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Interview with Raymond G. McPherson, August 28, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Raymond G. McPherson, August 28, 2007
August 28, 2007
Interview with retired chaplain Raymond McPherson.
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Interviewee:  McPherson, Raymond Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  8/28/2007 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  60 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. This is part of a Military Chaplains Oral History Project, and today is the 28th of August in the year 2007. Our interviewee today is Chaplain McPherson, retired from the services after how many years?

McPherson: Twenty-eight.

Zarbock: Twenty-eight years of military service.

McPherson: Ten of those are active, and eighteen years selective service.

Zarbock: Well, good afternoon, Sir, how are you?

McPherson: I'm very well, thank you.

Zarbock: Let's start off as I have with other interviewees. What individual or event or series of events led you into selecting the ministry as your profession?

McPherson: Well, that goes back quite a ways, quite a ways. I was very strongly influenced in my teenage years by a pastor by the name of James F. Burkes out of the Bayview Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia and during that period of time in Norfolk is about the time I met my present wife, present and only wife, Wanda, as we developed a courtship at that time. I was baptized in the Bayview Baptist Church at that time and came under that influence.

Zarbock: That's Baby Baptist Church?

McPherson: The Bayview Baptist Church.

Zarbock: Oh, Bayview.

McPherson: Bayview. And so that was really I would say the beginning of my sincere interest in following whatever plan or discovering whatever plan God would have in my life. It was a surrendering at that time in my teen years, around the age of 17 and 18 of mostly dedicating my life to-

Zarbock: Set me in a time sequence. What year would that have been?

McPherson: That would have been let's see, 18, 17 or 18 years, going back must have been in the '50s. It was around 55, 56. And well, 54. It would be 54 and 55, and so that pretty much set the pace for what would come in later years. And so when I went into the Marine Corps as an enlisted Marine, and entered Parris Island for training there at that time, and 1955, I underwent some pretty rigorous training with the history of Parris Island training back then. But after completing that enlisted training at Parris Island and right here at Camp Geiger in North Carolina, Jacksonville, North Carolina, I was then sent to ITR, Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Geiger, and from there I went to Jacksonville, Florida where I received training at an airman preparatory school, and from there they sent me to Marine Corps Air Station and I had to give that background because of my connection and interest in the Airwing kinds of things. And so that brought me back to Jacksonville, North Carolina because of the Marine Corps Air Station at the time. And much to my joy I was able to resume courtship with my wife Wanda, because her dad was a chief in the Navy, and he received orders from Norfolk, Virginia to Jacksonville as a Corpsman and hospital man eventually. And so that connection with my wife brought us together for marriage in 1956 when I was promoted as a Corporal, and my wife jokingly says she married for my money at that time. That in reference to your question, that history as far as dedication to God, as to His purpose for me I believe back then really set things in motion for God's hand moving in my life as to where I would be, where I would go, and how things would evolve eventually day-by-day, year-by-year. And so within our marriage in 56 I was assigned, just prior to that, I was assigned at Marine Corps Air Station as the Chaplain's Assistant. When I moved into the office as an adman person 0141 as a Marine PFC first, an opening came for a Chaplain's Assistant as they called them back then. Now they're called Religious Program Specialist. But back then it was Chaplain's Assistant because they needed someone who could type for the chaplain, basically, and keep the office and do basic things around the chapel. So I was assigned very gladly so to work for the chaplain, who happened to be Chaplain Fenton Wicker at the time, now retired also. But Chaplain Wicker was a young Lieutenant JG and he was very instrumental also in continuing that inspiration and influence in my life, having some motivational statements to me when he said things like "Now Ray, you need to get your high school education," because I had not yet completed my high school background education. I was a high school dropout at tenth-grade level from Granby, Granby High in Norfolk, Virginia, and Chaplain Wicker began to get on my case about that, and was very much educationally minded. And so I took his counsel and said well just to satisfy the chaplain and get him off my back, I will take the armed forces' GED battery of tests. Now, much to my amazement, I came out with passing scores on all levels of that particular battery of tests, though I knew little or nothing about English and mathematics. I was very weak in those areas academically speaking. But I passed them. And I was consequently received the certificate for high school equivalency. Well, then I was advised "You need to turn that equivalency into a diploma, a high school diploma, per se, and so on my next visit to my old high school in Granby High School, Norfolk, Virginia I made a visit to the office there, presented them my certificate and said I'm interested in receiving my high school diploma. And they were very polite, but also very specific about the requirements of academics to acquire your diploma. So they kindly said "Well, I'm sorry, Sir. But you have not done the academic work, so we cannot award your diploma on that basis, on the basis of this equivalency." I felt very dejected and rejected and disappointed, because I felt this was it, you know? Well, I came back to Jacksonville where I was still stationed at Marine Corps Air Station and someone suggested that I take the certificate to the Onslow County School Board right here in Jacksonville. So I made a visit one day and they looked at my certificate and they said "Well, sure we can honor that." And so for a dollar I acquired my high school diploma without the academic requirements. That's an easy way to get it, but it's not so easy when you're not equipped to go then to college, because you've got to have that foundation. Well, by the grace of God, God gave me a good wife in Wanda. She was a valedictorian graduate from the Camp Lejeune High School right here in Jacksonville. She knew her English. She knew her mathematics. Well, as a young, the youngest ordained deacon at the New River Baptist Church with the ministry of Benjamin Smith now expired from a heart attack some years ago, regretfully so, because of the friendship we had and how influential he was in this town as an evangelical minister. He was a very fiery preacher. He was conducting a series of revivals with the visiting evangelist by the name of Rodney Pearce who was an English professor at Wingate College. Wingate College, North Carolina, and also pastored a church in Charlotte. He was holding these meetings at New River Baptist, these evening revival meetings. And I began to feel some sense of oughtness about surrendering further to the possibility of full time Christian work under that preaching. And so I was in my-- I had completed my third year of enlistment with the Marine Corps. I was now working in between jobs. Had worked with Dan Southern [ph?] Electric Company as an electrician's apprentice for about three years in this town, helping to wire the [inaudible] housing in Cherry Point, North Carolina as an apprentice and commuted back and forth at that time, but in any event under the preaching of Rodney Pearce and the strong evangelical ministry of Benjamin Smith I began to come under some sense of oughtness about further surrender, possibly to full time Christian ministry. And so one evening following the preaching, I approached Brother Smith and Brother Pearce on the grounds outside the church as they were conversing, and I interrupted their conversation and they looked at me and I said "I have a question I need some help with. I'm somewhat troubled about the purpose and will of God in my own life personally." And Rodney-- Benjamin Smith nodded and he conceded to Rodney Pearce to answer my question and he said "What's your question?" I said "Well, is it, do you think it's the will of God for me to surrender to full time Christian ministry?" And that's certainly a strange question to ask someone else, but the minister responds with-- and I'll never forget his response. It was "Well, Ray, do you think," and he used the word "devil." "Do you think the devil put that thought in your head? Do you think evil even would even entertain that very thought in your head?" And that turned the light on and I said "I guess not." And that was all I needed then, and that very evening I was thoughtful, and my wife could see that I was struggling with the questions and she knew I had become very solemn sort of as I was meditating about it, and then when she broke the ice by raising the question and I said nothing whatsoever to her. She said "Ray, if you feel a sense of call like you need to further surrender to the will of God for full time Christian ministry or something, I just want you to know that I'm with you." And we hadn't any children at the time and we'd been married a while. And that's all it took. I said well, okay. We'd were living in a little eight by twenty-eight trailer that we'd purchased, living right here in Jacksonville, North Carolina. That particular trailer park no longer exists off of Henderson Drive but it did at that time, and we would experience a major hurricane right here in Jacksonville in that trailer. When she said that I said, "Okay." I took her by the hand and we knelt at the couch, and that night we struggled for several hours in prayer whether or not this is something we needed to do together because we knew it would mean a major life change. Well, when we rose to our feet, it was very clear. And in the process of that praying I became very aware of the elements around me. The wind was actually began to shake the trailer, and I thought whoa, you know, is God making himself known in this prayer time? When I came to the place of okay, God, I know you've been talking to me. You've been making Yourself known to me and my wife in a very personal way in a sequence of events, I just want you to know I surrender. I surrender to this, to Your purpose, whatever it means. I don't know if You want me to be a minister, if you want me to be a preacher. But I was a pretty shy person, and I'd been a Baptist for many years since in my mid-teens, and I was always shy, and always fearful of standing before crowds. And always you know how the Baptists like to hold what used to be called Training Union for various age groups, and I was at one time when I was at Bayview, I was invited to give a part in Training Union, and I would always tremble and quake at that opportunity. So to me going into ministry was a scary thought, and it required, I would say, a great measure of faith to surrender to that possibility. But at that moment in time it was just in '59, around '59 or '60, I was just surrendering to full time Christian ministry whatever that meant.

