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Interview with Malcom C. McIver, December 8, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Malcom C. McIver, December 8, 2003
December 8, 2003
Interview with retired Lieutenant U.S. Navy Chaplain Malcolm McIver.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  McIver, Malcom C. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  12/8/2003 Series:  Military Length


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member at the University of Wilmington’s Library. Today is December 8, in the year 2003 and I’m at the home of retired military chaplain McIver.

Zarbock: Sir, good morning. What led you to choose the ministry as a profession.

McIver: The decision to answer God’s call to minister was a slow process involving influences from a variety of individuals in my life. I can think of three events which moved me toward the ordained ministry. The first was the influence of my home family especially my relationship with my father. My father was a son of a Presbyterian clergyman. He and mother were active members of the First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington and often following evening prayers my father would read the scripture and lead us in family prayers.

Now Paul, I’m one of nine children, the fourth child and the eldest son. I vividly remember my father at the closing of the prayers would turn to me and say, “Mac, I hope you might someday consider following your grandfather as a Presbyterian minister” and I never forgot those words.

The second influence came through my experience in the youth organization of the Presbyterian church. At the age of 18, I was elected president of the youth council of the Presbyterian Wilmington which included 78 churches in four surrounding counties. As president of the council, I attended the annual conference for youth at Davidson College, North Carolina and during these conferences I was impressed by inspiring sermons and lectures and leaders of studies of the bible. I was stimulated by the discussion led by these able leaders. In those days, I often thought about becoming a minister myself.

The third event which influenced my decision to consider seriously the ministry was my father’s severe illness when I was 19 years of age. He was in the lumber business here in Wilmington and I worked in that business every summer. In the middle of my junior year of college, my father had an acute attack of rheumatoid arthritis. I returned home for three years and assumed the major role in operating the business. One evening the doctor was leaving our home and said to me that my father might not live through the night and that he regretted telling me this.

I was of course shocked and in reflection I went through a process of earnest prayer and I asked God to heal my father and I committed myself to adhere to God’s guidance in my life. Time passed, my father began to improve and later regained his health and enabled me to complete my college education. The call to ministry became more clear to me following this incident in my life.

Zarbock: What year did you graduate from college?

McIver: I graduated from Central College in Danville, Kentucky, a Presbyterian college, one of the top institutions of learning in Kentucky. My first cousin, Robert L. McCloud, happened to be president of the college. He also was a Presbyterian minister and during those days he encouraged me to consider the ministry and guided me along the way. Following graduation then, I enrolled in Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. Louisville is located 80 miles west of Danville, Kentucky.

I participated in courses in viable theology, church history, Christian education. These courses were exciting to me and I was becoming more mellow in my decision to be an active minister. After Pearl Harbor I was in my first year at seminary, I decided to join the Chaplain Corps and finishing seminary in May of ’44, I was called to active duty in December of 1944 and reported to the Navy’s chaplain school in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Zarbock: When you entered the Navy, had you ever been aboard a ship?

McIver: You know Paul I never had been aboard a ship. I’d seen them coming and going in the Cape Fear River but for some reason I had never boarded a ship. But after I became a Navy chaplain I just felt like it was anchors aweigh from then on. I was going to learn how to be a seaman and a chaplain on a ship.

Zarbock: How did you learn to be a Naval officer?

McIver: Well the first six weeks of duty was spent in the Navy’s chaplain school at Williamsburg, the College of William and Mary and I was there from December ’44 to March ’45. This was a unique school. The dormitory was commissioned as a Navy ship and the ship was operated by Navy chaplains. Chaplain William Rafferty was the commanding officer. My class was made up of 26 clergymen from 10 different church bodies.

When we gathered for our first session, Chaplain Rafferty welcomed us and said, “You men have received your theology and biblical training in your seminaries, but you are not going to be taught much about religion or the bible in this school. We have invited you to come here to learn how to be a Navy chaplain aboard a ship and on a Navy station. Do you have any questions he asked and we were all pretty much frightened at that point because he was a pretty stern guy and no one there would ask him a question, but he really got our attention that morning.

From then on, it was regulations and following the Navy way of participating on a ship or a station. It was interesting to live each day in that dormitory Paul and to make believe it was a ship. Our vocabulary changed to strict Navy nomenclature; that is we said a ladder instead of stairs and deck instead of the floor and overhead and the quarter deck became an important part of our life and we learned all the Navy terms.

We always saluted and requested permission to enter the quarter deck when we opened the door to the second floor of this dormitory which had become a Navy ship. There were more than 2,500 clergymen who went through that chaplain school during the Second World War.

