This weekend we “celebrate” a “holiday” in this country known as Memorial Day. The following true story of faith and redemption was written by Shirley Wetzel about her Uncle Jewel who served in World War II.
“People often hear of those steel-covered Bibles saving lives in WWII, and wonder if they’re true. This is one story that is absolutely true. It happened to my uncle Jewel E. Whisenant, who was married to my mother’s sister, Frances Stewart. They were 2 of the finest people I ever knew, and I love this account of his battlefield conversion. He really was a young man who arose from the dead.” - Shirley
Jewel Edward Whisenant, son of M. C. and Thula Whisenant, was born on April 29, 1918. He grew up in Dublin, Erath County, Texas. For his first two decades, he drifted, without a goal in life. Then, with World War II looming on the horizon, he enlisted in the Army. This decision changed his life forever. He trained to be a half-track driver in the Mojave Desert, and excelled in all he did. He was not a Christian, but while in training he became close friends with a young man who was, Allen Lee Jones. He admired Allen’s strong faith, but did not share it.
About that time, he had another life-changing event. He fell in love with Frances Stewart, also of Dublin. Her father wasn’t too happy about her choice, as Jewel had a reputation for being kind of wild, but love would not be denied. They were married in a beautiful ceremony, then moved up to Camp Kilmer, Pennsylvania, in 1942, where he had more training to prepare him for battle. She came from a Christian family, but religion wasn’t a big part of their life. She taught Jewel the only prayer she knew: “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
After he left for deployment, she saw a small steel-covered Bible in a shop window. She wasn’t sure whether to buy it, but she heard the voice of God telling her that if she didn’t, she’d never see him again. Finally she bought it, and mailed it to Jewel. She included a note: “May this book keep you from harm.” In the last mail call before boarding the ship for Europe, Jewel heard his name called. “Old Tex has a package!” He treasured that gift of love, and carried it in his breast pocket every day thereafter.
He arrived in England to await the invasion of Europe. On September 17, 1943, he was leading his men in a battle in an orchard in Belgium. There had been 70% casualties, including many officers, and he was promoted from Sergeant to acting Lieutenant. They were pinned down in a trench under heavy fire when replacements began coming in.
One young man was cut down just a few feet from safety. He said “Sarg, I’m dying, send for the medics,” but nothing could be done. The mortally wounded soldier began to recite the Lord’s Prayer as he slipped away. Jewel said to himself that if God can give that young man such peace in battle and in death, that’s the God I want to serve. He gave his life to God that day.
With new strength and resolve, he led his men out of the orchard, saying “follow me,” and they all did. He still carried that Bible next to his heart, with the list of the names of his men tucked inside.
January 3, 1944. During a fierce battle, Jewel was shot multiple times, in the left eye, the stomach, chest and leg. He was carried to the operating theater, and remembers nothing until he woke up in a large room, surrounded by bodies, with a tag on his toe. He saw a woman in white, and called “Nurse!”
She replied, in shock, “Sergeant, what are you doing awake? You’re supposed to be dead!”
“Set me up, help me, my face hurts!” He had lost sight in his left eye, and had thirty-seven stitches in his face, but he was alive.
The nurse pulled the Bible from his shirt pocket. A bullet was lodged in it; the steel jacket and the list of his men’s names had stopped it from penetrating his heart. The bullet stopped at Luke 7:12:
“And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came near to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said to her, ‘Weep not. …’
“And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.’
“And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.”
The war was over for Jewel Whisenant. He went home to Dublin, to his mother and his beloved wife, and started a church. The Southside Baptist Church was the first of over a hundred he was to establish during his long career. He died on December 19, 2009, and the church was full of ministers he had trained and the many friends and loved ones whose lives he’d touched.
I am proud to say that he was my uncle, married to my mother’s baby sister Frances. There have never been two more kind, generous, courageous, and funny human beings on this earth. He was a hero on the battlefield and a hero in his life. Frances, who always referred to herself as his encourager, wrote a book about their years together. The title is, appropriately enough, The Encourager.
If you’d like to learn more about Jewel and Frances Whisenant and their inspiring life, I recommend you read this book.