By Roger Storms
As a member of the “greatest generation,” my father, Dale Storms, was a man of grace and peace. He was also a dedicated follower of Christ, model husband and father, faithful church leader, successful businessman, and American patriot. I’m honored to say I have known no other man who better modeled Christ than my father.
In 1943, during World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was offered an exemption from service by his employer, a steel company—an “essential industry”—but he felt it his patriotic duty to serve. After training, he served as a B-25 Mitchell bomber pilot in the South Pacific with the 7th Air Force, 41st Squadron, 41st Bomb Group. He served with distinction, flying 50 missions in the Marshall and Gilbert Island campaigns, earning two Air Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. He retired as a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Through the years we heard his stories of military service, camaraderie with fellow service members, and bombing sorties. He never glorified himself in the retelling, and he only shared if we asked questions. My father, being a man of peace, recognized that his efforts were needed to combat evil, protect his country, ensure freedom, and protect himself as well as other warriors in battle. However, the necessary violence of war resulted in an ambivalence in his heart. World War II was necessary, but costly.
One story of his military service that few know had a profound impact on his life.
Peace, Release, Closure
Many years later, in 1982, my father and mother planned a trip to Hawaii, the Pacific atolls and islands where he was stationed in 1944, as well as some of the enemy bases located on some of those atolls and islands.
The island of Pohnpei (formerly known as Ponape), on the western end of the Carolina Islands, was of particular interest to him. He told us his group of B-25 bombers were the first to attack a particular enemy airbase on the island. He wrote, “Eighteen of my 50 missions were flown against this target.”
They approached the island from the west at wave-top level when, in his own words, “at a point we ‘broke up’ the squadron formation into flights of three planes, scrambling over the mountain in a line to attack and destroy that enemy airfield.” After attacking and bombing that enemy air base, the planes strafed the fortifications of an enemy naval base, before finally flying back to their U.S. forward air base on Engebi Island, a part of the Eniwetok Atoll.
On their inbound flight to Pohnpei, flying low through the mountain ravines—which were emerald green when compared to the blue Pacific—they flew by a pristine white French plantation home perched on the green mountainside. In relating the story, my father said he was struck by the plantation home’s peaceful beauty in contrast to what they were about to do in war.
On the 1982 trip, my parents took a boat ride that included a visit to an ancient historic site called Nan Madol. This ancient temple was comprised of huge basalt blocks set on a reef connected by channels and waterways. My father remembered it provided a pivot point to line up their air attacks. Many visit the site today to snorkel or scuba dive and view the amazing tropical fish.
My parents remained on the boat while the other tourists jumped into the water to explore. They began to talk to the 20-something guide and boat operator, a Pohnpeian man named Alter Alfred. My father asked him if he knew of an old Japanese wartime airfield up that valley in the middle of the island.
The astonished guide said, “Very few people, even on the island, know that old airfield is up there. It’s in ruins and overgrown!”
My father told him, “Well, 38 years ago I was in the first group of U.S. planes that attacked and bombed it.”
The young Mr. Alfred smiled but had tears in his eyes; he then told my parents his story. “My grandfather told me about that time. The Japanese soldiers forced them to build many fortifications. Then, they took a group of our people over here [indicating an area of the island] and shot them. Then they took another group over there [indicating a different area] and shot them.” He continued, “Soon, all of the men were to be shot! But that is when the Americans came in their planes and began bombing the Japanese airfields and fortifications.”
At that point, the guide said the Japanese soldiers stopped shooting the Pohnpeian men and returned to their bases because they expected a U.S. Marine amphibious attack was imminent. He added, tearfully, “I want to thank you for saving my life—without you, I wouldn’t be here, today.”
My father, in retelling the story, said, “None of us—our guide, or my wife or I—were able to speak for a few minutes.”
On their return to the United States, my parents stopped to visit with us for a few days. My wife, Nancy, and I were living in the San Francisco Bay area at the time. As my father began to relate this emotional story to me, I saw something in his eyes I had not witnessed before—a sense of peace, a sense of release. After nearly 40 years, he had closure and the realization that his participation in that great and gruesome conflict had a purpose. Yes, there was the satisfaction of victory over evil aggression, but to receive a personal, emotional, and tearful, “Thank you for saving my life” brought welcomed, intimate, peaceful resolution to these events and years.
The ‘Second Half’
I am very thankful God orchestrated the connection of the Pohnpeian boat guide with my father. That meeting completed the circle of both of their stories.
In the intervening years between his early life, military service, and the story I just related, my father retired at age 52 as an officer of a steel corporation in Indiana. He determined to spend the “second half” of his working life in Christian ministry service. He did so primarily as the vice president of administration at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. He also volunteered his wisdom as well as his accounting and tax expertise as a consultant with Mission Services, IDES (International Disaster Emergency Service), College Press Publishing, Good News Productions, International, and several of our Bible colleges and churches.
His life-leadership ministry impact was amazing but not well-known, because in humility, he desired no recognition. Instead, he was content to occupy the “second chair” as a servant of Christ.
Before and after my father’s memorial service in 2017 (he died at age 99), I heard countless stories of his contributions, friendships, and character. He never sought accolades, but many people expressed admiration and appreciation for his outstanding life of quiet service and leadership. But for my father, Dale Storms, a man of peace, the dramatic “God-moment” occurred when that young man offered a heartfelt “thank you for saving my life” in a boat in Pohnpei. The look in my father’s eyes as he related the story attested to that.
After 29 years as lead pastor of Compass Christian Church in Chandler, Arizona, Roger Storms now serves as pastor emeritus at the church. He currently serves as a trustee of Ozark Christian College and the Christian Churches Pension Plan. He does church consulting and guest speaking through Roger Storms Ministries. He also works as a development associate at Pioneer Bible Translators.