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Interview with Ross H. Trower, April 25, 2003
April 25, 2003
First of two interviews with retired Rear Admiral U.S. Navy military Chaplain Ross H. Trower.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Trower, Ross H. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  4/25/2003 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  120 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Randall Library. Today is the 25th of April in the year 2003. We’re in McLean, Virginia in Redeemer Lutheran Church. This is a continuation of the Military Chaplain’s Project.

Zarbock: Good morning, sir. Would you introduce yourself and let’s start from there.

Trower: I’m Chaplain Trower. My first name is Ross, my middle initial is H for Henry and my family name is Trower. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1922 on the 22nd of February. I always find that when I have to give my date of birth I say 2/22/22, the interrogator says to me, “That’s interesting. Do you play those numbers?” Of course I’ve never done so, but maybe someday I will.

Zarbock: Well Chaplain, if you would be so kind, would you tell us what led you into the ministry, what series or events or steps or individuals and then following that, what again were the series of incidents, individuals or steps that led you into the Chaplaincy?

Trower: That’s a question that is often asked by people. There’s a curiosity about that and I think oftentimes the expectation is that there is some spectacular light from heaven, burning bush, some kind of earth changing thing that happened. I suppose it’s the model of the American Revivalist that is depicted in Elmer Gantry that says that most clergy people come to their ministry in some sort of a fashion of great sin and enormous forgiveness or something on that model.

I think as long as I can remember I wanted to be a minister of the church, a pastor. In fact, I can’t remember anytime that I didn't want to be except once in college in Chemistry class. Chemistry came so easily to me that I thought ‘my heavens, why am I doing Greek and math and _____ and philosophy and psychology. Why am I doing these things when chemistry seemed to be a breeze?’

But that only lasted for a little while because there was enduring desire to become a minister. My father was not a minister. He was an insurance agent, life insurance agent. There was not a minister in my family and my own pastor at home was a strong individual, a good leader and a sound man, but I don’t know that I ever necessarily ever said to myself that I wanted to be like that.

I really can’t tell you what led me, but I started off after I worked for a time in St. Louis as a clerk in a utilities company, I started off to college because I knew that’s where I wanted to go and people understood that I wanted to pursue ministry preparation.

Zarbock: For the record, when you mentioned church, you’re talking about the Lutheran church, is that correct?

Trower: That’s right. My father was a Methodist, my mother was a Missouri Synod Lutheran, having grown up in the community where the Saxons first landed in this country in the beginnings of Missouri Synod. My father and mother wanted to join the same church together so that as children grew, we would be a family together in church, a desire on their part that I’m very grateful for. Extremely grateful for!

They became Founding Members or Charter Members of a congregation of the United Lutheran Church in America which was begun with a grouping of church bodies from the old General Counsel, the old General Synod and the Senate of the Synod. That body was formed in 1917 and then became with some other mergers, the Lutheran Church of America and then again a little big later on, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

So I belonged to that older then the Missouri Synod group of Lutherans in this country. Sometimes thought of as perhaps less confessional. Less conservative, although that’s really a generalization. It’s not quite true. So that was my upbringing.

When I went off to school in 1939, I was in college when I heard the headlines, read the headlines about the news that the Nazis of Germany had blitzkrieged into Poland. So my college education was always accompanied by the drumbeats of war.

Zarbock: What college were you attending, sir?

Trower: I went to Carthage College, which was then in Carthage, Illinois and has since relocated to Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was a small school, a fine school with great and wonderful teachers and a large group of young theological students that formed the basis for a lot of mutual support and encouragement as we were going to college and seminary together.

Things were different then, because we were all registered in the Selective Service System. There was, I suppose, one might say a generosity about the System that classified declared, bona fide theological students as being exempt from the draft, although there were county boards of the Selective Service System that did draft some of my classmates. I was aware that many of my college classmates went into service and some never came back. The war was always around us.

Although we were in the prairies of Illinois, yet one never escaped the accompaniments of warfare, total warfare. So we went to school almost around the clock, several summers although we did have a summer or two that I worked in St. Louis on summer jobs. I was able to finish college in about three years with just a few credits lacking. The church wanted to conserve its pre-theological students and encouraged us to go onto seminary as soon as possible.

So then I went to the Lutheran School of Theology at Maywood, Illinois just outside of Chicago. There again we speeded up our classes and we went to school several of the summers. What would now be a traditional eight year preparation of college and four years at seminary was really accomplished by 1945, early ’45, so I was in school from ’39 to ’45.

I had great struggles in my own personal life about whether I should come into the Service then. I was able bodied. Many of my friends and classmates and relatives were in service, or whether I should stay in school and then hope that the church would allow me to come into the Chaplaincy? As it turned out with this early movement from preparation into ordination, which took place in February of 1945, I was able to apply for the Navy.

I knew nothing about the Navy really having grown up in St. Louis, Missouri alongside the Mississippi River. Barges I knew, but ships and cruisers, destroyers and battleships, they were not within in my experience. So there of my classmates, three of us from this class went down to the Office of Naval Procurement at the Navy Pier in Chicago and found out what was required for Navy Chaplaincy because the Navy Chaplain Corps would take us at that time as seminarians.

They gave us a little extra supervision. The Army would not. The Army required some church experience of varying kinds according to the standards of their Boards that accepted chaplains. The Navy was anxious for young men and they were anxious for people to come without too much having learned a great deal about parish ministry which is, in so many ways, so different. So I was accepted as were my two classmates pending graduation and ordination.

Zarbock: Now what was your age at that time?

Trower: I was ordained the day before I was 23 on the 21st of February in 1945 and I was appointed as a chaplain that same day.

Zarbock: February seems to be an auspicious month in your life, sir.

Trower: It has been. I came to Active Duty a month later on the 26th of March 1945.

Zarbock: Now just for the record, you had had no previous military training or involvement whatsoever?

Trower: None, none.

Zarbock: Never marched around the block in a uniform?

Trower: Oh I marched around the school playgrounds (laughter) not carrying a rifle of course. But oh yes, I had marched and run and played some. I had no previous military experience. So this was a whole new world. A world I knew nothing about, but that I entered gladly and willingly considering the fact that the world was at war still in 1945.

Zarbock: This is February 1945?

Trower: I had no idea that we were making great progress in the Pacific toward the conclusion of the war as well as in Europe. We were still hanging pretty tough in Germany and there were many things that we just didn't realize about the island structures in the Pacific and how that campaign in the Pacific was going. So I expected fully to be into combat in a very short time after I went to Active Duty.

The Navy Chaplain Corps had a training school, a boot camp in those days at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Earlier that School, which the Navy never had before World War II took place, at one of the Bases in Norfolk. In fact, it was the Naval Operating Base. There was a faculty there and there was kind of an opportunity to for chaplains to become acquainted with the military with the Navy at that place.

In the middle of the war in 1943 I believe, the Corps became larger. It became necessary for the Navy to find a place for school, a training school. They found that place at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Apparently the College was very glad to have us because there were almost no male students on the campus and the facilities were good. They were eager to have us.

