The transition from Chicago’s slums to the idyllic German countryside was dramatic, and Jack
immediately loved the farm, his
uncles and aunt, the animals.
So much so that the family decided Germany would be the perfect place for Jack
to spend the next year.
Until they took Katie to the train station for her
lonely return to America.
“Please don’t leave me here!” Jack
shrieked, clinging to his
panic-stricken face revealed wild terror as he
fully realized that she
was leaving Germany without him.
For a year!
Had the family known how long it would actually be, perhaps everyone would have wept.
As it was, his
beloved uncles pulled him, kicking and screaming, off Katie as she
quickly boarded the train, broken-hearted and tearful at her
son’s strange demonstration.
One last train whistle, and Mother was gone.
Gone to America.
For many days Jack
could do nothing but weep and mourn, despite Grandmother’s tempting food and loving kindness.
But gradually he
eased back into the harsh German farm life that was now his
Grandfather helped make him feel important, however, especially after Uncle Fritz was drafted into the army.
helped milk twice every day, and did other farm work from before the sun rose until long after it had set, six days a week.
was speaking German as fluently as his
classmates at the village school.
By the time summer came around again, Jack
was counting the days until he
would leave for the United States, home and Mother.
letters too were filled with anticipation.
Then, in early September, just days before Jack’s scheduled departure, Hitler invaded Poland, and World War II began.
would not be leaving Germany.
“But maybe the war won’t last long.” The youngster optimistically threw himself even more vigorously into helping Grandfather, mainly because Uncle Joseph, the youngest son, was also gone away to war.
That left Grandfather, Connie, and Jack
to harrow, sow, plow, hay, pull weeds, fell trees, harvest, winnow, and mow, using only the oxen and the ancient farm equipment.
Grandmother anxiously fingered her
rosary and murmured her
sons’ names as she
Laughter all but disappeared from the home; grim survival was the name of the game.
Deprivation became a way of life, month after endless month.
After three desperately hard years with no communication from Mother, Jack
graduated from the eighth grade, harboring an idea.
want to continue the harsh farm life or prepare to enter the university?
Perhaps with his
love of engineering, he
could become a pilot!
Now that would be thrilling!
“How do I get to Koenigswusterhausen to the engineering school?” an eager Jack
asked the station master.
The food basket Grandmother had packed held no interest as the train pulled out, Jack
was so excited.
I wonder if someone will meet me at the station?
Sure enough, a tall young soldier greeted him as he
descended the train steps.
“Your name?” “Good.” “Follow me.” The stern-faced Nazi strode slightly ahead for about a half-mile before Jack
saw the barbed wire.
While used to the 4:00 a.m. rising time, Jack
was not accustomed to working all day on a nearly-empty stomach.
The bread and water diet contained very little bread.
thin straw sleeping tick was infested with cockroaches, lice, fleas, and other vermin.
Even in bitter sub-zero temperatures, inmates had only a lightweight blanket, so they learned to sleep fully clothed, including coat and shoes, just to survive.
The acrid odor of unwashed bodies filled the barracks.
With the intense cold, brutally hard physical work, and near starvation diet, Jack’s once strong body wasted away.
One incredible miracle after another preserved his
life over the next two difficult years, which included a couple of escape attempts.
But eventually the war ended, and Jack
returned to Grandfather’s farm.
Fritz and Joseph had both been killed in the war, so 16-year-old Jack
threw himself vigorously into helping his
grandparents all he
The entire country was in shambles.
Even mail could not get through, but Jack
began thinking more and more of Mother, Chicago, and home.
Reunion with mother
Amazing events reunited Jack
husband Lee, and their four-year-old daughter—Jack’s new sister—Marie.
Back in Chicago, his
stepfather soon recognized that all Jack’s new freedom was a bit too heady for him.
Lee owned a short-order restaurant, and before long, young Jack
way from dishwasher to night cook in the café.
“Son, you really ought to finish high school,” his
mother chided after Jack
began to associate with some questionable friends in a neighborhood gang.
“Yeah, sure,” he
responded sarcastically, “and still work 10 hours a day?” Actually, his
language had become so coarse that Mother cringed when he
Then Lee heard of a night school at the University of Chicago and Jack
active mind absorbed the education he
had missed for several years.
School also took him away from his
The foul language, however, clung.
Finally, a kind teacher explained why there were so many red marks on his
“This is not fit language for polite society,” she
said, and Jack
began a real effort to change.
A tumultuous period in his
life erupted, and Jack
separated himself from the church of his
childhood, sorely grieving his
At a drinking party, a very drunk Jack
made a veritable fool of himself in front of many people.
Soon thereafter, being forced to register for the military draft, Jack dropped out of college and joined the U.S. Air Force, hoping to leave the restaurant business forever.
Finding the true model
The recruiting ads depicted stalwart young heroes, manly and strong, steadfast and true, jaws set, eyes purposeful, manners impeccable.
wanted a hero to copy, a model life to emulate.
Reality was severely different.
found no heroes.
Everyone seemed to cave in at a price.
Keenly disappointed, Jack
struggled with the realization that he
had only ever heard of one person worthy of full respect: Jesus Christ.
made a remarkable determination: Christ will be my example.
The Holy Spirit had begun a miraculous work.
Bad habits which Jack
recognized as wrong or hurtful began to disappear.
Smoking, drinking, and profane language vanished almost immediately.
Amusements, reading materials, and diet shifted slowly but dramatically.
A book at the base library which Jack thought was a Bible became his
source of information and inspiration.
One day another young airman said to him, “I understand you’re interested in religious things.” Carl loaned Jack
a book: The Desire of Ages.
Carl also mentioned some Bible correspondence lessons he
One stirring providence led to another until Jack
and Carl were baptized together in a beautiful blue lagoon off the island of Guam.
mother would be pleased with the about-face his
life had now taken, Jack
a hasty note just prior to his
baptism, explaining his
awakened love for Christ and his
desire to follow wherever Jesus led.
A few days later, he
excitedly tore open what he
sensed was her
read, “If you go through with this wild notion (of being baptized into a Protestant church),…you will not be welcome in our home and should never expect to eat at our table.…I am embarrassed.… You are turning against the whole family and against God.…”
continued writing every day.
also became involved at the Seventh-day Adventist island mission, reading avidly from their library and absorbing the Adventist lifestyle.
discovered that life in the military became much more challenging once he
determined to keep the Sabbath.
mother began to answer his
letters, and eventually, it appeared she’d had a slight change of heart and was looking forward to his
Jack thought, I’ll find the address of a Chicago church and ask the pastor to visit her
Maybe then she’ll be ready for baptism by the time I get home . It turned out, in answer to his
request, that a Bible instructor did go to visit his
mother, but Jack
received a disappointing letter from her
“I’m sorry I was unable to begin giving your mother Bible studies…Perhaps the Holy Spirit has a different timetable.” The letter was kind and gracious, but his
mother obviously had shown no interest.
Terribly disappointed, Jack
tossed the letter in the trash.
No one knows Mother like I do, he
I’ll handle it when I get home . On second thought, he
retrieved the envelope just in case he
might need the return address, later discovering that God’s hand was over even that act!