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In my last post I wrote about my experience at the Navy Musician’s Association (NMA) reunion a few weeks ago. Today and in my next post I am writing about a related matter. My experience of hope fulfilled, which was the result of a chain of hopes, which God has been fulfilling – one link at a time – over the past 55 or more years.
My first hope in this chain of hopes goes back to my last two years(1956-57) at Lincoln High School in Jersey City, NJ, when my favorite subject – the only one I had any interest in – was instrumental music. It was my hope that right after graduation I could take and pass the audition with my clarinet and saxophone, which would let me join the U.S.Navy as a Navy Musician and attend the U.S.Navy School of music. I remember doing a lot of praying about that. Those prayers were answered in late 1957. God fulfilling that hope. I was just 17 years old. I served as a Navy Musician for one enlistment and then got out, assuming I would never again see the people I served with and under.
Now I’ll skip ahead 44 years. It was early in 2001. By then I had become a pastor (with God, all things are possible). At the time I was feeling kind of depressed about my ministry. Too many things were, in my view, just not going right. My mind kept going back to my good old days as a Navy Musician. I had this hope that just maybe I could somehow get in touch with some of my former fellow musicians. If that could happen, we could reminisce about the good old days when nothing was wrong and everything was right (really?). I kept working on this over the internet, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then, just as I was about to give up, almost by chance (so it seemed to me at the time), God directed me to the web-site of the Navy Musicians Association, whose membership included a number of people I served with and under in those “good old days”. I got in touch with them, they answered me, and I became a member and began attending the annual reunions. God had once again fulfilled my hope.
Now I’ll skip ahead four more years to the 2005 NMA reunion. One of the people I met there was a former Chief Petty Officer, Marshall Hawkins, who was part of the staff of the U.S.Navy School of Music during the time I was a student there in 1958. Chief Hawkins was always one of my favorite people. I was glad to meet him again, over 40 years later.
Marshall was the head of the Archives Committee of the NMA. He had a large collection of Navy music memorabilia, which he set up in one of the hotel ballrooms at the reunions. One day I happened to be looking over the display and began talking with “Hawk”. He pointed out some photos showing people he had known during his service. He said “Wouldn’t it be good to know whatever happened to some of these guys after we lost track of them?” I agreed that it would be a good idea. I don’t remember the whole conversation, but I ended up being invited to and agreeing to serve on the Archives Committee. I proposed that we begin a project which would provide answers to “whatever happened to those guys..?” I said I would make that my project. The goal of the project was to identify every person who had served as a U.S.Navy Musician since 1935, when the Navy Music Program was officially authorized by Congress and President Herbert Hoover. I did some very rough calculating, and estimated that we were talking about over 35,000 person. The idea was not just to identify them by name, but for each person, to show the instruments played, rates or ranks, and the details of where and when they served. This would cover all Navy Musicians, whether they served for 40 years or, like myself, served for just one enlistment. Now I had a new hope. That I could actually do what I said I would do.
Once again, I soon found that God was fulfilling that hope. I had access to a lot of source material which would give me a start in researching and organizing the information I needed on my computer. Within a few years I had entered almost 300 pages of content. And I still had more information to be researched and entered, which would take up at least another 300 or more pages. On top of that, there would always be a need to be constantly updating information as I received more details about each person’s service. My plan had been to get all this information entered on my computer and then publish it as a book, providing copies to every NMA member. But it became clear to me that this was not a realistic expectation. This was going to be a never ending “work in progress”, which would require updated books published every few years. It began to appear that the only people who would see the results of this project would be myself and a few other people. And what would be the point of that? For the first time I began to feel that maybe I should just give it up.
That’s how I was feeling at the beginning of 2013, after almost eight years of working on this project. This was bad news. I was losing hope. There seemed to be no way this information I had so carefully researched and organized would ever be published for the NMA members or anyone else. However, God was not done with me and this project yet. God soon gave me new hope, which God is now fulfilling. All of this being part of a chain of hopes God has been fulfilling for the past 55 or more years. I’ll tell you about that in my next post, in about two weeks. Until then, you might want to think about some ways in which God has been fulfilling a chain of hopes in your life – one link at a time.
Grace and peace, Ray Gough