Lieutenant King heard the alarm and rushed to duty. It was December 1944. His ship was facing its biggest battle of World War II. The mighty USS Monterey had been in service for over a year and had been involved in several battles. Nothing compared to what the aircraft carrier was going through now as it engaged nature itself.
With winds in excess of 100 knots (115 mph/185 km/h), Typhoon Cobra was tossing the massive ship about as if it were a bath toy. The storm lasted two days. The monstrous waves shook the ship and its crew and threatened to sink the ship that the Japanese navy had been unable to touch.
As Lt. King responded to the alarms, he learned what caused the latest emergency. Several planes were torn loose from their cables. As they were thrown about the hanger deck, a fire broke loose. It threatened the entire ship. King, as General Quarters Officer of the Deck, was ordered to go below and assess the fire.
Moving about on the ship’s deck during a typhoon was beyond perilous. It was difficult enough trying to walk without falling. Every wave made even the most experienced seaman unsteady. The unrelenting wind and rain sent crew and equipment flying in all directions.
As King made his way toward the access to the hanger deck, the ship lurched violently. He lost his footing and started an alarming and uncontrollable slide toward the edge of the deck. Unable to stop or change direction, he knew he had just moments before he would be swept into the raging sea. Once in the water, he knew he had little chance of being rescued.
Thankfully, he spotted a steel rim on the flight deck. It was designed to keep tools from rolling off. He reached for it. He was unable to stop his movement, but it did slow him down. He continued to slide to the edge. At the very last moment, he grabbed hold of the catwalk.
The ship continued to careen through the ferocious waves. King dangled a mere 20 inches from the deadly waters below. His grip was weakening, and he was certain his life was about to end.
It was at that moment he remembered something his mother taught him. It’s funny how seemingly random things can come to mind at the most unexpected moments. That’s the way it was for King. He recalled a prayer he learned as a little boy. It was from the Bible, specifically from Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
As King recalled that prayer for the first time since he could remember, he felt strength return to his arms and his hands. He succeeded in pulling himself up and onto the solid footing of the flight deck. Forty minutes later, the fire was extinguished.
The crew of the Monterey succeeded in saving the ship and navigating through the storm. Not everyone was as fortunate as King. The storm washed five crew members overboard, and they were never recovered.
King was commended for his conduct aboard the Monterey. His commanding officer declared that he was “a natural leader.” He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1946, with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. It was not the end of his involvement with that branch of the military, however. Several decades later, partially in recognition of his distinguished service on the Monterey, he was honored by having a ship named in his honor.
It was remarkable enough that he survived his tour of duty aboard the Monterey but when the Navy chose to honor him by naming its newest aircraft carrier after him, King became one of the few people to have that honor bestowed while still living. In the intervening years, he never forgot that prayer. He credited it for saving his life and for reminding him that he had a purpose. For the rest of his life, every day, he repeated the words, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”
Today, the aircraft carrier that bears his name is one of the most sophisticated and powerful feats of engineering ever constructed. The officers and crew are proud to be associated with carrying on the legacy of a man who is remembered for his courage, decency, and dedication.
If you are struggling remember ever hearing about a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier named after Lt. Cmdr. King, don’t worry. Names can be changed, after all. His first ship, USS Monterey wasn’t always known by that name. When construction began just 22 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was to be the light cruiser Dayton (CL-78). On March 27, 1942, the ship was reclassified as the aircraft carrier Monterey (CV-26).
Similarly, when he was born on July 14, 1913, the hero of our story was named Leslie Lynch King, Jr. That would not be the name he would keep, nor would it be the one by which history remembers him. The ship that is the pride and joy of the U.S. Navy bears the name adopted by a man who learned to let the Lord direct his path: Gerald R. Ford.
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