(Dan #13 QB for YoHi Football Team 1955-6 and Sophomore Class Officer; click to zoom)
The 1955 YoHi Football team selected Tom and Roy Busby co-captains. Tom was also the president of the YoHi student body. Since he had played quarterback at his Texas high school, he worked on my passing, laterals, and fakes until I was the first team quarterback. John Lynn was our fastest halfback and Chip played fullback. Tom played a passing and running halfback who chose all the plays to run in the huddle.
At the end of the month Tom indoctrinated me into fundamental Christianity. He told me I had to have a personal relationship with Jesus as he did. With an “A” average, Tom was the most influential and physical of all the football players with a gregarious personality. He could throw a perfect spiral sixty yards whether on the run, while jumping in the air, or poised straight up like Joe Namath. No one but John Lynn beat him in wind sprints despite his bulk. An articulate speaker, he could maintain an argument and persuade anyone on many subjects. He invited me to spend the night at his house, so we could have a “heart to heart talk.”
After football practice, I ate dinner with his family, and then he took me to his room. He pulled out a ragged Bible. “Danny, have you been saved?”
“What do you mean, ‘saved’?”
“Have you taken Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”
“I’ve been baptized in the Baptist Church, read the Bible with my mother, and always attend Sunday school. I’ve memorized the Lord’s Prayer, asked for forgiveness for my sins, and pray to God to bless those I love every night.”
“You don’t understand. I asked whether you had taken Jesus Christ as your personal savior. I’ll take you through the gospels slowly to show you exactly what I mean.”
Tom opened the King James Version of the Gospel and read in his forceful voice a few verses from the Book of John. He explained the teachings of Jesus in a simple and enthusiastic way. I always had difficulty understanding some of the religious dogma about the blood of Jesus, a sacrificial lamb that somehow washed away the sins of believers, but Tom’s explanations were not confusing. After a few hours he looked at me, “What have you learned from our readings?”
“The Sermon on the Mount meant the most to me. Jesus cared passionately for the poor, the disabled and downtrodden of the world. He urged humanity to lay down their weapons, love their neighbors, and their enemies. I want to follow his example.”
“That’s a beginning,” Tom said nodding his head, “But you haven’t taken seriously the challenge to live the life of a born-again Christian, nor known all the teachings of Jesus. Reading the Bible will show you the path to eternal life. You can find salvation only if you have a personal relationship with Jesus. He’s here in this room with us now, waits for you to join the believers who pray to him, and wants you to make him your own personal savior.”
Tom chose Bible verses for me to read aloud, asked me what the words meant, and guided me through the ancient language until I started to understand. After three hours, we had gone through much of the Book of John. He explained the Trinity, eternal damnation in the fires of Hell for unbelievers, and indoctrinated me in fundamental Christianity. I appreciated the explanations from a respected mentor. The experience enlightened me to mysteries I had never understood. Tom’s genuine concern for me, and his guidance during our encounter changed my perspective on how I should conduct my life. He persuaded me to join a Bible study group, pray to God often, and commit to a life in imitation of Christ’s example.
“Let’s pray together,” he said. We knelt down, and he prayed, “Dear Lord, please bless Danny with your presence from today on. Help him understand your Word and how to live a Christian life. I ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen. Close your eyes and let the power of Jesus change your life as he has done for millions of people. He performed miracles that healed the sick, brought back the dead to life, will forgive your sins, and make you whole. Ask our Lord and Savior now.”
I thought about having had sex with a prostitute, bowed my head in prayer, asked God to forgive me for my sins, and invited Jesus to come into my life. Tom’s concern motivated me to change my life’s purpose. A warm inexplicable spiritual feeling filled me.
That weekend Tom took me to a Billy Graham revival to hear the famous evangelical preacher who had just arrived in Japan for his Crusade for Christ. Reverend Graham gave a passionate sermon that lasted an hour at a church in Yokohama. He emphasized many of the points Tom had made, but in Graham’s own persuasive style, spiced with Biblical references. Billy made me feel like a sinner bound for Hell, as Tom had done. When Billy asked new Christians to publicly dedicate their lives to Jesus, I walked down the aisle as a newly “saved” Christian, assured not to suffer the eternal fires of damnation. From that day on while in Japan, I read from the New Testament an hour daily and memorized verses that inspired me as Tom suggested. Trying to act as Jesus would in whatever situation faced me, I began to transform into a new Christian.
(Dan guard on YoHi Varsity Basketball Team 1956 click to zoom)
First off the bench on the varsity basketball team as a guard, I occasionally made an impact with a set-shot, rebound, speed, and a drive to the basket. At Nagoya I buried a shot from the left sideline and followed Degelman after a missed layup for a tip-in that was close to a slam-dunk. On the train ride back a student revealed a horrible tragedy when a key player had stuck his head out a train window and was beheaded by a sign before our game. “The Japanese trains race rapidly through narrow tunnels and their signs are close to the tracks,” he said warning us with tears in his eyes.
Jon Lynn, Pinky Hart, and Dave Degelman led the team in scoring as we won nearly all our games until the Far East tournament. Okinawa was the favorite to win and visited us at Yokohama for the championship game. During warm-ups Marion Choate moved under me waiting for a rebound and I came down awkwardly on his foot. My ankle turned violently. The pain hit me like a spike driven into the ligament. In agony and disappointment I could only watch the game from the sidelines. We lost in a hard-fought close game. That day a doctor at the Yokosuka naval hospital put a cast on my ankle that remained for six weeks.
