Blessed are the Merciful

December 1, 2009

I have made friends with a German journalist. Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto wants to interview me about a story from World War II that determined the course of my fathers life, and of course, my own.

My dad, who would have been 99 today, was torpedoed by a German U-boat (U-516) sixty miles due east of Durban, South Africa, on 17 Feb 43. We memorized that date when we were kids, like a family birthday. In a real sense, it was.

Dr. Siemon-Netto is interested in what the U-boat skipper did that night. Korvettenkapitan (lieutenant commander) Gerhard Wiebe held off sending in a second torpedo so that that my father, Leslie Morrison, and his shipmates could clamber over the side of the sinking S.S. Deer Lodge and make it toward the lifeboats. Had Wiebe sent in his second fish immediately after the first, he could easily have killed most of the doomed vessels crewmen.

That was not all. Lt. Cmdr. gave water, food, and charts to men in the boats. This detail was supplied to me by my dads 88-year old shipmate, Manny Dias, whom my wife and I visited in Massachusetts last May. My dad had never mentioned that. Perhaps he didnt know.

Checking with American submariner friends at the U.S. Naval Academy, where my family lived for five years, weve been unable to find a single instance of an American submarine skipper in WWII giving survivors water, food, and charts. Perhaps we will find such an example as we pursue this story.

Why is Gerhard Wiebes story important? Why is the Good Samaritans story important? Jesus chose to illustrate his sermon with a Samaritan. The Samaritans were members of a despised race, whom good Jews of the day regarded as half-breeds, or worse. Jesus wanted to show his hearers then, and his followers ever after, what it truly meant to love your neighbor. The Samaritan took grave risks of his own life to give compassionate care to the victim of a robbery. He might have been killed by robbers lying in wait.

Commander Wiebe also took a great risk. If any of the men in those lifeboats had cranked up his Brown Betty, the emergency radio transmitter that merchant ships carried, he might have brought allied bombers to the scene in minutes. They could have dropped depth charges. They could have sent Wiebes U-516 and all his crew to the bottom.

Dr. Siemon-Netto thinks this story might be important for Germans living today. He has written most movingly of how todays Germans do not bear the guilt of the Holocaust. The vast majority of Germans were not even born then. Or, like Herr Siemon-Netto himself, they were just little children when it happened.

But we Germans do bear shame, he has said, for what was done in our land, for what was done in our name. And, he warns us Americans, we may bear shame, too.

America may come to represent the slaughter of innocents at home and around the world through the actions of an aggressively pro-abortion administration.

One detail helpfully provided by a German U-boat website presents a most hopeful prospect. The U-516 surrendered on 8 May 45 off Belfast, Northern Ireland. That was

V-E Day and Grossadmiral Karl Donitz, whom Hitler had chosen as Fuhrer when he shot himself, had ordered all U-boats to surrender that day.

The U-516 had not suffered a single casualty in the war. Of the 40,000 German U-boat sailors who went out, only 10,000 came back alive. With U-516, we can say with Jesus: Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall receive Mercy.