I graduated from chaplain school in March of 1945 and was ordered to the 3rd Naval District in New York City. I served as a chaplain and a morale officer for the Veterans Hospital on Staten Island and also served as chaplain to the St. George operating base conducting three worship services each Sunday and providing pastoral care for some 1,200 officers and servicemen.

Zarbock: Did you serve on board a ship?

McIver: Yes, later after having been in the 3rd Naval District for five months, I was assigned on a troop transport as a ship’s chaplain. My ship was the General H. L. Scott. It was an AP-136. The ship was named in memory of Hugh Leonard Scott. He was the commanding officer at West Point in 1917 and earlier he was a key general in the Spanish American War in 1898. After that he served in World War I 1917-18.

This ship was designed to carry 3,000 troops and was operated by 253 officers and crew members. The ship was well-equipped including a 50 bed hospital. Now aboard ship, my ministry included the following duties. First I conducted a divine worship and bible study for all men aboard, Protestants, Catholics and Jews alike. I was responsible to be the Chief Morale Officer. I directed the incoming news and reported that each day. I had responsibility for the ship’s library and encouraged the men to read during their off duty hours.

Each morning at 9: 30 I had the opportunity to report the news as received by the radio tower and always would include in my newscast the number of miles we had traveled and then the number of miles we were to travel until we reached our destination. Everyone seemed to be interested in this particular part of life aboard ship and were grateful for this information.

We had also aboard an Army special service officer and he was responsible for the recreation aboard ship and for the special needs of the troops that we carried. When I boarded the ship in October 1945 we were loading 2,500 Chinese officers and men who had been trained in the United States in order to help us to teach in Japan. Our ship sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey and we went to the Panama Canal and onto the Shanghai China. It was a voyage of about 24 days. Some of the U.S. trained Chinese soldiers may have been our enemies during the Korean War of 1950-53 because you recall the Chinese came into the conflict in 1953 and many of our men were killed in North Korea and maybe some of them were those troops we had trained in this country.

Zarbock: With a large passenger manifest as you had on this ship, for example how could you feed all of these people?

McIver: Well that was a chore. The ship’s cooks and those who worked in the bakery and in the galley of the ship were very, very busy. We only served the troop passengers two meals a day and as I recall the first meal was from 5:30 to 7:30 and then the second meal from 1:30 in the afternoon to 4:30 in the afternoon. The enlisted men had to stand up because there wasn’t room aboard ship for all of those tables, but the Army officers had a better mess hall and they were seated.

Of course the ship’s officers and crew had their own mess and enjoyed three meals a day and I think sometimes the passengers were jealous that we were treating ourselves better than we were them.

Zarbock: With all of those people confined on a ship for 24 days, were there any fights or difficulties while hauling these troops?

McIver: Well no because we had 25 Marines aboard who were responsible for the ship’s security and they were the police and they were on duty walking the decks all during the day and in the evening so we didn't have any serious problem and no fights because there was strict military discipline required aboard ship. Also they knew that we had a brig where we could take care of 50 prisoners if any of them got rowdy, they would be placed in the brig under the authority of the Marines who were aboard as our security division.

Let me tell you Paul about several interesting experiences that come to my mind at this moment. I just will mention three. The first one occurred two days after we had left Chensen, Korea and encountered a terrific storm and the ship was rolling and pitching and over the PA system I heard the announcement, the number three lifeboat crew manned U.S. station, there was a man overboard was the announcement. Immediately I went to the number 3 boat station because that was one of my duties in the time of a crisis for the chaplain to be present.

One of the sailors said to me, “Chaplain, we want you to go with us as we lower this boat over the ship’s side”. Maybe they thought they would get more divine protection if I was aboard. Fortunately for me before the boat was lowered, an announcement came over the PA system indicating that a new count had been made and that all aboard were encountered for and of course that was a great relief to me.

Zarbock: I’m sorry, what was the name of the port that you were departing?

McIver: We were departing from Chensen, Korea. What really happened in that situation was that someone had thrown trash or garbage over the side of the ship and the outlook seaman on the flying bridge had seen that and he thought some person had fallen overboard and there’s a strict rule aboard every Navy ship that you never throw anything over the side. You always take your trash and your garbage and you dump it over the fantail of the ship.

The next day the skipper issued a special bulletin reminding all on board of the Navy regulations of how to dispose of trash. A second interesting event to me was unfortunately for me we crossed the international dateline on a Sunday and we crossed that on a Sunday and we had services of divine worship and a regular routine. The next day was Sunday so the skipper of the ship allowed us to go through a second Sunday in two days and I was busy that week writing a couple of sermons and I never experienced that event before.

Zarbock: I was going to ask have you ever had two Sundays in the same week since then?

