I recently took my family to Mobile, Alabama to take a tour of the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship, where my grandfather, Callis Lee Thompson, served during World War II. We spent about three hours walking around the battleship and it was really cool. I could have easily spent twice that much time looking around and reading the historic markers, but time just didn’t permit it. In fact, some of our little kids didn’t endure long and they headed back to the car with my wife after an hour or two, but the big kids stuck it out with me.
It was neat to see the ship and walk around the decks and get a feel for what it might have been like to live in those conditions for months at a time. I’m sure it was an exciting adventure in some ways, but also terrifying to be in battles where your life could be ended in an instant. I deeply and sincerely appreciate the bravery and valor of my Grandpa Thompson and all who have served in the military.
Before we toured the battleship, we told our kids some stories about Callis such as:
- The time he was falsely thrown into the brig over a cigarette butt. An officer found Callis and the cigarette butt in an area that was strictly off limits for smoking, so he concluded that Callis was the culprit. Thankfully a friend vouched for Callis as a non-smoker because he was Mormon, and he got out after not too long.
- The time he jumped off the side of the ship and nearly drowned. Callis hadn’t followed the recommendation to ball up as he went in the water and thus he went in feet first and like an arrow, he shot deep into the water and looked up only to see the bottom of the ship and the giant propeller. He thought he was going to drown. Thankfully, he didn’t.
- The time he was being shot at and nearly jumped off the ship. Callis could see splinters flying up from a Zero’s (Japanese airplane’s) bullets hitting the wooden deck. He was about to jumped overboard when he realized that wasn’t the best idea, so at the last second, he grabbed the railing, swung around, and landed back on the deck.
- The time the Holy Spirit warned Callis not to jump through a hatch. At the completion of Callis’s turn to be on lookout in the crow’s nest, he started down the set of ladders through many levels. Callis found it was faster to jump through the hatch down to the level below rather than going down the ladder. On this occasion, he was about to jump through the hatch when the voice of the Holy Ghost told him to use the ladder. He did so and found that the sailor that relieved him had left the hatches open all the way down. If he had jumped as usual, he would have fallen several stories through the open hatches and could have been killed.
- The time he asked to be reassigned to the engine room. Early in his Navy career, Callis was assigned to an amphibious vehicle that transported Marines to disembark on landing beaches during battles. This was an extremely dangerous post–many of our brave young man lost their lives in this duty. It didn’t take long for Callis to ask to be reassigned to the engine room. He got permission and that is what started him in a life-long career in engineering and maintenance.
- The time he taught another sailor how to pray. In his assignment as gunner’s mate, Callis was in a compartment with one other man at the base of the large cannons where their job was to load the large gun powder kegs that fired the guns. Every time Callis turned around he would run into the other sailor. Irritated, Callis finally asked him what he was doing. In tears the other young man said, “You pray don’t you? I don’t know how to pray, but I figured if I stuck close to you and God saves you, I might get saved too.” Callis then taught him how to pray.
It was an amazing experience, after hearing those stories, to see the actual brig on the ship, to touch the giant propeller, to feel the wooden deck, to climb through those same hatches, to sit at those large cannons, and to walk through the engine room. The ladders through the hatches, by the way, are now angled in such a way so as to prevent someone from falling multiple stories—seems like a smart modification.
I hope and pray that my children and all the descendant of Callis and his wife Jewel Lee Opp Thompson, will appreciate and emulate Callis’s diligent efforts to devote his life to the service of God and country.