Zarbock: How old were you at that time?

McPherson: Well let's see, I got married when I was 20. That was in 56 so at the time I'm not even sure of my anniversary date quite frankly, but I must have been 25, 26. So I made that surrender and my wife was with me in that decision. And so the next question was-- we had a trailer, I was working as an electrician's apprentice. We didn't have a lot of money, we had maybe $100 in the bank but we did own our trailer and we owned our car which was a 57, a 1957, oh that was the year, 1957. We had a 57 Ford. I wish I still had it. I approached the minister, our pastor; I said you know, we don't have any money to make. And I talked to Rodney Pearce and I said "How am I going to go to college?" He said, "With the Baptists, the very next question problem would be get your education under your belt. You could go into ministry as a preacher out here with a certificate. I'd been ordained as a deacon and the church would certainly recognize me with my limited academic preparation and would give me, ordain me for ministry I'm sure, but they weren't even about to pursue that without my going off for some further education. And so the question was where do I go and were do we go from here, and with no money, $100 in the bank? Back then $100 was okay. It was a lot better than it is now, but it still wasn't enough to pay for an education. Well by the grace of God and a wonderful minister and professor, Rodney Pearce, who was a professor at Wingate College, he said "Let me talk to the President, talk to Buddy Smith at Wingate. I'll lay the groundwork for you and then we'll set up an interview." So he did. And next thing I know I was getting a call to come to Wingate and interview and "Bring your academic papers with you." I broke out in a cold sweat because I wasn't that good a student, and then had been very weak academically. As a matter of fact dropped out of Granby High School because I was failing basically in the tenth grade, and I transferred from a country school in Maryland and was doing great there, but when I transferred from a country school into a kind of a white-collar exclusive kind of high school at Granby I couldn't-- I had difficulty making the adjustment socially and so that worked against me. And that's one of the reasons I began to fail, but the thing I learned at Granby that got me started as a Chaplain's Assistant basically was teaching me how to type. And so that typing skill I picked up really carried me through the Marine Corps as a Chaplain's Assistant. But anyway backing up, how am I going to get to college? And even the thought of college scared the living daylights out of me. Well, Rodney Pearce talked with Dr. Bud Smith. Next think you know we're getting a call "Can you come to Wingate?" up near Monroe outside of a few miles from Charlotte, North Carolina, and we went in to meet Dr. Bud Smith. A very imposing gentleman, highly educated, who knew once he met you once, knew your name, and a few things about you. Knew every name of every student he had on campus. And in any event, he has a very large oak desk in his office, and my wife and I sat across from him, and he had my academic papers, and he looked at them and he looked at me and he said "Uh-hum. You played around, didn't you?" And I know what he meant. I was stupid. So I said "Yes, Sir." I wasn't really one who played around but I'd rather have that mark against me than the one that I was stupid, or what you might consider a slow learner. I was considered- I'd been told I was a slow learner so I tried to live up to that for a long time, until one of my English professors at Wingate said "Ray, you're a late bloomer. You'll make it." Well, speaking of which when I was getting ready to leave when it was clear, the road was clear for us to be entered at Wingate on a full board scholarships that was amazing. I wasn't even sure what it would mean, except that it meant all of my classes would be paid for. I would work half a day. I would go to school half a day, and then we would open, my wife and I both would open the bookstore at night and run the bookstore, and that would take care of our meals in the cafeteria. And they would give us a place to park our eight by twenty-eight foot house trailer above the football grounds and the sewer plant. When the winds came up, it was not a pleasant place to be, but and that's when we would head for the library. I didn't realize that your question was going to bring such a long history about the call to ministry but this was all the preparation ground was all part of it. And so the interesting fact is before-- oh, as we were sitting at the desk of Dr. Bud Smith the registrar came in and having examined my record he said "Dr. Smith" he said, "He doesn't really qualify to be admitted to our college." I shrunk a little bit. Dr. Bud Smith kind of raised up a little bit and he said "We have a high school level math course being taught here right now. And he could take college-level language for high school credit. Yeah, we can accept him. And look, he's got his certificate right here from Onslow County. So yes, admit him." And then the next question was the financial aspect. He said "What can you do?" I said "I worked three years as an electrician's apprentice." He said "Okay, we'll put you to work with Mr. Gurden [ph?]. He manages our building and grounds and you can work with him and he'll assign you your work. And that will take care of your academics. Now what about your meals?" He knew we had nothing. He said "We have a bookstore, and soda fountain and if you and your wife will run that nights, then that will take care of your cafeteria meals." I said "Okay, we can do that." But then he looked at Wanda and he said "Now, you need to understand what your husband is going through and what he's experiencing, so you need to go to school too. You've got, I see you've graduated valedictorian from Camp Lejeune High School in Jacksonville. You're a good candidate for our degree program for our Associate of Arts degree program, so we want you to go also. And so we'll put you to work in our office. You can type?" Oh yes. "You can dictate shorthand?" "Yes." So she did this, so she was working, I was working. Now the problem in preparation, this is a preparing. God is getting us ready for the ministry and the work and the call. It was all part of the call. And I still didn't know what I was going to do in terms of ministry. All I knew was I was preparing, and so our trailer was parked above the football field and there were some interesting things that happened about that, but in any event while there I was in class one day and I'd been in spirit prayer about "Well, Lord, what am I doing?" And I would sort of get that quiet voice in the ear, the sense of response, this communication that's going along spiritually between me and God. And He said "Just keep doing what you're doing." I would say "Okay, if I can complete one semester, I can say I've been to college. Nobody can take it from me." But that first semester was a trial of Job because I did not have that foundation. But because of God giving me such a good woman who was prepared with some academics, she coached me through my English preparation. She coached me through my history lessons. She coached me through my math and algebra and all of that, and so I was burning the midnight oil and we were working half a day and then going to school half a day and then working at night for that first year. Well, that summer we found it was quite a burden but we made it through. We made it. She did it in a breeze. I had to struggle day-by-day. God help me memorize this. Help me learn this. I'm going to do this. Every day was a prayer and I was doing it. And with each course I began to be more encouraged and more encouraged. And by the time those first two semesters were out, we had an invitation to attend Fruitland Bible College which opens up for summer camp for young people. And so we earned money at summer camp and said "Why don't we just apply this?"

Zarbock: What was the name of the summer camp?

McPherson: Fruitland Bible Camp up in Henderson, North Carolina.

Zarbock: How do you spell?