They appointed one of their Deans, Dean Lambert, as the person that would be the liaison between the Navy and the School. He was commissioned as an Officer in the Navy and so Dean Lambert became our Administrative Officer. We had a very happy arrangements except that the cafeteria had run out of meat points, ration points and food was a little bit scarce. The dining room there was not something each of us talked about with great enthusiasm.

It was a marvelous experience. I know that there were probably two things, maybe three things that meant a great deal to many of us, perhaps all of us. First of all, we suddenly became involved with ministers, priests and rabbis of many persuasions, many traditions, a consequence that hardly any of us in those days and few of us even in these days experience in rubbing shoulders with other religious leaders of other faith groups. It was wonderful.

One of my best friends became Tom Peters, a Roman Catholic priest out of Green Bay, Wisconsin, with whom later I traveled to Korea. We had wonderful faculty members. The Officer in Charge of the School was Pat Rafferty, a red-faced, American Baptist who told us that he was going to play a role as officer in the school. In that role he would be as mean and as tough as any Commanding Officer he had ever known so that we could get used to understanding that we served under the command of someone other than a clergyman and that our lives were in many tight situations in that Commanding Officer’s hands.

He did well (laughter). He had an Executive Officer by the name of Floyd Dryth, a Missouri Lutheran, who had just come back from having been in the Bunker Hill, an aircraft carrier that was hit pretty badly. Floyd was a hero to many of us, because he was a great preacher. He was lucid, clear in his statements and very much a pastoral man in all that he did.

There was another chaplain, another American Baptist, by the name of _____ Jones who had been with the Marines out in Peleliu who told wonderful stories about his ministry with Marines and who just an exciting, engaging guy, a graduate of Andover Lutheran. Then there was a wonderful fellow by the name of Ben Brown who had some funny stories about his experiences in World War II of advanced hospital bases. There were others. We had a wonderful time.

Because those who were seminarians were thought to need a little extra orientation and support, we did not have the usual eight week course, but we had a three month course. During that period of time, we as well as the eight week students went on a two week field trip, but the seminarians went on another field trip for two weeks to get a little more exposure to military situations.

My first field trip was in Cherry Point, North Carolina at the Marine Air Wing there. There I bumped into a roommate of mine from college days, one time, who had become a Marine pilot. There we heard of Franklin Roosevelt’s death and went into the celebration of his life and mourning period. We had an interesting time there those of us who were sent to Cherry Point, North Carolina.

I went on to some fields, one was Atlantic Field, the other was I think Boat Field. These were little fields where if a pilot got into trouble he could drop down and get on his feet again. My second field trip was to Camp Perry. Camp Perry is near Williamsburg, Virginia. It was an enormous recruit training area. I had some vivid experiences at Camp Perry.

The Senior Chaplain, Harris Howell, who became a wonderful friend of mine, a great friend, an American Baptist from Vermont I think. Harris I said, “You know we haven’t had a Lutheran communion service at the camp in a long time because we haven’t had a Lutheran chaplain. Would you like to have a Lutheran communion service some morning early?”. I said, “ I would be pleased to!” It would be my first opportunity in the Navy to celebrate at the Lord’s Supper.

Notice went out and that morning, one man came, one sailor. As I looked around, I began to think to myself, ‘Is it appropriate to gather together for a communion service when there are only two of us here?. I thought our Lord says two or three ‘…I went ahead.

It was a great experience for me, really a very moving experience. The young man came up to me afterwards and he said to me, “Chaplain, would you sign my card please?”. The Lutheran Commission on Military Personnel had issued little communion cards so that records of communions for sailors and Marines, soldiers and airmen could be sent to their home churches and reported by the pastors there to indicate the activity of the member of the church back home and to give the pastor some indication as to whether one of his members was being active.

So I was very excited about the whole Eucharist, but the sailor seemed to be more interested in getting his card signed (laughter). It was a great contrast in motivations and religious rites and their benefits.

Zarbock: Were you crestfallen having a congregation of only one?

Trower: No, I wasn’t really because this was something very early in the morning (laughter), 7:00 as I recall and it was publicized on bulletin boards and so on. I didn't know anybody in this place. I’d only been there a week or so. There were so many things that were really, really amazing to me. The Navy had a very large recruit training facility there in that Recruit Training Command for men who were illiterate. I was amazed. I went there more than once to visit that training facility for men who were illiterate.

Zarbock: This is at Camp Perry?

Trower: Camp Perry during World War II. I went into classrooms. I saw one time a young sailor from Arizona who had been a teacher, Hispanic by background, standing in front of a class of men most of whom were 30 or more I’m sure. He was saying, “I have a white hat” and would write it on the board and have the members of the class repeat after him “I have a white hat. You have a white hat”. It was basic writing and reading for illiterate men.

Now would might think that most of these men came from very deprived or poverty stricken areas? Not so. I met a man who owned a chain of restaurants on the West Coast. He was illiterate himself, but his wife was his business manager and communicator to the business world.

I met people who really had almost no schooling opportunity. There were many from the Southwest. There were many from Indian Reservations, American Indian Reservations. There were people from Pittsburgh. There were people from cities like Chicago. They were not just country people who just couldn’t speak or read or write very well if at all.

The other thing was that there was a test that was given to each of the candidates for graduation at the end of the course. One of the things they had to do was to write a letter home. I found it fascinating that the Navy was teaching men to read and write and to write a letter home. Another aspect was that they had to read signs! Danger, 10,000 volts! Keep away! Of course there were men who did not qualify, who simply were unable to learn and were discharged administratively from the Navy.

I was amazed. The interesting thing was that I found men like that later on in ministry in the Navy and I was able to help some of them in very, very primary ways. But it taught me very loud and clear that reading and writing were great gifts of education and created opportunities for people.

It was also a very large prisoner of war camp at Camp Perry, Virginia. I had some opportunity to visit there amongst the German people, some of whom were Lutheran.

Zarbock: Could you speak German conversationally at least?

Trower: I’ll tell you a story a little bit later on. I of course came back for the final weeks at Camp Perry, excuse me at the College of William and Mary for Chaplain School. The big thing then in those last weeks was where we were going to be assigned for duty. The morning that we were paraded out for inspection, we were given our assignments to duty following Chaplain School.

Zarbock: You were not given the opportunity to request?

Trower: I’m not sure any of us would have really known what to request. We didn't know the names of ships or the names of stations around the world like Ferragin, Idaho (laughter). I was, of course, near the end of the alphabet with a T name and my classmates ahead of me were assigned to Marines 6th Division in China. Others were assigned to ships in the Pacific. Others were sent to strange and unusual places like Okinawa.

Zarbock: Is the war over now, sir?

Trower: The war was not over yet, no. This was the 30th of June in 1945. When I was assigned my place of duty, it was given to me as NOB Norfolk, Navy Operating Base, Norfolk. I was then, to use your word, crestfallen. I thought what kind of thing is this? That I’ve come into the Navy to join the Navy and see the world and I’m going to Naval Operating Base, Norfolk just down the highway a little bit and across on the ferry?

Well it was one of the best assignments I could possibly have had. My classmates who went to ships, many of them came back after just a short period of time to decommission when the war was over. Many of them that went with Marines came back to Guam or to California.