(Click to zoom)
(Dan Varsity YoHi pitcher 1956)
Baseball season could not come soon enough for me. After a few weeks Bux made me the clean-up hitter and starting pitcher. Against ASIJ (American School in Japan) I hit two home runs over their left field fence and a double over the trees in centerfield in our two victories and against Narimasu tripled with the bases full. In our other match against Narimasu, before the first pitch our catcher, Dave Degelman, fired the ball towards second base hitting my pitching arm at the shoulder blade. I crumpled to the ground in pain. Tom ran over and rubbed alcohol with oil of wintergreen on it vigorously for fifteen minutes, but it left me unable to pitch. Bob Webster, a tall skinny pitcher, took the mound and coach sent me to right field. An opponent hit a fly to right with a runner on second that drove me just before the fence, I caught it and fired a strike to Sandy Milwit at third who tagged him out. It surprised everyone, especially their coach who sent the runner. My arm had loosened during the game and Bob pitched his best game of the season.
My record as a pitcher that year, including summer games, was 7-4 with two no-hitters. One was against a Japanese team in a game rained out in the fifth inning. The other was a seven inning game against Zama Army base that featured four YoHi starters including Jon Lynn, Sam and Sandy Milwit, Brad Hardin, and the rest were second or third team varsity baseball players. A professional pitcher that played for the Yokosuka Seahawks had taught me to pinch my curve ball tightly to get it to break more radically and proved nearly unhittable. My batting average was .424 and I led the team in home runs and rbi's as a sophomore.
“What have you learned from the Bible?”Jerry asked a month later appearing interested.
“The teachings of Jesus have changed my life. You’ll start to understand what I mean if you read the Book of St. John. Ask me anything and I’ll discuss it with you.”
“I’ll read some tonight. I’m sorry for making fun of you.”
“A religious sailor started a Bible Study group to help people understand the Book of Revelation. Come with me at our next meeting,” I said. Jerry joined us for one session, started reading the Bible, and shared his thoughts with his father.
“Why don’t you discuss the Book of Revelation with my Dad and me tomorrow after school?” he said a few days later.
“Ok, but I’m no Biblical scholar.”
“That doesn’t matter. You might find my Dad has some insight on the Bible.”
“Alright, see you then.”
Entering their home with trepidation because I had never thought of discussing my new Christian beliefs with a Jewish Doctor who was far more knowledgeable; I wanted to cooperate in the pursuit of Bible study, whether it came from his father, or anyone else. Doctor Cohen sat on a leather chair in his library surrounded by hundreds of books in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with the Book of Revelations on his lap. A little over-weight, balding with dark hair on the side, his large head exuded a facial expression of reflection, intelligence, and kindness. Fortunate to have a man of his caliber at our discussion, upon viewing him, I became almost instantly frozen in humility as a teenager before a pinnacle of wisdom.
“You’ve been studying the Bible with a group led by a sailor?” he asked.
“When Jerry showed an interest in what inspired me, I asked him to join me.”
“Dad and I noticed from the book of Revelation,” Jerry began, “that St. John’s dream described a vision of Jesus returning to Earth in the future in the clouds to save the believers. But, only twelve thousand Jews were included. Do you believe that?
“The Bible is the Word of God and the truth I’ve been taught.”
“Dad and I agreed that no loving God would ever allow millions of practicing Jews remaining on earth to die in the lake of fire.”
“I’ll ask John for his input, or maybe my minister,” was what came out of my mouth having no answer for their dissent, recognizing I knew too little to convince Jerry about such a discrepancy, much less his father.
At our next meeting I asked John about their protest. “The Book of Revelation is the Holy Word of God all Christians believe,” he began confidently. “The Holy Spirit inspired every word in the Bible. Jerry and his father are Jewish. They reject Christ as the Son of God and our Savior. Don’t waste your time with non-believers.”
This conflict and his answer baffled me. The Cohens had a strong argument and John seemed prejudiced against Jews but, I was too uncertain to criticize him. The next Sunday at church I asked the Navy Chaplain, a Princeton graduate, about this dilemma because of his knowledge, intelligence, and kindness.
(Yokosuka Chapel where Chaplain Chambers led the congregation)
“Many things aren’t fully explained in the Bible,” Chaplain Chambers said. “We often don’t understand their meaning without careful research into the language of the original texts, especially the Book of Revelation. Terms like twelve thousand can mean a much larger number today, since that number would have been significant then. Millions of Jews follow the Ten Commandments and live virtuous lives. We can’t always take the Bible’s language literally. Many passages from the Bible say if a person loves his neighbors, treats all life with compassion, and cares for his family, even if he never heard of Jesus or the Bible, God would welcome him into Heaven.”
He used an analogy: “A native on an island with no Bible to read, who lived a virtuous life harming no one, as God would have us live, would not suffer in Hell. Just because he lacked that knowledge, our loving and all-knowing God would never reject such a person from the gates of Heaven.”
My pursuit of truth made me aware that many sincere and good people see religion differently. Afterwards I shared this understanding with Jerry in a philosophical discussion.
“Reading distinguished authors to gain wisdom on how to live an ethical life is preferable to memorizing the Bible,” he said. Intrusive “born-again” indoctrination required me to consider my past as depraved. Self-loathing and repetitive Bible verse memorization, athletics, and studies left little time for open-minded thought that might have allowed me to challenge some religious concepts I accepted without questioning. Nevertheless, a few people wiser than I, had planted seeds of a broader understanding that would bear fruit in the future.