McPherson: F-R-U-I-T-L-A-N-D. It was Fruitland Bible School. Basically Fruitland is a, I think they still have the program, a two-year certificate program for people like me. If I had not learned about it, I probably would not have gone into college. I probably would have gone to Bible College for two years and received certificate course, but God gave me what He had in mind for me so this is the route we took. I'd like to back up for just a moment on the day that we left for college. It was wintertime. And we were pulling, I was pulling the trailer out of Henderson Drive with my 57 Ford, and we got as far as just outside of Monroe, just a few miles from Monroe, North Carolina where we were supposed to come in and register at Wingate and all. And we ran into a snowstorm. And so we ended up pulling over and got permission from a local motel just to park our trailer and car right there in front of the motel. And we had an oil tank that I put had an oil burner inside the trailer, was part of the makeup of that trailer. So for the next two nights or so, we survived in that trailer because I had to hook up the oil burner outside. Oil tank not oil burner, oil tank, so we could have heat and all, and the next-- as soon as the storm passed we started back towards Wingate College. It got a bit hilly there, and we were driving through snow and ice-laden highways. And when we got to Wingate and Mr. Gurden found us at the bottom of the hill. We could pull the vehicle no further with the trailer, because we had a hill to go up in order to get where the trailer would be parked. Mr. Gurden came down with the trailer, I mean with a tractor, and pulled us in to Wingate and that's the way we made our entrance pulled into Wingate, and parked above the football field on a hill ourselves, and slept in that trailer on icy ground, snowy ground at an angle about like this for the first week or so. I couldn't wait to get that trailer leveled up. Well, as soon as the snow began to thaw I got together all the cinderblocks I could and began to jack up my trailer and I knew all about jacking up. But my wife was inside ironing while I was jacking up the trailer and me putting one block at a time, I was building it up, and the ground was still soft from the snow and so the pillars of blocks began to shift and I was under the trailer, and the blocks went down, and the trailer fell and missed me by about three or four inches with me under it. It could have killed me right then and there, but so I was spared. So that was a trial was really getting set up there in that particular spot, but we were able to manage it eventually. And when those blocks were finally in place, the thaw came and the ground hardened it was like solid brick because it was a clay-like ground. But that was the beginnings of my trial for the first semester or two with not only the academic struggles. But we came back from Wingate, I mean from Fruitland after that summer and with some money earmarked to pay for our cafeteria meals. Well, Dr. Bud Smith had appreciated our work so much in the bookstore; he raised a question, because I didn't really cancel out with him previously. I told him our purpose, and so I take responsibility for that and I didn't know procedures back then, or even the polite thing to do. But the word came back to me after wondering myself through Mr. Gurden, "Who do these McPhersons think they are?" And that really, really honored Dr. Bud Smith and I felt really badly about the fact that we'd given up the bookstore, because he really trusted and appreciated our work in the bookstore. But the workload was really more than I could handle. I needed more time to concentrate on my studies, and so working half a day and school half a day, and then nights was too much because we were burning the midnight oil every evening. Eventually he accepted it and they got someone else to run the bookstore, and everything worked out fine. When we came to completion of our two-year AA degree course which I was so, so excited about, there were three McPhersons on the stage at one time because my brother had also joined us who had been a resident of Norfolk, Virginia and was preparing to go into the Marquette Program in the Marine Corps as a jet pilot. And so that's another story but he got shot down 1966 in Vietnam and has been carried on a missing list ever since. But he was, let's see, Edward was going offstage; my wife was coming on-- no. He was going offstage, then I was coming in to get my degree, and Wanda was behind me. And so the three McPhersons on the stage at one time receiving their AA degrees. Not only that, but Wanda and I received the President's Cup which stood about this high, engraved which was awarded each year by the President called "The President's Cup for Outstanding Contribution to Wingate College." Now I'd been putting in light bulbs and running central circuits and things like that using what God-- what skill God had given me opportunity to receive as an electrician apprentice. Wanda had been working in the office, and so together we were pretty much a team for the school doing different things. And I was absolutely amazed and thrilled that we would receive such an award as that. And my wife also graduated valedictorian from Wingate. I was just fortunate to make average grades, C's and B's and occasional As. And but one of the things I regret, and you know, when you look back on the events in your life, you want to be careful when you're living day-by-day that you don't have to regret things. I have one major regret about Wingate. And that regret was the last day; my last work day at Wingate, Dr. Bud Smith's wife was the librarian. I was in her library putting in replacing some burned out fluorescent tubes, and at that point in time, I was so excited to reach graduate day, and I was so proud actually, and also tired, weary from the struggle: physically, I had the work load, and the academics. I was almost burned out from those two years. But Mrs. Smith made a request for me. I was folding up my ladder and she said "Mr. McPherson," she called me by my last name. "Mr. McPherson, would you-- there's another light bulb back here in this room. Would you mind doing that one?" And I said "Mrs. Smith. I'm finished." I could have responded easily enough, one more request. Following that next graduation day we received the President's Cup. It was almost bittersweet because I did not do that one more thing. And you know scriptures teach us to go the extra mile, and I think that kind of laid some ground work, a lesson that sometimes it's necessary, sometimes we need even for our own sake to go the extra mile. And I failed to go the extra mile that time. We began to be prepared for ministry. And it was while at Wingate I was in classroom and someone came knocking on the door while I was in class. It was an emissary for one of the local churches in Monroe, North Carolina looking for me because I had been doing a few little talks with the Baptist Student Union there at college and all. I was one of the oldest persons present. And I had kind of made a deal with God. I said "I still don't know what it is you want me to do." And finally He said well, put this thought in my head. "Make a deal with me." Okay. The deal was this. If I get an invitation from anywhere without even promoting myself, without promoting myself, without telling anyone that I'm going into ministry that I'm doing this, I'm doing that. But if I get an invitation I will accept that as my call to preach. As Your call for me to preach or to proclaim the gospel, as weak as I am in speaking, as scared as I am of standing before groups, and all of that, and I never imagined I would ever get an invitation to speak before anybody given my background and given my weakness, weaknesses as far as my vocabulary, as far as my timidity and all of that. Well, I was in class and someone knocked on the classroom door and the teacher is interrupted from his presentation. He goes to the door and this person says "Is Mr. McPherson in?" "Yes, he is in this class." "Could we speak with him?" And so I stepped out, what is this all about? And it was an invitation to come and speak at a local church for youth revival. Shortest sermon in history probably, and probably the most frightened preacher that ever stood behind the pulpit, but other than that I accepted the invitation and there were several young people that came forward, it amazed me, for rededications. One for profession of faith and I was totally amazed. But suddenly it was like God did something for my ego or whatever, saying this counts. I got to make good my promise now. This is it. This is the call. So that was basically the call to ministry. Now that would begin to accelerate and to pick up in terms of leading to its chaplaincy ministries because having been military-related having worked with chaplains I had that association with chaplains at least two different chaplains: Chaplain Fenton Wicker and then Chaplain Oscar J. Harris at Marine Corps Air Station in my last year when I was promoted from Corporal to Sergeant so I would work for Chaplain Harris from 1957 to 1958, and while working with him he pretty much built me up and encouraged me as his assistant and called on me for many things while there, and especially in managing the new chapel which had just been built so we were there at New River when we moved from the hangar office and place where we had services into a brand new chapel and so as an E4 Chaplain's Assistant Sergeant type I was responsible for managing the chapel and the projects around there to help the Chaplain. I didn't know it at the time but when Chaplain Harris got called up into cutback a Reserve Chaplain, and he was Lieutenant Commander, he would go from that job to the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana as the chaplain there from 1958 until 1975 he would be Chaplain at the National Leprosarium which would begin to have different names: United States Public Health Service Hospital, and eventually the Gillis W. Long Hansen's Disease Center. Now there's no more institutionalization of persons with leprosy. But anyway, my connection with the chaplain would follow later. Because he would follow Wanda and me with interest through the rest of our career when I would eventually become a pastor and then go to chaplaincy. From Wingate we went to Campbell, Campbell College at Buies Creek, North Carolina. And it was there I was still somewhat anxious and fearful of the academic world, and struggling, still struggling to build upon the foundations that were currently laid at Wingate. My wife decided in order to help finance my way at that point in time, that she would not pursue further education. Though she would do a lot better at it than I was doing, but she wanted to work full time, working for Harvey