I, on the other hand, was assigned as the Ships and Docks Chaplain at Norfolk which meant that I was to look after, take care of people in small ships like mine craft, LST’s, APD’s, personnel boats that went in as close to shore as possible of a destroyer type, all kinds of small crafts and to assist chaplains who came in from large ships who were getting ready to go home and needed to transfer their accountable gear and all that sort of thing. I met lots of chaplains. I met all kinds of people.

Zarbock: Specifically what were your duties?

Trower: Well I visited ships and visited ships to request ,or to see, whether Executive Officers wanted to assign a service on a given Sunday. If so, I was to have that service. I had four or five services every Sunday morning for a long time at the piers where these small ships tied up. One morning I had a service aboard a ship, an LST, a landing ship tank carrier. It was going out of commission. It had no heat and it was January or February of 1946.

The electrical power was cut back to just a cable from the pier. It was not generating its own power. Of course it was getting ready to go out of commission and be either mothballed or scrapped. I had a service on the tank deck which is the big deck below the main deck where tanks are stored for amphibious landings. There was a single incandescent light bulb that was strung like a light in a garage someplace in this place. I had my overcoat on. Men had their pea coats on. We stood for service.

Every time I spoke and every time they sang, there was steam coming out of our mouths. That was the service, a divine service aboard a ship. I had written out a sermon in full text and I thought this is ridiculous. I’ve got to speak from my heart about what I want to say to these men. It was a great, great lesson to me in preaching and homiletics. It changed much of what I’d learned before and I was really encouraged by the numbers of men that came from that ship which was very minimally manned at that time and what it could mean.

It was a great experience. I think it was really a pivotal experience in my life. I also was called, one day, into the Senior Chaplain’s Office and I want to tell you about him. He said to me, “Trower, you’re Lutheran aren’t you”. I said, “Yes,” and was a little surprised he didn't know. He asked if I spoke German? I said , “I really only learned German in books in college and I’m wasn’t a good conversationalist”. He said, “Why didn't I go to the Commanding Officer in the Army at the Prisoner of War Camp at Camp Allen and ask if I could be of help?”

So I went to the Major that was in command of the Prisoner of War Camp located now where the fleet Marine Force Headquarters are for the Atlantic fleet. I asked him whether I could be of help? He said ‘I should come on in, that I could be of great help to him.’ He said he found that among the ranks of about 1500 prisoners, Italian and German, there was one Roman Catholic priest whose papers he said were good.

They found that he was indeed ordained and he was eligible by the church’s rules to celebrate Mass. They found one prisoner that they were having say Mass for the men. But he said there was one Protestant minister who had an early record of Nazi Youth Party affiliation and they were a little concerned about him. He said, “ if I could come and hold services in the afternoon, it would be wonderful!”

So I went out there many afternoons for a period of about nine months in 1945-46. There was a wonderful group of men whom the command had set apart to take care of the chapel. One was a man by the name of Eric ______. Another was one a man by the name and he always said with a clicking of his heels together ________ and another young man who played the organ, a little pump organ. Those men were wonderful men. Very sound men. They would encourage me.

The first Sunday I went, I found a sermon of Karl Baarth, the famous Swiss theologian which he preached to prisoners in the I guess the Zuich Prison, I’m not sure now, but he did administer to prisoners for some period of time. I read that sermon in German. It was the dullest, the most boring thing to me and obviously to them. But they said, “Oh Pastor, that was very nice. Thank you very much” and I thought, ‘oh my goodness, they are so generous ‘(laughter).

Well I began to read some other sermons that I thought were a little bit better. Then I got courage to write a sermon and translate it. Well I spent all night translating that sermon. My wife helped me type it out and it was pretty bad, but again if there are ever any gifts of the spirit that had to do with language, I think they came to bear when I took some courage to speak in what German I knew. I guess it worked.

My first military funeral was for a prisoner of war who had hanged himself out of despair for ever getting back home again. I had that service at a little place called Phoebus over near Hampton, Virginia, in a cemetery there where there were a number of prisoners of war buried. I had it in English and in German and the command had allowed some of his compatriots to come.

These men were Africa Korps men. They stood there in their uniforms with their shorts and short-sleeved shirts on a very cold day and we laid that man to rest. Two weeks later a postcard came for me from his wife and two little boys. (German)___________.

There were many wonderful experiences that took place around NOB, Norfolk, not the least of which had to do with chaplains who were retired in the area who had served a long time before I had. One was a chaplain by the name of Patrick.

Zarbock: Let me take you back just one moment. Of the military prisoners, you say they were German and Italian. Did any of those prisoners maintain any contact with you after they were returned to Germany?

Trower: Eric _______ did, but then I lost track of him. You know it was interesting that one might think at first hand that they were very happy to get on those ships and go back home again which they did in about May of ’46 I think. Their crossing the Atlantic to come to America had been a terrible one in December I guess of ’44. Most of them were terribly seasick and they were really fearful of the voyage back home again by ship. As well a person might be in the North Atlantic storm in the wintertime!

Many of them had not heard from their families. They had no idea of what was to be back home. There was great dread and anxiety about going home. It was not a happy, “Oh, we’re going home again,” kind of thing at all. Interesting. We had a service before they left and it was a sweet and yet very, very anxious time for those men.

I want to tell you about a Chaplain Patrick. Navy Day of 1945, ships came back, this was October of ’45, ships came back from the Pacific to go to home port and celebrate the end of the war. The Missouri came into Hampton Roads which is the entry into the Norfolk area there and then went up to New York City for probably the grandest of all celebrations at the end of the war on Navy Day.

There were lots of things going on in town. In those days it was quite common that churches in the towns, in the cities, would invite chaplains to exchange pulpits. It was the kind of thing that fostered a bonding between the civilian and the military population in a heavily impacted town like Norfolk.

My Senior Chaplain asked me to go out and call on Chaplain Patrick. He called him Old Chaplain Patrick who lived out in Willoughby _____. I went out in a car and knocked on the door of Chaplain Patrick’s home and a young woman with two little boys came to the door. I told her what I was about. She said, “My father is on the porch. He’s sitting there with his long glasses, telescope if you will, looking out at the fleet coming in”. It was a sight! It was a sight!

There were many ships coming in to go into piers at Norfolk including ships like the Nashville, ships like the Raleigh, ships like the Missouri. It was a massive sight on the horizon at sea. There was old Chaplain Patrick sitting in a rocking chair looking out to watch those ships come back. He said, “Come in, sit down young man”. A little bit later he began to tell me that he had shipped into the Navy in 1896 in the receiving ship in Hampton Roads, which was across the way at Newport News.

What he meant by that was when he was appointed as a chaplain in the Navy, he came to fill out his papers and get all his things arranged in a ship where he swung a hammock. So he shipped into the Navy in the receiving ship that was then at Newport News. Chaplain Patrick was in World War I, but most interestingly of all, he was at the Battle of Vera Cruz in the Battleship New Mexico. He had heard about movie projectors and movies, silent movies.

He got enough money together from preaching in various churches and giving talks and so on in ports where he received a little remuneration for the chapel fund as people used to say. He bought a movie projector and as many movies as he could find. He took them aboard ship and showed them to the sailors at the Battle of Vera Cruz, at least while they were there in that area. That was the first instance of a movie being shown on board a ship by old Chaplain Patrick.