McIver: Had never had that requirement before. Then the third incident that I recall was there was a happy time when the war was over when we made our trip to Chinsen, Korea was in early 1946 and before we left our home port of Seattle, a part of my duty was to order equipment that I would need aboard and I of course knew we would be at sea on Christmas day. So I put in an order for a Santa Claus suit and for wrapped up presents and decorations for several Christmas trees.

So with the help of many of the seamen we put those trees around the ship and Santa Claus came for a surprise visit. We opened some presents for the skipper of the ship for the executive officer and for a number of the crew members and everybody seemed to appreciate that Christmas time. We also sang the Christmas carols and they felt like they were sort of participating with their families in this Christmas season.

Zarbock: How many trips did you take on that troop ship?

McIver: We took two, I was aboard for two of the trips. The first trip was, as I mentioned earlier, was taking the Chinese soldiers who had been trained in this country to Shanghai. My second trip was to Chinsen, Korea where we took aboard a number of prisoners of war that had been retained there in Korea and there were a number of missionaries that also had been in prison camps. The government allowed our ship to load half of our people were emaciated missionaries and we brought them back I think at the government’s expense.

I really did appreciate the opportunity to provide care for those people. The only danger we encountered while I was aboard ship was the floating mines and we had seamen on the lookout on the flying bridge and several mines were discovered and were destroyed by our ship, but fortunately for us none of them ever made contact with our ship.

Zarbock: In the pursuit of your duties did you have a private office where people could come and talk with you?

McIver: Yes, yes I did have a private office located close to the crew quarters and the Bureau of Naval Personnel is very careful in its planning to provide equipment and office space for the chaplain because they consider the chaplain’s office to be an important part of the operation of the ship. Any officer or crew member could visit, be there. I was known aboard as a crew chaplain. It was a designation that I was pleased to bear.

I had learned early on that many Navy chaplains spent too much time with the officers in the ward room or the officers. Much of my time however was spent with the crew and I did that on purpose because I believed the crew needed more comfort and care than the officers. The Navy have very strict living arrangements. The crew is one part of the ship and the officer in the other part. According to Navy regulations, the chaplain is the only officer aboard ship that can go freely into the crew’s quarters without permission of the executive officer and I had that freedom to go.

If one of the crew members were sick, I could go to his bunk and spend time with him. Also another responsibility aboard ship as I mentioned earlier was the Morale Officer. I was able to help fortunately many of the crew members and some of the officers too through some difficult family situations they were encountering and I’m glad that I was able to have the contact with these individuals. For a number of years, I continued to hear from some of those people that had been helped during a family crisis time.

Zarbock: Before I go to the next question, I just want to reflect back to you how surprised I am that an officer would have to have permission of the Executive Officer to enter the crew’s quarters.

McIver: Yes, and I think part of that Paul had to do with discipline and the chain of command. When an order is given by an officer, the crew never asked why are you saying this.

Zarbock: There was no discussion on an order.

McIver: You get your order and you go through and you execute that order. The Navy is very careful about the officers socializing with the crew members. So that made the chaplain unique on the ship and also on the base, that he is the unique individual that can span that gap and oftentimes give the seamen and the crew on the ship some hope because oftentimes officers can be pretty overbearing and pretty strict.

Zarbock: Well how long did you serve in the Navy?

McIver: I was in the Navy from December 1944 until July 1946. Let me tell you, you might want to know about difficult situations I might have been involved in. I really did not experience any serious difficulties in my service as a chaplain. A few of the officers as I just mentioned were a bit overbearing concerning the crew and I didn't hesitate to take an officer aside and in private tell them how embarrassed I was to hear him say the things he had said to a crew member.

The book of Navy regulations for example say to you, you may not swear. An officer may not swear at a crew member and sometimes they would do that because there were a lot of swearing words aboard ship. So I would say I can’t understand, that they were disobeying the Navy regulations. I said as their chaplain I couldn’t tolerate that. Many times they would back off. I tried to do it though not in a harsh dictatorial way, but in a caring, loving way. I said that they may have their frustrations right now and they might use those frustrations to put it on someone else who does not really require that kind of response from them in this situation.

So I didn't only try to administer to the crew, but I was also there to help the officers as well.

Zarbock: Let me go back to an earlier statement. You said you were one of nine children.

McIver: Yes.

Zarbock: Did you have siblings who were in the military while you were in service?

McIver: Yes I did and I’m pleased to tell you that my younger brother, Lamar, there were four boys, may younger brother Lamar, two years younger than me, was in the Maritime service. He was a purser aboard ship, the payroll person, but he was also required to do medical service although he didn't have a medical degree. But the purser of the ship also had the first aid kit.