T. Whaley at Woodrow Baptist Church as a secretary in Raleigh, North Carolina while I would go to school at Campbell. We established a place outside of Raleigh at a trailer park. We traded in our smaller trailer for a larger trailer, a longer one, and did much better in that, and then I commuted to Campbell. And it was there at Campbell that I took the academic-- I determined to take up the academic field of elementary education. And I was a little shaky still a little shaky, in my confidence as far as being a public speaker or pulpit speaker. And so it was in the back of my mind that much lack of faith in what God is going to have me do. And that much lack of faith meant I'm going to have a backup. And my backup would be to teach in elementary education because I felt I could at least learn that much in my college career. I'd have enough to go with elementary education. And it was while at Campbell that in my last year I did six weeks of student teaching at the time and did wonderfully. Had the sixth grade and they loved me, and I loved them, and I loved the teacher who was monitoring me. We had a wonderful time. But in my last semester at Campbell I failed English and was not permitted to graduate with my class. I'm not going to give her name because she has such a wonderful reputation in teaching with other students. I'll say this though, for me with my background as a Marine, and in my class, she had become so rooted, and so legalistic and so demanding, that we memorized her blue book that she had written. We had a young lady in our class that literally broke down, had a nervous breakdown in the classroom because every time we met in class she would threaten the seniors' class about graduation. "You will not graduate if you do not memorize my book." Now I had done pretty well up to that point, but when I refused and I faced her down one day. I confronted her after one of the classes and I said calling her by name, I said "You know, you're tougher than any Marine Corps sergeant I ever had at Parris Island, South Carolina." With the kind of meanness you're presenting in this class that caused a lady, someone to have a nervous breakdown, and demanding that we memorize your book." And she sputtered around a little bit and said "Well, that's my requirement. That's what I have to do." Well, I didn't get a D minus, I got a failing grade. And I think it was not just my rebellion. That was some of it, but it was also retribution. Got to teach this young man something and I was the oldest one in the class, so I didn't graduate. But on the day before graduation they were having families on the grounds and visitors and all, and I got humble because I wanted to graduate with my class. I got very humble. Pretty humble pie. I went to this professor, I approached her and I said "I want to apologize for what I said to you. I had no right. I was out of order even though I think you were very rigid and hard, but I think I was out of order for confronting you." I said "Could I at least get a D minus so I could graduate with my class?" She said "No, you didn't earn it. You didn't earn it." So I said "Okay," and walked away. So that meant I had to commute, and when I tell you we went through so many old cars you wouldn't believe it, just anything to get me down there. So for that summer, I took my summer course in English and passed it okay. But that evokes still some feelings. And I used to have nightmares for the longest time. I literally had nightmares about this professor and that event how that could've disaltered and disappointed. Anyway, it was a disappointment. But you know God uses everything. All the things work together for the good for those who love Him. And I was called according to His purpose, not our purpose, His purpose. And so God's going to work it out, and it was just a learning- a training field for me. A learning time, and I needed some humble pie in that. I finished my course there. I got my degree in elementary education. Very excited about having gotten that, received that degree. I thought I was finished. I thought I was ready to-- not only during that time, I was anticipating the next step of possibly getting a church, and someone said, "Now where are you going to seminary?" "What? You mean I'm not finished?" I didn't know anything about preparing for ministry. Well, so my wife and I looked at each other and she said "Well, you're not finished are you?" I said "No. Got to go to seminary?" How long is that? It's three years. My goodness! And such a late start. Fortunately without children at this time. As a matter of fact we had been trying to have children and both of us had gone through a series of tests and it had been determined that it looked like we couldn't have any for one reason or another. But okay, we accepted that as God's plan for us. We wouldn't have children. Later on maybe we'd adopt, which means we ended up doing, we ended up later on God made it possible in my last year of seminary to adopt a young baby just four months old from the North Carolina Welfare Agency, a social services agency from Raleigh, North Carolina. And I'm leaving that new baby and I'm on a plane going to Okinawa on my first independent tour of duty as a Lieutenant JG Chaplain, inexperienced minister, except for I did have two small churches before that, but I was on a plane to Okinawa. God, is this what it's all about? I've been preparing all these years to have a family and I'm leaving them behind? And I had no children and now I've got one? I was really upset about it. But I surrendered, you know? I surrendered my will to His. Well, that's another story. Anyway in seminary the question was again, how do we take care of this? We got, I got some VA benefits of previous experience which I hadn't even explored for the college background. Suddenly it was like what about your VA from the military time as a Marine? And so the business office brought that to our attention at Southeastern and took care of my academics. So we did that. We moved our trailer on campus. Had a little trailer park there. Made some wonderful friends. I had three wonderful years. While there I went to-- I began to pastor a little church. Applied for-- did some preaching at Woodrow [ph?] Baptist Church down the road which turned into a bad experience. Because I was a young buck, new minister, and had an authority issue about what a minister is supposed to be. My first day on the job one of the young deacons came in and said "Reverend, one thing you're going to need to know around here," and he began to tell me the names on that big board, big, big plaque the size of this wall. They had founded the church and they were still there and they built it. "Stir the pot around here, you make a stink!" I many times thought about that. And I thought you know, there are some things you can stir and you can make them smell good. But turns out I stirred the pot in the wrong direction for now a little bit. About a year down the road when I began to feel the lead, the direction they wanted to move was, I didn't feel it was in keeping with God's plan for that church and community. They resisted this and I thought I don't have the confidence of this church, of the deacons. And so I said well as long as-- we've got to propose a vote of confidence here. Well, I didn't have experience in church ministry. I didn't know what even a vote of church confidence was except I needed to know who was with me in leadership. And so I indicated to my deacons I was going to propose a vote of confidence in our business meeting and the chairman deacon said "Reverend, I don't think I'd do that if I were you." I said "Well, that's what I feel like I've got to do." He said "Well, okay." Turns out they invited numbers I hadn't seen for years, or hadn't seen or hadn't been there since I'd been there, and so a particular element of the church got their backing and they came to the business meeting and we went to the business meeting, and I said I now thought everything could go smoothly and I presented a vote of confidence; asked for a raising of hands for a vote of confidence for the direction I wanted us to go, I thought that God was leading us. So I didn't get the vote that I needed, required the numbers. And so my wife and I went out to the car, and sat and waited for the final tally or whatever, Chairman Deacons came out and handed me a check and said "Okay, you're free to go." And that's how it happened. Lost my first church. I thought oh my. I don't usually talk about this. This is kind of not usually for public record but you know, it's part of my history. Lost my first church. I felt crushed. I thought Lord, I thought, You called me in to ministry. Lord, I thought this is what I was supposed to be doing. And I have failed. And His answer was "I have you in the palm of my-- I've got a plan for you. Don't worry about it." And so Dr. Hendricks who was in charge of field ministry at Southeastern Seminary at the time, learned about it. Matter of fact, he had sort of referred me. He said "Ray, why didn't you come to me and talk to me?" Because he had written a book about how to minister in country churches and all and the things that go on in there, and how they anticipate leadership. And so I said "I don't know Dr. Hendricks. I just thought everything was going to go fine but it didn't." He said "I'm sorry it happened the way it did." Later on by the way the next preacher they called had problems. They had racial issues, and they had a drive-by shooting in his window in the parsonage while he was having a meeting of young people, and they had a young black boy in that meeting with young people, and the element, that particular element in the church did not like it. They did not like it; they didn't approve it so they drove by, bam! Fortunately those young people had just moved out of the living room and were in the kitchen so nobody got hurt or killed, but could have been. And there was a full intent to do so, and so that gives you just a little bit of an idea of what it was like at that time. I don't know what it's like now, but I know what it was then, and so I shook the dust off my feet and said "Well, sounds like judgment to me. Things are coming to light." So anyway, further ministry about chaplaincy called while at Southeastern, March of 1966, got a call and this would be a turning point in terms of ministry, and I was also pastoring or getting ready to pastor after this event at Ridgecrest Baptist. Following that church my wife and I got a call to a little country church to a place called Union Level, Baskerville, Virginia. They were the most healing people, most embracing in love. They knew nothing about what had happened to us and that rejection, but they embraced us and we had a wonderful time before I went on active duty as a chaplain. It was awesome.