There I was talking to Chaplain Patrick. It was wonderful. Sometime later, some 25 years later at least I guess, I met a Vice Admiral by the name of Huper , who at that time, was the Naval Historian here in Washington. We were talking about some things and he said to me, “My father-in-law was a chaplain”. “Oh” I said, “What was his name?”. He said Chaplain Patrick. I said, “ Was that your wife that met me at the door with your two sons?” He and his sons I met still later, both of them. He said “Yes and you got to see my wife before I did because I wasn’t home yet from overseas”. Amazing, amazing.

Well I sometimes tell people the history of the Chaplain Corps in the Navy that I know somehow reaches back to 1896 because I had a Supervisory Chaplain in Norfolk who was in World War II, Chaplain Dumstrey and my other Supervisor Chaplain, Chaplain Salisbury, who later became Chief of Chaplains, had been a YMCA volunteer in France in World War I.

I have a sense of being imbued with that long line, but small line, of chaplains. You asked me this morning earlier how’s the Navy changed, the Navy Chaplain Corps? The Chaplain Corps was a few chaplains, a few chaplains.

Zarbock: Few being how many?

Trower: Twenty maybe.

Zarbock: For the whole United States Navy?

Trower: In those days, yes indeed, in the 1800’s. There were a few more that came in during the Civil War on the Federal side and some on the Confederate side by the way. There were a few more who came in during the Spanish American War, but during that war there was also a buildup of the Navy itself so there was a need for more chaplains.

The chaplains were a very small band of brothers. They knew each other well. They knew their families well. They relieved each other at various stations and ships. It was a small family. It was not until World War I, 1917-18, that a Chief of Chaplains was appointed who began to give some shape to what we now call the Chaplain Corps. It was not until 1917 until there was even, I think, maybe that there was a Conference of Chaplains where they got together to talk about mutual problems, concerns.

Then of course with the draw down after World War I, there was again a drop in the number of places, spaces available for the appointments for chaplains. There was some buildup of chaplains appointed in the Naval Reserve. So that before Pearl Harbor, there were about maybe less than 100 chaplains in the Corps, less than 100.

Their relationships were familial, personal, letter, anecdotal. There was hardly an organization. Some had done magnificent work in gathering some sort of understanding of what the rules for chaplains were, publishing a little Chaplains’ Manual. Several wrote histories of expeditions. One of them became the Governor of California literally because when the fleet went to the West Coast for the United States of America, it claimed California at Monterey and put a chaplain from the flagship aboard as Alcalde.

He later on was elected to office as Alcalde at Monterey, established the first jury, the first printing press. His name was Colton. In California there are streets and towns that are named after him because he was apparently very well liked, a very popular man.

Zarbock: What year was that, Chaplain?


Zarbock: So a Navy chaplain became…started off as virtually a military governor. He was appointed. Then he becomes the elected governor after the Territory becomes a State. What an unusual story.

Trower: Walter Colton, it’s a very interesting story in and of itself. But these were individuals and many of these individuals rose to prominence in our history because they had done some things that were formative in shaping of what later on became the Chaplain Corps and is still carried on.

World War II was of course an enormous change. There was a much more complex organization. There were firmer rules so to speak for the appointment of chaplains. Much earlier in the Navy, in the early part of the 18th century, it was quite common for a Commander of a ship, a Commanding Officer of a ship, to simply go to sea and say, “Well I need a chaplain!”and go find maybe his best friend or somebody that he thought would be a good chaplain and was appointed as chaplain with the Authority of the Secretary of the Navy.

There were standards that were asked by the churches themselves. There were several lay persons one of whom was here in Washington who formed a kind of committee to I suppose one would say today to lobby for certain kinds of things that would need to be done.

Zarbock: You mean minimum standards and that type of thing?

Trower: Minimum standards, rank, pay. There was a time that chaplains did not have rank. They wore black braid instead of gold braid. That was to indicate that they were not quite officers. It was much more a matter of, I suppose, uniformity or maybe the benefits of bureaucracy that chaplains were given the status of officers because it’s easier to deal with them that way. It’s just easier (laughter).

Zarbock: That the most amazing story. When did the black braid get converted to gold braid?

Trower: As I remember the story, it was at the commissioning of a ship or a ceremony of some sort that a chaplain was there and he had, I think he had really a frock-tail coat with a wing collar and black braid of some sort. There really was not a clear indication of what the uniform was in that period of time. This was about 1880, along that era.

The Secretary of the Navy was present and he said, “What’s that man doing over there? He’s not even appropriately dressed for this occasion” because all the other officers were there with their gold braid. It was changed (laughter). There’s a sense in an organization like the Navy - you have to fit in. You have to fit in! Anything that sort of sticks out, you know, it’s an anomaly. There are enough anomalies as it is when the chaplain is both responsible to the church or to the religious body and responsible to his Commanding Officer as well. Enough anomalies about church and state as it is, in our American life so that kind of anomaly was solved rather easily by those little things.

Pay was a problem too. I know of chaplains that had to take a kind of leave of absence and go out on a speaking tour of some sort in order to generate funds for the use of the crew, for the benefit of sailors. There was a great and wonderful center in Philadelphia Navy shipyard. I don’t know what has happened to it now. It was named after a chaplain by the name of Curtis Dickens who later on in his life became a legislator in the State of Vermont I think for two or three terms.

It was named after him because he raised money in the city of Philadelphia by speaking and generated a kind of a canteen. Kind of an early USO, as a matter of fact, in the Philadelphia Navy shipyard.

Zarbock: But these funds that were secured by doing outside speaking and other activities were used, apparently there was no budget for a chaplain to have any…to offer them resources, morale lifting, etc. etc.

Trower: Early in World War II, I remember that one of my Senior Chaplains had an organ, a little pump organ which had pedals that you pumped to make the wind go through those keys, those reeds, and he was very proud of the fact that he had been given by a Chapter of the Women of the Eastern Star in New York State. It generated funds that were given to him.

Zarbock: A Masonic order, part of the Masonic order?

Trower: Yeah, yeah and for some time during the early part of the war, there was a foundation that provided triptiks, three sided screens for the back of an altar by fairly well-known artists so that when chaplains rigged for church, they could use this gift of this Foundation that was doing that for the cause of the Navy. There are some of them still around.

So my experiences that grew out of being in that center of Naval activity in Norfolk were extremely valuable and gave me a certain perspective, an acquaintanceship with lots and lots of people. I met a man who is a retired chaplain now and he through the changes of life lives just a building away from me. I hadn’t seen him in years, but I first met him in 1946. Well there are all sorts of things like that that are just lots of fun.

It may be apparent to you that I found great joy in the Chaplain Corps in several directions. I had not thought of it particularly as being a life work, a career. I supposed that maybe I would do some graduate work some time after I’d gotten out of the Navy and maybe teach, maybe do something else. I wasn’t sure. I found a mission in the ministry there that I had never dreamed of.

