When I was growing up World War II veterans were everywhere. From Dick Jordan at church who proudly touted his membership in the 10th Mountain Division to my maternal grandfather, Paul Fox, who was somewhat reticent to share many details of his experience in the Battle of Luzon. Seldom did a week go by without some reference to World War II. And then there was my paternal grandfather, Alson Pusey (pronounced PEW-see), with his collection of souvenirs from Japan.
During Sabbath afternoon visits Grandpa could be persuaded to show us his collection of teacups, silk cloth, coins, and other items he brought home from Japan in 1946. When I asked him about his wartime experience I would hear about his KP (kitchen patrol) duty or sailing through the Panama Canal. He played down his Army experience so much that it was not until just before he died that I learned that he trained to be an Army medical laboratory technician. I did not understand the full scope of his experience until going through his papers in the past few weeks.
A Soldier’s Journey
Pusey was inducted on January 21, 1944 in the Medical Branch and began his active service on February 11 of the same year. Leaving behind a fiancée (they became engaged just six days before he left) and a teaching position at the Gobles, Michigan Seventh-day Adventist Church School, he processed in at Fort Sheridan and went through basic training at Camp Grant, both in Illinois. With basic training complete, Pusey was sent to Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia in May of 1944 for four months of medical laboratory technician training.
Finally deploying to Europe on February 4, 1945, Pusey sailed from Staten Island on a French ship, the Athos II. He spent only five months in Europe–mostly in France although he visited Belgium–and was in France on V-E day. Near the end of July 1945 Pusey began a circuitous voyage to Japan aboard the U.S.S. General Aultman, sailing past the Rock of Gibraltar and lingering two weeks in the Panama Canal Zone. The day after they cleared the Panama Canal and entered the Pacific Ocean V-J Day was announced to the ship’s passengers. Pusey ended up spending six weeks in Manila and then six months in Japan, achieving the rank of Technician 5, before he returned to the United States and was released from service on April 29, 1946.
As interesting as it is to read Grandpa’s diaries, learn about his travels, and fill out the timeline of his experience, the above details are not so different from other soldiers. But Grandpa’s papers also reveal some stories unique to him and the conscientious objector experience. Grandpa was never persecuted for his beliefs and appears to have never had any problems with keeping the Sabbath. In fact, he seldom missed attending weekend services and faithfully recorded information about the churches he visited. But Grandpa did run into trouble with the Selective Service.
As required by law, Pusey dutifully registered with the Oronoko Township registrar in Berrien County, Michigan on October 16, 1940. A student at Emmanuel Missionary College (EMC) at the time, he first obtained an “Affidavit of Membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church” issued by the college and notarized by Earl Beatty. This document would have allowed him to apply for 1-A-O or “fit for noncombatant service” classification. It is also possible that as an agriculture major in college, he obtained 2-C or “deferred in agriculture” classification immediately. In a letter Pusey later wrote to the Selective Service Board, he stated that he received a deferment to finish college. After he completed college in 1942, Pusey did receive 2-C classification for his work at Onaway Junior Academy (1942-1943) where he was boys’ preceptor (dean) and work supervisor on the academy farm.
During the summer of 1943 Pusey worked for a farmer, Cameron Carruthers of Bancroft, Michigan, caring for about 7,000 chickens. Toward the end of the summer, the Michigan Conference offered him a teaching position at Gobles, Michigan, which Pusey eagerly accepted. He gave Carruthers one week’s notice, but then receiving an invitation to the teachers institute in Berrien Springs, Michigan, Pusey approached Carruthers again to request an immediate departure. Carruthers agreed, but he either was not so happy about this abrupt change or he did not understand the implication of his words to the Selective Service Board. Carruthers reported that Pusey left the farm work “on fifteen minutes notice.”
The Selective Service Board was certainly unhappy about Pusey’s change of occupation without request for permission. Pusey spent the autumn of 1943 teaching grades seven through ten at Gobles Junior Academy. On December 7 he reported for his preliminary physical exam and received 1-A-O classification for the first time. He was not happy about this and wrote a letter with his version of the story, defending his decision by saying that he understood he needed to inform the Board of any changes, but did not realize he needed to request the Board’s permission to make the change. He also stated that as a teacher in a parochial school he thought he was entitled to 4-D classification, the same that exempts ministers from conscription. The Board did not agree with him. Pusey was now subject to be drafted–an event that quickly followed the letter.
Apart from this letter, neither Pusey’s diary entries, nor any opinions he later voiced, expressed anything but equanimity over his conscription. His frequent diary entries in fact reveal a surprising interest in the places and people around him. He once told me that after he got out of the Army he was re-baptized because he was concerned the environment had “contaminated” him somehow. During my growing up years he was the stern, pious, church elder who would not even visit his own non-Adventist family members on Sabbath because the conversation would be secular or the television would be playing. He also preferred being alone with a book or magazine rather than traveling or spending time with people. At the time it was very difficult for me to imagine my grandpa doing anything that would necessitate rebaptism. After reading his diaries and notes, it is still difficult to imagine.
In fact, rather than finding justification for his decision to be re-baptized, his diary reveals a man dedicated not only to church-attendance, but mission outreach wherever he went.
During his six weeks in Manila, in between KP and other miscellaneous duties such as guarding gas tanks on a beach, Pusey made a point to see as much of the Philippines as he could. He attended services at Philippine Union College and Northern Luzon Academy where he noted the poor condition of the school. He sailed for Japan aboard the U.S.S. McIntyre on October 23, 1945. In Japan he finally recorded working in the hospital lab, the work for which he had trained in Atlanta. He also continued his practice of touring the country and visiting native Adventists wherever possible. But in Nagoya City, Japan it appears he did more than visit.
The idea of my seemingly unsociable grandfather reaching out to the people around him feels out of character. But the evidence is in his notes, however cryptic, and a letter he received from Japan in 1950.
Pusey made friends with several fellow Adventist soldiers and together endeavored a small evangelistic effort in Nagoya City. He recorded spending much time with the Kato family, visiting on more than one occasion a Buddhist priest who was interested in the Adventist church, and even speaking for at least one evening service. His friend and fellow soldier Amos Trubey spoke another evening. Other Adventist soldiers who may have been involved in this effort were Marvin Brown, B. Richards, one with the last name Newton, and a fourth whose name was spelled phonetically in the letter from Japan. The name might be Kunig. It is easier to understand the scope of what these men accomplished from a letter written in June of 1950 by S. Asai of Nagoya City, Japan. Mr. Asai wrote to Pusey with this reminiscence:
“We never forget your kindness to us following the recent war. We are thankful that now our church has been restored, the membership is increasing and we are having good interest in the meetings held. We recall the early efforts that some of you made, and these have become the basis for new efforts that now are bearing fruit.”
Grandpa may have tried to avoid military service, but when compelled to join the Army he served with honor to both his country and his God. This story interests me not only because Pusey was my grandfather, but also because I am interested in the experiences of all Adventists who have served in the Armed Forces.
I am currently writing a history of the Seventh-day Adventist Medical Cadet Corps. As my research continues I am in search of Adventist military personnel of all eras. It does not matter whether or not they were conscientious objectors or whether they participated in the Medical Cadet Corps. If you know of someone in your family who served while affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I would be grateful to hear their story.
Please contact me at this site: The Family Archivist