(tape Change)

Zarbock: Tape number two, Chaplain McPherson, 28 August, 2007, Military Chaplains Oral History Project, Paul Zarbock, as you were saying, Chaplain.

McPherson: Okay, I was at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and in 1966 I received a called from my stepfather in Norfolk, Virginia, and he sounded very distraught. And it was most unusual to receive a call from my dad, but I happened to be home at noontime for my lunch, on my lunch break when the call came in. And he said, "Ray, your brother is down." And I said, "What?" He said, "Everett is down. He's been shot down." He was flying on a mission in North Vietnam and took a hit in his plane, and there was an immediate grief reaction. And I said, "Dad, I'll be right home." And so I left classes. Wanda and I got in the car and every 30 minutes or so we'd stop, make a phone call and say, "Have you heard anything? Have you heard anything?" Because we knew that the Marine Corps took care of its own and there was promise that they would never abandon or give up a search for anyone missing or presumed missing or KIA. And so I had every hope and indication that my brother Everett, who was flying an EF-10B March 18th of 1966, would be found, but we didn't know the story at that time. But anyway, that was a pivotal moment in my call to ministry, especially to Navy Chaplaincy. Given my military background, I was in training as a Marine, and connections and acquaintances with chaplains at that time I immediately began to feel a sense of responsibility to men in uniform, and honored, greatly honored the uniform. Really appreciated both uniform and the example of chaplains I had seen and their influence on my life as well as civilian ministers who have influenced my life in the spiritual sense. And there had been spiritual influence as well by Navy chaplains. But anyway, as I made-- we made that return home we waited for, awaited with the family for more word to come through which never came, but there were periodic reports. But I came back with this tremendous burden or sense of, I need to begin to prepare for military chaplaincy and try to qualify. Well, I knew my biggest drawback would probably, at this point in time, not be academics, it would be my visual acuity because I had worn glasses all my life. and I had a high astigmatism of nearsightedness. And so I made application through what as called, at that time, The Instant Probationary Program for Chaplaincy. And in order to qualify one had to pass a series of tests and also receive endorsement if I want to see nomination. And so I sought endorsement after hearing some presentations by our denomination about military chaplaincy when they were basically recruiting for interests toward military chaplaincy. So I applied and received endorsement. But when I made application for the Chaplain Corps word came back, official word came back in my application that I was rejected due to visual acuity problems. But a cover letter came with that from the medical division saying, "Reverend, we have found sometimes a reexamination might improve, or you might consider contact lenses." So this is what I did. I went to my ophthalmologist there in Fuquay-Varina outside of Campbell in Raleigh where we were living at the time, and I told him my situation and what I'm trying to do and he said, "Well, let's see what we can do. And so he worked with me and issued me-- I purchased contact lenses and was brought up to speed. Reapplied and learned later that I was-- even though I was brought up to the required readings for visual acuity, but they had basically given me a waiver. And so they had waived it anyway. But given that waiver, when I completed my seminary graduation which was with the first class, actually, to receive the masters degree for three years of academics, I was just amazed because I had not taken the Hebrew courses, which are now required, Hebrew language courses which are now-- Hebrew and Latin, I believe, are now required or Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. And so I didn't have that particular preparation, but we were kind of grandfathered in, I guess, or something of that nature, but I received my masters degree in Masters of Divinity and resigned my little church in Baskerville Virginia. Well, I learned later that that was a no, no. You don't resign your church before you get your orders. But I felt that, you know, it might happen so fast because it was during the Vietnam era. And I did not know one does not resign ones church before receiving orders from the Navy. But I was made a team leader of one of two teams at chaplain school because of my prior military experience as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. I was made gold team leader for these chaplains. We had a large class of Catholics and Protestants from all walks of life and north and south. And so we were broken into two large teams, blue and gold team. And they were-- I mean, my required job with them was basically to get out there and teach them how to march. And I had a lot of rebellious preachers.

Zarbock: Where were you?

McPherson: Newport Rhode Island at the time. So I left. I got orders from Newport Rhode Island to do my training as an Ensign, basically, on an Ensign probationary program. And while at school, upon completion of the course, one would be promoted to Lieutenant JG, Lieutenant Junior Grade, and so I faired well at chaplain school as-- and as a team leader. Even God was preparing me to come out of my shyness doing those kinds of things, and I was still scared to death, but I'm still-- I'm doing it. And so upon completion of that three month course at Newport Rhode Island I discovered that I was not receiving orders for active duty, and I didn't have a church, I didn't have no place to go. And what am I going to do? And Chaplain Haney, who was one of the school leaders and who was managing my applications, he said, "Well, Ray," he said, "Why, why did you resign your church?" I said, "Well, I thought that when I finished Chaplain School it was going to be immediate orders for active duty." He said, "Well, it doesn't happen like that," he said, "But let me tell you something. One of your classmates doesn't want to go Okinawa. His wife is standing in his way, doesn't want him to go. Would you take those orders?" I said, "Will I take those orders? Ay-ay sir, you know." I was like-- like it was, hey, this was word from God. And I was exactly, you know, exuberant. I was excited. And he said, "Now, this will be--" at that time my predecessor, Chaplain Pope, who was at that particular duty station, Smedley D. Butler there in Okinawa, had been there unaccompanied for 13 months. He said, "Now, Ray, this will be an unaccompanied tour, you know, it's do without your wife." I said, "It's okay. She'll agree. She'll go along with me on this." Now, we had just adopted our first child, David, four month old baby. Well, I found myself on a plane going to Okinawa all weeping inside, but excited, excited at the prospect that I was going as a chaplain and fulfilling God's call for me, proud to be a chaplain. After-- while I was there-- now, let me tell you this. That first three months I was there I was looking for things to do besides ministry, something to occupy my two days off. And so I took a course in scuba diving. And while on a scuba diving expedition off the coast of Okinawa, we went out with a group of Ryukyuans, and a few officers and enlisted doing our scuba diving having passed the course which required several hours of treading water in the pool and whatnot. [tape skips] Then the-- while I'm away, the spare time that I had in between ministry to the Marines at Camp Courtney and Camp McTureous as their base chaplain, they staffed-- as well as their brig chaplain before they built the correctional center there, correctional facility. They kept me pretty busy and ministry was-- it was a great, great learning field and opportunity for ministry at the time because we had a number of Marines who were living there with their wives incognito. Some were bringing their wives over to live in the-- on the local economy on the quiet side, you know. They paid out of their own pockets, their own expense to bring a wife or children even over sometimes, because for all practical purposes the Marines were still, at that time during the Vietnam era, they were unaccompanied tours, the Marines. But anyway, back to my story. I had taken the course for scuba diving, and I thought I need to do something physical and energetic while I'm here to occupy my time, my free time. And so I took this scuba diving course. And I was out on this first dive and while-- during the dive I lost some air coming up, my tank was giving out, and I just broke the surface in time to get to the boat. We got to the boat, threw our gear back in the boat and we were making a quick-- a fast race back to the boat docks at the center there at the Okinawa Special Services Center where they keep the boats and the gear and all that. And I discovered that my wedding ring was missing. And I thought, oh. We're making our way back and I got all excited about this. I began to plead with the operator of the boat, "Let's go back, I've got to find my wedding ring." Now, in God's big blue ocean out there, you know, on the-- out in Okinawa and the coral reefs and all of the beauty of that undersea world and all of this, how in heavens name am I going to find a wedding ring? Well, they kept saying, "So sorry, so sorry, gomenasai, gomenasai, so sorry can't go back." And I thought, "Well, how am I ever going to tell my wife that I lost my wedding ring?" And so I lived without it for a week meditating on do I tell her or don't I tell her. Just buy myself another ring or do I tell her I lost my wedding ring. Well, I had not made up my mind. The next weekend came up and a young officer had come aboard who did a little bit of sailing and he invited me to go sailing with him. And while we were out sailing a little squall comes up and the winds blowing and showers are blowing in, and I noticed that he had his hand on the till of the boat, he had on two wedding rings. And I don't even remember the gentleman's name, but I said, just for the sake of a name I said, "Jack," I said, "You're wearing two wedding rings." And he looked and he said, "Damn if I don't." And I said, "Well, let me see that." Well, I could tell the mark on my ring from having been an electrician apprentice. I had jumped off a truck and it had caught and there was a dent in it, a little nick. And I said, "Let me see that." He said, "How did that happen?" And I looked and I said, "That is my ring. I lost that ring last week when I was scuba diving." And we scratched our heads and we studied it for a moment, and it dawned on me. I'd been wearing handball gloves, tight leather handball gloves and when I took the glove off the ring came off in the ring finger of the glove and we threw this gear down along with probably 25 other handball, pairs of handball gloves and this gear stuff was thrown in the lockers back at Special Services the week before. And this week I got invited and he just happened to pick up the pair of gloves that I had worn. When he put his hand in that hand glove and then took it off the ring was on his finger the same way I had lost it. And so I just look on that as a miracle of God, you know, it's God's affirmation as to the sanctity of marriage and especially the significance of my marriage to my wife Wanda. And I was so relieved I was able then to tell her the story of how that happened. Well, that was very, very significant to me. Well, many, many things happened to me while there. Oh, the second most vital thing that happened, not only did I have a six or seven page set of orders, but they were very detailed. And all I knew is I had accepted orders for 13 months unaccompanied. Well, I discovered when the Navy Admin called me in the office to finalize my orders there on Okinawa they said, "Ray, we're getting," or said, "Chaplain, we're getting ready to finalize your orders for 18 months." And I said, "Eighteen months? I just left my adopted baby. I thought these were orders for 13 months. I've accepted that, but 13 months is that much longer." And he said, "Well," he said, "You've got an option." I said, "I do?" Said, you know, "What's the option?" He said, "Well, your option is 13 months," I mean, "Eighteen months unaccompanied or 30 months accompanied." I would be the first chaplain actually to pave the way for accompanied tours for Marines on Okinawa in that era of time, the first one. Now, we lived with a little bit of guilt about that, but yet we did pave the way for Marines with families to have-- because Smedley D. Butler, Camp Courtney, Camp McTureous, Camp Schwab, the chaplains, Butler kind of embraced all these camps. The Air Force had their families. The Army had their families. Why couldn't the Marine Corps have their families, because this was a fixed southern base, and so that they began to open up. But for a while, the former chaplain, when he would come out to speak he didn't know how that happened. He said, "Chaplain McPherson how is it your wife happens to be here." I said, "Well, I don't know. We just acted on the orders." And so that's the way it happened. But while we were there, she came over with our newly adopted baby. I didn't have to live without them. We lived on the economy. We went every place there at Iha [ph?]. We, while we were there the last year, the last six months we were in Okinawa we had opportunity to adopt our second child, a little baby girl three days old born out of wedlock to a young teenage couple in the Air Force. And we'd been foster parents for a mixed American Ryukyuan child. And they had followed us since we were so newly adopted parents for our baby from North Carolina. International Social Services were still doing home study following us. So they knew about our care for the first child and said, "Well, we know of a situation where a little girl, a baby is about to be born. Would you be interested?" Would we be interested? We were afraid there'd be a three year span from the first one to the next one. So by God's good graces this little girl, Jennifer, now, by the name of Jennifer, born on Okinawa to an American young teenage couple who needed a home for their baby, got placed in our home. And those papers had to be translated from English because she was born in Iha [ph?] Hospital...