There was all kind of opportunity. I loved being with chaplains of other faith groups. The first office I was ever assigned was an office about the size of this room, not a very big one. There were three of us in that office, a rabbi by the name of Jules Nodell and a Southern Baptist chaplain whose name was Brown and I. We just simply placed our desks in corners of the room so that if somebody came into see us, which was a frequent event, we’d just sort of hunk over the desk and turn an ear toward the sailor, family member and carry on our ministry, conversation, counseling whatever kind of interaction it was.

Zarbock: What year would that be?


Zarbock: And you were located in Norfolk?

Trower: Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia. When we weren’t working at something we had to do, we might be talking with each other. I learned from Jules Nodell. I learned from Chaplain Brown. I hope they learned from me, but it was an interchange and it was an experience that I don’t think can be duplicated all that easily any place else in the United States of America, maybe in the world.

I liked the Chaplaincy and I liked the young people with whom I worked. There were people that got into trouble, people that had problems, but they were good people. They’d do anything for you. They were vibrant. They were full of life. They were active. I began to think very much about the regular Navy, staying in. I had been commissioned in the Reserves which is true of all chaplains at first entry into the Chaplain Corps.

Zarbock: You’re married at this time?

Trower: Yes, I was married. I was married as a matter of fact before I came to active duty and six months before I was ordained. I’ll pick up some things about Margaret in just a little bit. I had not been to sea yet and I didn't know what being at sea was like. One afternoon in about September of 1946, I came back from a visit to a ship and my District Chaplain, my Supervisor Chaplain said to me, “Trower, you’ve got a message here”.

The message was that I had orders, this was about 4:00 in the afternoon, the message was that I had orders to join the USS Leyte, report to the USS Leyte, a brand new aircraft carrier at Yorktown, Virginia. Well I didn't even have a car. My wife Margaret had just had our first baby, a young boy by the name of David. I had no way of getting to Yorktown by midnight. I didn't know what it would be, but I was to be there aboard ship with a Catholic chaplain by the name of Otto Spoor for a period of about six weeks.

We were to shake down the ship, that is to say we were to engage in training exercises for this brand new aircraft carrier. Harris Howe, who I mentioned earlier from Camp Perry, was in the area again and he knew that I was going to go to the ship up at Yorktown, Virginia and he knew I didn't have a car so he offered to drive me up there which was again one of the marks of the chaplains who knew each other and knew each other well, that they would really give each other a hand on things.

So he drove Margaret and me and our little baby up to Yorktown, Virginia, and I got aboard the ship about 11:00 at night. The next morning we sailed and we sailed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where we were for a period of about six weeks. At the end of those six weeks, we did not return to Norfolk. We went on our first, the Navy threw the first “ show the flag cruise”. We went through the Canal down to Valparaiso, Chile and then later to Callao, Peru which is the seaport for Lima.

We showed the flag ,so to speak. This was the first time an aircraft carrier had been in port in these Latin American countries. We embarked lots and lots of visitors and did some air operations for Flag Officers and General Officers of these various Latin American countries, most of whom had never seen air operations from a carrier. It was a great, great cruise.

By the time I got back just a couple of days before Christmas, even though Margaret and David had weathered with some difficulties as all of us do when we’re separated that way, we knew that we could make it. She and I knew that my life’s work would be in the Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy. Now interestingly enough at that time, there was no authority in legislation or personnel policy to transfer from the United States Naval Reserve to the Regular Navy, the U.S. Navy.

In order to get a commission in the United States Navy in the Chaplain Corps, it was necessary to come to Washington to undergo a three day oral and written examination before a Board of Examiners.

Zarbock: What was your rank in the Reserve in those days?

Trower: I was a Lieutenant JG, that is I was one step up from an Ensign. I had about two and a half years of seniority. That is, I’d been a JG for two and a half years. The examination before this Board of Examiners was a fascinating experience. One thing that was very interesting about it was that on the last day of the examination, the next to last day of the examination, we were told you have a half an hour to write the outline of a sermon on the following text:

“You are chaplain aboard an aircraft carrier. You are holding divine services on a Sunday morning and following divine services, there will be an air strike against the enemy. Your text for this occasion in this sermon is “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. You will write this sermon as much as you can in notes and you will be prepared to preach it the next day in the chapel before the Board of Examiners and the other examinees without notes !”(laughter).

I had never in my life, up to that point, heard the same text with six different sermons. Each of them had its own kind of cast, its own kind of conviction. It was a tremendous experience. Not all of the examinees passed. I think there were four of us or maybe five out of the six.

So then we went back home, the two of us active duty chaplains, back to Norfolk and back to duty and awaited the outcome of the examination. We were appointed, but we were appointed JG’s again in the Regular Navy and that meant without benefit of court martial, we went to the bottom of the list and I became the bull JG of the Chaplain Corps, that is to say the youngest Lieutenant Junior Grade of the Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy.

Well some time later that worked to my benefit in terms of some personnel actions and it was adjusted somewhat, but I was teased by lots of people about having become the bull JG of the Navy, that is the Senior Lieutenant, Junior Grade.

Zarbock: What is the word you used?

Trower: Bull. The youngest Ensign is oftentimes called in the line a” bull ensign,” but I became the bull JG in the Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy. I was really very pleased to be assigned orders and appointed to the Regular Navy and I didn't think I would be assigned to orders in the too distant future. I was and I was ordered to the USS Pocono which was the United States Flagship of the Commander in Chief of the US Atlantic Fleet.

That was a great assignment. We had the Atlantic Fleet Commander aboard and his staff. We had a very happy arrangement. The Commanding Officer of the ship was a wonderful man. I had the honor, privilege, I suppose one would say, of burying him a few years ago in Arlington Cemetery, Captain Briggs, Hank Briggs. The ship didn't stay in commission too long. It was about a year and it was to be put out of commission because the Commander in Chief and his Staff of the Atlantic Fleet were moving ashore to Norfolk.

I was assigned another duty with another command in Norfolk, the Service Force Command of the Atlantic fleet where I became a circuit rider for logistic ships of the US Atlantic fleet. The Commander of the Fleet had been given some idea by Chaplain Salisbury who I mentioned before, that these small ships of 250-300 crew could very profitably use the services of a chaplain from time to time, and the point would be that the chaplain would be aboard one ship for a period of time and then transfer to another ship and then perhaps transfer to another ship and then come back home again.

Well I rode, I was assigned to tankers, oilers. I was assigned to refrigerator cargo ships, I was assigned to cargo ships, all those kinds of logistic ships and we were on the go. We were in the Mediterranean, in England, we went to Germany, we went to the Persian Gulf. We went through the Suez Canal. We supported the Berlin Airlift. It was a very busy time and I was at sea one year about 11 months out of the 12, home for short periods of time and then back out again.

That concept of circuit riding was a new concept, used a little bit in World War II, but it became an established kind of a concept in the years following.

Zarbock: For the sake of the record, as a circuit rider, when you got on ship A, you were the only chaplain there, is that correct?

Trower: That’s right.

Zarbock: So you did all of the religious services irrespective of the faith group?

Trower: No, no! I would never do that, but what I did was to help a Catholic, I would try to identify a lay leader among the Catholic personnel aboard ship and ask him if he knew how to say the rosary and I would read the Gospels and I would give him materials that he could gather for the recitation of the rosary on a given Sunday.

