This was the story of Bill Harrison in 1945 shortly after the conclusion of World War II. In honor of Veterans Day, Harrison was invited to share his story at a special “Salute to Veterans” chapel service at Desert Christian High School Nov. 9. Nearly 650 students, parents and veterans were in attendance as Harrison spoke.
“I made a promise to God while floating on a life raft,” said Harrison. As he continued, he told of the crashing waves and the powerful winds that had taken down the minesweeper USS YMS-472. Harrison, along with eight of his shipmates found refuge on a life raft. The sailors spent that first night being repeatedly thrown from the raft and they lost all of their food and water.
On their third day lost at sea, some of the men began to drink the ocean water. “My desire for water was so great that’s all I could think about,” said Harrison. Not long after, the effects of the salt water had begun to show as those who drank it lost their soundness of mind. According to Harrison, one of the men had left the raft saying he would take a taxi home. Those remaining wondered, “who’s going to be next to go?”
Harrison had made up his mind he was going to die when he remember the words his mother had read from the Bible when he was a child. The passage was from Matthew Chapter 17 that says, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
With that thought in mind, Harrison said to the remaining men, “Faith is believing and the best thing to do is to start thanking God for the answer for the thing you are going to ask for. Let’s ask God to forgive us … and promise him that if He would send help and if we would be rescued that we would do all within our power to further the cause of faith in God.” And so, the men began to pray.
Forty-five minutes later, three Corsairs came flying over-head. “God had answered our prayers,” said Harrison.
He went on to say that at first he had been angry with the Navy for not coming to their rescue sooner. But he later learned that the raft had been carried 40 miles from the place where their ship had sunk. Harrison ended with this thought, “If you really need some something from God, start thanking him for what he’s going to do.”
Harrison’s son, Dan was also in attendance that morning. “My dad’s an amazing man and he’s been my best friend,” said Dan.
“The reason we wanted Bill Harrison to come and talk to our students, who range in age from 12 years old to 18, is to understand that we don’t have the freedoms, the liberties, the joys that we have of being Americans without people laying down their lives and being willing to lay down their lives to protect and defend those liberties,” said Cecil Swetland, CEO of Desert Christian Schools. “Bill’s story was amazing. I was struck by how scary it would have been for a young guy to be in an ocean with 650-foot waves and in a raft. To go through that experience of surviving that and being rescued and for those six days what God did to change his heart. That’s what we wanted our students to hear, that God can cause them to persevere, cause them to be strong and that faith in God is the key to that.”
“I thought the speaker was incredible,” said DCHS Principal Devin Thomas, “His love for the Lord was just contagious and I think he captivated our students in a way that allowed them to see another side of veterans.”
Harrison is the author of Six Days on a Raft: A True Story of Faith and Survival.