Zarbock: How do you spell that?

McPherson: No, Camp Kuwae Army Hospital, Army Hospital on Okinawa at the time. I believe it was Camp Kuwae Hospital. And her papers then had to go into the Okinawain courts, the Ryukyuan courts and be translated into Japanese. And they couldn't understand why we were naming her the way we were. We had to work through that with them because of their culture and their traditions about names. So all of that had to be explained why we were naming her Jennifer and with my middle name only spelled Rae instead of Ray. But anyway, just a few days before my orders were up and we were ready to rotate back to the United States Jennifer would be released to go home with us. Now, further down the road when I got called or visited by Chaplain Oscar Harris who had been the chaplain and I had been his assistant at Marine Corps Air Station right here in Jacksonville in New River, and he was getting ready to retire from Carville the Hansen Disease Center. He had had a couple heart attacks and he was looking for a replacement. So I'd just been promoted to Lieutenant Commander and I had orders from Camp Lejeune when I came back from Okinawa. I was at Camp Lejeune Third Battalion Sixth Marines for two years there. And then went from Camp Lejeune to Bethesda Naval Hospital and while there I was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. So I had a Naval Career on the move and going, and very happy in my ministries, and took part in a major research program for heart, open heart patients there at Bethesda under-- tutored by and laid the ground by Donald Mims, Chaplain Donald Mims. But while there Chaplain Harris came to visit and said, "Ray, I'm getting ready to retire from Carville. I followed your walk in the ministry and your life as a chaplain so far. I'd like to recommend you for my position at Carville because I'm getting ready to retire from there. I've had two heart attacks and I've been there 15 years and it's time for me to leave." I said, "You mean work with the lepers?" He had sent me some literature some time before, a big envelope with a lot of information on leprosy which is now called Hansen's Disease by Armauer Hansen who founded the lepra bacilli, isolated under-- first one to isolate under microscope so they named the disease after him. I said-- he said, "Well, you never read my material did you?" I said, "Why do you say that?" He said, "Because we don't call them lepers. They are people with leprosy or Hansen's disease. But yes, I'd like to recommend you as my replacement," and so forth. Well, I didn't, you know, I had two adopted children and I didn't want to expose them since I did learn that children were highly susceptible to the leper bacilli or leprosy, because their immune system is not as fully developed. Well, what my wife and I-- and I had this career going with the Navy and I was still considered a reservist, and I applied a couple of times for augmentation into the regulars, but because of the-- they were so, had so many chaplains at the time that had done that so the quota was filled. So I took it seriously. I wasn't all that excited about going to Carville or resigning my commission, or not resigning but requesting inactive orders. But I did the thing that you never tell another minister to do unless you're serious about what you're doing. Oscar said, "Ray, why don't you just pray about it?" And so I said, "Oh, no, do I have to?" But so Wanda and I got serious about it and we struggled with the question of being possibly called to Carville in ministry there, and we prayed about it. We found ourselves on our knees just like we had initially right here in Jacksonville before the initial call to full time Christian service. Needless to say we felt inclined to at least apply. So I sent in my application. After being interviewed, I was interviewed by a council of some four individuals. Dr. Paul W. Brand, being the world famous hand surgeon who pioneered in the area of reconstructive hand surgery with leprosy patients and has written several books, that he would become my boss. But the only question he asked me in the interview was-- because of my credentials and history, background having-- being the only minister who would have applied for that job with hospital training and pastoral care experience, and I had two courses in pastoral psychology at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem and also at Bethesda Naval Hospital, so. But the other question Dr. Paul asked me was, "Does your wife play piano or organ?" And I told him, "Well, you know, you're not calling her." He said, "No, but we need her too because you'll be having Union Chapel and you'll be in charge of, basically, you'll be pastor for Union Chapel and chaplain for the institution as one of two. I mean, we have a Catholic priest and our Protestant minister." And I said, "Yes, she does, and we have two children." Well, we surrendered to the call of releasing-- of going out of the Navy into this. But throughout that process I discovered not only would God honor our decision to go to Carville and our surrender to his perfect will and his plan for us, she became pregnant within the first several months at Carville. And jokes about it being in the Mississippi water or the Louisiana water, the Mississippi River goes right by that, by Carville. And so we joke about it being in the water, but it was more than that, of course. It was the hand of God as far as we were concerned. And she was-- my wife was having some problems and she asked one of the missionary ladies who was visiting at the time, the wife of one of the doctors for a recommendation our first few months at Carville, a recommendation for a physician. And she called me from the office, after she came home from her visit with the doctor and said, "Ray, I need to talk to you." I came home from the office right there. We were living on grounds in local quarters. And she-- she was standing in the kitchen, I'll never forget that moment, and she broke out crying. I didn't know what was wrong. And then she said, "I'm pregnant." And I said, "What?" Well, Doctor Trapman [ph?] he was the director of the institution at the time was having a conference with the American Leprosy Missions and he was entertaining at his-- many of these doctors and missionaries at his home. I got all excited and went knocking on doors and saying, "My wife is pregnant. My wife is pregnant." So what do they know? What do they care about that, you know, they didn't know what my history was and we had two adopted children and we didn't think we could have any. And I'm announcing it to the world. I got to Dr. Trapman's door. He lived in a big beautiful southern type mansion house on station there and he was having this party. And there was an Indian missionary, missionary to India, not Indian. He was a missionary to India, one of the doctors and when I made the announcement he immediately dropped to the floor, started (makes pounding noise) pounding the floor with his both hands, and went through some incantations like they would do in India. And I thought-- I got sober then. I thought well, he's crazier than I am, you know, so. Anyway, that was when Jonathan was born, Wanda became pregnant with Jonathan. And we just felt it was God's hand active in our lives.

Zarbock: Tell me about the patients, and what was your role with them?

McPherson: My role was basically at the time we had about 400 patients, close to 500 patients who were institutionalized at Carville, but I can remember about several million chaplains, I mean, several million persons with leprosy or Hansen's disease, as they call it, throughout the United States, throughout the world, three or four thousand in the United States, several million in the world. Endemic areas were considered Southern California, Texas, Louisiana and up in New York, a lot of this having to do with immigration and so forth. But I can-- basically leprosy, medically speaking, is no more contagious than any other disease, so to speak, perhaps the least contagious of contagious diseases because 90 percent of world population is not susceptible to this disease, has a built in immune factor. Ten percent may possibly have this susceptibility. And certainly children had to be basically prevented or kept from patients that are infectious. And therefore, our patients at Carville from its history from the mid 1800s when Carville was founded by Daughter's of Charity, a Catholic order of nuns, and then would eventually be taken over by the state and then United States Public Service Hospital. But patients who were considered, or who were institutionalized by requirement of law at some period of time, were not-- even if they had children were not allowed to come with their children or to have children with them. And those patients that were incarcerated over years until they were given three all clear diagnoses were required to remain, and if they married then they certainly could not have children. There was a lot of human suffering related to the control of persons with leprosy at that time. But while there, the experience was initially what I expected. When Wanda and I reported to Carville, and the kinds of patients who were there at that time were patients who had been referred and had already experienced the ravages of what loss of sensation can do to the hands, to the feet, to the face, to the eyes, because especially a nerve disease, it's a bacilli that attacks the superficial nerves of the cool regions of the body, the eyes, the ear lobes, the finger the toes. Now, fingers and toes do not fall off. They-- you experience what's called bone absorption and-- or due to infections, a repetitive infection or repetitive traumatizing of the digits or the feet, these kinds of things. They develop sores and so forth, because of the loss of sensation. When you don't have feeling then you've got a problem, a serious problem. We had one patient there, a Mrs. Fields, and by the way, I had trouble learning names. I always had trouble learning names, but we had to learn two names for each person because many of these patients would take an alias to protect their family's reputation or whatever because of the high stigma of the disease. But we had Ms. Burchfield [ph?] who was also Ms. Fields. Mr. Juanita Burchfield, Ms. Fields. She had total body anesthesia. She was a beautiful young woman who had worked as a secretary in New Orleans. And when she got referred, not just referred, but required to come to Carville because of her disease, her husband left her. She would never hear from him again. Her home was destroyed, burnt to the ground and anything that she had ever touched was destroyed.