I don’t think we ever had enough for a Jewish minion of ten men, but I would certainly look after as best I could and direct the Jewish sailors to synagogues ashore. I remember once in Spain there were a number of men I could send to a Sephardic Synagogue in Spain. That’s a rather, I guess the best way to put it, is kind of a synagogue that is modeled on desert conditions.

The men came back surprised to find that there was sawdust on the floor of this synagogue and there was Hebrew of a language that they didn't quite understand, just didn't quite get it because there were mixtures of the Sephardic text in that language in the liturgy that they didn't quite know.

No, I would not hold services for all denominations because the rule in the Navy is, and it’s a Federal law, that chaplains, that officers of the Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy may hold divine services, which is an umbrella term for all religious rites and gatherings, may hold divine services and that refers to at the permission of the Commanding Officer whether it is suitable according to the manner and form of the religious body, really says church in the law, of which he is a member.

Let me repeat that. Officers of the Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy may conduct divine services according to the manner and form of the churches of which they are members.

Zarbock: So theoretically if, in the case of a rabbi, the service would be a divine service, but…

Trower: It would be a Jewish prayer service.

Zarbock: Available to whomever wished to attend?

Trower: Available to whoever wished to come. Now the Jewish rabbi, if his religious body would permit him to do so, might speak at a Protestant service. That would be totally acceptable if his church permitted him to do so.

Zarbock: But it was only with authorization?

Trower: Of his church.

Zarbock: Of his church?

Trower: Of his religious body. During World War II for instance, it was rather common that Catholic priests could hold general services, that is if there were no chaplain present of the Protestant group, he could hold a service for a group of people who were without the benefit of some chaplain of their persuasion. Today that’s no longer possible.

The military has forbidden that now, for its own reasons, whatever they are. A Catholic chaplain could give a talk of a spiritual moral nature. He obviously would not be able to celebrate Holy Communion, nor would I be able to celebrate Holy Communion for a Roman Catholic. So the law is very sound and the churches must be open, the religious bodies from which chaplains come, must be open to what we speak of all the time as a cooperative ministry.

We are not interested in people who are interested only in themselves. The freedom of religion clause in the Constitution is one Article that cuts both ways. You cannot establish a religion, nor can you deny the privilege of religion to people. So the chaplain sits in the middle of that kind of thing and the law is very clever I think. It’s been very sound, that an Officer of the Chaplain Corps may, and that has to do with what his religious body will permit, as well as what the Commanding Officer of the Unit says is safe and feasible.

You can’t simply go out on the battlefield someplace and say, “ I’m going to hold church here you know”, you can’t do that. Commanding Officers can say, “You’re in the field of fire! You can’t do it there, you can do it over here, but not there!” So the Commanding Officer really is the one who, if you will, has got to provide for the religious and spiritual needs of his people.

It’s the Commanding Officer that has to do that. He’s obligated to do that both by law as well as by the Freedom of the Religion Provisions in the Constitution. An officer of the Chaplain Corps may conduct divine service according to the form and the manner of the church of which he is a member.

No Commanding Officer, by law, is able to say, “Okay Trower, you’re Lutheran, but I want you to hold Catholic Mass because I’m Catholic.” Can’t do that.

Zarbock: I’m going to interrupt. We’re on a topic here that I’ve raised a question of with all other interviewers. I’ve received some unusual responses. In your military career, were you ever ordered or were you ever strongly suggested or were you put in a position in which you would feel uncomfortable being ordered to do something that was in conflict with your ethic and morality?

Trower: There would be a couple of dimensions to that. We were talking about religious services, religious rights. That has never been true. I have never been told what to preach, what to say, how to pray, never, never! I think that’s a tribute to the leadership of naval officers and to their understanding of religious matters in the United States of America. I think it’s a great tribute to them. I’ve never been put in that situation.

I was on a couple of occasions, on one occasion my Executive Officer called me in and he ordered me to tell him what so and so had said to me in the rule of privilege.? I said, I “ I was sorry, that I could not do that.” “Why can’t you? We have to know everything that goes on in this ship”. I said, “ I was sorry, I couldn’t do that!” He left pretty angry at me and I left that room feeling I had really angered him, but convinced that he could not do that.

He became one of my lifelong friends, one of my lifelong friends. He called me back several days later and he said he was very much upset about the particular situation and he knew that he’d stepped over the line.

Zarbock: That’s an officer and a gentleman.

Trower: Oh indeed, indeed. He was a real gentleman too. There was another situation I can recall in which, it’s a long story, but I’ll make it very brief by saying that I had knowledge that a young mother may have killed her child, her baby. There were some very, very poignant things about it. The father of the child came to me in the middle of the night and said, “My baby is dead”.

He knew, and I knew, that his wife didn't want the baby. People in the community, this was a civilian housing community on an isolated base, were very much aware that this woman had said to many people asking if they would adopt the child, that she didn't want the child. Here the child was dead. I buried the child. Before the child was buried, the Executive Officer asked me to get the permission of the father to have an autopsy of this child, this baby.

That was a job in and of itself, because we were ready to bury the child. The father had enough doubts himself about what had happened that he asked for an autopsy and the autopsy came back that the baby had had a fractured skull, a badly fractured skull. I thought certainly I was going to be called in on a homicide. This had been given to me in confidence and I couldn’t release that confidence of the father of the attitude toward the mother.

It would have been circumstantial evidence. It was such a heavy case against her and finally, because the death took place on a federal reservation, the FBI was called in and again I was never called by them at all. They had talked to the woman and in her naivety for children, she was just a very young girl, and her isolation and lots of other things, she just couldn’t handle it and she was washing the baby and the baby moved in such a way that it hit its head against one of those fixed faucets in a kind of a tub. It was clearly an accident. The FBI was satisfied that was what caused the blow.

I thought certainly I was going to have to release, I was going to be ordered to release some information that I really believed I could not do. That’s the level, if you will, of what you might say sacramental authority or something like that. I’ve declined to perform weddings that I didn't think were appropriate. In one case, I know that many backed me up on it although it involved a somewhat prominent person.

So I’ve sweat bullets a couple of times over issues like this (laughter). I’ll tell you, I really have. But I’ve never been ordered to do anything that was contrary to my conscience. I’ve never been ordered to do things in a combat environment, although I was not in combat. That would be illegal or immoral.

Zarbock: You know the old cliché about, “ if you want to get along, you have to go along,” but this was never part of the Navy culture with you as the chaplain, this sort of well let’s smooth this thing over?

Trower: I can’t really say that. Now there are times that enthusiasms and the excitement of a group of friends ashore who might get carried away with something and judgment might be poor, but no I can never say…in fact I can think of some sterling examples of officers and men who refused to do something that everybody else seemed to be doing. They were sterling examples to the rest.

Zarbock: But I led you into a cul de sac, a conversational cul de sac. Let me get you back to….

Trower: Those are common questions among people of churches, people of conscience, people of morality and there have been moves on the part of many people to try to divorce chaplains from commanding authority so that they would be protected so to speak from influences such as a Commanding Officer not writing a fitness report on a chaplain thinking that the persons better able to do that are persons of one’s own profession.

