I’ve noticed that many Christians can tell me a lot about famous entertainers. It doesn’t matter if it’s singers, musicians, actors, athletes, etc., they seem to know details of their biographies, achievements, etc. And it doesn’t really matter if those people are Christians, or whether they have performed actions consistent with a Christian worldview in their private lives.
Anyway, speaking for myself, I mostly admire two kinds of people. The first kind is the kind I blog about here all the time: Christian scholars engage non-Christians intellectually using logic and evidence. The second kind, as you can tell from my reading list, is people who distinguish themselves in conflict with those who oppose the principles and policies that allow me to live out my Christian life. And I am especially interested when people who are fighting evil (imperialists, Nazis, socialists, communists, leftists, etc.) exhibit Christ-like character in risking their lives to save others, or in giving their lives to save others.
I have a war story to tell you that happened on November 10th, 1943.
Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) Walter Lewis Chewning of Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, steps on the burning fuel tank of an F6F-3 Hellcat flown by Ensign (later Lieutenant) Byron Milton Johnson of Potter, Nebraska to effect a successful rescue of the pilot on November 10, 1943. Johnson had flown out to USS Enterprise from Barbers Point, Hawaii, enroute to Makin Atoll in the Gilberts to support the United States Army invasion, which occurred on November 20, 1943. The afternoon of November 10, Johnson took off in F6F Hellcat Number 30 for a routine training exercise. He immediately developed engine trouble and requested an emergency landing. He was waved off three times as he struggled to maintain control, but his tail hook caught the third arresting gear wire, and Johnson’s Hellcat was slammed into the deck, coming to rest in the port catwalk. The plane came to rest on its external belly fuel tank, which started to leak. As the engine vibrated horribly as the propeller bent itself on the deck, sparks ignited the fuel. The hard landing had jammed Johnson’s canopy closed, shearing the retaining pin; he could not exit the plane. Chewning, who had joined the ship October 2, 1943 as Enterprise new catapult officer, scrambled out of the catwalk and came through the smoke. Stepping on the burning belly tank, he forced open the canopy and pulled Johnson to safety.
He received the two highest non-combat medals available:
Chewning was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions.
He was a well-educated and accomplished person before joining the Navy:
Chewning played soccer and Lacrosse at Cornell while studying Mechanical Engineering, breaking his rib and left ankle in one game. He graduated in 1936 and studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the Navy in January 1941. He was the assistant to the Chief Engineer at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before joining USS Enterprise. He served as Enterprise’s catapult officer until December 1944, when he transferred to Dutch Harbor Naval Air Station in Alaska as ordinance officer. Chewning served in the Navy until December 1949; he also was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war he assisted research and development for various aeronautical companies, the United States Air Force, and the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Motion picture film of the crash, taken from Enterprise’s bridge, was shown as part of the television program “Victory at Sea” on January 25, 1953. Chewning and Johnson gave interviews to several newspapers about the accident after the program aired.
You can see a video clip of the rescue here, from 5:35 to 6:00. I found a colorized version of the picture above here:
This image was colourized from the original by Paul Reynolds.
What I thought was interesting about Chewning was how he had everything going for him in terms of his education and career, but he chose to join the Navy anyway, in order to defend his country from Japanese imperialism. Those who understand how the Japanese treated prisoners and conquered peoples will know which side of that conflict was good, and which side was evil. Chewning wasn’t some sort of loser who took risks for fun and thrills. It had to be a risk where the prize was worth the risk. And he had the humility to consider others better than himself, so that their life was worth the risking of his own. Many people on the secular left who like to talk about how generous, compassionate and virtuous they are are unable to make moral judgments against evils like Japanese imperialism – much less take self-sacrificial action against them.
I just think that it’s important for young Christians to have the right kind of heroes. The heroes who are promoted to young Christians by the cultural elites are not usually the right role models. And there is a reason for that. The secular leftists don’t want young Christians to be emulating people who excel according to the standards of the Christian worldview. We are in a religion where self-sacrificial love is the centerpiece. Taking trouble on yourself for someone else. Doing your job, when it goes against your own self-interest. Let’s not allow a bunch of godless socialist celebrities to pick and choose who we hold in high regard.