Zarbock: I mean, the house was purposely destroyed?

McPherson: Yes. Yes.

Zarbock: Somebody torched the house?

McPherson: Oh, yes. And this was not unusual for persons diagnosed with leprosy at that time if it was found out because the stigma was so intense and so high. And there is a high stigma still associated with persons with leprosy in other world countries. Many people in our own culture don't realize. I gave a speech just yesterday to the Civitan, and I got a raising of only three hands that knew that leprosy was still a disease active in today's world. Most of us-- most people believe that that's an ancient disease that has already been eradicated. Well, it is basically a nerve disease with lepra bacilli which is called Hansen's disease. Founded-- which was named by Armauer Hansen, isolated under microscope, the first disease to be isolated, by the way, under microscope and the only disease to be named after an individual, Armauer Hansen and consequently the name Hansen's disease. But the interesting thing is when you say, well, if this person says, "Well, why do you go to Carville? Why have got-- what is your disease?" And they say, "Well, it's Hansen's, I've got Hansen's disease." Most of them-- most of the patients would not identify themselves anyway, but they say, "Well, I've Hansen's." They say, "Well, what's Hansen's disease?" Then they'd have to say bottom line, "Well, it's leprosy." But okay, that's one patient who had total body anesthesia. You've got lepromatous leprosy, tuberculoid leprosy and dimorphous leprosy. Each has its own manifestations in the body. And so we had a major research center at Carville that worked with these different aspects of the disease. And now they're able to fully treat the disease. The people that I saw, when Wanda and I first went there in 1975, was what you would expect from the movies like Papillion or...

Zarbock: Papillion and Ben-Hur.

McPherson: Yeah, some of those movies that we find that the sensationalization of leprosy. Well, we did see patients that were disfigured, many that were disfigured, looked like burn victims, and if you met them in a dark alley you'd run. You'd be scared to death. And so the first three months that we were there we were like pretty much afraid ourselves, and particularly fearful for our children, our young children being in close proximity, because we would hold services. Patients would come to services at Union Chapel. We'd be in the parlor, the chapel parlor where we'd do Wednesday night meetings and our children would crawl around on the floor or whatnot, and we had some patients that were new, some that weren't, and under treatment, some that were there brand new with ulcerations and different burn issues and problems. And so we were quite anxious. And to this day we will say, "Well, how's your sensation?" You know, we say, "Do you still have feeling in your fingers, still got feeling in your legs, feet?" And so we've got healthy children. They're fine. They've been protected, and their children. But that was the main thing we had to overcome. Well, after three months, the first three months in a 24 year career at Carville, we ended up being there longer than my predecessor, Oscar Harris. We had an invitation to got to Baton Rouge Louisiana State University to a performance for some relaxation. Baton Rouge wasn't a very large city at the time. They only had a couple of restaurants, you know, Piccadilly Cafeteria being one of them. We loved to go there. But on this particular occasion we went to this performance and somehow I was aware of how beautiful people are. I had forgotten, basically, just from three months working with leprosy patients, and those who had been disfigured and all, that there was a difference, because I began-- we began to see the emotional and the spiritual and the beauty of the inner person. Began to know the personality of the patients, and the persons we were working with so closely. And so we have close friends. We have friends that we made. Mary Morris, beautiful woman, both external and-- but the disease had flattened her nose yet she was a beautiful lady who had the most gorgeous soprano voice. She could have sung opera, but she always performed in our chapel for us. Ted Hega [ph?] a Hawaiian who had no fingers, but would tape the-- because of bone absorption and loss of sensation and all would tape the bar to his hand and tape the, Velcro the picks to his right hand and play the most beautiful Hawaiian music on Wednesday nights or on Sunday mornings for us for special music. Ted Hega, now expired. Bernard, who was grossly disfigured in his face, but he played the bass fiddle for our Wednesday night whenever he would come over for his checkups from Hawaii before Hawaii had a good program at Kalaupapa. He would come to Carville and the specialty physicians there. Dr. Paul W. Brand looking after patients like Bernard, and yet they did-- he became-- be became an advocate for promoting the positive aspects of patients with leprosy or Hansen's disease and try to expel the myths. Now, one reason why the Bible was frowned upon by many, who don't understand the message that say that the stigma of leprosy is promulgated by the scriptures is because they think God struck down. But, you know, if God strikes people with leprosy because of sin then we've all got it, because according to the scriptures there is none righteous, no, not one. We've all sinned and come short of the glory. So we could basically all have this. But God doesn't-- isn't in the business of striking people with leprosy or with any disease, he's interested in the business of healing. In the gospels we find Jesus reaching out and touching people, and this is what became my motto. I had a patient that wouldn't shake hands with me because he had been rejected by his closest friend when he was diagnosed and had to go to an institution for a few months. And he came back home and this closest friend of his, after shaking hands with Henry, reached in with his left hand and withdrew his kerchief to wipe his brow. They were standing outside under the shade tree and the sun had moved and they were perspiring. They visited a long time catching up. And Henry said to me, "Chaplain, don't you understand why I don't shake hands?" I said, "No." He said, "Well, if my closest friend, the one I was brought up with, I knew all my life, will not touch his own handkerchief with the hand that has shook hands with mine then I cannot submit myself to that kind of rejection again." And it afforded me an opportunity to minister to him. I said, "Henry, I understand something about what you're saying. I can't understand what it's like to have the disease," I said, "I don't have it," I said, "But I understand something about rejection. I've gone through some of that rejection, but let me say this. You know, Jesus reached out and touched people, and I want you to know that the Jesus in me wants to touch. He wants to shake your hand." And so he got kind of an emotional and spiritual healing at that point.

Zarbock: Were the patients angry because they had the disease?

McPherson: Yeah, they had to be educated, reeducated because they-- mostly because of the pain and suffering of rejection, sometimes from family. Even by association the chaplain I relieved, Chaplain Harris had said to me, "Ray," he said, "Don't be surprised if you run into some rejection because of your association as a minster working with leprosy patients. I'd go home," he said, "I'd go home and my family would rush me to the showers right away and because of the unclean stigma. And they'd even put newspaper on the chair where I sat down because I'd been working with patients." He said, "So don't be surprised if you yourself experience some rejection." Well, the thing about that is I've really never run into those kinds of rejections, but most curiosity of people that want to know more about it, or if they don't want to know about it it's because of fear. If you learn something about it then it gives you a sense of responsibility. I've got to do something about it when you have responsibility.

Zarbock: Were you living on the grounds?

McPherson: We were living on station at the time with the children for several years, with children.

Zarbock: Now, how was that managed?

McPherson: Well, they-- as a matter of fact because of-- they had a separate place on grounds for staff to live apart from the hospital. And on one side of the road patients were basically not allowed to cross that road into the staff area, because of what was not known about the contagent factor of leprosy. Now, eventually we would relocate off station to get our children into the local school system that we wanted them in. And so we purchased quarters off station. But in our last few months at Carville, before leaving and before the institution was closed down to Hansen's Disease, and now they have relocated a handful of patients into a general hospital in Baton Rouge called The Summit, and they had the third floor of The Summit for their remaining patients. When they gave the last hundred or so patients at Carville the opportunity to remain there or to take a stipend and come out and be on their own, then also the option of going to The Summit, those infirmary patients who were mostly bedridden would have to go to the Summit. We will have a handful of patients at Carville, but the National Guard has taken over the institution for the Youth Challenge Program with young people. And so they have a wonderful program going on there now, but they had tried to share the grounds. They had tried to share the grounds for about three years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as the patient population began to diminish, as they began to no longer receive patients for institutionalization because of the effective treatment program we have going on now, and also through the American Leprosy Missions that is located-- their main office in South Carolina.