I would say quite to the contrary. Persons of one’s own profession writing fitness reports on people in their profession is a very dangerous business. There’s a lot more to say about that, but it’s appropriate for another time.

Zarbock: Well let’s continue your life’s path.

Trower: Okay, I went then from that assignment serving as a circuit rider to Great Lakes, Illinois, where I went in 1949 and served as the administrative officer to a command, to a department of about 35 chaplains and about 25 people, civilians and chaplains’ assistants, listed as chaplains’ assistants.

Then quickly Korea broke in July of 1950 and it was an enormous job. Reserves from everywhere in the Midwest flowed into Great Lakes, Illinois, north of Chicago to be activated again. Recruit population jumped up. It was just a very, very busy time. Lots of things happened there that helped me.

I really worked for a senior chaplain by the name of Freddie Heking, a Roman Catholic priest out of the Fort Wayne diocese. He was wonderful, wonderful. He came in probably in the middle 30’s and he was devout, he breathed the benefits of a Jesuit education in Innsbruck, Austria where the great Karl Adam was one of the professors. He was just wonderful. We had a very active and busy time there.

Then one day my folks were visiting from St. Louis, my father and mother. It was Holy eek and I had a little chance to take a break one afternoon and drive them out to the north of Great Lakes along Kenosha and up as far as Milwaukee along the shoreline. When I came back that afternoon about 3:30, again I found orders. I was to report within 10 days to the 1st Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division in Korea.

So I had to move my family and close out everything I was doing and the only place I could go because we were living in public quarters at that time in Great Lakes and couldn’t stay, was to go to St. Louis. My dear wife, Margaret ,and our son David and Martha and Paul was on the way, he was later born in St. Louis, had to move in with them. It was a big job and a quick job and I’d never been with the Marines before.

I thought I was ready to go to combat. I realized I didn't know anything about the Marines. But fortunately the Division Chaplain, Chaplain Frank Kelly from Philadelphia, when he saw me, he said, “Well, Trower, we’re going to send you to the rear for a while to get acquainted with Marines”.

Zarbock: Your rank is still JG?

Trower: It was still JG. I came under the tutelage of a chaplain by the name of Art Galinsky from Milwaukee arch diocese. Art was good and taught me a lot of things about Marines and there were a lot of things that go with that. In two months there was so much packed in. Then I went up north to join the Division Headquarters and later on the 3rd Battalion 1st Marines. I finished my tour of duty with that 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.

We were pulled back from the lines for a little while. At that point in that stalemate position on the 39th Parallel where the Chinese Communists who had joined the forces, the Koreans, and the north Koreans were above us in the hills that were higher than we were and they were able to fire into our places. I loved the Marines, I loved those guys. They were tremendous, just tremendous.

Zarbock: I’ve never interviewed a Navy chaplain who didn't say those are some of the happiest events of our life, working with the Marines and we’re not talking about soft living either, you know, going to some luxurious Officer’s Club. But the quality of the camaraderie…

Trower: Well you’re in something very much together. You know your lives depend upon each other. It’s on the ship too, but it’s much more physical in the Marine Corps than it is serving the Navy.

Zarbock: So you returned from Korea to pick up…

Trower: Well you asked about promotion. I was promoted then to the rank of Lieutenant, full Lieutenant and my bars, my Lieutenant bars were pinned on by a 1st Sergeant and a Gunnery Sergeant that were just great guys. They helped me learn a lot about the Marines. First Sergeant Adams and gunnie Pappy Virilla, great guys.

So I came back and I was ordered to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune. There I was assigned to a Motor Transport Battalion, which had not had a chaplain for a long time. We were living fat, as we say at that time, and the Commanding Officer of the Motor Transport Battalion was very eager to have a chaplain, but the only office space I could get was right across from our Command Post, our CP, in the Protestant chapel at Camp Lejeune.

There had to be some kind of an arrangement made between the Division Chaplain and the Base Chaplain, Bob Cole and Abbott Peterson respectively, that I would use that office and the Commanding Officer of the Motor Transport Battalion, that I would deal with people who came to the chapel seeking a chaplain. Oh my, did I have a walk-in clientele of all sorts and all varieties.

Anything could happen, any day, anything could happen. It would just blow my mind, blow my experience. It was a great, great time in my life. My second Commanding Officer at the Motor Transport Battalion was an old-time Marine officer up from the ranks who had helped develop amphibious vehicles down at Fort Pierce, Florida. He was great.

Some years later I learned that his son who was born to him late in life, he had a second marriage because his first wife died, his son became a minister. I think that that Commanding Officer had had something…he and his wife had something to do with exerting an influence on that young man which was wonderful. Well many stories came out of that experience.

Then from there, I was ordered to duty under instruction at the Harvard Divinity School. I was one of the postgraduate trainees, or persons, that went and I could choose at that time where I wanted to go to school and I wanted to go to Harvard. When I was in high school in St. Louis, I was awarded in the junior year, the Harvard Book Prize which was an alumni award that was given to some chosen boy of the junior class in high school. Harvard always seemed to me to be some kind of a distant goal of some sort. I had a great year there.

There were just two of us in graduate study that year and I had a tutor that said, “Now Mr. Trower, we’re not so much interested in courses and degrees. We’re interested in great teachers” and he steered me to some great teachers including Henry J. Cadbury who was one of the great translators on the Committee of the Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures which came out in ’46. I was in his last class in Problems in the Gospel when he had occupied the oldest Chair in the University. He had taught there himself, for 50 years.

Spontaneously when Dr. Cadbury finished that last class of his at the university, we stood on our chairs and clapped and clapped and clapped. He was a Quaker as you may know and he always looked at me with kind of a wary eye that said, “Chaplain what are you about?” But I came to feel at the end of the year that he had a certain respect for what I elected to do and I had a great respect for him.

He was a very important member of the American Friends Service Committee during World War II. He had been an ambulance driver during World War I for the Friends Committee and then there was the wonderful Dean to be, of the Divinity School. Well there were great teachers, just great teachers.

It was the first year that Mr. Pusey, Nathan Pusey had come to the University and I was there at the chapel when he gave his first address oh I think as many as 30 years to the Divinity School. His first address was given to the Divinity School. It was a long time ago that Emerson had done that (laughter). Well it was a great year.

And then I went to Yorktown, Virginia, at the Naval Mine Depot, now the Naval Weapons Station where we had about 1500 Navy people and 1500 Marines and a big population of civilian people. Yorktown was not the popular place on the York River that it is these days like Williamsburg and Jamestown, but it was a pretty country place and it was a great country kind of ministry for a chaplain there at that time .

I did everything (laughter). If there was an influence at all from a Commanding Officer about what I preached or what I did or what I said, it probably came from Captain E. K. Walker, Jr. of Maine who was one of the finest Commanding Officers I ever had. Not because he told me what to preach about or what to teach or what to say, but because he was an avid reader of the Interpreter’s Bible and he knew his scriptures and read them and would ask me questions for information and understanding.

I knew I had better really work in preaching when this man came to church almost every Sunday. So that was a different kind of thing, that there was a Commanding Officer that had influence on me.

Zarbock: He really set a pace, didn't he?