I am told that some of them were able to do an appendectomy aboard ship. So he had to learn the medical part pretty quickly. The other brother who was four years younger was also in the Navy. He was commissioned as a Navy flyer. He flew a Navy Hellcat and was missing in action in March of 1945. He boarded the Bellewood in January 1945 and three months later at the southern tip of the _____ in Japan, did not return to the ship after a dreadful storm on a mission.

Let me say this, he earned the Navy cross this wonderful brother. A couple of days before he was missing in action, he and his two wingmen destroyed a Japanese freighter and shot down two of the zeroes and we were so proud of his activity and in helping us defeat the Japanese.

Then a third brother who was 13 years younger and did not participate in the Second World War, but he was in the Korean conflict and served for six months.

Zarbock: Was he in the Navy too?

McIver: No, he was in the Air Force.

Zarbock: Chaplain, one of the questions I’ve asked all other chaplains, were you ever ordered or suggested or hinted in any form or fashion to violate your ethical, moral or religious beliefs?

McIver: I really wasn’t Paul and I’m so thankful that I can say that to you. I was fortunate to have my commanding officer aboard ship, Captain Winbeck, support me and completely…he was always present for divine worship and the fact that the captain of the ship was there, many of the officers might not have been that religious, but they were present with the captain and fortunately for me I was able to establish rapport and was never in any way ordered to do things that would be against my better judgment.

As a matter of fact, I learned that really the chaplain is being the Chief Morale Officer, he’s sort of the cheerleader and keeps a positive attitude for the ship’s crew. At least that was what I tried to do when I was aboard.

Zarbock: Chaplain when you and I were little boys, there was a song then, “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”. Well that’s more of a song than reality . What difficulties did you experience since life is not all a bowl of cherries, what difficulties did you experience in your chaplaincy?

McIver: Well I guess one of the difficulties that I experienced was the pressure that I felt you know being responsible for these people, that many of them hurting, not only getting their jobs done, but because of family situations. I would myself get pretty lonely because there were no chaplains for me aboard. But I spent a good bit of time in my own devotional life and the reading of the Scriptures and was able to keep my emotional balance because I felt so responsible for providing the pastoral care for so many people.

I guess that was my main frustration and difficulty because the good Lord has given me the capacity to relate pretty well to people and not get cross-legged and I tried to be a person to smooth the waters as much as possible instead of stirring them up. I really think that’s what a chaplain ought to do in his ministry.

Zarbock: Where could you go for emotional support?

McIver: For emotional support, I really believe that I had a deeper devotional life during those days as almost two years a chaplain than I did after I left the chaplaincy. I always remembered what Martin Luther once said in his life as a reformer in the 1500’s. He said, “I will not be able to do all of the work that I have to do in a 24 hour period unless I spend two hours in prayer and meditation”. I began trying to do that and that really did stabilize me I think emotionally and recommend that for all the people who are viewing this tape, that when you are frustrated and downcast spending time in devotional and in prayer time will enable you to get over the hurdle of the crisis you’re facing.

Zarbock: I should have asked earlier, while you were serving in the Navy, were you married?

McIver: Yes, I was married and my wife Mildred really supported me so completely. She did not mind being separated from me. We had a two year old son and she was able to write me letters. That was another encouragement by the way since this sustained me during the time. I had many letters from my wife and she has been a tremendous part of my ministry all my days of preaching.

Zarbock: Do your children live here in Wilmington?

McIver: No, I have a son who is a Presbyterian minister and serves at the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas. He has three daughters. I have a daughter who lives in Richmond, Virginia. She’s with the General Electric Company there and she has two children.

Zarbock: Chaplain one of the things I’ve told other people, because of this technology this record will be maintained and you will always be the same age that you are right now. You’ll never get any older with this technology. So there may be something that you would like to say to other family members or just comments.

McIver: Well I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in asking that question. There’s really not enough space left on the tape for me to tell you all the things that I’d like to tell you so I want to be brief and to the point. I’ve given this some thought. I want to remind my family members that I’m now 86 years old and I’m grateful for the longevity of my life. I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity I had to serve my country as a Navy chaplain.

Even though I was separated from my family for 18 months, I was led to make that sacrifice to help win the war against Hitler and the Japanese, but I want my family to remember most of all these words of Jesus who is my savior and my Lord and my Master. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you.” One of the good parts of the Resurrection is the Father does have a house with many rooms and there is a room for each one of us and I’m grateful as I conclude this interview with you Paul for the good news of resurrection.

So I say to you Paul and my family and all those who are viewing the tape, serve the Lord with gladness all your days.

Zarbock: Chaplain, may the Lord be with you.

McIver: And also with you Paul.

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