Zarbock: Does Hansen's disease reduce the life span?

McPherson: No. Dr. Paul Brand used to speak about this and he said, "You know, if you're going to get a disease get leprosy if you want to live a long life," and he said, "Not only that the government will take care of you." Well, they would at that time. Now, I don't think they have a program, place really to take care of you if you contract Hansen's disease. I think it's treated like any other disease now by whatever insurance you have or Medicare or Medicaid and this kind of thing. But it used to be that because of the unknown factors of leprosy, which were discovered, really, at Carville through work with the-- scientific work with armadillo which do carry the lepra bacilli, also, by the way. It's an interesting animal. But people don't necessarily contract the disease from armadillo or from eating the animal, whatever some people do down south. I don't want any, but. But the question is how do you contract the disease and why we no longer need an institution? It's because of the success rate that Carville has experienced in their research program and in treatment of patients with the disease with sulfone drugs and-- but once put on those medications you've got to stay on it. They must stay on those meds for their lifetime.

Zarbock: But bone loss is in perpetuity. You don't recover from bone loss. Is that correct?

McPherson: Oh, that's true, right. If the disease has progressed to that stage, to that point that they have traumatized their digits and their...

Zarbock: But you say that's not painful.

McPherson: It's not painful in the sense that-- oh, yes you have-- it's painful emotionally.

Zarbock: Oh, yes. Oh.

McPherson: It's painful psychologically.

Zarbock: Oh.

McPherson: And they need healing spiritually as well often times. "Why did God do this to me?" kind of things, you've got to answer that question and work with them spiritually. But as far as physical pain is concerned Dr. Paul used to talk about his, you know, his mother was a missionary in India up into her 90s, refused to leave when the church wanted to bring her back. She stayed there. She loved working with the Indians in the mountain, with the mountain people. But they used to talk about how the tribes would use a person to withdraw a potato or something that had fallen into the fire because it didn't hurt them. And a person with leprosy could reach in there and pull it out and not feel the pain from the fire, but it can still do damage.

Zarbock: Yeah, yes.

McPherson: Still could do damage.

Zarbock: Were the patients in wards or were they in single rooms or?

McPherson: They had a-- we have a-- they each had a room about the size of this room, the size of this dining room. The apartments, the apartments and some married. Some married that were there. Later on they had married couples, patients that were together in apartments. And there were several, several acres there at Carville and there were-- there were three, six-- okay, three, six, they had 12 wings and one wing would be dedicated to physical therapy, one wing would be dedicated to-- for the purpose of occupational therapy, helping to train people in their area of occupation, helping them to walk, work their hands, all kinds of things like that. They had ophthalmology. Dr. Paul W. Brand's wife was there as ophthalmologist. The eyes suffer severely from leprosy. And, but they had living quarters right there and they also had homes, some individual homes that were built on station for some married couples. And so that was a-- it was always kind of a-- whenever a couple, an individual would expire, a married couple would expire from one of the homes then there was always kind of a race for who would get one of those houses, you know.

Zarbock: I have the feeling that if you were diagnosed, in those days if you were diagnosed with Hansen's disease you were virtually sentenced to that hospital.

McPherson: It was a sentencing. It was a sentencing at one time. You'd-- the early patients were actually brought into Carville when the old Indian Camp Plantation, is what it was, and it was still dilapidated, run down when the Daughter's of Charity moved in to establish some nursing care to the first patients who were brought in under the guise of this being a, of all things, an ostrich farm, in the dead of night by train so that the community would not know that they had an institution that was coming into place there for the treatment of leprosy. And that's how high the stigma was. About the 1800s, mid 1800s. But that would gradually evolve. The Daughter's of Charity would be there until the institution became under the guise of the government's care, you know, and their support, financial support and began to build it up. But the original-- the original founders were Daughter's of Charity, the Catholic institution, and they were still there when I left. And we had a wonderful affection and working relationship with them and the Catholic Church at that time. People like Father Reynolds Garland and-- who was the last Catholic priest to leave there, and this predecessor as well.

Zarbock: Do you miss the patients?

McPherson: Oh, yes. We made lifetime friends, and I...

Zarbock: And you still hear from some?

McPherson: And there are stories to tell. Well, I was called back recently to bury one of them. And whenever some of those patients that we ministered to at Carville expire we get a call from the Social Services Department saying will you come back and hold services for the patient that was a member of your chapel. So that's pretty much what that ministry was all about, so we...

Zarbock: But, Chaplain, weren't the patients really isolated from their families?

McPherson: Oh yes, but there were-- after a while-- early on they had to have so many clearances, three clearances to visit their family, or family could come to visit them. But in the latter years they had freedom to come and go at will. And they became pretty much institutionalized and fully dependent upon the institution. Down to the very last, when I was there, it went from 500 to 300 to 200 and 100. And, you know, most ministers want to see their flocks grow, where in Union Chapel we were praying to see our flock diminish, so everything in reverse.

Zarbock: Chaplain, the last question I always ask, reviewing your life from coming of age, early youth and development, educational experiences, military experiences, public health experiences, now the father of three and do you have grandchildren?

McPherson: Oh, I have eight grandchildren.

Zarbock: There we go. We have the father of three and...

McPherson: Two of them are girls and the rest are boys.

Zarbock: What sort of credo have you developed for yourself? What's the world?

McPherson: That's a good question. First off I'd like to say that God is a good God, and our experiences whenever we would be confused or uncertain about direction we always tried to be instant in prayer as instructed in the scriptures, always whispering having communion with the Father God in the name of our Lord Christ. He says, "Whatever you ask in my name," you know, "I'll give it unto you, and that I will never leave you or forsake you." And at one time I thought-- I got very discouraged at one time at Carville and thought that I was being forsaken, and I began to beg God for sign. I mean, I wanted a visual demonstration that God was who he said he was, and I made the simple mistake of asking. I say simple, I don't know, maybe it is maybe it isn't, because God gave me what I asked for. And basically what happened here is I was coming back to work one day and I was depressed, and unhappy with the way things were moving and so forth, and I begged God for this sign and said, "It'd be wonderful Lord if you'd just give me a sign in the form of a bird." And as I was walking to my chapel I was looking at Sacred Heart Chapel with the cross on top and said, "It'd be wonderful if a bird would land on that cross up there on top of the chapel, Sacred Heart Chapel, and that would-- and then I'd be to know-- the likelihood of a bird landing on that cross is too possible, that won't count, no, I can't do that, but it sure would have been nice if a bird were in your sign." I was looking for signs in the bushes and whatever around because I was really down. When I went into the chapel corridor and I heard the voice of my secretary who was Dr. Paul Brand's secretary at the time and also mine, she was never down at this end of the corridor. Her office was a considerable distance away, but she was shooing a bird that had become entrapped in the corridor and it happened to be a big large red cardinal. And that cardinal was flying below the ceiling in front of her as she was walking doing this. And she said, "Chaplain, open the door and let that bird go free." And I was right before coming to my chapel door, but right as I come into the entrance of the side corridor this bird flew to the chapel door, did a u-turn, swooped down in front of me and went out to freedom. She said, "Thank you," turned around and went on back to her office. I walked in the chapel and I felt God was distant. You know, you go through these spiritual slumps and I was in that slump where God I felt had distanced himself from me, was silent, very silent. But then it (makes slapping sound) awareness came, spiritual awareness. As I walked into the chapel I stopped and I froze in my tracks. I said, "God, was that your sign?" And in my spirit I sensed him saying, "Well, you asked for a sign didn't you? And you asked for a bird." And I said, "Well, Lord, thank you." And then I said, "Well, Lord, I'm embarrassed," because I really felt his presence now. You know, we don't always feel God's presence. I said, "Lord, I thank you. I thank you for that but, you know, I want to apologize for testing you like that." He said, "It's okay my son. It's all right to ask me. I have the right to say yeah or nay, but it's all right. But there's one thing you need to remember from my word. I have promised you never to leave you or forsake you."

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