Trower: He set a pace. So it was not in order to do something that was contrary, it was in order to excel. Then I went to a brand new ship, the USS Canberra which was a heavy cruiser that had been brought back to become a test platform for the early Terrier missiles which were surface to air missiles and what a ship it was! What a ship it was. What a crew we had.

In 1957, in March of ’57, the President if the United States, Mr. Eisenhower, had what was known as the “Washington crud.” He couldn’t get rid of that kind of bronchitis, cold sort of thing that hangs around. His Army physician who was the Presidential physician, a retired General Snyder, said, “Mr. Eisenhower, what the President needs is a trip into the sunshine”.

There was a Naval aide by the name of Peter Aurand, Captain Peter Aurand who’s father had been a roommate of Mr. Eisenhower. And he said, “Mr. President, I think there’s a ship going down to Bermuda”. And the President was to meet the Prime Minister of England at Hamilton Harbor so the President came aboard ship and he was with us over a week. What a time we had.

The Marines relieved the Secret Service officially, logged it in. I took the President around to the crew’s mess and he ate strawberry shortcake until it was coming out of his ears (laughter). The boswain took him fishing and he caught fish. The Marine officer took him back on the fantail of the ship where there was set up a skeet shoot which would throw clay pigeons out into the sea and he could shoot at them and it was a great, wonderful time, just a great, wonderful time.

He came to church on St. Patrick’s Day. I had a boswain’s mate second class by the name of McAndrew give him some green carnations as he left the church service area, the divine service area. McAndrew had a picture taken of a photography that had come aboard, several photographers that had come aboard and this photo was so good and McAndrew was such a handsome boswain’s mate that his picture was sent around the world. He said to me a couple weeks later, “Chaplain, I’m getting letters of proposal from girls all over the world” (laughter). McAndrew was the target of their affection.

Zarbock: What was your analysis of President Eisenhower’s personality? How would you describe him?

Trower: Well the first night he was aboard, he came to dinner at the officer’s mess and the Executive Officer, who was the President of the Mess, asked me to sit close to him because he thought maybe I could help carry some of the conversation at the table. All of us were really kind of scared out of our wits as to what we would say to the President of the United States, this great Commanding General, the General of the Army and nations.

What would we say to him, you know? You really couldn’t say, “ Well did Mr. Kruschev call you today?” or, “How’s it going in wherever it was.”

Zarbock: Did you have a good day at the office?.

Trower: “ How’s Mamie”. you know, and”How’s David doing these days.?” We didn't know what to talk to him about. We didn't know what kind of conversation to strike up.

President Eisenhower was wonderful. He had a sense, and I saw it some time later on as well, he had a sense of picking up people and taking that burden off of them. He said to us at the mess there, “Boy, you can get a meal for 25 cents down in Texas. You can get a bowl of chili for 10 cents, you can get a potato…” He talked about things that were very easy to talk about, very easy to talk about.

Then he began talking about various military and naval courtesies that he’d received in various places where he was President of the United States and as General of the Army, been rendered honors by other military forces. It was really very interesting. He talked about the way they did things and how he had to learn to do things in response. He had a very personal human touch.

Zarbock: I think that’s called a comfortable person?

Trower: Oh very, comfortable as an old shoe. It was a great time. It was a great ship, the USS Canberra. We did a happy hour for him, kind of a talent show one night because we were at sea by ourselves with a couple of destroyers along either side. We sang some West Point songs that we learned. He jumped up on the stage almost with tears in his eyes, thanked us for…it was great! He got lots of sun. He disembarked at Hamilton Harbor. Met Mr. McMillan for a conference and we went on our way.

From Canberra, I went to Newport, Rhode Island, to the Officer Candidate School. You may remember that Mr. Eisenhower vacationed in Newport, Rhode Island a couple of times. Again the Naval aide, Captain Aurand was with him and so I sent word to him that it would be great if the President of the United States would come to our little chapel which had divine service early in the morning and I said parenthetically “so he could get out on the golf course early” and give opportunity to officer candidates who would be commissioned some day to worship with the President if the United States.

I ran it by the Commanding Officer who said “yeah” and the Admiral said “by all means”. By golly, Captain Aurand made it possible for Mr. Eisenhower to come to church several times at that little chapel for officer candidates. I still run into officer candidates who remember when the President was with them.

Then from there I was ordered to Kitty Hawk which was building at the New York Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey, a brand new carrier. I want to tell you right now that as of this moment, Kitty Hawk is coming back from the Persian Gulf where it supported the operations in Iraq, going back to the station in Japan, its home port in Japan, and becomes the Flagship of the 5th Fleet.

It is now the oldest operating active ship in the United States Navy. Ironsides is of course a little older. It’s still a commissioned ship, but it’s in a special category. Kitty Hawk is flying airplanes in combat. That was the ship we commissioned in Philadelphia in 1961. Again we went to Latin America in that carrier. We went around the Horn, stopped at Rio and we stopped at Valparaiso. We made port call at Paila, Peru and then we went to San Diego and San Francisco for “shakedown availability” as it’s called.

We had a great, great time. Then I went from there to the Naval Hospital in Oakland, California where I pioneered a program that was the brainchild of the Chief of Psychiatry and the Chief of Chaplains in the Navy to introduce a chaplain into that Psychiatric Residency Program which was a first rate program at Oakland at that time to help the chaplain understand the way psychiatry sees the human being in its development.

I was chaplain resident among residents, but always given the opportunity to learn, to study, to work with acutely ill patients and to work with patients under supervision. For a time I thought I would pursue that even further, but I didn't.

Zarbock: Would you do it again, Admiral?

Trower: The Navy?

Zarbock: Yes.

Trower: I would indeed. My dear wife, Margaret, would say I’d do it all over again.

Zarbock: Is anything ever proven by going to war?

Trower: I never fought in combat in World War II, but I did see Germany in 1948 and ’49 and Italy and France and England when I was circuit riding in these logistic ships. The moral degradation of hungry people and deprived people and bombed out people is just awful. Human beings do great and wonderful things together! They do terrible things together!

Korea, but it was the Marshall Plan I think and the change in that total capitulation theory that was proposed and the change to something that was far different. Korea was a stalemate. We sat on those lines. We were not allowed to chase the enemy so to speak after McArthur’s dismissal. It created some stability, but still we have the problems of North Korea, South Korea. It’s not good to be shot at and not be able to go after the shooter.

Something was worked out, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the long run. Some stability was maintained and of course South Korea flourished. Vietnam, every time I go to Arlington Cemetery to see Kennedy’s grave, I see those words etched there that say, from his inaugural address, “We will go anyplace, pay any price, do anything that we’re called upon to do to bring liberty to the world, freedom to the world”. I think fundamentally though there were other issues, that’s what we did in Vietnam, but it got terribly screwed up.

I’m absolutely convinced that before a government, a population of people send young men and women to war, they better take account of what they’re doing. I too came back from Vietnam with “You were in Vietnam?”. My children endured the kind of thing, “Your father is a chaplain and he’s in Vietnam” among the protestors. It was hard on them, hard on all of us. I think we did some great and wonderful things in Vietnam for people, but what the outcome will be, I don’t know.

Zarbock: Admiral, it’s been a privilege.

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