Orleans where he taught for many years. Then he retired to Picayune, buying a farm on Liberty Road. He and Johnie have three sons, Stan, Mark, and David; six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.