It was a hot night in the small room of that Italian house where several of us sat writing letters by the light of a single candle.
We had a hard day’s battle to take that town, and were very glad to find in one of the buildings a room that could be blacked out enough to allow us to light a candle and catch up on our long overdue letters to home.
Two of the men were new to combat and they were especially eager to write their reactions to the thick of the fight — their first combat experience.
As each of us sat there, busy with thoughts and pens, distant antiaircraft fire was heard. We became alert and listened. The new men looked at me; they had not been in an air attack yet. I answered their questioning looks by saying, “We had better get downstairs.”
Quickly I blew out the candle, tucked it inside my shirt, and hurried for shelter. We crouched in a little clothes locker directly under the stairs, considering that to be the safest place that could be found in the building.
No sooner had we crowded into the locker than, “Boom!” a five hundred pound bomb hit the house on the right. “Boom!”a bomb that sounded as if it had struck our house. Plaster was falling, timbers crashing.
It seemed as though the whole house was going to collapse. Then everything became quiet. The antiaircraft fire could be heard in the distance again, and what had begun so quickly, was over just as quickly.
We checked to see that everyone was all right. The houses on both sides of us had direct hits, and the house that we were in was damaged. But there were letters to be finished, so back upstairs we went and discovered to our joy that the enemy bombs had missed our writing room. I pulled the candle out of my shirt and lighted it.
We were ready to begin where we had left off, but I had one resolve to act on before I wrote another line. Crouched in that clothes locker, I was brought up short with the thought that I had not talked to those two new men about Jesus Christ and what He means to me.
As I looked for an excuse, I could find only that I had been “just too busy,” I vowed then and there that the first thing I must do if I ever got out of that locker, was to witness to those men.
As soon as the men had settled themselves a little, I began, “I want to talk to you new men for just a few minutes.” I had made it a practice shortly after being in combat to tell my new men what I believed and to encourage them to read their Bibles and to come to the Bible study which I had. In the rapid push north from Rome, however, I had neglected these men.
I talked to them that evening about what it meant to me to believe in Jesus Christ; how He was my Saviour and could be theirs if they would open their hearts to Him. When I finished what I had to say, I went back to writing. Several of the men sat there and did not write any more. Some went over and lay down on their blankets on the floor.
A month passed and some of these men joined our Bible study, and shortly thereafter, I was transferred to a Heavy Weapons company. One Sunday after chapel service out in the field I started to walk back to my billet when I realized that someone was walking on my left.
I looked around and found a boy by the name of Russell, who said he wanted to talk to me. I invited him to walk on with me, and as we continued, he told me that he had been one of the men to whom I had spoken that evening in Cecina when we were bombed.
He assured me that he remembered what I had said and that he had given his heart to the Lord and intended to live for Him — in fact, had been doing so for the past few weeks. He confided that when he was out of the service, he planned to enter the ministry. Then he told me how much it had meant to him in everyday life to become a Christian.
In discussing his immediate future, Russell said that the platoon of which he was a member needed a scout, and that he had volunteered. Men must usually be assigned to this task. Russell assured me that his confidence was in Jesus to whom also he looked for the strength and courage necessary to undergo the many dangerous assignments which were to be his.
I heard later that Russell was the means of leading at least three of his buddies to the Lord. He was killed in the Gothic Linc in North Italy, and as a result of his last moments, when he exhibited great heroism and Christian faith, two men accepted Jesus as Saviour.
I was glad for the witness in that blacked-out house, the promise to God in the crowded closet.