Saved in Peacetime, Protected in Wartime
“My folks taught me to reverence God, and that there was a Heaven to gain and a Hell to shun. They told me of many of the grosser sins of life, and that you can’t do those things and make Heaven your home. They also told me about being born again. I knew that I didn’t have that experience, but the Lord showed me that was what I needed.
“I called myself a Christian, but as the years came and went, the more unhappy and miserable I became. When I was about seventeen or eighteen years old, some [church] workers came over the mountain in the wintertime, when the snow was on everything, to hold meetings in the little community where we lived back in the hills. And the more I heard of that Word, the more conviction settled down on my soul. God was faithful, and He showed me what was wrong. I needed a change of heart! As I would go about my work, something seemed to be saying over and over again, ‘Except you make your peace with God, you’re lost—eternally lost!’
“Well, I began to pray. Out in the barn one morning, where I had gone to feed the animals, I got down on my knees and called upon God from the very depths of my soul. That morning I felt like I was the worst sinner that had ever lived. I said, ‘Oh Lord, save me, a sinner,’ and I promised the Lord if He would save me, I would serve Him the rest of my life. I don’t recall all I said, but right then the glory of the Lord came down. It seemed like a beam of light just pierced through that old shake roof, and went down to the depths of my soul. Every bit of condemnation, every worry, every care was gone, and the joy of another world filled my soul. I was as happy and free as the birds of the air! There was wave after wave of joy, and I had that sweet assurance that I was a child of the King.”
During World War I, when Chester was about twenty-five years of age, he went into the military. He described how he and a group of other soldiers completed their training and prepared to head overseas, recounting,
“We went down into New York, right down in the light of the Statue of Liberty. The light up there just lit the bay all up. There were fourteen boats in our flotilla. We got together that night, and the next morning, bright and early, we started out. A bunch of them were seeing us off: planes and big zeppelins went out a little way with us and then turned around and went back. One gun boat, a big man o’ war named the USS San Diego, went with us about three days toward the other side.”
Their flotilla continued across the Atlantic Ocean until they were close to Europe, where the vessels separated and sailed to different destinations. The men on Chester’s ship disembarked in Scotland for further training before traveling down through England and across the English Channel to Le Havre, France.
In October, his unit was called to the front, and by the time they got there, cold weather had set in. He related,
“We just had our light underwear, and we began to feel the cold pretty strong. We had to dig in, and I just about like to froze. We would dig a hole wide enough for two. We had oversize caps inside our helmets, and to sleep, we would pull them down over our heads and put our heads right up in the helmet, then butt the helmet up against the bank. That would act as a pillow. I never had my shoes off for two weeks and my socks just about growed to my feet.”
He described the night before they were to move to the front lines in the Argonne Forest, saying,
“The boys were waiting for daylight to come. There was cursing and carrying on, but I felt like I wanted to pray. I would look away to the star-lit sky; it seemed so peaceful up there. Down below was such turmoil.”
He told the Lord that if it was His will, he knew God could see him through safely. Right there the Lord dropped a promise into his heart, “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee” (Psalm 91:7). He related,
“I felt the mighty arm of God bared in my behalf.”
After nine days on the front lines, his unit was called back to an area where they were supposed to rest up. He said,
“We thought we’d fix ourselves up real comfortable. Our pup tents were just a piece of canvas held up by a pole, but you could fasten them together with another pup tent and that enclosed the space. So we got a lot of grass and stuff in there—fixed it up so comfortable.
“Our feet were just burning up, but there was a nice cool creek running along there, so we just got down there and put our feet in the water. Oh, it felt so good, and then here comes the sergeant and says, ‘Boys, you’ve got to roll up and get back to the Front.’ So it was back to the battle.”
At various times during the war, Chester went through heavy combat with many casualties occurring all around him. Once he and his unit came under machine gun fire. He was lying in a shallow depression in the ground, and the machine gun bullets were chewing up the dirt around him. He recounted,
“The captain wasn’t one of those who stayed back and looked through the glass to tell you what to do; he was right up there. I was scout for my half of the platoon, so he and I were ahead of the rest of them a little ways, just crawling along toward a big orchard there. The captain says to me, ‘Get yourself ready and make a run for one of them trees.’
“Well, I got on my feet and at first it seemed I couldn’t get my legs to going, weighted down as I was. I had my belt full of ammunition and bandoliers on each side of me; I was really loaded down. I finally made it to the tree all right, but one of the gunners nearly got me; the bullet made the old helmet ring and went right through the tree. Our captain didn’t make it; he was a casualty.”
After fighting for a time in France, their unit relocated to Ypres, a town in the province of West Flanders in Belgium. Ypres occupied a strategic position because it stood in the path of Germany’s planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north. The First Battle of Ypres had already occurred, and Chester recalled,
“My, that was a shot up place! All the limbs were shot off the trees and what were left of the buildings were just wrecks. We hiked all day to get out of no man’s land, one shell hole after another.”
Of his time in Belgium, Chester reminisced,
“Once we had to dig in right out in a turnip patch. It was kind of handy; I could just reach out and get hold of a turnip to eat whenever I wanted!”
While he was there, on November 11, 1918, the armistice agreement was signed, ending the fighting on the Western Front. God was true to His promise. Though fellow soldiers had fallen all around him, Chester came home safely.
Chester not only was part of the victorious army of World War I, but he also withstood the attempts of his spiritual enemy. After the war, he married Etta Hunt, and the two of them raised nine children in the Gospel. In their later years, they lived next-door to the Medford Apostolic Faith Church, and served as church custodians and in various other efforts around the church as well as Gospel outreach activities.
Although Chester Brown had few of this world’s goods when he passed away, he left a rich spiritual legacy. He lived to become a family patriarch—four generations later, many of his descendants are Christians. He was an example of commitment and perseverance, serving God in the Apostolic Faith until he passed away in January of 1980.
Chester concluded the interview with his pastor by saying,
“Those war events were a good while ago, but I am glad that in my heart I still have the assurance that I am a child of the King.”
His life bore witness to that fact!